Brandon Southern is a senior leader at Amazon.
Brandon Southern is a senior leader at Amazon and former head of analytics at eBay and GameStop.He writes that hiring managers have to be cautious when hiring because their reputations are on the line. Southern also says that it’s sometimes impossible to replace a bad hire.
As a senior leader at Amazon and a people leader for the last 12 years of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to interview hundreds of candidates.
While I don’t believe that the interview processes that I’ve been involved with have been lengthy or complex, I frequently see social media comments and posts complaining about lengthy interview processes. Some of these posts will cite anything more than two interviews or an hour as being excessively lengthy.
While there are some interviews that do feel excessive, many are not, and they are a normal part of a hiring manager’s desire to be cautious when hiring a new employee.
Work as a manager for a long enough amount of time and you’re bound to run into a difficult employee situation that you never want to experience again.
About 12 years ago I had inherited a new employee that I never had the chance to interview. This person was an obvious bad hire from the start, showing up to work around 10:30 a.m. when most tenured employees were in before 9 a.m. Worse yet, on his fifth day of work he showed up at 11 a.m., drunk and high from partying the night before, and he even threw up in the stairwell.
It took nine months to go through the proper HR processes and politics to remove this person. All the while he was causing issues, conflicts, and sapping the time and energy of everyone on the team. Dealing with situations like these certainly cause hiring managers to be extra cautious when interviewing and hiring candidates.
From the perspective of a hiring manager, the processes are necessary. Here are four reasons why:
1. As a hiring manager, your reputation and career are on the line
Like any other employee, a manager is likely looking to get promoted or get a raise. But as a manager, this means getting results through the efforts of your direct reports.
If the manager hires the wrong person, not only will the team not deliver the expected results, but the manager’s decision-making skills (hiring the best) could be called into question.
This is a risk for the manager, which causes them to be cautious when hiring to avoid making a bad hiring decision and being seeing as a poor decision-maker in the eyes of the manager’s manager.
2. The team could suffer if the person can’t deliver what they’re hired to do
When a new person is hired, they are hired to make life easier for the existing team and to deliver results. If the wrong person is hired, not only will the team deliver results, but the team may also move in the opposite direction.This can negatively impact the team’s results, value, and brand, as well as individual team member’s happiness and compensation.
To get promoted, employees need to work on high-value projects with a larger scope and successfully deliver all projects on-time. But when the wrong person is hired, individual team members have to divert their focus from high-value projects, spending an excessive amount of time helping a team member learn basic job functions that were prerequisites for being hired.
When this happens, not only do individual team members not deliver results, the manager isn’t able to deliver results, which will negatively impact other teams and the manager’s ability to get promoted.
3. Bad hires are sometimes impossible to replace
Some people suggest that a bad hire isn’t a major issue because a manager can simply fire the poor-performing candidate and replace them. Unfortunately, rarely is this a simple process and replacing a bad hire isn’t always an option.
I’ve seen companies take almost a year to remove poor-performing employees from the company. Worse, the hiring manager might not be able to backfill the position.
With constant changes across the business and economy, a hiring manager that hired a new employee a few months ago may not have approval to backfill the original position if they remove a poor-performing employee. This can cause a manager to keep a low-performing employee to maintain headcount.
4. Replacing a candidate is time consuming
Interviewing candidates is a time-consuming an expensive process. Hiring managers don’t want to spend more time than needed, and they certainly don’t want to have to repeat the process in a few months due to a bad hire.
At many of the companies that I’ve worked at, we have a candidate go through an initial technical screening and non-technical screening before bringing the candidate in for an interview. These initial screenings can last 30 to 60 minutes each, but they require the interviewer to spend roughly an hour of time preparing to give an interview and another hour after the interview for post-interview feedback and debriefing meetings.
This means that every one-hour interview is costing an interviewer about three hours before a candidate is brought in for the full interview with four to five other people.
Candidates that pass the initial screening will be brought in to meet with four to five interviewers, with each interviewer conducting a 30 to 60-minute interview. In total, a candidate might spend four to seven hours in interviews, but interviewers are spending three times as much time.
Across the companies that I’ve hired for in the last 12 years, we’ve typically had to interview anywhere from three to ten candidates in final-round interviews to find someone that we wanted to make an offer to. This means that a company might have to bring in 30 candidates for an initial screening to get three candidates that make it to the final round, to hire one person.
In total, the hiring team might spend around 330 hours in interviews to hire one person and that doesn’t include the time that recruiters spend finding candidates. That’s equivalent to one person working full-time for more than two months just to hire one person!
Making a bad decision starts this expensive process over again, assuming that the manager is allowed to re-hire.
As a candidate, meeting with five people might seem excessive according to this post on LinkedIn that suggests three interviewers are plenty to make a decision, but there’s a reason for needing a few more people in the interview process.
With only two or three interviewers, one interviewer will be the hiring manager and the other interviewers likely report to the hiring manager. These interviewers may be overcome with authority bias, trying to please their manager. By introducing additional interviewers, especially interviewers who don’t report to the hiring manager, biases can be reduced.
Also, with only two to three interviewers, a hiring team will only hear a few examples of a candidate’s experience, which could be misleading. For example, the team may hear a couple of great examples, but those might be the only examples that the candidate has. But with five interviewers, the team may quickly learn that the candidate doesn’t have additional stories to share, or the additional stories are not strong examples of a high-caliber candidate.
Rarely have I seen a process be excessive
A few interview processes are truly excessive, and some companies even treat candidates as free labor for the company. I’ve been contacted by companies for jobs that I haven’t applied for, and they asked me to write multiple strategy documents before scheduling a call with the hiring team. I’ve also interviewed at companies where I’ve been brought back in for four rounds of interviews before receiving an offer. While the number of rounds sounds excessive, I only met with a total of seven people.
But in my interview experience as a candidate over the past 20 years and my experience hiring candidates over the past 12 years across five companies, rarely have I seen what I would consider to be excessive, as a candidate or as a hiring manager. Many interview processes feel reasonable, given the risks to team members, managers, and the company. Even more so considering that candidates in tech positions may be receiving offers between $70,000 and $500,000 a year.
Brandon Southern is a senior leader at Amazon and former head of analytics at eBay and GameStop. He also creates TikToks about data analytics and career development.