… is it best to be first or last in the interviewing process

We had caller on our radio program this week who asked, “Is it best to be the first or last in the interviewing process?” He was referring to the initial interviewing process and went on to add that he wanted to know whether it is best to be first or last in the follow-up interview process, as well. This is a really good question. It’s been my experience in the last 43 years of seeing people get hired:

If you know the initial interviewing process is going to be short, like all in one day and there are going to be no more than four candidates interviewing, it probably doesn’t matter whether you are the first or the last. Some people say that it is best, in this situation to be first because you “set the bar.” Others will say it is best to be last, because of the law of recency that will be discussed in a few minutes. But, my experience has been that even being in the middle is fine because if you interview well enough (and that is a big if for lots of people) and you show yourself to be an excellent candidate, your succession in the intervening chain  won’t matter. The thing to do is, as you set the interview, ask the hiring authority how many people he or she is going to interview and over what period of time. We will discuss this next week, but asking these questions is as important as jockeying for position in a group of interviewees. Most hiring authorities will be more than happy to tell candidates about the  people they have interviewed or plan to interview and a candidate can make his or her decision about asking to be a particular position at that time.

The biggest challenge of being first or last in the initial interviewing process comes when the interviews take place over a longer period of time. I’ve been involved in initial interview processes that take from one day to seven or eight months. If the candidate knows that the initial interview process is going to be greater than any one or two day period of time, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to request being the last one interviewed. There are a couple of reasons for this.

The first is the law of recency. It simply states that people remember best the most recent candidate they have interviewed. If a candidate interviews reasonably well, he or she is looked upon more favorably than the other candidates. (Candidates who interview poorly will certainly be remembered but that memory won’t be positive.)

The second reason is that as most hiring authorities move through the intervening process they get a better idea of what they are looking for relative to the talent that might be available. They, therefore, are a little more realistic about evaluating candidates and are more likely to be positively impressed with the fourth or fifth candidate over two or three weeks than they would be if the candidate was the first one.

Being the last to be interviewed doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the job. You still have to interview really well and impress on the hiring authority that they ought to hire you. The candidate can certainly try to position themselves to come across in the best light. Only about 30% of the initial interviewing processes that even us, as professional recruiters, participate in, are accomplished in one or two days.

So, if the initial interviewing process you are involved in is no longer than a day or two, try to be first, then maybe last. If you find the initial interviewing process is going to be over a week or two, try to be last.

Next week will discuss the questions a candidate should ask to find out if he should jockey for position or even if he or she can.

(The caller on the radio program revealed that he found out the interviewing process that he was going to be involved in had already been going on for almost three months and  they had already interviewed 18 candidates. It’s obvious that these folks have no idea what they’re looking for. Being first or last won’t matter in this situation. They are still going to be confused.)

 

 

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