The Truth About How Long an Interview Should Last
If you are responsible for interviewing and want to know how long they should last… then you are in the right place. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, here’s the truth about how long an interview should last:
There Is No Benchmark Interview Length.
The reason why is that a good interview length depends on your industry, the structure of the interview, your interviewing style, the position you are recruiting for and the individual candidate. In this article we take a deep look into how to prepare your interview to make sure it’s the right fit for you and your candidates.
Most recruiters and candidates agree that 30 minutes is too short. It doesn’t give you time to get to know each other. At the other extreme, we found candidates who interviewed for up to 2.5 hours. They felt it was excessive (and left with a bad impression of the interviewer). So as a rough guide, we could just recommend running interviews that last between 60 and 90 minutes. But here’s a better approach:
Decide What You Want to Learn and Work Backwards from There.
This allows you to take control of the process, plan your time and make a good hiring decision. For example, a good Management Consultant can generate ideas, solve problems, and analyse data. Once you know that's what you're looking for specifically in an interview you can move on to considering how to find it, which leads us on to our next step.
Design an Interview Structure
If you hire for a senior position, then a simple ‘question and answer’ interview may not be enough to assess candidates. Instead, you might ask them to do a presentation. Or solve a complex business problem. This will take a lot longer than a simple interview with 5 questions but could ultimately be a lot more valuable in the log run.
Pick the Best Questions
Imagine you decide to structure the interview in two parts: a presentation and a Q&A session. You now need to flesh out exactly what to ask of your candidates. Firstly, pick a common business problem you want them to solve and set a time limit. Finally, choose questions to assess each candidate against the skills you are looking for.
They might be general or competency-based questions. Each type takes a different amount of time to answer, so try to factor this into your timeframe. Even with this level of planning it will still be difficult to predict interview length, but there is one simple solution to help you out here.
For more help on picking the best questions, read our Management Consulting interview question advice.
Run A Mock Interview (And Time It)
Find a colleague and ask your questions. Make it somebody in a similar role to the one you are interviewing for, so they can answer properly.
You will get a feel for the best questions… think of things you might not have considered before (like time for introductions) and get a pretty accurate idea of how long the interviews will last. Which means: you can schedule interviews without rushing them and letting other people down.
Still, each interview will take a different length of time depending on the candidate, so...
Add A Buffer
Add 10-20% to the time it took to run the mock interview. That will allow for differences between candidates, give you time to ask spontaneous questions, and ensure that you don’t have to rush. You might also want to leave time at the end to show candidates around and introduce them to colleagues. Or allow time for candidates to ask you questions.
A Process for Finding the Best Interview Length
How long an interview should last depends on what you want to get out of it. In our opinion, squeezing an interview into a 30 minute time slot is a mistake. Yes, you may save a little time. But how much time and money would you lose by hiring the wrong person as a result?
To recap, here’s what we recommend instead:
- Decide what you want from the ideal candidate
- Structure the interview
- Pick the best questions to match candidates against your criteria
- Run a mock interview to optimise your process and time how long it will take
- Add a 10-20% time buffer to allow for differences between candidates
Remember: the purpose of an interview is to find the best person for the position you are recruiting for. How you find that person is entirely in your control. Start there. Come up with plan. Time how long it takes to execute your plan, then add a buffer.
That’s how long an interview should last!
For more on the process, read the ideal Management Consultant job interview process.
Approach interviews with the end goal in mind and it will be much easier to find the right candidates to invite to interview. If you would like some help with your recruitment (or need some advice) then contact us and one of our team will be happy to help.