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The Pros and Cons of Giving Candidates a Second Interview

Updated: Jun 24

An increasing number of companies, ranging from multinational enterprises to small businesses, are implementing second interviews in their hiring processes. As a business owner, HR manager, or another decision-maker, you may have wondered whether or not it’s a valuable option, or if other companies are doing it just because everyone else seems to be.

The reality is, there are quite a few benefits to implementing second interviews. However, you should be aware of the potential drawbacks of doing so, especially in certain situations. Choosing whether or not to implement second interviews is a decision best left to your judgment, but we can provide the benefits and drawbacks to help you make that choice.

Let’s start with the benefits!

Pro: A Second Interview Can Have a Different Format or Structure

The modern hiring process offers many options for interviews. You might want to work in a skills assessment, a practical interview, a traditional in-person one-on-one, a panel interview with company leadership, a group interview, or something else entirely.

Using a second interview allows you to work in a second format. Here are some common real-world examples:

  1. The first interview with department heads and HR managers, followed by a second interview involving company leadership. This process allows the first interview to check for skills, experience, and personality, while the second looks into values, culture, and more nebulous qualities.

  2. The first interview conducted over the phone or a video conference, and the second interview in person. This can be particularly useful for national or global candidates, rather than purely local candidate pools.

  3. The first-phase group interview is followed by an individual interview. This is great for processing large numbers of initial candidates, then giving a more detailed interview for the best of that pool.

When you’re limited to a single interview, you don’t have the leeway to leverage different interview formats for the unique value you can get out of them.

Pro: A Second Interview Can Leverage a Second Interviewer

Small and mid-sized companies in particular are frequently limited in the number of people they have on hand to interview candidates. You might only have a single HR manager, and empowering them to make every hiring decision might be too much on top of their other duties.

A second interview allows small companies the flexibility to interview from different perspectives. The first interview can be conducted by the HR manager and cover the basics of the role, the company, and general questions or concerns from either side of the table.

The second interview can involve (or be conducted by) a relevant team or department head, who knows more specific and detailed questions to ask, attributes to look for, and knowledge to test.

Pro: A Second Interview Further Engages Qualified Candidates

A second interview is built on a foundation laid by the first. You have a basic understanding of the candidate, at least on the surface, and they understand you. They can feel more at ease, more specifically prepared, and more comfortable.

This means they will be more willing to have a relatively candid chat, discuss concerns they might be hesitant to bring up in a first interview, and will generally be more engaged with the entire process.

“Holding two interviews gives you the power to create a more human hiring process.” – 1H Recruiting

One huge benefit to the second interview is making a candidate more engaged with your company specifically. Most candidates send out numerous applications; when they reach a second interview, they may be more likely to put other applications on hold. They may be more confident of themselves for having reached that phase, which can help fight imposter syndrome and make them more likely to express themselves better.

Second interviews are also an opportunity for candidates to ask about details that would be “getting ahead of themselves” in a first interview. If they have specific concerns such as availability of family leave, paternity absence, specific benefits, or other practicalities, they can use the second interview to verify that they’re likely to get what they need to feel comfortable working for your company.

Pro: A Second Interview Allows You to Gauge Consistency

Interviews are high-stress events. The higher-level the position, the greater the stress levels, especially for candidates who are desperate or in dire straits. Indeed, some HR managers find that composed and self-assured candidates may be those most prone to fail when pushed outside of their comfort zone.

“Having a second round of interviews allows the company to look for consistency in your personality, soft skills, and responses. This gives hiring managers more confidence in making a job offer.” – Chron.

Using a second interview allows you to observe a candidate twice, in different situations, and with different pressures. Are they more composed and more confident the second time around? Does a different format, an unexpected question, or a repeated series of questions throw them off their game? Perhaps most importantly, do their answers change from interview to interview, or do they show other signs of talking a bigger game than they can play?

These are all questions you can answer by leveraging a second interview, particularly if you’ve maintained good notes (or even videos) from the first interview, and can review them before the second.

Pro: A Second Interview Allows Less Engaged Candidates to Drop Out

A less common but useful side effect of a two-phase interview process is that it helps you avoid wasting time on candidates who choose not to accept an offer.

When a candidate goes through the interview process, they are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them. It can be frustrating for a hiring manager to choose a candidate and extend an offer, only to find that they’ve chosen to drop out and accept the offer of a different firm. It wastes time, it may make your decision-makers feel less confident in their choice, and it can leave you scrambling if they were the only top-tier candidate to make it.

A second interview gives the candidates involved more time to determine whether or not they’re truly interested in the job. If they receive another offer, they can contact you for a counter-offer right away, or simply drop out of the running if they don’t think you can match it. If those candidates choose not to participate in a second interview, it saves your team time on interviewing and making a decision amongst the remaining candidates.

Those are the primary benefits of hosting a second interview. There are a couple of drawbacks to second interviews, however, and they must be considered.

Con: A Second Interview Takes More Time and Delays Hiring

The biggest overall downside in a second interview is the time it takes to conduct. A two-phase interview process necessarily delays the hiring process by however long it takes to:

  1. Determine which candidates from the first interview are invited to the second.

  2. Organize and schedule the second interview.

  3. Conduct the second interview.

  4. Decide which candidate to extend an offer to.

The actual duration of the second interview can vary. JobBoom says:

“The second interview is usually the shortest, and focuses on gathering information that was not discussed during the first interview.”

However, The Balance Careers counters with:

“A second interview tends to last a half-day to a full day. Consequently, your team can assess whether the individual remains the person they thought they met at the first interview. People are competent at projecting an image of who they are for a couple of hours, but most individuals cannot fake an image for a whole day. In this time frame, your team also will take the applicant out for a meal, and this gives you another level of insight into the candidate’s manners, social competence, and interpersonal interaction skills.”

Now, many companies are not going to spend all day on a second interview for a single candidate, nor are they going to take them out to a restaurant, but it depends a lot on what your interview process is. The higher-level the position you’re interviewing for, the greater the time investment each round of interviews will be.

Con: A Second Interview Requires Close Communication with Candidates

A traditional single interview process is often one of mediocre communication for many businesses. Candidates are often used to attending an interview and then hearing little or nothing back for weeks or months, before maybe receiving an afterthought as a phone call, email, or letter telling them that they didn’t get the job.

“Ensuring your candidate is kept in the loop with updates in the recruitment process is essential. If a candidate doesn’t feel like they’re being updated properly, it’s more likely they won’t accept your job offer, or they may accept one with another company. If the process is delayed for any reason, let the candidate know so they stay engaged.” – Total Jobs.

Second interviews need to bridge the communication gap. The candidates must be kept in the loop, to keep them engaged with the process and let them know that they should handle whatever scheduling considerations they may have.

Concerns might include:

  1. Bringing in candidates from afar for a physical interview, and the travel and lodgings that requires.

  2. Keeping time available for a second interview, which may mean scheduling other life events around it.

  3. Maintaining communications so the candidate doesn’t write you off before you have time to contact them to schedule another round.

Communication means several things. First and foremost, it means managing expectations.

A candidate early in the process might need to wait for the first round of interviews to conclude before expecting a second, so they need to know when they’ll know more. It means keeping them in the loop on delays and other concerns. It also means giving them the respect of letting them know that they weren’t chosen for the position, and whether or not they’re on tap for a future opening.

Is a Second Interview a Good Decision?

Hosting a second interview for your position is a wise decision in some circumstances and is potentially unnecessary in others. While the benefits may seem to outweigh the drawbacks, the balance of the scale tips in certain situations.

Primarily, the biggest factor is time. You might consider skipping a second interview if:

  1. You need someone up and running as soon as possible. When you’re in a rush to find someone to fill a role to pick up the slack, achieve time-sensitive business objectives, or get a team up and running immediately, a second interview may be a delay that you can’t afford.

  2. The size or quality of your candidate pool is low. While there’s a lot you can do to increase the quality of your candidate pools, you might have to deal with a lot of mismatched candidates and a relatively small pool. If the choice is more or less clear on the first interview, or there are very few alternatives, you may not need a second.

  3. Your open positions are entry-level. Many entry-level positions may not require a high level of skill, experience, or nuance to warrant a thorough second interview.

All of these are, to an extent, related. The larger the investment in an employee, the more care should be taken in choosing them, and thus the more likely a second interview will be valuable.

What About a Third Interview?

Third interviews have all of the same considerations as second interviews. They are often seen in cases where the first interview is a large group interview or largely self-directed or one-way skills assessment/video interview. Only in cases of high-level positions such as executives and C-levels are third interviews more commonplace. Whether or not you require them depends a lot on what you hope to get out of them. That said, third interviews are often a sign that your interview process needs revisiting, to more fully analyze candidates before the interview stage, or conduct more comprehensive first and second interviews.

It’s important to remember that second interviews are not an all-or-nothing process. You can choose to implement a two-phase (or even three-phase) interview process for your mid-level and high-level positions, while still sticking to a single-phase process, or a group interview followed by an individual interview process, for your entry-level positions.

In the end, the choice depends on your interview process, your needs, and how well you can assess your candidates in a single interview.

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