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It's not just you: Many jobs are requiring more interviews. Here's how to stand out

While it's not unusual for candidates to go through several rounds of job interviews, more companies appear to be stretching that process out.
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While it's not unusual for candidates to go through several rounds of job interviews, more companies appear to be stretching that process out.

Updated June 2, 2023 at 6:07 AM ET

The scenario goes like this: Your first interview for the role goes well, so you get invited back for a second, then a third, then a fourth, and so on. You're getting follow-up Zoom invitations at the point where you might finally expect an offer or a rejection. And you're getting tired of it.

That seemingly never-ending interview process has become a reality for scores of millions of Americans on the job hunt today. Kosoko Jackson, an author and social media director based in New Jersey, is one of them.

He told NPR that after he was recruited by a consulting firm, three rounds of interviews haphazardly turned into seven, with less and less notice in between each one. He was submitting writing samples and providing references, all on top of working his existing job. And in the end, he didn't get the gig — or even a response.

"It was just a very frustrating process, especially to end with kind of being ghosted, only to be contacted six months later with a very lukewarm apology," Jackson recalls.

While there's no set rule, many jobs have traditionally required something between two and four interviews. But candidates for many white-collar positions are now up against a growing number of interview rounds — as many as eight, nine, or, in one staggering anecdote, 29 — as recent reporting by Slate and The Wall Street Journal makes clear.

"You have to anticipate it'll probably be anywhere from three to six to even 10 interviews. It could go on for three to six months," says Jack Kelly, the founder and CEO of recruiting firm Compliance Search Group.

Kelly tells Morning Edition that there are a number of reasons why hiring managers might be moving slowly these days. Companies may be hesitant to make decisions because of the economic and geopolitical uncertainty, he says, pointing to record inflation levels, mass layoffs, fears of a possible recession and the instability caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

They may also want to involve as many people in the hiring process as possible so that no single manager will take the blame if the new hire doesn't work out, he says, citing "safety in numbers." And, he adds, some human resources employees may feel compelled to make the hiring process as involved as possible in order to justify their own jobs under these conditions.

But the drawn-out process, lack of feedback and threat of rejection can take a serious toll on applicants' self-esteem. That's especially true for people who may not realize the extent to which the problem is systemic, Kelly says.

He urges job seekers not to lose hope or stop trying, even if it's slow going.

"If you keep interviewing, you keep meeting people, you keep networking, you keep reaching out to people to get ideas," he says. "Eventually, all you need is that one door to open and you're good. That's it. You just need that one break. And if you keep trying, eventually it will happen."

Easier said than done, of course. Morning Edition asked Kelly and dating coach Megan Weks for advice. Weks, who used to recruit on Wall Street, says job interviews and dates have a lot in common.

"When people can feel your warmth, they're going to immediately feel more trust for you than they would if you were holding back, than if you were guarded or if you were bracing yourself for rejection," Weks says. "That destroys the energy that we're putting out."

Here are some of their tips for approaching those conversations and navigating the process — including when and how to break things off.

Before the interview: Get in the right mindset

The first step, not surprisingly, is preparing for the interview in advance.

Kelly recommends some basics, like scrutinizing the job description and identifying the skills and experiences you've had that match up with it, learning a bit about your interviewer from LinkedIn or social media in advance, and studying up on the company itself, especially its financials and culture.

"The more due diligence you do, the better you'll be in the interview," Kelly says.

Mental and physical preparation matter, too. Kelly says it's important to expect job hunting to be a long slog and to pace yourself accordingly.

"It's almost like you're an athlete, where you've got to eat right, you've got to get enough sleep, you've got to exercise because it is very strenuous," he adds.

Weks also recommends getting in the right mindset and bringing your "best energy" to the conversation.

"My goal for you is to bring warmth and love into your interview and your dating process," she says. "And just start taking note of how much more high-quality your interactions become and how much more you're received with trust, which is what will escalate your career and your dating processes."

During the interview: Act natural and ask questions

Both experts say it's important to be yourself during the interview process.

Kelly recommends coming prepared with a 30- to 60-second elevator pitch — about who you are, what you've done in the past and what you hope to do next — to answer that pesky "tell me about yourself" opener.

"What I suggest to job seekers when you're interviewing is to show your authentic self," Kelly says. "You want to be genuine, you want to come as you are who you are, bring your real self to the interview because if they hire you, that's who they're going to get."

And with many interviews these days happening virtually, Weks says it's harder to get a sense of the other person's aura. She urges candidates to focus on the human connection in other ways, including body language.

For example, Weks says, your shoulders may be "sort of scrunched up by your ears" if you're nervous, but using breath work and other grounding exercises will help you drop them down and look more comfortable.

"If you're feeling at ease and comfortable in your own skin, the person on the other side is going to see this," she adds. "They can feel it and they can hear it in your voice as well."

As far as the actual conversation, Weks draws lessons from some common dating mistakes.

She says many people don't share with the other person why they're there or why they're interested in them. You want to make them feel seen, she says, and one way to do that is by telling them what you admire or respect about them.

"And the trick to dating ... which can transfer over to the interview process, is it's not only about how amazing of a person you are," Weks adds. "What's also so important, equally as important if not more, is how the other person feels when they're around you."

Her other piece of advice is to ask the right questions. While it's important to come prepared with questions, she says interviewers can tell when you're just running down the list — and will appreciate if you ask a question that shows "you're thinking critically in the moment about something that the person said."

And, because everyone's favorite topic is themselves, she recommends not asking questions only about the company but about the interviewer's career path and role at the company. This is where that LinkedIn research, and Weks' compliment tips, may come in especially handy.

"There might be something about their career process that's intriguing to you," she adds. "And when you've uncovered something like that, it's a perfect time to then use one of our scripts: 'I respect that you blank or I admire that you blank.' "

Be persistent, but set boundaries too

Of course, Kelly acknowledges, it's hard to be your best self if you feel you're being dragged along. So what's the best way to follow up?

He recommends being "slightly persistent," as long as you're being polite and nonconfrontational about it.

That email could go something like this, he says: "Hey, I really enjoyed meeting with X, Y and Z. I love your corporate culture. I use your products and services myself, so I'm really excited about it. But at this point, I've had two or three interviews, [I'm] not really getting feedback. Can you please offer some guidance, some advice, so I understand how long this will take? Am I a front-runner, or am I No. 2 or my No. 3?"

Kelly says you're well within your rights to ask these kinds of questions. And then, depending on the answer, you may decide to save your energy and just bow out.

"At some point, you also have to have self-respect and boundaries and show them that you respect your own time," Weks agrees.

If the process is really dragging on, she recommends an email along these lines: "I've so enjoyed meeting all of you. This is truly my first choice and a role that I'm incredibly interested in for X, Y and Z reason ... I'm in a position where I'm going to have to make a decision about this within the next 7 to 14 days. Otherwise, I'll have to go my separate way. Again, this is my first choice, and I absolutely will say yes if an offer is received."

Weks acknowledges that if a company is moving really slowly, it could be because they're unsure.

"And, as goes with dating, do you really want to be with someone who's uncertain about you?" she adds. "Or do you want to find someone who feels more certain that you're a fit for them?"

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.