Career Advice Job Market Trend Report

Lengthy interview processes look set to stay

Candidates who assumed the job-interview process would get shorter or easier as the economy picked up might need to think again.

That is because even in a relatively buoyant market - with companies in expansion mode and ready to increase headcount - hiring managers are still taking a safety-first approach when it comes to assessing and selecting applicants.

This is particularly evident in the banking and asset-management sector, where three or four rounds of interviews, plus aptitude or suitability tests and in-depth reference checks, are the norm.

And for senior or more critical roles, as many as 10 interviews can take place before a job offer is finally made - especially if the overseas headquarters has to give its stamp of approval. "As far as possible, employers still want to be absolutely sure that they are getting the right person for the role," says Philip Quinn, consultant manager for banking and finance at Kelly Services Hong Kong.

"And while the interview process will move along fairly quickly, it is no less strenuous than it was during the downturn, with human resources and line managers required to cross all the t's and dot all the i's."

Of course, even with a battery of tests and any number of face-to-face meetings, there is no guarantee that someone who looks ideal as a candidate will actually fit in with the team and perform well on the job.

Therefore, Quinn's advice to clients is to review the job description very carefully and understand the actual work environment.

There is often a mismatch between what is advertised - sometimes including vague wish-list items - and what is really required. This can happen for simple reasons: a previous incumbent has expanded the scope of a standard role; the department manager has new targets and expectations are not fully communicated; or circumstances alter between the final interview and the start date with, for example, different lines of reporting put in place.

"It could be that someone does well in the interview process and has good references, but finds that the company's work style just isn't conducive to settling in," Quinn says. "Or a line manager assumes a person hired for the China desk can just be switched to the Southeast Asia desk. They may be capable of doing the job, but it can be a knock to expectations."

He adds that employers can avoid such mis-hires or misunderstandings by inviting team members who will potentially be working together on a daily basis to have direct input. This allows people who know the ins and outs of the job to suggest questions and, if necessary, raise red flags.

It is surprising, though, how few companies seem to do this.

"A team may have been together for three or four years and have particular ways of working and interacting," Quinn says. "So, it obviously makes sense for them to say what they think and deduce if the candidate will be good for them."