Is a Long Job Interview Process a Red Flag?

6 minutes

A large interview panel, long waits in between rounds, take-home assignments — should you be running for the hills? At the risk of sounding like a Senior Engineer, it depends. When you submit a job application, there are a lot of processes happening behind the scenes that can cause delays, says Nadia Vatalidis, Director of Talent Acquisition at Camunda, who has worked in recruitment and talent acquisition for more than 20 years. It’s been a tumultuous few years in the tech job market, with widespread layoffs leading to more competition for each role. A long job interview process isn’t always cause for concern, but it can be a clue into how the team operates and what it’d be like working at an organization.

So, what’s the holdup, and what can you do if things are taking too long? 

What happens after you submit an application?

The stage between applying and hearing back from the company is often the longest. “For any role, there could be 50 applicants, 3,000, or even 8,000,” Nadia says. “Some companies use AI, assessments, or some form of automation to filter candidates for the right experience and competencies, but others might be filtering manually in the applicant tracking system.”

In addition to the large number of candidates, multiple people may be giving input and assisting in the candidate filtering process, says Nadia. All of this can add time, especially if the company works asynchronously across multiple time zones.

Learn something new for free

So, how long should you expect to wait for a response to your application? “Between five and seven days is reasonable,” says Nadia. “Trying to reduce that review time to, say, 24 hours may mean that the talent acquisition team rushes the process, losing out on great candidates.” It’s tough to stay patient when your future career is on the line but think of it this way: You spent a lot of time working on your resume and portfolio, and you’d want the same attention and care given to your application.

It’s also worth mentioning that some automated emails from recruiters can inadvertently end up in your spam. “Some applicant tracking systems send notifications from ‘no reply’ email addresses, which often land in your junk folder,” says Nadia. So, if you are waiting on tenterhooks for a reply, it might be worth checking there.

Why can it take so long between interviews?

“If the hiring manager submits their feedback within 24 hours, I can get back to the candidate within 24-48 hours,” says Nadia. However, not every company you apply to will have a dedicated talent acquisition team or a formal applicant tracking system that notifies people that a candidate is waiting for next steps. “Sometimes a hiring manager might send a Slack message to the recruiter to say, ‘This went well, please move them forward,’ but we actually need them to complete the feedback form in the applicant tracking system before we can advance the candidate,” says Nadia.

Giving a deadline can actually help the recruiter to get the hiring manager to make a decision if they’ve been stalling.

Nadia Vatalidis
Director of Talent Acquisition at Camunda

If the process is taking a while and communication is erratic, this isn’t necessarily a red flag. Put it in context and consider the size and type of company you applied to and the complexity of the role. A well-established, post-IPO company probably has more regimented hiring procedures than, say, a series A startup with 50 employees. Empathizing with the hiring team can help to alleviate some of your frustration about waiting. (While they might use helpful AI tools to speed up the hiring process, they’re human too!)

This might also be a moment for you to reflect: do you want to work for a scrappy startup where you will probably be wearing many hats? Or would you prefer the structure of a big corporation? The hiring process can give you useful signals about what stage the company is at.

How many interviews is reasonable?

For a junior level position, Nadia believes up to four rounds of interviews should be sufficient to make a hiring decision. That might include a screening call, a technical interview, and a couple informal meetings with your potential team members. “If their interview panel is 10 people, something isn’t right; they might be looking for a standard that isn’t realistic,” she says.

The same principle applies if a company requires a long work sample or take-home assignment. “Their interview skills as a hiring manager or recruiter may be lacking if they can’t discover what they need during the interview process or by looking at your portfolio or body of work on GitHub, for example,” Nadia says.

Ideally, the company should be transparent about their hiring process and how many stages are involved before you apply. Feel free to ask the hiring manager at the start of the process how many stages of interviews you can expect. That way, you can decide upfront whether you’re comfortable with the amount of time and effort you’ll need to invest in it.

Why is it taking so long to get an offer?

It could be as simple as the person who signs contracts and approves salaries is out of office, says Nadia. “Another reason could be if you didn’t discuss compensation at any point in the hiring process, now the recruiter and hiring manager need to establish your expectations and if they can meet them,” she says.  

Of course, there is always the possibility that they are trying to choose between you and another candidate. “Sometimes the hiring manager is genuinely struggling to decide,” Nadia says. If you’re dealing with a lean tech startup where there are lots of first-time managers, there could be subconscious delays. “They might be dealing with 10 other things on their team — some bug, an application being down, someone leaving the company, or even something positive in their personal life,” she says. “All those things are distracting and can impact the timeline.”

How can you follow up?

It’s not needy to send a follow-up message to the hiring manager. “If you’re waiting a week or longer between stages, it’s fine to check in with your contact in a kind, direct, and clear way,” says Nadia. And you don’t need to have a competing offer to press them for a decision: “It’s completely okay to say, ‘I interviewed on this date and would love some feedback by Friday afternoon,’ and you don’t need to give a reason or add an ultimatum.”

Asking for a response by a specific date can help to nudge things forward. “Giving a deadline can actually help the recruiter to get the hiring manager to make a decision if they’ve been stalling,” Nadia says. (We have more great advice on what to do if you’re ghosted by a recruiter.)

The delay itself is not a red flag, but how the company responds to your request can be illuminating, Nadia says. “If they respond rudely or make you feel bad for following up after they’ve gone silent, maybe you want to find an opportunity to work for another great company,” she says.

If you’re in between interviews, it’s always good to stay busy. Check out our Career Center for resources to help you prepare. If you’re waiting on a decision, hopefully these insights will help you feel more empowered to take action when the time (and job) is right.

Related courses

5 courses

Related articles

4 articles