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Business News/ Weekend / Nine Rounds of Interviews and No Call Back: It’s Harder Than Ever to Land a White Collar Job

Nine Rounds of Interviews and No Call Back: It’s Harder Than Ever to Land a White Collar Job


Hiring for the office set is slowing down and employers are getting picky again

FILE - A hiring sign is displayed at a restaurant in Prospect Heights, Ill., on April 4, 2023. The hot jobs market has been defying a weakening economy and confounding the Federal Reserve for months, but now shows signs of cooling. The latest set of employment data from the government shows that job openings fell in March to their lowest level since April 2021. Layoffs rose to 1.8 million, their highest level since December 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File) (AP)Premium
FILE - A hiring sign is displayed at a restaurant in Prospect Heights, Ill., on April 4, 2023. The hot jobs market has been defying a weakening economy and confounding the Federal Reserve for months, but now shows signs of cooling. The latest set of employment data from the government shows that job openings fell in March to their lowest level since April 2021. Layoffs rose to 1.8 million, their highest level since December 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File) (AP)

When she applied for marketing jobs earlier this year, Megan Burr went through eight interview rounds before getting rejected. Another company put her through nine, then never replied to her phone call, text or two emails.

Amid layoffs and hiring freezes, many employers have slowed down filling office jobs, from receptionist to chief financial officer, executives and recruiters say. They’re slow-walking candidates, piling on new requirements ranging from more years of experience to higher score requirements on technical tests, to running prospective hires through additional rounds of interviews.

Burr, 41, has worked in marketing for a decade and searched for new jobs on four occasions since 2018. Each time she received multiple offers in a matter of weeks. This time, though, her job hunt lasted four months, with companies expecting her to completemore presentations and interviews, which she said frequently felt redundant.

In one case, Burr said she was perplexed during a ninth-round interview when the woman conducting the interview said she was convinced Burr was able to do the job. The interviewer then asked: “But what else can you do?"

“I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ " Burr remembers thinking.

“I’ve easily spent 20 hours on a single interview process," said Burr, a divorced mother of four in Eugene, Ore., who was laid off from her previous job in November. “From a business perspective, I don’t understand it."

After years of breakneck hiring during the Covid-19 pandemic, white-collar job seekers are feeling whiplash. Job postings from real estate and finance to insurance and advertising have fallen by nearly 500,000 since the end of last year, federal data show. Employers seeking to fill white-collar roles report that it’s taking them an average of 11 weeks to hire, up from seven weeks in 2021, according to data from recruiting firm Robert Half.

During the upheaval of the pandemic, employers saw many job seekers apply for roles who weren’t truly serious about the work, and in a tight labor market, some wound up rushing to hire candidates who didn’t ultimately prove to be a good fit, says Michelle Reisdorf, an Illinois-based district president at Robert Half.

“Everybody’s being extra-cautious," she says. “A lot of companies have gotten burned."

These days, three to four interview rounds are the norm for clients, she says, up from one or two in years past. In a quarter-century of recruiting, Reisdorf says she’s never seen employers moving as cautiously with new hires as they are now.

The labor market has stayed strong overall. Employers added 253,000 jobs in April, with gains across sectors ranging from healthcare to architecture to hospitality. Still, those figures mask that many white-collar industries, including finance and professional and business services, have cut back hiring and for many professionals, switching sectors isn’t always easy—especially now.

People looking for work say that in recent months, particularly as layoffs have swept sectors ranging from tech to consumer goods to media, the feeling of competition has intensified. Back in November, when Rza Mollayev says he was laid off from his $90,000-a-year job by the mattress company Casper, the positions he was applying to showed 75 or 100 other applicants on LinkedIn, which offers the ability to see real-time snapshots of how many people have applied to job postings on its platform. By this spring, he was seeing more like 1,000 people applying for every job he was also going for, he said, with some positions attracting hundreds of applicants within minutes of being posted.

Mollayev, who graduated from New York University in 2020 and still lives in the city, says that back in the year he graduated, he applied for six jobs and had an offer from Casper within a month and a half. This time, he says, the search felt considerably harder.

Mollayev eventually landed a job as a field-training coordinator with Lancôme this spring, after applying to 120 jobs and doing 30 interviews with 19 companies, going through as many as five interview rounds before being rejected. Having so many interview rounds necessitated copious preparations, he said. One recruiter advised him to prepare enough separate anecdotes illustrating his past work experience that he wouldn’t repeat himself in conversations with different interviewers at the same company.

As recently as a year ago, employers were competing fiercely to hire talent, dangling five-figure signing bonuses and offering remote work and other perks. At the same time, many companies relaxed their hiring criteria, desperate to get people through the door.

That is no longer the case.

Aline Lerner, chief executive of, a tech-recruiting marketplace, says tech companies now only want candidates who score 15% higher during technical interview rounds than candidates were expected to at the start of 2022. The company runs practice interviews that test candidates on their technical capabilities, such as writing code, as well as their problem-solving and communication abilities. One candidate trying to solve a problem using a popular programming language without explaining the step-by-step process made the mock interviewer frustrated enough to inadvertently crush a glass of water in his hand, she said. Ultimately, the two got through the interview and the interviewer gave the candidate constructive feedback. Later, listening to a recording of the conversation, Ms. Lerner says, she was amazed to hear the glass breaking—and at how calmly the interview continued afterward.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management, says he regularly hears from companies that are raising the bar on applicants, including one large technology company that recently upped its college-undergraduate GPA requirement for applicants to 3.4, after lowering it at the height of the pandemic to 3.2. Others, he says, are trying to screen more closely to ensure a good match for company culture.

“That’s a luxury that you kind of didn’t have when there were just so many openings," he said.

In the mortgage and real-estate sectors a year and a half ago, employers were willing to take on promising people with a year or two of experience, says Meg Reilly, president at placement firm National Mortgage Staffing. Now, though, the industry, hammered by high interest rates, is laying off staff. Gone are the $20,000 jumps in salary for underwriters and processors, she said.

The companies that continue to hire want people with more than 10 years’ experience and no job-hopping along the way, Reilly said: “Companies are really looking for the person that checks every single box."

For unemployed workers seeking white-collar roles, part of the challenge is simply standing out from the crowd. At AT&T, for example, the number of applications per job posting has nearly doubled from the same period last year, says Astad Dhunjisha, who leads talent attraction for the company. For white-collar openings, the figure has more than tripled.

Hiring managers at AT&T are now often being presented with three to five potential choices, compared with one or two candidates when the labor market was tighter, he says.

The company has around 2,500 professional roles open this year, he says, below the roughly 5,000 positions it filled in each of the two previous years.

“We’re not just opening up roles willy-nilly," he says. “We’re being very cautious about how we open up roles, we’ve all got extra scrutiny."

In Kalamazoo, Mich., the average number of applicants for open roles at Stryker, a medical-technologies company, almost doubled over the past few months compared with 18 to 24 months ago.

With so many applicants vying for roles, recruiters say, companies have more license to make demands of candidates.

“There’s such a saturation of people who’ve been laid off and can start immediately—often really skilled people," says Rachel Moore, 48, of Denver, who began looking for new jobs last summer, after the virtual-events company she worked for had layoffs. “You’re competing with people from Facebook, Twitter and Amazon."

In one case, says Moore, a company she applied to emailed candidates saying it had received so much interest that it was requesting that candidates prepare content campaign strategies for the company to consider, even before an initial phone screening.

“I’m like, why on earth would I invest that time?" says Moore, who got a marketing job in March at another company.

Some say they’ve had enough. While job hunting earlier this year, Laura Meyer, 37, who is based in Chattanooga, Tenn., says that after one fourth-round interview, a potential employer asked her to create a content strategy for all its distribution channels. She would have to present her work to a panel, discussing and debating afterward.

“It was too much for an uncompensated assignment," she says, adding that it would have taken her at least 20 hours to do it properly. Meyer pulled out of the interview process and subsequently decided to strike out on her own as a freelance marketer.

As many employers grow choosier in their hiring, unemployed Americans are spending more time out of work. Earlier this month, the number of people seeking ongoing unemployment benefits, known as continuing claims, was 1.8 million, up 40% from the half-century low it notched last fall. Signs indicate a frostier environment for white-collar workers in particular. The rate of workers in professional and business services quitting their jobs fell to 2.9% in March, down from 3.6% in the year-earlier period, according to federal data.

“If there’s fewer opportunities for you to take a new job, you’re going to be less likely to quit your old one," says Nick Bunker, an economist with jobs site Indeed. Job postings on Indeed have fallen 11% across the board this year.

Leslie Crowe, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures who works with the 200 mostly tech companies in its portfolio to recruit talent, says that in the current economic climate, she’s seeing companies make new demands. A year ago, amid fierce competition to hire, the IT-infrastructure companies she works with might have been happy to hire someone with a general consulting background to serve in an executive role. Now that they have a deeper talent pool to pick from, she says, she’s seeing companies narrowing their focus to candidates who are steeped in their technical fields and able to speak their language.

“If you’re hiring now, the bar’s really high, because not everyone has a lot of head count for their team," she says. Since the start of the year, the tech industry has cut some 198,000 roles, according to, a website that tracks the events as they surface in media reports and company releases. That comes on the heels of 165,000 such layoffs in 2022.

At the same time, she notes, companies no longer feel the same competitive pressure to quickly snap up talent that they had earlier in the pandemic, leading to drawn-out vetting processes.

At the height of the pandemic, UKG Inc., a provider of human-resources, payroll and workforce-management software, hired fast to keep growing, says UKG’s chief people officer, Pat Wadors. As life has gotten back to normal, some of those hires realized they didn’t actually want to work there. The company also learned a lesson, she said: “Maybe you’re not a great fit for us either."

The company is now more rigorous about who gets a signing bonus, after frequently paying them when the job market was frothy, she said. It’s also now firm about face time, taking pains to state up front that new hires have to live near offices; many employees are required to put in at least three days in the office each week.

Clara Broomfield, 27 years old, has been job hunting for eight months. Since leaving her job overseeing employee training and development at a Los Angeles-based online retail company, she estimates that she’s applied to 2,000 jobs in various industries.

Several offers have fallen through, she said, and some companies midway or in the final stages of the interview process instituted hiring freezes. One company put her through multiple rounds of interviews and test project assignments during a four-month period before withdrawing the job posting.

“It was common when I last was looking for work in 2019 to have to do two, maybe three rounds of interviews, and maybe do an assignment. But now it seems like we’re having an assignment that’s lengthy, will require multiple hours of work, and four to five rounds of interviews and still you have no guarantee that you’re going to get an offer," she said. “It almost seems like people are posting jobs with no intent to actually hire anyone."

As her savings dwindle, Broomfield is growing more discouraged. Some companies where she had interviews months ago have told her they need more time before making a decision, after previously saying they wanted to make a fast decision. Meanwhile, Broomfield recently gave her landlord notice that she needed to vacate her apartment. She said she’s resigned herself to staying with friends in L.A. or moving back to Texas and sleeping on her mother’s couch if she doesn’t land a job soon.

“I cried today," she said.

Write to Te-Ping Chen at and Ray A. Smith at

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