What Makes a Job Interview Difficult?

Past research has shown that tougher interviews lead to better hires, but what exactly is it that makes interviews challenging? In a new analysis, Glassdoor Economic Research dug in to identify the features of job interviews that make them difficult. Is it the types of hoops candidates have to jump through, the employer’s industry, or is it the demographics of the candidate that make interviews tough?

Highlights:

  • Adding interview screens like group panel interviews or skills tests significantly increases the level of difficulty during interviews. In fact, adding a group panel interview added a statistically significant 13 percent to the typical interview difficulty star ratings (on a scale of 1 to 5).
  • When we looked at the type of employer, hospitals have the toughest reported interview processes – about 9.7 percent harder than average – while franchises and companies known for contract or gig economy work have the easiest reported interviews.
  • Whether you are a man or woman doesn’t matter when it comes to how rigorous the interview process is – we saw no statistically significant difference between genders.

This analysis follows a series of research studies on job interview processes here at Glassdoor. In past studies we’ve shown that harder job interviews lead to better hires, that hiring delays have been growing around the world, and that employee referrals beat all other sources for recruiting great candidates.

But one question we’ve never explored is what makes interviews difficult. Let’s take a closer look at the data on what really makes a job interview challenging from the perspective of job seekers themselves.

A Look at the Data
Glassdoor’s unique interview review survey provides an ideal way to explore what makes job interview difficult. The survey asks job seekers to rate the difficulty of a recent job interview on a 1 to 5 scale. They share detailed information about the job, the employer, and what types of questions were asked at their interview.

These data allow us to study what features of job interviews are statistically linked to easier or more difficult interview ratings.

First, here’s a big-picture view of our job interview difficulty data. Below is the distribution or “histogram” of difficulty ratings from a large sample of more than 250,000 Glassdoor interview reviews from 2008 to the present.


As with many data from surveys, the difficulty of job interviews reported on Glassdoor is roughly bell-shaped with an average of 2.6 out of 5 stars. However, interview difficulty skews slightly toward “easy” with an unusually large number of 1 and 2 star interviews.

That’s consistent with our own research showing that the “optimal” interview difficulty—in terms of making sure employees who are hired are satisfied later on at their jobs—is 4 out of 5 stars. Because most employers interview below that level, employers and job seekers today could benefit by slightly ramping up the average difficulty of job interview processes.

Drivers of Interview Difficulty
To uncover what factors are associated with more difficult job interviews, we ran simple linear regressions to see what factors are linked to harder job interviews in our data sample. We looked at the following factors:

  • What type of “screens” did the employer use, including group panel interviews, skills tests, presentations, background checks and more?
  • What type of employer was the interview at, such as a publicly traded company, a private company, a nonprofit, a government agency or something else?
  • Was the interview at a small or large employer?
  • What are the personal characteristics of the job seeker, such as age, gender, and education? Do those factors affect perceived interview difficulty?

Our Findings
Here is a summary of the key factors that make job interviews more difficult according to Glassdoor data.

Factor 1: Interview Screens. Not surprisingly, job interviews that require many hoops for job seekers are viewed as significantly more difficult. Which types of interview screens are most difficult? On average, we found group panel interviews are seen as most difficult, followed by phone interviews, skills tests, and nerve-wracking candidate presentations.

The figure below shows ten different interview screens, and the statistically significant impact of each on interview difficulty. The figure shows the percentage impact that using each interview screen has on the reported 1 to 5 star difficulty of a typical job interview.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, group panel interviews mattered most for interview difficulty. Adding a group panel interview raises the difficulty rating of interviews by about 13 percent. They are followed by phone interviews (+9 percent), skills tests (+8 percent) and candidate presentations (+7 percent).

Of the ten interview screens we examined, nine were associated with harder interviews. Only one was linked to less difficult job interviews: employer drug tests. Job seekers who faced drug screening reported about 1 percent easier overall interview processes—even after controlling for industry, job title, and geographic location.

Note: Includes statistical controls for industry, employer type, job title, state, interview outcome, candidate source, and user demographic characteristics.

While adding extra hoops for candidates raises the perceived difficulty of job interviews, it also slows down the hiring process–which can lead to costly hiring delays and candidates lost to the competition. Before adding additional layers to interviews, it’s important for employers to assure that each new screen actually helps identify great candidates, and doesn’t just make interviews harder without any offsetting benefit. (Read more on group panel techniques and tips.)

For job seekers, the key takeaway is interviews with more layers–particularly group panel interviews, presentations, skills tests and phone interviews–will be a more difficult experience. But research shows harder interviews are good medicine for candidates, as they’re linked to better job satisfaction later on. Candidates should do research and come prepared and confident heading into a challenging interview, as it’s often the doorway into a better-fitting career match. (Read more on Jobs with the Toughest Interview Questions).

Factor 2: Type of Employer. What type of company you’re interviewing at matters for interview difficulty.

While the tech and consulting industries are famous for challenging interviews, our data show the most difficult interviews are actually reported for hospitals, at 9.7 percent more difficult than average. They’re followed by non-profits (+9.6 percent more difficult), and schools (+8.1 percent more difficult). By contrast, reported job interviews are easiest among contract and “gig economy” employers (-4.0 percent less difficult) and franchise employers, which include many fast food restaurants (-2.4 percent less difficult).

For the eight types of employers we examined, the figure below shows how much more or less difficult interviews are on average, after controlling for job title, industry, location and other factors.  

Note: Includes statistical controls for industry, job title, state, interview outcome, candidate source, types of interview screens used, and user demographic characteristics.

Factor 3: Company Size. Job candidates at larger employers should brace for a challenge. Interviews at larger companies are statistically more difficult than at small employers. However, the effect is fairly small: Interviewing at a large company with 1,000 to 4,999 employees is about 1 percent harder than interviewing at a medium-size employer with 250 to 999 employees, after controlling for all other factors.

Factor 4: Gender. Do men and women differ in how difficult they perceive job interviews? Not according to Glassdoor data. We find no significant difference in reported interview difficulty for male versus female job seekers—it appears most employers apply equally rigorous interview screens to male and female applicants.

Factor 5: Education. How does the education of job seekers influence their perceived job interview difficulty? After controlling for job title, industry and other factors we find that job seekers with advanced degrees like M.B.A.s and J.D.s still report the hardest job interview experiences on Glassdoor: Both report interviews that are about 7 percent more difficult than average. By contrast, job seekers with only a high school diploma reported job interviews that are about 1 percent easier on average—a small but statistically significant difference.

Factor 6: Age. Do job interviews get easier or harder as workers get older? We found that older workers reported significantly more difficult job interviews than younger workers on Glassdoor, even after controlling for job title, education and industry. On average, moving up one age group — for example, moving from age 25-34 to 35-44 — is associated with approximately 1.3 percent more difficult job interviews, a small but significant increase. 

Conclusion
Research shows that tougher job interviews can lead to more satisfied workers later on. But what exactly makes an interview hard or easy?

Based on a large sample of more than 250,000 interview reviews on Glassdoor, we examined which factors statistically drive the perceived difficulty of job interviews today.

Not surprisingly, our results show that more interview layers make interviews harder for workers: In particular, adding group panel interviews, phone interviews, skills tests and candidate presentations make job interviews between 7 percent and 13 percent more difficult than average.

We also found that the type of employer, company size, and the age and education of job seekers is linked to the perceived difficulty of interviews. On the other hand, we find no evidence of a gender gap in job interview difficulty: Men and women reported the same average difficulty at job interviews.

For job seekers, these results suggest that interviews with more layers and at larger employer will be a more difficult experience. But because research shows harder interviews are linked to better job satisfaction later on, candidates should be confident heading into challenging interviews, viewing them as an opportunity to come prepared with research that will help improve the quality of their matches with employers. (Read the 27 Jobs with the Toughest Interview Questions blog post for some of today’s most challenging questions.)

For employers, these results suggest specific ways to make job interviews more rigorous and challenging for candidates. For more advice on how to incorporate challenging features into job interviews, we encourage employers to visit the Glassdoor for Employers Blog or read our eBook, How to Conduct Better Interviews.

For more workplace and labor market insights, visit Glassdoor Economic Research to subscribe to the blog and newsletter. Follow @adchamberlain on Twitter.