Want a job? You have 60 seconds to convince me

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By Eve Tahmincioglu

Just as speed dating adds more stress to the search for a mate, speed interviewing is sure to make the job hunt more tense.

Yes, speed interviewing.

In at least one extreme example, workers are being given just one minute to sell their skills to a hiring manager. If they fall short, they are out the door.

That’s the approach MediConnect Global has been taking with its interview process. Even though it may sound like a nightmare for some job seekers, it has worked out great for the medical records company and some lucky employees who passed the test.

When Zane Davis, 34, a client services representative, interviewed at Mediconnect two years ago, he was told before the meeting that he’d have less than a minute to pitch himself to a panel of company managers. “I had never heard of a company doing these speed interviews,” he said.

Davis, who had been a welder and was looking to change careers, said, “They wanted to know why they should hire me within 30 seconds or so.”

When he got to the company’s offices in Salt Lake City, Utah, there were 12 other job candidates waiting for the quick why-you-should-hire-me interview spiel. He recalled everyone else had flashcards they were studying, but he decided to focus on being confident and highlighting the skills he could bring to the table.

“I don’t remember what I said, but it worked,” he said. The company called him back for about five minutes of follow-up questions that day, and about a week later he was offered the job. “It’s kind of a nerve-racking experience, and very humbling.”

While quick back-to-back, rapid-fire interviews with multiple candidates have been a fixture at job fairs, tactic is unusual within the  confines of company offices.

Many job seekers have reported a growing trend in the opposite direction, with employers putting applicants through endless hours of interviews. (I recently wrote about the phenomenon.)

“We have not received much pick-up amongst our clients in regards to speed-dating type interviews,” said Bob Kovalsky, senior vice president for Adecco Staffing. “The process that the majority of our clients uses is one that’s a bit more comprehensive.”

But using the speed-dating type format is not unheard of.

Booz Allen Hamilton uses “a technique where candidates can go from table to table to meet with interviewers who represent differing capabilities of the firm,” said James Fisher, a spokesman for the consulting firm.  “This helps us ensure that we’re making the best match of candidate skills and job opportunities.” 

In a post on the jobs website Glassdoor, one anonymous job seeker likened it to "speed dating."

“I don’t know that we would use the term ‘speed dating,’” Fisher said.

In situations where employers want to churn through lots of applicants quickly, some hiring managers are using the tactic, said Jay Meschke, president of recruiting firm EFL Associates.

He’s not convinced, however, it’s a smart move. “Sure people want applicants to meet with as many people as possible in a short amount of time, but what can you learn in a few minutes?”

Quite a lot, according to MediConnect CEO Amy Rees Anderson.

About two years ago, she heard about speed dating and thought it might be a great way to review many job applicants in a short time. While she began by giving candidates just 30 second to pitch themselves, she ultimately decided one minute was best.

“The purpose of that minute is to get a sense of their confidence, personality, ability to represent themselves,” she said.

Before the candidates make their brief presentations, the company has them complete skills, IQ and personality tests. “By the time they come for the interview we’ve got a pretty good profile of them,” she explained.

Sometimes applicants are nervous, she said, but the managers don’t hold that against them. Too much confidence can get you booted. “Someone that came in was so overly aggressive about why we should hire him, and when his time was up he refused to leave,” she said.

Two memorable applicants, she said, did something out of the ordinary. One candidate brought in 5-hour Energy drinks because he thought the managers conducting the interviews might be tired. And another applicant pulled out a huge stack of dollar bills, laid them on the table before his pitch, and picked them up when he left. “It caught our attention, made us remember him,” she said.

Verisk Analytics Inc. bought MediConnect in March. Officials from the parent company recently asked Anderson to walk them through the speed-interviewing process because they’re considering expanding the technique.

It’s not just about the words they say, or how creative they are, Anderson said. “You get a sense of the person,” she said. “They come in and tell us about themselves.”