Blog home

What should your interview pass rate be?

August 17, 2020
Auren Hoffman

What should the “pass rate” be when you interview someone for a job? 

The pass rate is just a simple measure of how often you move any one candidate to the next round. Let’s say you interview someone for a software engineering job, and you can give the candidate a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” — what should the “thumbs up” rate be?

The short answer is: it’s complicated.

If your pass rate is 1%, you will be spending all your time interviewing. You rarely think the person you interview would be a good eventual hire, which leads to more interviews with other candidates. It will take you forever to fill the position.

However, if your pass rate is 99%, you are likely too discriminatory against people to do a round of interviews in the first place. You are choosing not to hire people that could be great hires for your organization.

And if your pass rate is 99%, what is the use in interviewing people in the first place? Almost every “candidate” is making it to the next round.

Imagine a sports league where all the teams that competed against each other in the regular season make the playoffs. What was the point of the regular season? It was a waste of time. 

So is having a pass rate of 99%.

Pass rates should depend on how many people you’ve hired for a particular position in the past. 

Imagine you’re a super software engineer, and you have hired hundreds of software engineers in your career. You should have a reasonably good idea of what you are looking for in a new hire. During the interview process, your rate of giving someone a “thumbs up” should be 30-50%.

If your pass rate is below 30-50%, you need to screen your candidates better.

If it is below that, you (or the colleagues before you) did not vet the candidate enough before you interviewed them. You may not have gone through their resume closely enough, examined their portfolio in enough detail, etc. 

With a pass rate below 30-50%, interviewing is not a good use of your time. You can screen candidates who are right for the job, but you or your team are not doing it. 

If your pass rate is above 50%, you need to take more risks. 

If your pass rate is above 50%, you need to bring in more “riskier” candidates - those who may not look exactly the part on paper, but who may bring a different perspective. This will simultaneously lower your pass rate and expose you to outliers who can change the dynamic of your company.

This is important. The best candidate may not be the one who looks like a perfect fit on paper right now. But, A-Players grow at a tremendous speed. You’re better off finding an A-Player who can grow into the position (and eventually surpass it) than hiring a C-Player who is a perfect fit right now.

With a pass rate of less than 50%, you do not take enough risks within your interview process.

A simple rule is that the more familiar you are with the position, the higher the pass rate. 

That makes sense. The more you hire for a position, the better you should be at identifying the right background in candidates. And if you’re bringing in the right candidates, more of them should make it to the second round, giving you a higher pass rate. 

You should also already have systems in place for this kind of hire, be it skill-testing questions, programming questions, etc. The more familiar you are with the process, the more you know about the type of candidate you want in the room.

But now, let’s say you are interviewing for a position that you don’t have a lot of experience hiring for. You are a new founder and have a lot of experience hiring engineers, but now you need to hire salespeople. 

This is more tricky. In this case, you might want to broaden your search (be less discriminatory) and talk with a broader set of people. The irony is that by interviewing a full spectrum of people, you’ll learn a lot about the specific kind of salesperson you want on your team. You’ll also learn some stuff about sales you probably didn’t know before.

This wide-net approach means you will have a significantly lower pass rate (maybe it gets as low as 10%) because you’ll be meeting all different kinds of salespeople with diverse backgrounds, and many of them won’t be the right fit. 

It’s kind of like eating at a buffet. If you don’t know exactly what you want to eat, you pile a bunch of different things onto your plate and then really decide what you want once you’re back at your table and nibble on a few.

So the less familiar you are with the position, the lower the pass rate.

CEOs spend a lot of time recruiting for positions they have little experience in.

One of the reasons CEOs spend so much time interviewing is that almost anytime they are recruiting someone who reports to them, it is more of a one-off hire. It’s not a repeatable process that can be optimized. 

You hire only one CTO while you might hire 100 engineers. You hire only one CRO while you might hire 100 salespeople.

So, CEOs need to see lots and lots of candidates early in every process. The more people they see, the more they’ll learn about precisely the kind of person they want for the “one-off” (and incredibly important) hire. 

For these interviews, their pass rate should be very low because they see a TON of candidates and are not sure what they want.

It also helps to have a support system (excellent management team, industry peers, etc.) who can provide some level of feedback on what your ideal hire looks like. It’s hard operating and hiring in a vacuum. Try and get as much feedback as you can from people you trust.

So, what should the “pass rate” be when you interview someone for a job? 

It depends. The more you’ve hired for a role in the past, the higher the pass rate (30-50%), and the less you’ve hired for a position in the past, the lower the pass rate (10-30%).

If you feel something is “off” in your interview process, the pass rate can be a good indicator of where the problem is. Track it, adjust it, and play with it depending on the role.

Like every company, you’re only as good as the people you hire.

SafeGraph team is hiring!

If you are interested in a career at SafeGraph, please join us!

Special thanks to Thomas Waschenfelder for his help and edits.

Browse the latest

Questions? Get in touch with our team of data experts.