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rat race

Metzti Bryan got her print-inspection co-ordination job with TI Group the hard way.

Along with about 100 other graphic communications management students at Toronto's Ryerson University, she stood in the school cafeteria and waited for the sound of the gong.

As it rang out, the students charged into the cafeteria, frantically scanning the room for their first interview. After 10 minutes, the gong would signal the next interview. Each student would speak with 12 prospective bosses that day, over the course of 120 gruelling minutes.

Ms. Bryan got the job she was after, and now speed interviews students for her company - the last time at Ryerson's job fair in March.

"It's like a race," Ms. Bryan said, calling the experience both energizing and nerve-wracking.

Based on the speed-dating model, in which singles try to woo prospective partners in minutes before rotating to another table, speed interviewing is taking off among employers who want face time with the most prospects in the least amount of time.

It's also finding favour among time-starved professionals who need to hire a doula, a babysitter or a life coach, even as management and organizational behaviour experts are expressing division over its effectiveness.

Proponents of speed interviewing say the events are efficient and dependable.

"It speaks to the fact that people don't have a whole lot of time," said Tanya Geisler, who along with co-founder Lisa Chandler hosts Coach Buffet, a series of speed-interviewing events for life coaches in Montreal and Toronto.

Participants pay $50 for a 35-minute workshop with one coach and 15-minute sessions with two others. Before and after the sessions, they get to mingle with 10 more coaches who are on hand.

Many of the participants at the first events, in Montreal in October and Toronto last month, were small-business owners aged 35 to 45. Ms. Geisler, a life coach herself, asked them to write down a troubling life or business issue to keep them focused.

She said speed interviewing is a good way to find a life coach because the process of finding the right one can be "really long."

Ditto for parents looking for doulas, said Amanda Spakowski, founder of Toronto's The Nesting Place. The company will host its third speed-interview event for 10 doulas and 10 expectant couples in January.

"Each couple will get a room to themselves and the doula will rotate and they'll have a mini-interview" lasting five minutes, Ms. Spakowski said.

"Within five or 10 minutes, a lot of people can tell if they feel a connection with somebody or not," said Ms. Spakowski, noting that parents get sample questions and doulas are asked to think about what sets them apart.

Face time is important because the profession is a personal one, said Ms. Spakowski: "This person is a person you're going to be naked in front of; this is a person that you're really going to need to let go in front of, be loud and be vulnerable."

After they pick a doula, parents are encouraged to conduct an in-depth interview on their own time. This is still less time-consuming than full-length interviews with multiple candidates, Ms. Spakowski argued.

Speed interviewing first took off five years ago in the United States - for babysitters. Today, there is the Lullaby League in Canada and MommyMixer, now offered in 32 U.S. cities and launching in Toronto next spring.

Still, experts are concerned that speed interviews lets employers glean little about the person whizzing by their table. They argue that the only way to learn anything meaningful about prospective employees is to ask behavioural questions about situations at their previous jobs, situations similar to ones that would arise at the job being offered.

"If the job is very complex, you can't do that in five minutes," said Dave Zweig, an associate professor of organizational behaviour and human-resource management at the University of Toronto who has researched job interviews.

"In five minutes, all you're doing is using your own bias in making judgment, and that can lead to bad hires and discrimination," Prof. Zweig said.

Other experts say speed interviewing can't do much more harm than the standard interview, mostly because employers form nearly all of their impressions within the first 30 seconds of meeting a candidate, regardless of the time allotted.

"The research evidence is that when you're interviewing somebody, you've probably made up your mind whether you're going to hire them by the time they've sat down in the chair," said Hugh P. Gunz, chairman of the department of management at the University of Toronto.

Prof. Gunz said employers then use the interview to "gather information that backs up our initial prejudice."

He and other experts suggest speed interviewing may be as futile as its longer cousin.

"Interviewing is probably the least reliable way of predicting job success," said Ann Frost, associate professor of organizational behaviour at the Richard Ivey School of Business. "… I'd say go ahead and do it for five minutes because you're not wasting as much time."

But Prof. Frost allowed that there could be some benefit to interviewing a slew of doulas face-to-face: Such intimate professions demand chemistry, which often takes only a few minutes to gauge.

"It's not really about the skills or capabilities of being an engineer, but 'are you a kind person that I'd like to hold my hand while I go through labour for the next 12 hours?'"