when job candidates are scheduled for a half-day of interviews, can I end it early if they’re not right for the job?

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A reader writes:

I’m a teacher who also manages the recruitment of new teachers at my school. We invite promising candidates to campus for half a day for a tour, classroom observations, a few interviews and a demonstration lesson. On occasion, despite our previous screening, I can determine almost immediately that the candidate is not going to be right for the position. And it usually is for one of two specific reasons: the candidate is disengaged or the candidate makes it clear that he or she has a very different philosophy from our school.

Candidates are scheduled to be at the school for several hours. I do not want to waste their time or ours, but I also do not want to make the candidate feel bad (we try to be a caring community) and I do not want the candidates to badmouth our school as a result. Should I directly address the disengagement or the lack of philosophical alignment? If so, how? And are there times when it would be appropriate to end the visit early or should I always let them go through the process since they have arranged to spend half a day with us?

I’d strongly suggest doing a one-on-one interview with these candidates before inviting them back for the full half-day schedule of activities. If you’re able to tell quickly that a candidate isn’t right, then it makes sense to do initial interviews first, and only then to invite the most promising back for follow-up interviews and a demonstration lesson.

This may seem like it’ll take you longer, but in fact, you’ll be saving yourself and your colleagues significant time (since you won’t be spending a half day with candidates who aren’t strong), and it’s also more considerate to the candidates themselves (since you won’t be asking them to go through all the work of preparing and giving a demonstration lesson before you’ve determined that they’re a strong candidate).

If for some reason it’s not possible to have them visit the school in-person more than once, then do the initial interviews over the phone. Either way, increasing your initial screening before you or the candidates make a significant time investment in each other will make your process much more efficient.

Update: The question-asker responded in the comments section below to say that she does conduct two initial phone interviews with candidates before inviting them to campus, “but no system is perfect and there are those days when someone who seemed great to at least two of us on the phone is just obviously not right once we meet them in person.”  So in light of that, here’s part two of my answer:

Okay, so you’re doing initial interviews by phone. Good. And you’re right that some candidates are great on the phone but then don’t excel once you get to the in-person interview — although it’s still worth looking at what questions you’re asking during phone interviews to see if you can get more rigor in that part of that process. But it does sound like you’re committing too much time to candidates prematurely, so why not make the next step in the process a single in-person interview? No half day, no school tour, no string of interviews, and definitely no demonstration lesson at this point — just a one-on-one in-person interview with you. Those who excel can then be invited back for the final step in the process, which would be your longer string of activities.

But of course the real meat of your question is:  Can you short-circuit a candidate’s interview schedule when you realize that the person isn’t right for the job?  In your case, you said that the problems are almost always that the candidate is disengaged or makes it clear that she’s not philosophically aligned with the school.  When it’s an issue of philosophical alignment, I think you can be straightforward. For instance:  “I’ll be candid, because I don’t want to waste your time. I think we’re on different pages philosophically. (Insert explanation of why.) Although I respect your viewpoint, we’re focused on finding teachers who are committed to ____. You’re clearly talented and you have an impressive background, but the fit here wouldn’t be right. Let’s stop here, but I’ll absolutely reach out and let you know of anything I think of that might be a better match.” And then really do that, if possible. And express gratitude for their time.

But when the issue is disengagement, that’s a lot harder to address without offending the candidate and causing bad feelings. And that brings us back to the earlier answer:  Don’t schedule the lesson demonstration on the same day as everything else. Use it as the final step in your process, inviting only your finalists to do it — people who you’ve already determined through in-person meetings that you’re strongly interested in.

Of course, you want to make sure that you’re not creating a ridiculously long process, but one phone interview, in-person interviews on two separate occasions, and a final lesson presentation isn’t over the top. And the pool will be getting smaller each step of the way, because you’ll be cutting candidates as you go.

{ 30 comments… read them below }

  1. Aaron

    I agree that if you can tell in 1/2 hour of talking that the candidate isn’t a hire, then you should add more screening. But what about the candidates who get through the screening and it’s still clear early in the day they’re not going to be a hire?

    In this example, say the teacher gives a demonstration lesson early in the day, which goes very badly. I would say it’s bad form to immediately tell the candidate you’re not interested and cancel the rest of the day. But if the last interview of the day is with the head of school, who has many demands on her time, and it’s clear the candidate isn’t a hire, I wouldn’t have a problem with making some excuse for the head of school and letting the candidate go early.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I agree.

      If the issue is philosophic alignment, hopefully that’ll come out in an earlier interview before you bring them in for the half-day (and you can ask questions that are specifically designed to get at that). But if it’s something like a bad lesson, and you know the person is out of the running at that point, it doesn’t make sense to waste the head of school’s time with the person (or the candidate’s time). One option is that when you’re setting up the half-day schedule, you can say to the candidate, “I’m hoping you’ll be able to meet with Edith, our head of school, as well” but leave it tentative. Or you can make up an excuse on the spot, of course.

      1. Anonymous

        Aaron has hit the nail on the head (I submitted the question). Most of the time we are pretty good at screening-out based on two phone interviews before they are invited to campus. But no system is perfect and there are those days when someone who seemed great to at least two of us on the phone is just obviously not right once we meet them in person.

        I’ve done the trick of changing their schedules or not putting the Head of School on their schedule. We manage not to waste this time but what about mine, the other teachers’ and the candidate’s?

  2. Aaron

    If you are doing both interviews and having a different reaction the second time, I think AAM’s original advice is to the point: spend some time rethinking your screening interview process. If the issue is the phone, can you arrange an in-person screening interview, or use Skype?

    As for not wasting anybody’s time–remember that the candidate likely arranged to take time off and spent a while preparing. At that point, many people would rather go through with the drill, for practice if for nothing else. Plus, there’s no way to cancel most of the day without leaving them with a really bad impression.

    I think you owe them an opportunity to give their mock lesson and do some interviews. Cancelling 1-2 interviews at the end is about the limit of what I’d consider an acceptable bargain.

    1. Anonymous

      While I see the benefit of going through the motions to get practice, if I were the candidate I’d rather just hear exactly why I was out of the running as soon as that became clear and be able to leave. To me the feedback about what was wrong would be more important than getting the practice. Best of all I’d have the rest of the day to apply for more jobs!

  3. fposte

    The philosophy issue seems to me to be one that could be dealt with in the phone screen. Can you find a way, based on how you discover this clash in the onsite interviews, to create questions that would illuminate it in the phone screen?

    Doesn’t answer the actual question, I know, but what the heck.

    1. Andrea

      I was wondering this, too. Perhaps after phone screening, potential candidates could be asked to address this–maybe explain it in writing or give past examples?

  4. Anonymous

    We do multi-step interviews (after an initial phone screen) as well, and the recruiter tells the candidate “please block about 2 hours, because we’d like for you to meet [hiring manager] if she’s available” That way, if it’s clear in the first interview that it will not be a good fit, we can send them on their way, and if things look good, we can ask the candidate to stay to meet with one of the managers. This way we’re not wasting the managers’ time nor the candidate’s.

  5. Snow Hill Pond

    If the candidate is interviewing in good faith (well-dressed, well-prepared, and enthusiastic), I think it would be difficult to cut short an interview without damaging your and your school’s reputation.

    If you disagree with his philosophy, but he is all of the above, then you should probably still continue with the interview, as both he and you might learn something.

    If the person is disengaged, then I have no problem with speaking with the candidate and saying, “You seem disengaged. Is there something wrong?” His answer should inform you as to whether or not continuing with the interview is worthwhile.

  6. Diane

    AAM, I think the multi-step process you describe is good in theory, but unrealistic for candidates from out of the area. Some schools are just going to have to recruit out of area.

    In higher education, for example, it’s typical to ask candidates for instructor or dean positions to do a phone screen, then commit to a daylong series of lessons, interviews, and forums with students, etc. I declined to interview out of state when I would have had to fly there three times at my own expense. My mentor at the time pointed out that they weren’t really that interested or organized.

    On the flip side, I spent a really frustrating day interviewing at a very flakey company after two very encouraging phone screens.

  7. Anonymous

    I don’t have experience with this, but would replacing the phone interview with a virtual face-to-face interview (via Skype, for example) help to narrow things down a bit? It’s still all about the how you manage the conversation and what you ask, but the face-to-face element might help.

  8. Jen

    While the idea of breaking up the two on-site pieces is a nice idea, it’s particularly problematic with teaching interviews (or other school positions) if the candidate’s already working in a school.

    Missing any part of the day requires finding other coverage for existing classes, and missing more than a few hours within a given 2-3 week timespan is also very noticeable. (i.e. it may be extremely obvious you’re trying to interview.)

    There’s also in many schools, a very tiny amount of personal discretionary time during the school year (my previous job, I had a total of two personal days, and that had to cover *everything* between mid-August and mid-June that wasn’t covered by sick time, professional development (conference attendance, which had to be approved by about 4 different people) and funeral leave.

    So anyone with, say, an important out of town wedding, and more than one or two job interviews, etc. was really stuck. (We could also only take personal time in day-long segments, which always seemed foolish to me.) People fudge sick time, but that gets noticeable if you do it more than very occasionally because you have to ask people for coverage.

    In contrast, my current job (in a university setting) is a great deal more flexible, because there isn’t the same need for reliably supervised student spaces. (Obviously, we have staff when the building is open, but they don’t need to be present on every floor)

    For the original poster: have you considered building in something like a statement of teaching philosophy into your application process? (Maybe when you reach the short list?) Most folks in education I know who are job hunting either have one prepped or could do one fast, so it’s not a huge amount of extra work.

    Or ask people to address in their cover letter how they’d work with your school’s philosophy (I had a bunch of letters like that when I was job hunting: generally the ad would say something like “Our mission as a [whatever philosophy/culture/etc.] school is important to us: please describe in your letter how this fits with your background and teaching goals. You can find more information at [relevant webpage].”

    1. Elizabeth

      I’m a teacher, and agree with the points that it’s hard to get away from the school you’re working at to visit another school. This is true even if you’re in the same area! My job before this one was a temporary position, so I was able to interview openly, but it was still difficult to schedule interviews at times that wouldn’t significantly impact the kids I was currently teaching.

      I definitely like the idea of asking for a philosophy of teaching. I had to write one to get my current job. I’m not sure that I agree that it’s a fast thing to do – mine took me a lot of time! – but I thought it was a very valuable use of my time. Even if I hadn’t gotten the job, it helped me clarify my own thoughts about my chosen profession. I felt more prepared for interviews having written out my philosophy, too.

      1. Jen at ModernHypatia

        To clarify …

        It’s not that putting together a teaching philosophy is, in and of itself, quick – you’re right, mine took me a while too. (As it probably should!) But it’s asked for commonly enough that anyone working in teaching jobs probably either has one, or could get multiple uses out of doing one.

        (And therefore, it’s a more reasonable thing to ask than, say, multiple essays specific to the institution. Which I got asked a lot this round of job hunting too, though usually not until they’d started working on the short list.)

        I also found it really helpful in being able to articulate what my approach to education and librarianship was in interviews – it made great prep.

        1. Elizabeth

          Yes, absolutely it’s worthwhile and has multiple uses. I’ve used the one I wrote a few years ago several times despite not going through another round of job-hunting: as part of an application for a summer opportunity, to share with new co-workers, to explain myself on my blog, as part of my self-evaluation at work, etc. Actually, I was thinking yesterday of doing a new one (without looking at the old one until afterward), just as an exercise to see how my philosophy has changed in the past few years.

  9. Rana

    I would think it would depend on your industry as well. Someone has already referenced higher education as an example, and I’d like to expand on that. The norm in the area I have interviewed in (as a candidate) was phone interview, followed by conference interview, followed by full-day interviews on campus, usually with travel reimbursed (the majority of candidates in my field expect to be interviewing nationally, not locally, so this is no small consideration).

    If I were a candidate who was invited for the full-day interview, and was told partway through the day that I didn’t seem to be a good fit and they were cutting the interview short, I would be appalled. First, because I’ve never heard of anyone doing or experiencing that. Second, because then I’d be left at loose ends for the rest of the day, and would be in the awkward position of having to arrange alternate travel at short notice, or rely on the interviewing institution to get me back to the airport/hotel (many of these interviews happen in areas remote from local airports). Third, because in my field, there is the expectation (and in some institutions, a legal requirement) that all interviewees receive the same treatment; so cutting the day’s official activities short for one candidate but not all would be something to do only in the most extreme cases (such as a candidate collapsing during a presentation). Fourth, in higher education, there is almost never one single person who gets to make the hiring decision on their own; it’s always in consultation with several other people, who probably have veto power. So cutting the interview short would be seen as high-handed by the people who didn’t get to talk to the candidate.

    It sounds like the OP’s institution is in a much different situation, but I thought I’d toss this out here, so that it’s clear that cutting on-site interviews short is not something you could get away with at all institutions.

    1. fposte

      I think your reasons are worth considering in general, though. Basically, it’s possible for even the most ethical person to have inappropriate reasons subconsciously lurking behind the decision to cut an interview short (it’d probably be more tempting after a night up with a sick kid, for instance). A policy that you don’t do that keeps your better angels firmly in charge.

  10. ruby

    My experience from the other side of this:

    I had a phone screen with HR, then a phone screen with the hiring manger and then was asked to come in to meet with the hiring manger and a couple of members of her department and told it would take about 3 hours.

    I met with the hiring manager for about 45 minutes and then she kind of wound things done. I could tell our discussion was ending but it was odd because she wasn’t saying anything about who I would be meeting with next. She got up and started walking towards her office door and as I was gathering my stuff I said, “Who on your team will I be meeting with next?” because I was mighty confused and trying to get a handle on things. She said something like “Oh my team is very busy, they don’t have time to waste on that”. No worries about what I said in response to that because I was stunned into silence.

    I was literally out on the street before I knew it and just could not work out what happened – I was so afraid that I had completely messed up and was incorrect that I was supposed to meet with other people. I dug out the email confirming all the details of the interview and sure enough, it said I was meeting with the hiring manager and several members of her team.

    To be honest, I’m not sure I know what the right answer is on this – clearly once she met me and talked to me in person, she knew she wouldn’t hire me. Logically, it wouldn’t make sense for her to waste the time of her staff to meet with me. It’s a tricky situation but I don’t know that it had to end with me having such a negative feeling about her. I was both pissed and humiliated, not a good combo.

    I would say if you are going to cut an interview short, acknowledge what you are doing. Is it pleasant to do that? No. But it’s also not pleasant to give someone the bum’s rush rather than address the situation head on. If you’re capable enough to be hiring someone, I think you need to be capable enough to handle the tough situations that arise during that process in a forthright and respectful way.

    1. Anonymous

      The hiring manager should have either told you politely why you were not a good fit. If she wanted to be more subtle, she should have said that there had been changes to the company’s schedule and she was still interviewing and once that was finished qualified candidates would be contacted to meet with the other team members.

  11. Clobbered

    So I was taught that every candidate, once you call them on site, should be given the same consideration as every other candidate. The same as not cutting a one hour interview short after 15 minutes – go through, ask them all the questions you would ask other candidates and so on. For one thing, some people are freaked out by the interview situation and take a while to warm up. For another, I think it helps you eliminate unconscious sources of bias ( did you REALLY establish all their qualities so fast or was it a case of ohGodDumbBlonde).

    I agree with other commenters that philosophy issues should be sorted at the screening level. Say you are a Waldorf school and don’t teach the alphabet until Grade 3 (or whatever it is) – I am pretty sure you can flush people who are uncomfortable with that using the right questions. And don’t forget that people inherit a lot of their teaching philosophies from their teachers. Unless they are fanatical about it, it is possible that it will evolve in a different environment.

    1. khilde

      I am an employee trainer and I teach a class about interviewing & hiring. We advise the same thing to our supervisors: to follow the same process with all candidates. We tell the supervisors that they don’t necessarily have to go as in depth on the follow up or discussion, but they should be given the same opportunity. Then again, we’re government so probably some different CYA motives there. Also, I know that’s not the situation this question is asking about, but it’s a tricky one. I can see the appeal of not wanting to waste time. But I can definitely agree with the points you listed above.

  12. Jade

    I am a teacher as well. If you’ve scheduled a candidate for a half-day of observations, interviews and demos, by all means do not cut the time short. You definitely run the risk of candidates badmouthing your school if you do this. On the flip side, you and your staff can glean some valuable insights among candidates whom you feel do not make a good fit. Do you interview primarily brand-new candidates fresh out of their credential programs? Teachers who have never taught in your particular type of school setting? Do candidates tend to give pat, shallow answers on certain questions? For the lesson demonstration, do you and your staff clarify to the candidates whether technology must be part of the lesson (depending on grade level), and do you make sure that the candidates have the appropriate equipment (overhead, LCD, whiteboard, etc.) set up so that they don’t waste time waiting for the LCD projector to warm up? Spotting a pattern can help you make some changes to the way you interview, and select, teachers.

    Does this school include parents, students and other “community stakeholders” in the interview process? If so, how much does their input count towards selecting a candidate?

    One possible reason for candidates seeming disengaged: It is simply a brutal time to be a teacher in this economy. Their disengagement may have nothing to do with you or your school at all. The candidates could have been interviewing for several months trying to secure a position by the time they interview at your school, and may have had a moment of overwhelm during the half-day schedule. Clobbered has made excellent points about taking a bit for teachers to warm up in interviews and cutting through the biases.

  13. Charles

    Let me get this straight.

    Most employers don’t respond to all resumes, many (if not most) employers do NOT follow up if you are not selected to be hired (even after interviewing). And now someone has written in to ask if it is okay to cut short a lengthy interview because of something that should have been addressed earlier? for real?!

    This is one reason why employers (in ALL sectors of the economy) are getting a bad rep. You’ ve brought me in for an all day interview (or even a half-day) and now because of ONE thing you want to not consider anything else that I might have to offer.

    You fool only yourself if you think that you are not wasting my time by not fully interviewing me. I’ve already schedule the whole day to be there and you don’t even want to have the consideration to FULLY interview me?!

    Jees, some folks really are closed-minded jerks. Phewy on you! (and it is no surpise that you are in the education field in the US)

    I’m not so sure that you are correct in that you “can determine almost immediately that the candidate is not going to be right for the position.” I would suggest that you FULLY interview everyone that you have pre-determined to interview and keep an open mind until AFTER interviewing everyone that you have chosen to interview. THAT is what a professional interviewer would do. It sounds more like you are making rush judgements about some candidates. THAT’s why I am callling you closed-minded.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Now, wait a second — sometimes you absolutely can determine early on that the candidate isn’t the right fit. The two examples she cited — not aligned philosophically or disengaged are pretty big dealbreakers. That’s not capricious. We can debate whether or not the interviewer should continue on anyway, but it’s not silly to make the determination that someone who’s disengaged or not philosophically on the same page isn’t going to get the job.

  14. AngrySpouse

    My husband went through 2 phone interviews for a local company, and they arranged a half day of interviews with 5 different individuals in half hour slots. Plus a tour, and a few skilsl tests. The recruiter had given the names of the project leads he would be meeting with, he had done his research, prepared his questions, and was ready for a long day. Hubby got there, first team “couldn’t meet with him because they had client issues” so hubby cooled his heels in the lobby for a half hour. Second interviewer wasn’t in the office that day so they put him in a conference room with a Skype setup. Fine, but getting annoying. Third team came in, met with him for 15 minutes before another person came in the room citing “a client emergency” and said to hubby they would have to reschedule the rest of the interview for another day. That’s the last he’s heard from them. No returned phone calls, no returned e-mails, no apologetic voicemail, no “thanks but no thanks” letter. Yes, he’s really glad to not be working at such a crappy company, and he did find a fabulous job elsewhere. But for a long time he was left confused, hurt, ashamed, and angry. The HR person should have put on his big boy pants and said “this is not a fit. Thank you for your time.” The recruiter/HR person was responsible, but contact was made with other individuals hubby met with, and no one responded. There is absolutely no excuse for treating any person like this — period.

    1. Sibyl

      I think I just interviewed in the same place. Whether it was fit or flakiness, your husband dodged a bullet. If this is how they act now, they must be awfully flakey or inconsiderate to work for.

  15. just another hiring manager...

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that those thinking its never okay to end an interview early have never (or perhaps rarely) conducted interviews.

    When hiring for a project manager position, I once had a candidate mention several times how much he liked working within a set structure. The project was in transition and the set structure he was comfortable with just wasn’t going to be there. He couldn’t articulate how he would handle that lack of structure. To me, it was clear he wasn’t going to be a strong fit, but I continued with the interview because I felt like I owed it to him and it was the respectful thing to do. In retrospect, I really wish I hadn’t. No one benefited from it. I didn’t owe him anything except maybe an explanation of why he wasn’t going to get the job. The respectful thing to do would have been to end it early and tell him why.

    Now if I wanted to cut an interview short, I would say something like, “I’m sorry Candidate, but there’s no easy way to say this. Based on x and y, I don’t believe that you will be a strong fit for this position. I want to respect your time and effort for interviewing with us, but I have to cut this short.”

  16. anon-2

    In the technical world, a position usually has a need for specific skills sets — something often missed by a non-technical administrative assistant, or two-bit lousy resume scanning programs.

    But — if, when it becomes apparent, the person DOESN’T have the appropriate skills set — it’s time to terminate the interview – cordially, thanking the candidate for his/her time, and apologizing.

    BUT — it is the interviewing company’s responsibility to determine that, which is why a quick phone screen will handle these things. I can recall (twice) being called into interviews — and not having the skills set for the job. I left with far more respect for the guy who said ten minutes into the interview “I’m sorry we got you down here, it’s our fault — we were looking for someone with (this, and that) and you seem to be qualified for (another thing).”

    Although – rather upset because the interview time cost me a vacation day….

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