should you end an interview early if the candidate obviously isn’t right for the job?

A reader writes:

As managers, we all have had to interview a person where you know five minutes in that there is zero chance you are going to proceed with them. Sometimes it’s a lack of interest on their end, inability to answer clearly or professionally, or maybe just being woefully unqualified. Is there a nice way to cut bait?

I like to treat people interviewing with respect and dignity, and always try to be as hospitable as possible. However, carrying someone through a conversation for 25-30 minutes who you know isn’t a fit is just a waste of their time and yours.

How do you politely say, “Thanks, that’ll be all?”

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 125 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Mediamaven

    The only time I immediately cut an interview short (it was a phone interview) was when the person started the conversation by asking what company I was with again? I said if you aren’t sure who you are interviewing with after you applied and we corresponded via email I don’t think we need to proceed.

    Reply
    1. TheTallestOneEver

      I had someone ask this as I was leading him off the elevator to the room where we were holding the interview. He’d driven 45 minutes in traffic and paid for parking but had no idea who we were or what position he was interviewing for. He admitted he didn’t even remember applying for it. We went forward with the interview, but I was really tempted not to.

      Reply
    2. Janelle

      This pisses me off for one reason. Most job postings are annonomous these days. I have had so many calls “Hi this is Jane you sent your resume”. No indicator to the company plus I never knew it to begin with. I save every listing I apply to but until you explain the job description or something similar I don’t know. And I am usually met with annoyance. I apparently am supposed to be psychic.

      Reply
      1. Xarcady

        And how. I frequently have to ask for the job title in order to have a clue which job is being talked about. Sometimes I can guess, based on stuff in the job description, which company the job is with, but with so many “company confidential” listings out there, it is not surprising people don’t know the name of the company at first contact.

        Reply
      2. Mediamaven

        Nothing about my post was anonymous. We corresponded via email and the post clearly listed the company name. I don’t think most job posts are anonymous so I’m not sure where you are looking. But it’s one thing to respond to a request for interview and explain that the post was anonymous then to be lazy and not know because the candidate is aimlessly applying to everything, which was the case here.

        Reply
        1. gladfe

          The anonymous posts really are a thing in some industries! I’m currently applying for jobs in a slightly different field than I’ve worked in before, and I was shocked to discover that a huge fraction of postings in the new field do not say what company you’d be working for. Sometimes the contact info is for a recruiter that’s working with the employer, and sometimes it’s just some e-mail address like “2017candidatesearch@genericdomain.com”. It’s a pretty dumb system, but apparently it’s reality in some fields!

          Reply
          1. Mallory Janis Ian

            Is it because recruiters are in control of their hiring process and they don’t want candidates to network their way around the recruiters’ commission payment?

            Reply
          2. Rhodoferax

            That’s been my experience as well, but it seems to be the norm in my country. However, a recruitment agent will call beforehand to tell you who you’re applying to. No knowing who you’re even speaking to is so bizarre.

            Reply
    3. Data Analyst / Software Engineer

      I gotta be honest, the HR person with one job I applied for confused the dickins out of me.

      Her name in the email signature was “Jane Smith Jones.” In the “from” section of the email, it just listed “Jane Smith.” But when she’d call you on the phone, she’d say “This is Jane Jones calling.”

      This is so, so confusing for someone who doesn’t know you well, and at that point in their life, is interacting with a lot of new people and just trying to keep names straight.

      Reply
      1. Breda

        In her defense, that sounds like she was fairly recently married, is trying to get people accustomed to her new name, but hasn’t yet been able to force IT to change her email address. I have no doubt it is even more irritating to her than it was to you.

        Reply
        1. RobM

          If that’s what happened then it probably is more annoying to her than to DA/SE.

          However, it’s not DA/SE’s problem. The recruiter could choose to be less confusing (email signature, for example, is typically a _user_ setting, not a central IT setting, and if the recruiter’s business is the exception to that rule it wouldn’t kill them to say “We’ll send you an email, it will probably show up as from *x*”.

          I get that all the time from sales people in IT – the generic sales people who contact me will pass my calls on to an appropriate specialist in a particular area and tell me to “expect a call or email from Other Person”. If the stereotypically person-unfriendly IT people can cope with that, why can’t a recruiter?

          Reply
    4. CM

      I think in a lot of interactions like this, it’s not just what the candidate said, it’s the fact that they were clueless enough to say it at all: “I don’t know who you are or what this company does,” “I don’t really want the job,” etc. (the one that always makes me laugh is the filing job where they started asking job applicants if they had any interest in doing filing, and a lot of people said no).

      Reply
    5. CanCan

      That’s why phone screens should be scheduled by email. Because you could have applied to many, many employers, for many types of different positions, and you won’t necessarily remember everything in an instant when they’ve interrupted you in the middle of something.

      I remember one such phone screen very well: “Hi this is Amanda from [very long name I didn’t quite catch and which didn’t ring a bell because I’d never heard it out loud, so had no idea how to pronounce – and it could have been a telemarketer, so for now I’m ignoring the name and listening for the rest of it]. We’ve got your application and wanted to have a quick chat. So what kind of position are you looking for?” At this point, I feel a mix of elation – because somebody finally called back!!!, and horror – because I’ve no idea what company she’s from, and even if I did, I don’t remember what kind of position it is – since I’m not looking for a perfect match position, but any more or less suitable position for somebody with too much education in a very theoretical field but almost no experience. Of course, I can’t tell her that. Just like a cover letter, a response has to be tailored to the position . I proceeded by asking her again the name of the company, and to tell her more about the position, at which point I told her that yes, this is exactly the kind of work I’m looking for – as enthusiastically as possible. Thankfully, she didn’t press too much and just scheduled the interview. (And I did get the job.)

      Reply
      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)

        Ugh, this reminds me of the time when it took them so long to get back to me that I had completely forgotten that I’d applied for the job. Like it was almost a year later. So when someone called me out of the blue to do a phone screen I was completely unprepared and did very badly.

        Reply
  2. Alex

    I have been that interview-ee, and how I wish they had just ended it early. Any way at all. Or that I had had the nerve to just walk out. The interviewer clearly couldn’t stand me and it was just an ordeal I had to endure for no reason whatsoever, since I obviously wasn’t going to get the job.

    Reply
    1. nonymous

      There was one time as an interviewee in this situation where I cut it short. The company had an internal policy of interviewing all internal hires, but she clearly wasn’t going to hire me, so I asked her to just evaluate my resume for competitiveness and left early (so I wouldn’t have to pay for parking). She brightened considerably and actually gave me decent feedback. The token junior staff she brought it to sit on the “panel” ended up transferring to my department because of that interaction!

      Reply
    2. EddieSherbert

      Same (I mentioned it below too). Things went well with my original contact (the would-be manager) but the Exec Director just very obviously didn’t like me and went above and beyond to make me feel uncomfortable. Such a waste of everyone’s time!

      Reply
    3. medium of ballpoint

      Seconded on having the nerve to walk out. I once did an interview at a company where someone asked twice if I spoke Mexican, even after I corrected them the first time. Someone else then complained about how there were too many Mexican restaurants in town. They were were looking for a POC to boost their diversity numbers and I wished I’d been able to just leave the interview and maybe later give them some helpful feedback about why they weren’t getting POC hires, but mostly my thought bubble was, “Are you effing kidding me this is even worse than the stereotypes I tried not to expect dear sweet baby Jesus get me out of here NOWNOWNOW!”

      Reply
      1. Fuzzy pickles

        What kind of bull is that? There will never be too many Mexican restaurants in any town, ever!

        I’m sorry you had to interview with that useless animal. :(

        Reply
        1. Fuzzy pickles

          To clarify, I like Mexican food a lot – a lot, a lot. But I suddenly was not sure if that sentiment came out right.

          Reply
      2. FormerEmployee

        If that’s how they talk to people who they perceive to be members of any sort of ethnic minority, I can see why they have a recruiting problem.

        Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Not necessarily, not at all. Sometimes people look much better on paper. Sometimes someone has a personality issue that will be prohibitive and that you didn’t know from the resume. Sometimes someone makes such a serious blunder that there’s no coming back from it. Otherwise we wouldn’t interview at all and would just hire from resumes.

      Reply
      1. Seal

        Agreed. We’ve had several candidates who looked great on paper and had tremendous phone interviews who absolutely and very unexpectedly tanked their in-person interviews to the point that everyone who met with them know they had no chance of ever being hired. In one case, the woman who was interviewing for a department head position showed up for the interview dressed like she was going to a club, complete with a low-cut, short dress and hooker heels. As this was at an academic library where the position required meeting with vendors and representing the library at conferences and the like, the fact that she didn’t seem to understand the accepted dress code for librarians at that level (definitely no cleavage!) was a deal-breaker. Another candidate for a different department head position included far too many slides of himself in goofy situations in his presentation to take him seriously and then proceeded to insult pretty much everyone he met. The search committee decided by the end of the day that he was a definite no. In both cases, everyone was caught off-guard by their behavior because they looked so good on paper and did great phone interviews.

        Reply
        1. Wendy Darling

          Yeah I interviewed a guy whose resume was fantastic and he had seriously the best phone interview I’ve ever sat through… and then we got him in for the in-person interview and he was an UNMITIGATED DISASTER. He was socially inappropriate, could not talk coherently about his job history or how his skills fit with what we needed, and made jokes about violence during the interview. To this day I wonder what the hell happened. Maybe he was under the influence of something.

          I also once ended a phone interview early because the candidate’s English wasn’t good enough to understand or respond to my questions, so it was just… super not working. Either her written English was much better than her spoken English or someone helped with her resume, because the resume was great. Half the job was verbally explaining complicated things to people so that wasn’t gonna work.

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          1. Maggy

            I honestly kind of worry about one day *being* that train wreck. I have pretty severe anxiety, to the point where my doctor suggested I needed to take a prescription sedative before an interview. With the wrong dose, you could theoretically end up sans the inhibitions that keep you from saying things like “Wow, your hair looks awful.” If this happens when you’re interviewing for a customer-facing or personnel-management position, you have absolutely written yourself out of the running and rightly so. I guess I just have a sympathy shudder at the thought of making an unmitigated ass of yourself without actually having bad intentions.

            * This isn’t to discourage anyone from using medication/therapy/etc. to help them in job interviews. I was at the same job for many years and then decided it was time for a change. The interview for my current job was the first one I did after getting real treatment for anxiety, including medication, and in consequence it was probably the best interview I’ve ever had, since I was clear and cogent instead of being clammed up in fear. But neuroses don’t have to be rational, I guess!

            Reply
            1. Specialk9

              YMMV, but at the height of my anxiety, I found the following non prescription things helpful:

              *A perfume oil roller stick with calming essential oils, rolled on wrists 1 hour before: Melissa (expensive but worth it) and chamomile were the ones that worked best for me, and I added grapefruit and bergamot bc they made me happy. (I have scent allergies to virtually every commercial perfume, but essential oils don’t bother me. Not universal, just me.)

              *Cup of tea with 3-4 bags of chamomile. That stuff works!

              *Guided meditation MP3. I love Bonnie Groessl’s “Relax” on Amazon. I downloaded to my phone, and would close my eyes.

              *Calm instrumental music. After meditation, I’d listen to calm music on Pandora. I like Yo-Yo cello music, and classical piano, so have a calm classical list. Jim Brickman is also a great choice.

              Reply
      2. Cassandra

        A search committee I was on brought in a candidate whose job-talk slides (this was academia) contained several (sometimes repeated) spelling/grammar errors and were horrifically poorly “designed.” (Think black random-sized Arial on unadorned white, all the way through.) Since the job involved a lot of outreach (via websites, presentations, and teaching sessions) to faculty and graduate students, we knew on the spot the candidate was non-viable…

        … but I checked the candidate’s resume and cover letter afterwards, in total self-recrimination, and they were letter-perfect. I assume the candidate had asked friends or colleagues to proofread them. In hindsight, I suppose we might have tried to check up on publications or presentations, but most of those would probably have been proofread too.

        Reply
      3. Data Analyst / Software Engineer

        And then some people on the interview agenda didn’t participate in the phone screen.

        I once had an in-person interview with someone who didn’t participate on the phone screen and was completely flabbergasted that some project I had worked on didn’t involve X. He berated me for awhile and got nowhere. I mean, he spent like 10 minutes of the 60 minute interview asking why we didn’t do something the client explicitly told us they didn’t want.

        The whole time I was thinking, “if this is so damned important, why didn’t you phone screen for it?”

        Reply
    2. fposte

      That’s true for being underqualified–assuming, of course, that the candidate was truthful on their resume, which isn’t a given. But the other stuff like lack of interest or, for that matter, active hostility won’t be discernible from just a resume.

      Reply
      1. Wendy Darling

        A team I was on once hired a guy who ended up being an incredibly skillful liar. He had a great resume and interviewed really well and then turned up to work and just could not do any of the stuff he’d talked such a good game about. And he was a team lead so it was all organizational and team management stuff, so he clearly knew what he SHOULD have been doing because he told us all about it, but couldn’t be bothered to actually do any of it?

        Reply
    3. Breda

      Well, some people are good at writing resumes but take five minutes of hemming and hawing before they can answer a direct question, or are unable to articulate their thoughts clearly, or are weirdly combative in conversation, or are looking for a way to pay the bills while pursuing their passion but you work in an industry that IS the passion for most other applicants (and kind of needs to be because lord knows none of us are paid well). None of that comes up in resumes, particularly if you’re hiring for a junior position.

      Reply
      1. Wendy Darling

        Or they can be socially appropriate for one typed page but can’t manage it on the phone or in a room for 45 minutes. Looking at you, guy who responded to “how do you deal with difficult people” by telling a story about punching someone in the face.

        Reply
        1. Mallory Janis Ian

          Ha. I laughed out loud at this one.

          “How do you deal with difficult people?”

          “I punch them in the face.”

          Reply
    4. Nephron

      I was a student in an academic department looking for a new professor. Part of the visit was a presentation of their research to our departmental seminar. In public health, where the majority of students are women and the head of a our department was a woman, the older male professor made a joke about how the men should understand this concept of depleting resources because you know how the wife drains the bank accounts shopping. He then ran over time, not an unexpected occurrence in academia, but when the professor running the seminar tried to get him to wrap it up the visitor cut him off, explained that he was not finished and proceeded to run over an hour when he was supposed to go for 50 minutes and leave time for questions. A few days later we heard that over the faculty dinner that night the man had explained to multiple post-docs that he was really interested in working with a different department at our University, one on a different campus, but the public health department would let him apply to NIH grants which are better than the DOD grants he currently used. He specifically mentioned that he would take on a student from our department if he had to.
      The guy’s research was actually really impressive, he already had tenure at another University, and he would have brought grants with him. On paper he looked great, and at the one-on-one interviews he did really well. After that no faculty mentioned him again.

      Reply
    5. InfoSec SemiPro

      Beautifully qualified candidate. Went through phone screen fine. Did fine on the technical interview. Also chose to use racial slurs in the interview.

      As the position entails lots of independent work influencing people from line staff to executives, I took a pass.

      Reply
    6. NotAnotherManager!

      Nope, sorry – some people look way better or different on paper than they do in an interview. Sometimes people get so much help with the resume and cover letter that you’d rather interview the person who actually wrote it than the candidate. Some people put items on that that, when you ask them for details about it, clearly have no idea what they’re talking beyond a superficial level.

      Or, it’s a position where you know there is no perfect candidate, and you have to find someone who’s close enough and trainable. I had one such position where we ended up finding three semi-similar types of job that had significant skill overlap and recruiting from those streams because the actual skills and experience we need exist only within about a dozen people in the US, and maybe 3-5 in DC (none of whom were in the market for a new job). No one looked ideal on paper, and interviewing meant kissing a number of frogs before we found the right one.

      Reply
      1. Volunteer Enforcer

        I know your pain. We were hiring for a job that essentially combined admin, receptionist and support worker (the department helped people at the front desk with issues like homelessness and lack of food). It took two full hiring rounds to find the right candidate, who then transferred to a more traditional support work role, causing the job to be re marketed as a more normal admin / receptionist and the support work element being distributed between zero hours staff.

        Reply
        1. Gadfly

          Do those sort of kitchen sink jobs ever happen for traditional male jobs? I can’t remember seeing one, but I’ve seen a lot of ones like this that slap together jobs that only seem to go together because they are traditionally female and so there is some sense some supermom type woman will swoop in, do it and probably do it while wearing pearls and baking cookies.

          I’m not say that is what was done here, but it is a pattern and a reason why these usually fall apart pretty quickly

          Reply
    7. gladfe

      I had a job interview recently for a job that I was fully qualified for, but it turned out that a particular duty was nearly half of this job, where at most companies that duty would be an occasional thing. My resume shows that I’m perfectly qualified to do that thing, but I don’t particularly enjoy it! It was a short interview once we both figured out that was a mismatch, but I don’t feel like either of us did something wrong. I guess the job ad could have been more explicit, but the thing was included on the list of duties, so it’s not like they’d omitted it entirely.

      Reply
  3. Ramona Flowers

    My manager told me her old manager once ended an interview early and offered to spend the rest of the time coaching the applicant on their interview technique. The candidate said yes and they apparently spent a very productive 40 minutes together!

    Reply
    1. SM

      I’ve been interviewed a couple times where it went horribly awry, but I appreciated that they continued to speak with me because it helped me practice my interviewing skills.

      Reply
      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day

        Yes! I had an experience very recently where I’m pretty sure it was realized very early on that I was not the right fit, but they continued to speak with me (though abbreviated the time line – I was supposed to do 30min with person A and 30min with person B, but ended up doing 20min with person A and 15min with person B). I felt like they gave me the opportunity to overcome the issue if it had been a miscommunication or slip up and it seemed pretty clear that person A asked person B to follow up or really focus on some specific things (my guess was getting a second take on what they believed the issue to be). I respect their decision and feel like my time was respected and valued. I also feel like they didn’t make any snap/superficial judgements and the line of questiong from person B gave me a clear idea what the issue was, which gave me information to reflect on/work on.

        Reply
    2. Lisa B

      I would LOVE to do this because I really do want to help, but I would be so worried about it coming off weird and the candidate getting all in a huff.

      Reply
      1. Antilles

        the candidate getting all in a huff.
        This is a reasonable worry. There are certainly people who would be smart enough to accept the rejection and take advantage of the offer of coaching.
        However, there’s a sizable percentage of people that would handle it really poorly or argue your decision or etc. I don’t know how many, but it’s common enough that AFAICT, everybody with significant hiring experience has *at least* one story of That Candidate.

        Reply
        1. Wendy Darling

          My buddy was That Candidate.

          He interviewed at Massive Tech Company, who are known to end the interviews after lunch if they already know you’re not gonna get hired, but will do another interview post-lunch if you’ve done well. Apparently when my buddy was told they were finished but here was free lunch he got super angry, demanded to leave immediately, went home, and wrote an absolutely furious screed to the company about how offensive their hiring practices were. I know this because he posted it proudly to Facebook, very smug about sticking it to the man.

          Then the anger wore off and he realized that everyone he knew was cringing on his behalf and he’d just poisoned the well at his dream employer. I’d like to say he knows better than to do it again, but… I’d be very unsurprised if he did it again.

          Reply
  4. Engineer Woman

    I love all of Alison’s suggestions – definitely share why you think the position is not a good fit for the candidate. You’re looking for this but he doesn’t really have that experience…etc. Or even: “look, you fit all the criteria on paper and that’s why we brought you in to interview but we were able to interview 3 other candidates this morning with extra bonus X and Y skills that you don’t have. We just have too many excellent candidates this time around and will move forward with one of those”.

    As for OP: Could you be a little more open-minded and not so quick to judge? Or I hope you are slightly exaggerating the time to decision making. I mean, maybe after 10-15 minutes in an interview, you might have enough information to form a decision but after 5 minutes? (I did come up with a possible explanation above – maybe other candidates previously interviewed had more to offer but your example of lack of interest in 5 minutes seems strange. They came for an interview – how / why would they show lack of interest?)

    Reply
    1. Thorgi

      When I was on unemployment, I had to apply to a certain number of jobs every week and if I got an interview, I had to go to it, whether I wanted the job or not. I went on a couple interviews for jobs I didn’t want and my only way out was to torpedo the interview. I’m not saying that’s what happened in LW’s case, but it is one possible explanation.

      Reply
    2. Falling Diphthong

      From above: “What is it you people do again?”
      Also above: “I have no idea how to dress or present myself for a senior role.”
      From past letter: “Now that I’m through my probationary period, I’m going to break out my 9/11 jokes.”

      Reply
      1. Wendy Darling

        From personal interview experience:

        “Let me tell you about the time I punched someone out at a past job.”
        “Here I am in an interview, time for racial slurs!”
        “Now that I’m alone in a small room with a woman half my size, it’s time to make jokes about workplace violence!”
        “I am only applying for this job because I want to work for this company in a completely unrelated department and I’m hoping I can use this job to get them to notice me.”

        Reply
    3. Elizabeth

      The first question we always asked in any interview was a) what they knew about our non-profit arts org, and b) whether or not they’d ever attended any of our programming. B) was asked more out of curiosity than anything else, but a) would definitely demonstrate whether or not they’d even bothered to look us up. You can definitely tank an interview in the first five minutes if it’s clear that you didn’t even think to Google us and give our website a five minute once-over.

      Reply
      1. SarahKay

        I managed to tank an interview with a fast food restaurant for exactly that reason. I was a student, looking for a weekend/evening job, and they were hiring. Interviews were held in in the body of the restaurant itself, so didn’t feel terribly formal, but the first question asked was “What can you tell me about our company?”
        And I had nothing. Worse, I had no excuse for having nothing, as they had half a dozen different information leaflets about themselves at the food counter for customers to pick up.
        I sat there thinking (but at least had the sense not to say) ‘Why are they even asking me this? Surely I just need to be able to say “Do you want fries with that?!?”‘ but afterwards it was absolutely a lesson learned.
        I’ve never gone into another interview without finding out what I can about the company I’m applying to.

        Reply
    4. BenAdminGeek

      I’ve had both internal/external candidates where it was clear in less than 5 minutes they didn’t have the right experience or attitude to do our job. Some of that is due to poor HR screening, but there are both verbal/non-verbal queues you can pick up in person that you just don’t hear on the phone.

      In my business, people often think we’re basically HR, and we’re not. So when their first answer is how excited they are to do X, Y, and Z, and we don’t do any of those things, that’s a pretty good indicator.

      Reply
  5. Biff Welly

    I just have a story time to share here that relates:

    Many years ago, I was in the hospitality industry, and was interviewing for food and beverage jobs at several area hotels. I went to a scheduled interview and checked in at the front desk. I got sent to a small conference room and found myself in a small group interview. Started off pretty normally so I didn’t think too much of it, then it became clear that this interview was not for the position at the hotel I was there for, but rather for some sales organization. Once I realized at an opening I politely excused myself! I did find the actual interview (didn’t get the job) but it was a funny experience.

    Reply
    1. K.

      Been there. I’ve posted here about how I was part of a mass walkout for a position that turned out to be part of a mid-level marketing scheme.

      Reply
    2. puzzld

      Last night on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Bob Schieffer admitted walking in on someone else’s interview and getting the job, so yeah. Gumption.

      Reply
  6. k8

    I found myself in this situation a couple times earlier in the summer. My boss kept bringing people in who fulfilled only the most basic of qualifications. Super frustrating for us and, I’m sure, for the people we were interviewing.

    Reply
  7. Roscoe

    I agree with at least giving them 30 min or so. I mean, if I took off work and spent however long traveling to this interview, at least give me 30 min of your time.

    Reply
  8. a Gen X manager

    Alison wrote, “And actually, one way you can spend that time is in probing more into the areas where you think they’re lacking. If you’re mentally rejecting them because they seem weak in X, make it your job to test that belief. If what you hear confirms your original impression, well, you’ll know you were right. But for all you know, you might discover that the story is slightly different than what you thought at first.”

    WOW. This approach is really at a whole other level – one that I aspire to! I admit I’ve been in that situation and have put my energy into being professional and pleasant while waitttttting for it to be over with. Thanks so much for the insightful suggestion on how to see this as an opportunity!

    Reply
    1. Junior Dev

      I would hope people would do that. I’m finding myself in the odd position that I have a couple things that look like deal breakers on paper–i was fired from my last job and I don’t have a computer science degree. But I also tend to impress people just by informally talking about programming and my opinions on it. At this point my biggest fear is either not getting an interview or getting to one where the interviewer immediately writes me off because of those things.

      Reply
      1. Ruh Roh, Raggy!

        I’ve been writing software for more than 15 years, and I don’t recall a situation where we said, “Oh, this person doesn’t have a CS degree – deal breaker!” So I wouldn’t sweat that.

        Now, knowing how to evaluate performance and improve it, different language paradigms, writing readable, extensible code … those are all important. But a degree is only one way to learn these things.

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      2. M is for Mulder

        I’ve worked at a couple of companies with colleagues who had non-traditional experience, like military training instead of a formal electrical engineering degree. I think if you hightlight that sort of thing in your cover letter, the good places will still want you.

        Reply
    1. Non-profiteer

      Yes! One of the more enduring storylines from that show. Enduring because I think a lot of people would love if it really was a thing, in dating or in job interviews.

      Reply
  9. Bee Eye LL

    I have only done it once, and it was for an IT job where the interviewee had a military background and absolutely could not relate any of his military experience to the job he applied for. I don’t even think the guy owned a home computer. He couldn’t answer any of the basic questions we asked him, and I called it early to save both our time. It was kind of sad.

    Reply
    1. Rachel in NYC

      My aunt works in high education and part of her job involves interviewing students who want to be part of a programs she helps run (which involves specialty training and internships). She has told horror stories about re-writing resumes of some of the student-veterans.

      Reply
      1. HR Systems Admin

        As a vet myself but one that knew better, you can thank the required “outprocessing” from the military for those resume’s… they are horrible and in my previous recruiting positions, I have had to guide many soldiers & vets on how to do their resume’s. Makes me want to gonon every post/base and strangle the workers lol

        Reply
  10. EddieSherbert

    Oh my goodness, I think I was on the other side of this once – Was in the running for a job where the phone interview went well and first chunk of the in-person went well… until the Exec Director came in to interview me and within five minutes she just obviously, obviously didn’t like me.

    Her solution was to interrupt my answers to questions (like I’d talked for 10 seconds) and tell me why they were the wrong answers and what she was looking for. And I would try to finish my answer to explain.. and we’d repeat the process.

    … they never contacted me after and I never contacted them to inquire about the job.

    Reply
  11. Elizabeth

    When I used to interview, I interviewed for entry-level positions where the interviews were between 20-30mins, so I never ended an interview early even if it was going really, really poorly for the candidate because there didn’t seem to be much point.

    I used to sit on interview committees for my boss, though, who would be hiring at a much higher level than I did and it always became clear when she decided a candidate was a bad fit because she’d start skipping interview questions in order to get through it faster. Those interviews were the type that — if good! — could last up to an hour, so I could see not wanting to prolong things if you didn’t have to.

    Reply
    1. Kyrielle

      I had a five-hour interview with one company (two hours of it was a skills test), and I think I was still a contender when the skills test started (maybe not when it finished, given their focus and my execution!). If I hadn’t been and that was clear to them, I _really_ hope they would have politely cut it short (at least skipping the skills test) rather than have me continue with it.

      Not getting a job is disappointing. Spending more time than you needed to (by any significant amount) to not-get the job would be really frustrating, especially if you also had the nagging sense it was happening. And wasteful of their time as well as yours whether you realized it or not. (I don’t think that was the case with the interview I’m mentioning. I’m just describing the sort of interview where I think cutting it short when the candidate became a clear ‘no, not a chance’ would really, really be a kindness for all involved.)

      Reply
  12. Alleira

    I once ended an interview for a forward-facing customer customer-oriented job early. I asked the candidate why he was thinking about moving from his current role and his response was that his manager was a “c*nt”. Ugh.

    Reply
    1. Sunshine on a cloudy day

      Ok, so I firmly believe interviewers should give every candidate at least a good 20-30min and challenge their original thoughts/assumptions on fit even if they’re quite sure it will not work (as Alison suggested).

      Unless they do this.

      Reply
    2. Engineer Woman

      Okay. I withdraw my earlier question to OP re: snap decision in 5 min. If such was a first question asked and this the answer given, decision can be made in less than 1 minute. Wow!

      Reply
  13. always in email jail

    Ugh there’s times where I wish I could do this, but our government interview process will not allow it. As Alison says in her answer, phone screens help with some of this. I’ve had resumes I was very impressed with but then, when I ask a very basic question about the job, I’ll get a “jee I never really thought about that” followed by no answer….and I know it’s not worth their drive in.

    Reply
  14. starsaphire

    This happened to me once — and it was one of the best job interview experiences of my life, considering I didn’t get the job.

    We were about an hour in, and I was wrapping up talking to the second person; the first interviewer had returned to wrap up and was about to take me over to the third interviewer. I’d done well on the test, and it was clear they were really interested in me as a candidate.

    Then the second interviewer asked me how well I dealt with hostility in the workplace. And I said, “I don’t. I can’t handle open hostility at all.”

    And they looked at each other, and the first interviewer said, “Well, if that’s true, then you don’t want to work here; I get screamed at on a regular basis.” And the second guy said, “Oh, I’m sorry. You did so well on the test, too.” And I said, “Thank you for being honest with me. I really can’t function in that type of environment, and it’d be a terrible fit.”

    We ended it right there. I thanked them both for their time, and left with a great feeling about how I had 1) had a really honest interview experience; 2) dodged a huuuuuge bullet; and 3) finally got to leave an interview not worrying about whether I’d screwed up. I knew I wasn’t getting the job, and _it wasn’t about whether I was good enough_.

    It was an eye-opener, it was a huge relief, it was a great learning experience, and I went on a couple of years later to get a better job in a company where treating one another with respect is a core value.

    Reply
    1. Kyrielle

      Huge bullet dodged. I’m glad they asked the question, and that you and they were both able to honestly discuss it. Much better for them and you to not go forward – and so much better than taking your answer, continuing the interview, and then rejecting you. (I mean, among other things you now had a data point that applying for further jobs there was also not in your best interests, rather than just a rejection with no details.)

      I wish that sort of honesty was more common – all too often people tend to dodge and hint or obscure things like that.

      Reply
  15. bopper

    I did an internal interview and we mutually cut the interview short when it was clear the person was not interested/qualified in what we needed. Very qualified for other things, but not this specific thing.

    Reply
  16. Alton

    I had an awkward experience on the other side of this, once. I was offered an interview for a legal assistant position. I was completely upfront on my resume and in my cover letter about my experience (I was a recent graduate, so not much) and education. The day before the interview, I got an email saying that they were going to have me meet a couple of the paralegals first before meeting with the hiring manager. Okay, no problem. I met with the HR person first, which seemed to go well. Then I met the paralegals, who didn’t give the impression that they’d looked at my resume beforehand, but I wasn’t concerned since it seemed like they’d been asked to meet me sorta last-minute.

    They left, and the next thing I knew, the HR person came in and apologetically informed me that the paralegals didn’t think I had enough experience, so I wasn’t going to get to meet with the hiring manager, after all. I have no idea if that’s normal or not, but I found it odd and off-putting at the time. The discussion of my experience didn’t go any deeper than what was on my resume (that is, it’s not like I was asked to elaborate or like they asked me about anything specific), and I felt like I’d been polite and handled the questions well enough.

    Reply
  17. AnnaleighUK

    At OldJob we once interviewed someone who had researched the wrong company, was possibly the most un-communicative person I’ve ever interviewed, didn’t have one of the key qualifications we needed and absolutely reeked of cigarette smoke. We spent the required thirty minutes with him, agreed he was a bad fit… and he got hired anyway. Because we were ‘desperate’. If I’d been more senior I’d have shut the interview down earlier but no, I was but a supervisor.

    This guy failed his probation. I wasn’t surprised. At NewJob I’ve sat in on three interviews that were cut short politely by my manager because the candidate was absolutely wrong for the position or, in one case, was amazingly rude to us all and kept commenting on my accent. Nothing wrong with cutting an interview short in my view, as long as you do it politely.

    Reply
  18. Anonymous Childcare Person

    I had this happen once in a Skype interview for a job that involved managing a team of painters. The interviewer asked me about my hobbies and we somehow got on the topic of bowling; I mentioned that I was waiting to save up for lessons because I didn’t want to teach myself and then have to un-learn bad habits later. The interviewer stopped the interview there and said they were looking for more of a self-starter. I appreciated him not wasting my time after he knew I wasn’t a good fit for the position.

    I had another interview where it was clear my first answer turned her off. I hadn’t prepared beforehand and I think she didn’t like that (this was before I read Alison’s guide and realized preparation was crucial!). She didn’t end the interview but she started answering the questions for me (“What do you want to do with your life? Oh I already know, you’re majoring in psychology so you want to be a therapist!”) (which was not what I wanted to be, but I didn’t correct her). Then I took a short tour and the interview was over. Not surprisingly, I got a rejection e-mail a few weeks later.

    Reply
    1. HR Caligula

      He pinned you not a “self starter” because you wanted bowling lessons?
      Well bowl me over!

      Thanks for sharing, good for a guttural laugh.

      Reply
  19. sfigato.taylor

    I’ve done a number of interviews for various things, and while I’ve never had a huge red flag that made me stop the interview, I’ve definitely skipped questions and hurried it along if I was sure the person wasn’t a fit. I do think that if someone has taken the time to come speak with you, you owe them at least 30 minutes of their time provided they aren’t completely ineligible for the role or being terrible. I was in one group interview where the person was both awful and not a fit and didn’t have the experience we needed, and I wanted to cut it short but couldn’t communicate that with the other interviewers. To give you an idea, when we asked about challenging projects, she brought up one where someone had been raped, and not like, “we had this awful thing happened and here’s how I helped the poor woman who was raped and made sure everything in my power was done to help her and punish those accountable.” No, this was more, “so someone got raped, which was a huge liability, so I had to do damage control to make sure we didn’t get any blowback.” I mean, she was sympathetic to the survivor, but much more concerned with how this would make her department look. And she CHOSE to bring it up.

    Reply
  20. ToledoShark

    Having recently had one of these interviews as the candidate I’d say it’s kinder to blitz through whatever questions you need to without torturing the candidate. One of the requirements for the role I was interviewing for was 3 years of experience in delivering teapot manufacturing support – which I don’t have. I do however have 3 years experience of writing and rolling out the training manuals on how to deliver teapot support and was clear about this in my application. The first question from the panel started with ‘this role requires 3 years of experience in delivering teapot support…which we can see you don’t have’ and it went downhill from there :)

    Reply
  21. crookedfinger

    I had an interviewer end it early once and I really appreciated it. After talking for about 10 minutes, she just stopped and said it sounded like the position they were hiring for wasn’t what I wanted and I agreed (the temp agency clearly hadn’t described it properly, otherwise I never would’ve applied). It was great to not have to waste a bunch of time.

    Reply
  22. BePositive

    I had the interviewer end within 5 minutes. She determined I wasn’t the right fit. I determined we’d butt heads. Our styles didn’t ‘mesh’ and I think it was the right call. I gained respect for her for that.

    Reply
  23. Jaybeetee

    When I was younger, I was getting laid off from my position and had an interview lined up with a car rental company. I knocked the phone screen out of the park…except for the minor detail that at one point I accidentally referred to the company by the name of their main competitor. The HR woman sheepishly corrected me, I was mortified and apologized, and figured that was the end of that prospect. She actually did continue the interview, and told me I passed the pre-screen and set up an in-person interview at a nearby location. I’m guessing there was some kind of “points” system, and I still scored enough “points” to pass the screen.

    A week later, drove to the car rental location, where the manager walked me into his office, asked me literally one question and told me we were done. I commented that it was a fast interview, and he gave me this cynical smile and was like “Yeah, I think we got everything we needed.” Naturally, I didn’t get the job (probably a good thing anyway, much better things eventually came along). If it was to do with the pre-screen, I wish he would have just cancelled the interview outright instead of me driving down there to answer one question and leave.

    Reply
  24. Xarcady

    One interview I went on was for a training/documentation position–I have plenty of experience in both. About 10 minutes into the interview, things are going fine. Then someone asked me where I learned Spanish, as that wasn’t on my resume.

    Note: nothing was mentioned about Spanish or any other language or being bilingual in the job posting.

    I replied that I didn’t know Spanish, but did know German and Latin. I must have sounded as puzzled as I felt.

    Well, it turned out that they had seen a previous job at a translation agency on my resume (where I edited the translations going into English) and assumed I knew Spanish and could translate all their training documentation into Spanish for them. Once they realized I didn’t know Spanish, they stopped interviewing me and grilled me on how to find a good translator. I was trying to end the interview, because it was clear I was now a “failed” candidate for the job, so I could get my car out of the parking garage before I had to pay for another hour, but they kept asking me questions that had nothing to do with the job they advertised. I was more than a little upset, because I was qualified for the job, but once they learned I didn’t know Spanish, they clearly stopped considering me for the position.

    If you want a bilingual trainer, advertise for a bilingual trainer!

    Reply
  25. Close Bracket

    In the spirit of The More You Know, that’s not what “cut bait” means. Cutting bait means cutting up what ever you are using for bait into pieces the right size to bait your line with. The phrase “fish or cut bait” means “do this job or do that job”, ie, figure out what you’re going to do and do it. It does not mean “continue on or cut things off”.

    Reply
    1. Kyrielle

      Except “fish or cut bait” is commonly used, in my experience, to mean “do the job or get out” – I think based not on cutting-up bait, but cutting the line and letting your bait go as a loss. You can argue what ‘cut bait’ should mean, but there are two interpretations, and the ‘do it or quit’ version is the one I hear more often at least in my area. Actually, until your comment, it’s the only one I’d heard! Wikipedia says yours is the original meaning, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the one most of us understand now.

      Reply
        1. Laura

          No, Close Bracket is perfectly correct in pointing out that cut bait means ‘cut bait’. There’s no line in there. Words mean what they mean, and you can’t use them in another way unless you’re Humpty Dumpty. Who was mocked for it by Lewis Carroll. Just because you hear people using an expression wrong doesn’t make it right.

          Reply
          1. Kyrielle

            Usage can change over time, however, and in this case it is sometimes the first definition listed (the cutting a line to drop the bait version). Most fisherman who aren’t commercial fisherman get bait at a bait shop these days. I’ve fished, but I’ve never had to cut bait to fish. ‘Cut bait’ as ‘cut the line so your bait (and hook) falls away’ is the only meaning I’ve ever heard – in multiple decades of life.

            It may be partly regional, it may be more likely in younger age groups, but the meaning has changed enough that places listing definitions include that one – sometimes first.

            If one person decides that ‘yes’ means ‘no’ and ‘fish’ means ‘cat’, you’re having an argument with my eight-year-old, and he doesn’t get to do that. (Especially the yes/no part.)

            But if over time many people, perhaps even most people, start meaning “cut the line and drop the bait, in other words stop what you’re doing and give up on that” instead of “chop pieces off for bait”, if it’s become a/the common understanding, then it has become part of the language. Linguistic shift does happen.

            Sometimes it’s a little sad, especially if a word or phrase that used to be interesting or useful has been co-opted to mean something you would never, ever want to say. Or if you’ve got a phrase you love for meaning something specific that many people now interpret as something different. But at the point where it’s become commonly-known, telling a whole mass of people that they are wrong is not going to change it.

            Reply
  26. Phoenix Programmer

    Seconding everything Allison said.

    My husband once applied to a role as a receptionist. He traveled 50 minutes for an interview. Got there and they asked him ONE question. “Why are you interested in this role.” And then dismissed him! We have warned everyone off from this place for this rude and thoughtless behavior.

    *Notes: He was well dressed. On time. Gave a well thought out answer. The interviewers were also half an hour late since they spent so much time with the previous applicant.

    Reply
  27. JN

    I had a teaching interview many years ago that was done over the phone since I didn’t live anywhere close to there. I don’t remember now if it was described as a phone screen or as a regular interview or whatever. Actually, it seemed a bit disorganized from the start, since the principal called my cell phone while I was in my car, and I remember pulling into a parking lot so I could talk safely. Anyway, the phone interview was going fine–or so I judged–until they asked me “Do you feel that the teacher is solely responsible for the learning success of their students”. I answered that I believed the teacher played a key role in knowing the material and teaching it clearly to their students, but that each student did have the responsibility to hear, internalize, and apply that instruction in their learning; thus, both parties shared responsibility for student learning. Clearly, that wasn’t the answer they wanted to hear, and while the interview lasted a while longer, I knew from that question on that I wouldn’t be getting that job (I didn’t).

    Reply
  28. Blue Eagle

    I was on the interviewer end of this once. The position was for job A and the applicant had done job A, job B and job C for one year each at his current company. The applicant’s response to the question – “Which job did you enjoy the most?” was job C. Then a follow-up – “Which job did you enjoy the second most?” and he responded job B.
    At this point I asked what his thoughts were on job A and he said that it was his least favorite of the three. So then I asked why he was interviewing for my position and he said the external recruiter said it would be a good way for him to get his foot in the door at my company and after a year could transfer to the job he really wanted.
    Are you kidding me! Luckily these were the first questions I asked him and he seemed pretty clueless that his response would not be looked upon favorably. The interview ended with me saying that the person hired for job A would be someone who was enthusiastic about doing job A and if that was not him, then there was no need to go any further in the interview. And out the door he went.
    Luckily for me, the woman who interviewed the next day was great and she was hired and no more interviews were needed. Whew!

    Reply
  29. Sr. IT Manager (Contractor for U.S. Gov't)

    I recently interviewed a person for a Sr. Linux Systems Administrator position. He correctly answered my first two questions, and flunked the next eight in a row. I had to cut the interview short. I simply explained to him that he lacked the experience we were looking for, and to continue further would be a waste of his time and mine. It ended very nicely for the both of us.

    Reply
  30. Mel

    A former coworker of my husband had an on site interview that the interviewer cut short. He had passed 3 phone interviews and a difficult technical exam. He flew out for the interview, got through the first two hours, the third session was about to start when the recruiter walked in, handed him an envelope of cash and told him they would keep him in mind if any more jobs came up, but they were going a different direction. The two people about to interview him shrugged and left the room. So coworker had the day to himself in a city he had never been in with cash in hand. (He wasn’t sure how to feel other than relief.)

    Reply
      1. Mel

        Lunch, dinner and and anything he wanted to do for the rest of the day. He was scheduled to have a lunch interview and then a social dinner with the potential team he would be with. His flight out was the next morning, so I suppose he could have used the cash to pay to change the flight and leave soonee..

        They contacted him again a couple of years later about a different position, but he wasn’t in a position to change jobs. So there was no ill will on their part, they just knew he wasn’t what they wanted.

        Reply
  31. Mes

    This happened to me once. After asking a couple questions, the hiring manager said “Actually, we’re looking for someone slimmer” and ended the interview.

    Reply
  32. LaSalleUGirl

    I used to help hire tutors for a writing center at my graduate university. Lots of people looked great on paper (which included being great writers), but had strongly-held ideas about writing and writers that were incompatible with our teaching model. Our interview conversation had two parts: one thread to discuss past experience and underlying assumptions about how writers write and tutors tutor and a second thread that asked the candidate to describe their writing process on a particular writing sample in as much detail as they could muster.

    Most of the time, unsuitable candidates would say something deeply problematic in the first part (think: “All writers need to work in a silent space” or “Everybody just needs to do a detailed outline” or “My approach to writing would just be to correct every error I saw in a paper.”) A single problematic statement is usually something we could train someone out of; but lots of candidates made multiple problematic statements.

    The interview team had signal phrases that we would use to indicate to the lead interviewer that we didn’t think we should move forward to the second part. The lead interviewer could overrule us, but most of the time s/he just wrapped things up after the first part without the candidate ever knowing that there was supposed to be a second part. It was a good system for the type of interview we were doing.

    Reply
  33. Doc in a Box

    This happened to me a couple years ago. I was at a group interview (two open positions, five candidates, it was sort of a round robin schedule) and my first one-on-one interview was with the head of the department. He seemed very cordial; we talked about a few different aspects of my resume and how they related to his own interests/the department at large, and then he abruptly said we were done talking and showed me out of his office. I have no idea what I said that was so offensive (I’m very mild-mannered; don’t even swear in public), and I was so embarrassed to go back to the waiting room early that I hid in the bathroom for fifteen minutes, bewildered.

    I did get an offer, and due to family reasons, ended up taking it. By the time I started, Department Head had stepped down/was on sabbatical, but he still comes to occasional social functions or meetings and is super nice with everyone but glowers at me. I still have no idea what I did to piss him off!

    Reply
  34. princess direly

    I was on the other side. I cut short an interview for a government job. They’d advertised the position as an analytical/communications one with Department A, but when I showed up, told me it was just statistics and crunching numbers for Department B. After 10 minutes, I said, “While I think I would be a good candidate, and able to do this job well, I think you would be better off with a data-oriented person. I would hate to waste your time by extending this interview.” I politely excused myself, shook the interviewers’ hands, and hustled off.

    Reply
  35. Laura

    I had that happen to me, but it wasn’t due to my qualifications or how I would fit the role or company. It was only 20 minutes into the interview and we barely scratched the surface of the position or my qualifications- when the interviewer abruptly said she was going to be ‘honest’, and say that I was looking for the wrong job role (which I had experience in as well as education.) Then she half-heartedly mentioned a ‘mentor’ program that could put me into a completely different type of job and position. To add insult to injury, she then said they ‘were really looking for people who would get up and run with the position.’ I remained professional, said I didn’t have any further questions, and then they didn’t even walk me past the front desk before turning around and chatting with co-workers.

    I was referred to that company through a family friend who worked in a different department. We passed along my experience (a 20 minute shallow interview) and they flipped out. Apparently this was the second time that interviewer had been rude and cut short an interview, and was told she had to call me and apologize for her unprofessional behavior or she would be fired. I never received a call (I assume she was fired), and it most certainly hurt my view of that company. I never went back to re-apply.

    TLDR; if you feel the need to cut short an interview (justified or not) keep it professional and within limits. If you’re cutting it short, it has to be IMMENSELY clear that they’re not a good fit.

    Reply
  36. CanCan

    I’ve been an interviewee where I wished I could end the interview early – but didn’t have the guts. The interviewer smoked one cigarette after another, right in front of me – in an indoor office. Only in old movies have I seen people smoke in offices. I was interviewing for a white collar job (lawyer). His office was on the first floor, with a door to the outside – so it’s not like it would have been a huge hardship for him to step out. He actually made a joke that his employees kept threatening to report him to the government workplace safety regulator. I was so floored, I didn’t manage to say anything. (He didn’t really ask too many questions. Probably knew that only the most desparate person would accept.) Took me a long time afterwards to air the smoke out of my winter coat. I absolutely hate that stuff.

    He left me a voicemail offering the position; I didn’t return his call. Looked him up afterwards – turned out he also had disciplinary history with the law society, for being uncivil with other lawyers. Not surprised.

    Reply

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