the ethics of cancelling remaining interviews once you find “the one”

Where do you stand on this question?

An employer is interviewing for a position. They have five interviews scheduled. Interview #3 is fantastic, and the interviewer’s experience tells them that the other candidates won’t beat #3.

If you were candidate #4 or #5 and your interview hasn’t happened yet — say it’s scheduled for later this week — would you rather that the employer continue on with your scheduled interview, even though now they’re pretty sure it’s going to be a waste of your/their time because they’re almost definitely going to offer the position to the other candidate (who appears certain to accept)? Or would you rather they not make you put in the time when it’s so unlikely to pay off?

(Assume for the sake of the question that if candidate #3 turns down the offer, the employer will resume the remaining interviews.)

I could argue this either way, but ultimately — if I’m that sure about candidate #3 — I’m on the side of not wasting people’s time.

{ 54 comments… read them below }

  1. Lance*

    HR in me says "What happens if the others are better?"

    The pragmatic in me says "Let's not waste anyone's time. They'll be disappointed and we should be ready to explain that."

    Pragmatism wins.

  2. Anonymous*

    If I was the candidate #4, I would rather the employer continue with the interview. Although everything seems certain, there is always the chance of something not working out or candidate #4 may be qualified for a future position. An interview is still the opportunity to establish a relationship that could be helpful to the employer in the future.

  3. Kathy*

    I totally agree. It would be hard to hear, but I would definitely appreciate the honesty, and getting back the time I would have stressing about it and preparing for it.

  4. shannon*

    I would rather the employer continue with the interview. It helps to have a back up candidate in case the number #1 candidate finds something better or turns out to be less then stellar.

    Plus it keeps the door open for further communication about other possible positions available.

  5. Erica*

    As long as it's not some full day interview involving meetings with six different people, I'd probably prefer they still call me in. Unless they see an obvious weakness in my background, who's to say I won't come in and blow oh-so-wonderful candidate #3 out of the water? Even if I don't, you never know if that interview may lead to something in the future.

  6. George Guajardo*

    Selection, like all other decision-making processes often drives us to select between optimizing and satisficing.

    Candidate 3 meets all expectations, so we can consider this candidate to satisfy our needs. To find the optimum candidate (from among the 5) we would have to interview the remaining 2 candidates.

    From a practical standpoint, the choice between decision-making approaches have different trade offs. It is up to the decision maker to decide what approach to take. Optimization leads to "the best" results, but is ill suited when the problem space contains a large number of options.

    If you only have two more choices to consider, it probably a good idea to go ahead with the remaining interviews.

  7. A Girl Named Me*

    Definitely, definitely complete the interviews.

    If #3 is unable to accept the job for whatever reason, you would have to restart the process.

    We advise job seekers to continue looking until everything is in order and an offer is in hand because they never know what could happen and what seems like a sure thing could fall through.

    As an employer, I follow that same advice and keep my options open.

  8. Anonymous*

    If you know for sure you're not going to hire me, don't waste my time. I will be stressed out and nervous getting ready for the interview and in the interview itself and if it's just a charade so you can complete what you said you were going to do, that's for your comfort, not mine.

  9. Anonymous*

    Keep the schedule, especially when people are making arrangements to leave work (faking a sick day or similar).

    I wouldn't count on #3 to come out and knock everyone over. That person could have a bad day, turn down the offer, or something else could happen. Then they're losing face with the other candidates.

    I would definitely be a little upset if a company canceled their interview, and then later on asked me to come in. That would be very suspicious.

    Who knows – maybe #4 or #5 might be a good hire elsewhere in the company.

  10. Tracy Tran*

    I would complete the whole process and have the other two in for the interview.

    There are many ways why to complete the process:

    1. Make sure the top candidate is really there after the interviewing process. You can be sure, but make sure you have the candidate

    2. The other 4 might not get the job, but they can pay it forward and recommend other candidates for other jobs or a networking event and have a conversation. Sometimes, people remember your name and you don't know the two going to meet face-to-face for the first time. We do live in a small world and our profile is open to the public.

    3. There will be someone who might surprise you and it's alright to have a second look and if the person has something the other candidate that doesn't bring.

  11. jmkenrick*

    Even if the employer knows that I'm not going to be hired, I would still appreciate the interview. I've probably already blocked out the time and done some research, and it will give me an opportunity to get to meet the employer and make a good impression that might be worth something further down the line.

    That said, I'm also still new to the career game, so even if I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get a job, I can still treat every interview like practice.

  12. Em-Dash*

    If there isn't a lot of time difference between interview #3, #4, and #5 it seems rude to cancel.

    If there is (a day or more), then you could contact the candidates explain nicely that the situation has changed but would they be interested in interviewing on a more informational basis.

    As the candidate, I'd be disappointed at first, but then thrilled that you still want to meet with me. Also, I wouldn't be expecting a job when I interview (but as a manager, you may be able to use the candidate later).

  13. Charles*

    Let me get this straight – You've already scheduled interviews for job seekers who may have already scheduled to take time off, who may have already gotten someone to cover for them, etc. And now you want to cancel without interviewing them? All because you are so certain about the "fantastic" earlier candidate?

    Here are my feelings about this scenario:

    1. Ideally; Yes, please interview me, you haven't met me yet, so how can you be so certain that I am not more "fantastic" than the earlier candidate?

    2. Realistically; If you have already made up your mind, will you even give me a chance? Will you be interviewing me with an opened mind? I suspect not, then please don't waste my time. And I will never do business with your organization again, ever!

    Got that? Good!

    AAM, I think I will take you up on that offer of a public service to let interviewers know that they suck.

    Several years ago, I scheduled to take a day off from work (a vacation day because I was not brought up to be dishonest – I just don't know how others call in "sick" when they plan a day off to go for interviews). My interview was scheduled for 4:30 that afternoon. I let the interviewer know that I would be off the whole day and to call me if her schedule changed, I would certainly be willing and available to come in earlier if needed.

    I spent the whole day at home doing nothing but waiting to see if she would call. I arrived for the interview on time, was kept waiting until after 5:15 pm, only to have her come out to explain to me that she has "been burnt" too many times in the past and that she had just called to offer the job to someone else. And she kept me waiting to see if they would accept. She didn't even interview me! She stressed how much she "believed in being honest"!

    She should have either cancelled my interview before I left home if she really "believed in being honest" or she should have interviewed me anyway as I took the time to show up.

    And that is why today I will not buy nor live in a K. Hovnanian Home! They suck!

  14. Anne*

    If you know I'm not the one don't interview me. Don't do it to be nice or as an information interview, if you know I'm out of the running for this job, TELL ME. Yes I might have taken the day off work. You will just make it worse by making me spend it in an interview for a job I'm not going to get. I would rather use that day for something for myself instead of sitting in an interview for a job you already know I'm not going to get. I don't get these people saying they would want to go through the motions.

  15. Anonymous*

    How can you be so absolutely sure that the other applicant's may not be a stronger fit with better skills?

    Sometimes people look fantastic on paper but are dreadful in person and vise versa, some don't have as good a resume but have fantastic skills.

    I think in a market where there are so many quality candidates around it would be near sighted to think that no one could be better than the person you've just decided was the best.

    Isn't HR about being objective and taking all information to account rather than just making rash decisions?

  16. Ask a Manager*

    I don't think that's the right characterization of it, Anonymous. After all, say you have 15 great candidates, but you're only going to do 5 in-person interviews. You have to narrow them down somehow, and you do that based on what your knowledge and experience tells you about which are going to be the strongest matches. Those aren't rash decisions; it's what hiring is.

    And this situation is a smaller version of that. The only difference is that you had already scheduled an interview with this weaker candidate.

    Hiring isn't an exact science, and it's not about giving everyone minimally qualified the opportunity to prove themselves in an interview (or you'd be doing dozens more interviews than is realistic). It's about using your experience and judgment to make the best decisions you can. I've done enough hiring to trust my judgment about how one candidate stacks up against another, and I think that's true for most experienced interviewers. Sometimes candidates are close enough that you really don't know until you do the interviews, and other times someone blows you away so much that you know from experience that the guy with the less impressive set of experience isn't going to be competitive against her, and good interviewers know which type of situation they're dealing with.

  17. Ask a Manager*

    Personally, I agree with the commenters who say they wouldn't want their time wasted. But regardless, I think what the discussion here shows is that different people feel completely different from each other on this issue, and they all feel really strongly about their point of view … which doesn't really point to any one right path for the interviewer.

    I think it comes down to knowing how experienced/skilled of an hirer you are (and thus how much it's reasonable to trust your judgment): Has your judgment generally been right on such things in the past? Do you make great hires? Is the favored candidate unusually good, at a level you'd be shocked to find another candidate matching, based on your experience, or just moderately good? Those are all things I'd take into account when deciding whether or not to short-circuit a round of interviews.

  18. M*

    In my opinion the answer depends also on the pressure of the deadline.
    If I have the process timeline set and approved by the hiring manager, I interview all the candidates before making a decision. It seems fair to me for both: the company and the candidates.
    I selected number #4 and #5 as eligible options, therefore I wouldn�t consider interviewing them a waste of time. Furthermore, as I work in a niche industry, it�s useful for me to meet valuable candidates and build relationships. I am not in charge only with one project, but with fulfilling the recruitment needs of my company. Consequently I have to think on long term.
    In the worst case scenario, of a huge pressure of having someone hired as soon as possible, I would offer the position to #3, explain the situation to #4 and #5 and let them decide whether we cancel the meeting or not. But this is a situation I try to prevent.

  19. TisDone*

    My Vote: Keep to the schedule, and interview #4 & #5 with an open mind.

    Why? First – a bit of a cooling-off period about the alledgedly-fantastic #3 candidate. Perhaps – with a bit more time to reflect on how the interview went, you may realize that the fit isn't as perfect as the interview initially suggested.

    But also – since its just the "rest of this week" to go to the other interviews, that's not too long (IMHO) to wait to see if the other candidates are just a shade better, if not overall, perhaps in one key functional area.

    If the interviews were scheduled out more than a week after the magic candidate appeared, OR if I had already interviewed more than 2 other candidates, then I'd be more willing to cut the last 2 loose.

  20. Anonymous*

    I would think that while the person interviewing thinks candidate 3 is a fantastic candidate, hiring decisions may not be up to one person and, furthermore, the "one" has usually has to pass management inspection.

    I've been on hiring boards where we found the "one" with the right set of experience and all of us agreed (it was in a university setting where getting 5 different people from 5 different areas to agree is almost miraculous), only to have management nix our choice because they wanted someone else with a particular set of credentials (that turned out to not matter a whit for job performance). Of course, in that setting, you can't stop interviewing if you find someone you feel would be the perfect fit, but it sure made us feel like we had wasted our time.


  21. Rebecca*

    On the hiring end of things, I would go ahead and interview #4 and #5… because twice now, I've been part of a hiring situation where our "candidate #3" was perfect, had us really excited about hiring her, had us seriously considering ditching the other candidates, said she'd take the job if we offered — and then turned us down. Maybe that's just my rotten luck though…

    As a candidate, I would prefer you went on with the interview, because I see it as an opportunity to make a connection, and every connection is valuable. Even if you don't hire me, I still get the chance to make a positive impression that causes you to remember me when another opening comes up.

    Also, Em-Dash's suggestion is a good compromise, I think.

  22. Sphaeron*

    As a potential #4 or #5 candidate, I'd rather be canceled on. Having participated on the hiring side of a company, I've see a situation play out in this manner:

    It is decided that #3 is great. Interviews for #4 and #5 are conducted without rigor for the sole purpose of avoiding the social situation of having to cancel them. After deciding on #3, the candidate bails or other complications are encountered. (In my current company the pathetic HR process takes weeks. It's not surprising if a candidate pursues another opportunity, assuming that the lack of response means they were not chosen. Hat tip to your related post, Alison.)

    At this point, there were four other candidates interviewed. It's unlikely anyone was impressed by #4 or #5 since the interviews were conducted lackadaisically–perhaps even without attendance of key staff.

    I'm not saying it's a regular occurrence. But I've seen it happen. I'd rather have the potential to be called back for a
    new set of interviews.

  23. Sphaeron*

    Furthermore, even if all five interviews were conducted with equivalent rigor: now that #1 and #2 were already psychologically discarded in preference of #3 I'd still rather be in a fresh pool of candidates instead of part of a pool where #1/#2 and #4/#5 didn't measure up to #3.

  24. Bohdan*

    As long as the remaining two seemed like they likely to be strong candidates, I'd interview them all.

    Sometimes if the first two interviews were mediocre it can make following applicants seem better than they are.

    Less of a concern if you have some highly effective, objective measurement, but that's rare.

  25. Anonymous*

    Interview me anyway. Even if #3 beats me out for this particular job, I may be a perfect match for another job with your organization in the future. And now your organization knows about me.

    I actually found a great job this way – the first job I interviewed for was cancelled due to funding cuts, but they actually contacted me and asked me to apply for the second job – and I was hired. It was a great organization, and the 2nd job was superior to the 1rst.

  26. Julie*

    When I was applying for my first full time job out of school, I was interviewed by a company that waited until we were 45 minutes into a fairly stressful interview (filled with questions that I can only refer to as "soul searching") to let me know that they had already found "the one". Not only had they already found her, the offer had already been given and accepted. They still wanted me to interview because they *might* be hiring in a couple of months (when I'd be out of school) for a totally different position and they thought that I might be a good candidate for it. While that is all well and fine, and handled differently I may have been open to this other option, I was blindsided with this information at the time of the interview. I was completely taken aback and appalled that they felt this was an appropriate way to handle this. Did I mention they used the phrase "We have some good news and some bad news" to preface this announcement?

    Also, I just had an interview with a company where I suspect I was given the interview Sphaeron mentioned. I was told near the end that I was the last of 6 interviewees, and looking back he seemed more interested in finding out the gossip about my current company than he was in finding out about my experience, etc.

  27. Susan*

    I've been on the receiving end of the interview when someone else has already been chosen. I can tell you that it was not fun because the hiring manager came right out and told me that I wouldn't get the job because he already wanted to hire someone else. This didn't leave me with a good feeling. Here I had taken off from work at a place that treats those looking to leave like garbage, and this hiring manager acts as if it was no big deal to waste my time and have had me complete paperwork, travel to the interview, and waste my time.

    Later, I received a job offer from the company to work for this same manager in a job we never even discussed. I turned down the offer because I couldn't get over how he thought nothing of telling me that it didn't matter what happened in the interview because he had already made his decision before I showed up. The part that I didn't like is that I never even had a chance to ask questions about the job he was later offering me. How can I accept a job without knowing details about it? How can I work for someone who thinks he knows exactly where to place me in his company with no input from me? We didn't even discuss the job he later offered. How insane is that?

    If you really felt that match made in heaven feeling with candidate number 3 and you're cleared to hire that person, then cut the other candidates loose. Although the remaining candidates can use the interview for informational purposes and to meet people within the company, just interviewing them to go through the motions could end up leaving a lasting negative impression on them if they find out you were just going through the motions. Of course, you could call them up and explain that you've already made a decision, but still give them the option of coming in to meet with you. I would only do that if I felt the remaining candidates were potentially strong and your company may have openings in the near future. Sometimes, I do get the feeling that hiring managers forget that candidates do turn down offers when the manager has left a bad impression. Interviews work two ways. Some of us, even in a down economy, do have options.

  28. Mel Vault*

    I can live with being put through the motions if I'm just out of college, need the experience, and am unemployed. Otherwise, please don't waste my time.

  29. bg*

    The manager doesn't truly know she's found "the one" until she's interviewed all candidates.

    She thinks candidate #3 is so strong that candidate #3 won't beat out candidates #4 & #5. But she didn't think that until candidate #3 interviewed. She won't know what candidate #4 & #5 are really like until they interview either.

    Had the manager known that candidate #3 was going to be the best prior to candidate #3's interview, candidate #3 would have been scheduled as candidate #1 and no other interviews scheduled unless needed afterwards. This proves that the manager doesn't know what she's getting until the interview, so she'd better interview #4 & #5 as well.

    Moreover, what happens if #3 gives a great interview but turns out to be a wash-out new-hire? When the manager's supervisor asks what the other candidates were like, how does she tell her manager that she didn't do her homework and bet the farm on this one?

    Interview all candidates.

  30. Anonymous*

    I had a friend who was that Candidate #4 or 5 and while the interviewer was honest about saying she had most likely already found her ideal candidate, she went ahead with the interview.

    However, the interviewer was clearly disinterested throughout the interview and basically just wanted the interview to be over.

    So, my two cents to this conversation is, yes – if you make an effort to continue to finish your interview list, then at least put some effort in – the same professional effort bestowed on all candidates – and give your time and respect to the remaining candidates, regardless of the outcome.

    It was a very discouraging event for the candidate in this situation and it's soured on her everytime she sees a posting from the company.

  31. Anonymous*

    For the first time, I find myself disagreeing with AAM.

    I was the last candidate to be interviewed for my current job. When my now manager called to offer me the position, she said "we thought we knew who we were going to hire … and then we met you."

    Even though you might think you've found the best person for the job, how do you know until you've completed the interviews? It doesn't seem right to deny candidates 4 and 5 the opportunity to show you what they can do (and deny your organization the chance to see what they can do), simply because you happen to have scheduled their interviews later.

    I don't see the 4th and 5th interviews as a waste of the candidates' time either – even if you don't end up hiring them. It's no more a waste of their time than it was for interviewees 1 and 2, who are obviously no longer being considered. In the end, most of the people you interviewed are not getting hired, and that's okay. That's how it has to be, so if interviewing someone without hiring them is a waste of their time, then maybe we shouldn't do interviews at all!

  32. Ask a Manager*

    Yeah, my point isn't that you should find a candidate who you'd be willing to hire and then stop. I'm talking only about situations where you know #3 is amazing and your knowledge of #4 and #5 (based on resume and phone interviews) is that they're not competitive with #3. If you know that for sure, because you're an experienced interviewer with good judgment, and you have a track record of good judgment in this area, I think it's okay to stop. If you're not positive, or if you're inexperienced, or if your initial judgement isn't always reliable, then I'd continue.

  33. Liz Harter*

    This actually just happened to me in one of my job interviews. I have mixed feelings in response to it, though.

    I had applied for a position and had received a call to schedule a phone interview for the next week. Due to other circumstances I had to schedule my interview on Thursday while the company would have preferred Wednesday. Still, they worked with me to find a good time. I did all my homework – researching the company, prepping questions, exploring their corporate site, their online content and following stories from specific writers (it was a journalism position)and spent a great deal of time doing so. When the scheduled time arrived, however, the first words from the HR director's mouth were, "sorry, but the position is already filled." Then she proceeded to allow me to interview for a different opening which she thought my skill set would match, but it wasn't the same because I wasn't nearly prepared enough to interview for a position for which I had not applied nor seen a job description for.

    Part of me says that I'm glad they still went ahead with the interview, because it was good experience. But the other part of me says that had they called the day before and told me they had filled the position I may have been a little demoralized, but I could have used my time much more productively and accommodated a company who had called me that Wednesday and wanted to set up an interview during my phone interview with Company A.

    I think I would have rather had them call the interview off.

  34. Anonymous*

    Well I can tell you with experience that nowadays that folks now the people they are going to hire. If you are a hire from a recruiter or off the street you are already behind the 8 ball.

    Don't waste my time if all you want to do is put an X in the checkbox which states, Interviewed all qualified candidates.

    Sad but true in this employers market for the foreseeable future.

  35. Sara*

    Ok, so let's say you have 2 candidates, and you LOVED #1, and your #2 interviewee is scheduled right after… if you had my luck, this is what happened: I sat down, and was told right away that they loved the person before me and had offered them the job, and that since I was already there, they wanted to complete the interview.


  36. Grey*

    AAM: “I’m talking only about situations where you know #3 is amazing and your knowledge of #4 and #5 (based on resume and phone interviews) is that they’re not competitive with #3”.

    I’m seriously late to this party, but why are you even scheduling interviews with people who aren’t competitive with your top choice?

    This seems like a situation that could be avoided by scheduling interviews only if your top choice doesn’t impress you in person.

  37. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Ah, because different people are (sometimes) different packages of strengths and weaknesses. And because sometimes someone ends up being much stronger or much weaker in an in-depth interview than they were on the phone or on paper. You can have five people who all seem worth talking to and more or less competitive with each other, but then one jumps hugely ahead (or behind) after talking in-depth with them.

  38. Grey*

    I see what you’re saying. But if your 5 candidates are more or less competitive on paper and #3 jumps hugely ahead, why not give that same opportunity to #4 and #5? Isn’t there a chance they’ll do the same?

    If it were me, I’d still appreciate an interview because I’d want the same chance your others had. After all, you’d deemed me worthy of an interview in the first place. All I want is the few minutes of your time that you were already planning to spend. If I don’t get a job offer, at least I can take solace in knowing I had a fair shot at it.

    Plus, I may have put hours into preparing for the interview. Maybe I bought a new suit. Maybe I filled my tank with gas money I didn’t have. Maybe I scheduled a vacation day to do it. Sound familiar?

  39. Anonymous*

    I think it’s seriously disrespectful to cancel scheduled interviews with potential candidates, no matter how strong a previous interview was. There are no guarantees that a candidate will accept the position offered and there are no guarantees that 4 or 5 will actually be weaker in person (I don’t care HOW good an interviewer is, that person really has no idea what a particular person is really like and what they can really bring). I usually agree with you AAM, but this honestly seems like laziness. You often talk about being ethical – to refuse to give an honest and fair shot to all interviewees seems unethical and moreover, irresponsible. It burns bridges with potential candidates who will then talk to others about the perils of attempting to schedule an interview with you.

    I also think it’s just bad management to tell someone that they don’t have a shot in hell before or during the interview. You request an interview, honor that request, and if you don’t think the candidate is a good fit, you don’t hire them. It’s as simple as that.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve talked to too many people who are upset, angry, or frustrated to find that they were put through all the time, stress, and preparation for an interview when they didn’t have a real chance. I understand that you feel you’d rather go forward with it, but lots of people would rather not.

  40. Anonymous*

    Ah but ‘finding out’ is the problem. There is no reason that they even need to be told that. As far as they are concerned, they are interviewing for an open position with someone who *hopefully* is willing to consider all candidates and honor her obligation to find the best person possible for the position. They ought to have a real chance because no matter how great a candidate seems to be during an interview, it’s possible that something could come up to change the circumstances (perhaps less than stellar references or they turn down the offer). It’s even possible that someone who looks less interesting on paper could turn out to be phenomenal in person. I just think it’s not responsible to assume, in the middle of interviewing, that what you have is as good as you are going to get. What people seem to be upset or angry about is that they weren’t given a ‘fair chance’. I’m suggesting interviewers ought to give everyone a fair chance. In my opinion, the only circumstances in which I think it would make sense for an interviewer to do this would be if it’s a large company interviewing many people over the course of many weeks (where you’d want to wrap it up more quickly for everyone’s benefit) or if the amazing candidate is in danger of being snapped up by someone else. However in this case, with only two interviews that could be finished by the end of the week, it seems that what is needed is for the INTERVIEWER to go in with an open mind, remember that to do her job she ought to take all candidates into consideration, and then make her decision after weighing all the options. It may be that the majority of the time she does in fact decide to go with candidate #3, but I would bet that there would be more than a few times where interviewing all candidates would be extremely beneficial.

    I really love your blog and I agree with most everything you write, but I really disagree with this particular entry. Especially in times like these, it would be nice to think that job seekers would at the very least be offered the opportunity to show what they can offer.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, it’s not about telling the candidate that. But to me it seems more ethical to choose not to do something that a lot of candidates would prefer I not do (putting them through an interview where they have little or no chance). There are absolutely times when it makes sense to be open-minded, but there are also times when you can know that candidate A just isn’t going to be competitive with candidate B, or even your back-up, candidate C.

  41. Anonymous*

    Hmm. I think that if the question was presented in terms of “you have 5 candidates, #3 seems to be the best fit, the interviewer is unable go into any subsequent interview with an open mind. Therefore should the interviewer waste the candidate’s time before the interview (by not granting it, since most likely the candidate has spent time researching, taken time off of work, and made any other preparations such as child care or what-have-you) or waste the candidate’s time while they are there? I can see why many people would say they prefer not to even go to an interview like that. I suppose my position is that I can’t see this as justified except in the rare case. I don’t go to interviews presuming that I’m their best option because I’m there, I go assuming that there’s competition.

    I’m sure that with a lot of experience interviewers get a feel for potential candidates, but I wouldn’t think that anyone can know beyond a doubt, since we are dealing with people here. People can always surprise you. Even if some interviewers CAN know beyond a doubt, it’s probably best to not make it a common practice as we all know there are far from stellar interviewers out there. Aside from that, I think it just looks bad for the company. The interviews were set up because the employer felt the candidates had something to offer. That doesn’t change because someone comes out strong before they get a chance to present. So we have to assume these are all qualified people in some respect, and therefore I would think it’s a bit disrespectful to set up an interview with working professionals and then not honor that commitment. I would think that after awhile, word would get around that getting an interview is no big deal, because they are just as likely to cancel on you if they like someone better.

    If this was a candidate asking about interviewing for a company that they initially liked but now like less since a recent interview with a stellar company, I’m sure it would be similar. Canceling the interview means some hardship for the interviewer, going to the interview with attitude or telling the interviewer that they aren’t prepared to take the interview seriously is a waste of time. I would think that a professional would attend the interview, keep an open mind, and make an informed decision. After all, employment is not guaranteed, just as offer letters aren’t automatically accepted and new employees don’t always make good fit.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, I agree that if you’re doing it all the time, there’s something wrong with your hiring practices. But I do think occasionally there’s a situation where it’s clear that you’ve found your right candidate (and maybe even a back-up candidate or two) and going forward with Candidate C would waste their time and yours. In that case, if I was absolutely sure, I’d cancel. If I wasn’t absolutely sure, I wouldn’t. (You can be absolutely sure though — sometimes there’s just no comparison between two sets of qualifications.)

  42. Anonymous*

    I have to say that I really do appreciate your taking time to comment on my opinion. It’s fantastic that you are willing to interact with your readers, even if they disagree! And despite my strong opinion on this, I’m not a manager or in change of hiring, so perhaps I don’t understand all the ramifications. :)

  43. Anonymous*

    I have to say, I’m a bit confused by your example, AAM.

    You’ve presented it this way… You have resumes from multiple candidates. After phone interviews, you set up interviews with 5 potential candidates. At this point, I have to assume that you believe that any of the 5 could be the right candidate. Otherwise you wouldn’t bother to have them in for interviews.

    Halfway through the interviewing process, you feel especially confident about one of the applicants.

    Now, suddenly, that candidate outshines anything the other 2 remaining candidates could possibly do or say. You can be sure of this, even though you haven’t interviewed the other 2 candidates.

    So…two people who were worthy enough based on a phone interview are suddenly not worthy based on an in-person interview of another candidate? That doesn’t pass muster with me.

    It sounds to me like you’re imagining a different situation, but not being completely clear about it. Something more like this…You know you’re supposed to bring in 5 candidates because it’s generally considered a fair pool size. But, to be honest, as soon as you got candidate 3 on the phone, you knew that’s who you wanted to hire. After their in-person interview, you’re even more sure. And you want us to give you permission to do what you secretly wanted to do in the first place: cancel the remaining two boring time-sucking interviews you have scheduled and make #3 a job offer.

    Heck, it’s not like I haven’t been in that same position! So I’m not meaning to judge here. I’m just noticing that even though you asked for people to weigh in, you’re sticking very hard to your original opinion. Even in the face of compelling arguments to the contrary. It makes me think that you are at least somewhat uncomfortable with your choice, and you’re looking for us to tell you you’re right.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I never bring in X number of candidates because I’ve decided X is a fair number; I bring in the strongest candidates who I’m most interested in talking to. Usually that’s around 5, but for some positions it’s less and for some harder-to-fill positions it’s been far more.

      But here’s the thing: It’s often the case that I’m not equally excited about all 5 (or X) candidates. Often there’s one or two who are stronger even before we meet. So if the interview then confirms that…

      1. Anonymous*

        Thanks for the response! I notice that you seem to be straddling two situations, though.

        Option 1: The 5 candidates are the strongest candidates, and even though #3 seems to be the strongest, you’re interested in talking to all of them.
        Confusion 1: Then why assume so confidently that candidates #4 and #5 couldn’t also wow you in person?

        Option 2: You were confident from the beginning that #3 was your best candidate.
        Confusion 2: Then perhaps you’re fibbing to yourself when you say that all 5 candidates are strong and that you’re interested in talking to all of them.

        Can you see what I mean? You seem to want to have it both ways: you’d never bring in more than the topmost candidates for interviews, but you are at the same time confident that you don’t need to interview all of them.

        I guess I’m interested in this in part because of the rigorous lengths we went to at my last job to make sure that our hiring decisions were unbiased. It was hard work, and we weren’t always completely confident that we’d achieved the level of fairness we wanted to. Something in your description of events reminds me of feelings I had– and worked hard to suppress –during our rounds of interviews. Confirmation bias is a tricky and dangerous beast!

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s more that #3 seems clearly the strongest candidate, but I want to talk with her in person to make sure that impression holds up. Sometimes it doesn’t, or she turns out to be crazy or unpleasant. But if she continues to be great in person, sometimes she’s so clearly head and shoulders above the others already that the decision is obvious.

        The other part of this is that I’ve no doubt been heavily influenced by five years of writing a blog where I constantly get mail from people who are angry that they spent the time interviewing when there was already a stronger candidate in mind.

  44. Melissa*

    This is the same issue that I have with this. It seems quite possible that someone could seem less qualified on paper, do ok on the phone interview, and then completely blow people away during the in-person interview. It could be that an entirely new but aligning skill-set is revealed that suddenly makes this candidate more attractive to you than #3, it could be that #4 or #5 have a real presence in person and that despite the qualifications of the third, one of the others would just fit in much better, or even come in as a close second if #3 decides to turn down the job. Or it could even turn out that one of those candidates is closely affiliated with someone else in the industry and cutting her lose, after an interview is already scheduled and her plans have been made, deeply offends her and has an impact on how others view you. It does seem like a bias and one that has the potential to go wrong, though I am not calling into question your reaction that #3 is the best candidate. That could be true most of the time, but if even a small portion reveals that it is not, I think it’s best to just go ahead with the other interviews and try to remain as professionally unbiased as possible.

  45. Kelly*

    This actually happened to me once. One of my first interviews out of college, they had scheduled interviews back to back that day so I actually saw the manager smiling and shaking hands with the applicant before me and saying something like “We will be in touch very soon”. During my interview he seemed very bored and ready for the interview to be over, checking his watch, looking out the window, etc. When the interview was over he did not say he would be in touch, something more like “Well, thank you for your time, have a nice day”. It was terrible and seemed so unfair at the time, but now I am glad it worked out that way as I wouldn’t want to work under someone like that.

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