are courtesy interviews a waste of time?

A reader writes:

I wanted to get your take on courtesy interviews. In my situation, they are done for any internal person who applies for a position who does not meet minimum qualifications. I think these would be a colossal waste of time. I think the hiring manager should do these candidates a favor and tell them they are not qualified for the position and leave it at that. HR is telling the hiring manager that they have to grant these interviews to avoid union grievances. That sounds like a lame excuse to me. As I may soon be in the position of being the hiring manager, is this an issue worth fighting?

Yes, fight it.

Interviewing someone who doesn’t meet the minimum qualifications as a “courtesy” — with no intentional of hiring them — is rude, condescending, and a waste of time on both sides. You’re putting someone through the time and anxiety of preparing for the interview and getting their hopes up, when you know all along that they have no chance. That’s the opposite of courtesy.

It’s one thing to have a policy of interviewing all qualified internal candidates — but unqualified ones too? Your company should respect employees enough to believe that they can handle the truth that they don’t meet the qualifications.

That HR department sucks. They’re picking the path of least resistance, with no regard for what it means for people’s time or the morale of your staff.

{ 28 comments… read them below }

  1. Hugo Stiglitz*

    Wow, working at a union facility WITH a crappy HR department? Sounds like a blast. Hope you’re looking for another job.

    1. Victoria*

      Yeah, having union representation totally sucks. I hate having vacation days and a 40-hour work week!

      1. JohnQPublic*

        Yup. Weekends and safety rules are so bad for you. And benefits are a waste of my employers hard earned money. I love working in a sweatshop!
        Seriously, unions aren’t the enemy, nor is management. The problem is complacency, imbalance of power, and the fact that not enough people take the long view. Too many are focused on Me Me Me Now Now Now, and that’s no way to run a company or ensure job security.
        Seriously this HR dept is crazy. You can’t do the job, you can’t do the job! Wasting people’s time on courtesy interviews is a misuse of job hours. Present it as such and you should see success.

  2. Josh S*

    Unless there’s something in the Union Contract at your location that requires at least one internal interview for all open positions or something strange like that. But yeah, this is worth fighting.

  3. Somewhat Unqualified*

    I like being interviewed as a unqualified candidate. My hopes won’t be dashed, and I can learn a lot from the questions asked and the interview practice. And one time, it got me a big time promotion. I am putting the extra 35K to good use!

    1. just another hiring manager...*

      But if you’re asked in for a courtesy interview, chances are you don’t know its a courtesy interview and don’t think you’re as unqualified as the employer thinks you are. Most people are going to walk away from this experience sour rather than learning from it, but good for you Somewhat Unqualified :-)

      1. Somewhat Unqualified*

        It is also a great opportunity to try out questions you might not dare to in a “real” interview. Turn it around and interview them. It’s fun!

        And if anyone thinks I was born this glib and daring, so NOT. I am a complete introvert and very shy. But I have one word for you: Toastmasters. Seriously, if you have trouble interviewing or speaking publicly, you have to do this.

  4. Joey*

    The only reason I could think of why this might happen is because the folks you’re interviewing don’t fill out applications completely. So it might be a way to talk to applicants about their experiences to find out if they actually meet the qualifications and just didnt list it. I’ve run into this when I hired folks who weren’t required to read very much. But it shouldn’t be a full blown interview if after clarifying their qualifications they’re truly not qualified.

    Or…your HR dept is lacking any balls whatsoever.

    1. Lily*

      Have you hired people who didn’t fill out their applications completely? Were they detail-oriented enough on the job? Did they finish tasks on the job?

      I am a new enough hiring manager that I still feel unreasonably picky when I eliminate candidates from consideration because their application is incomplete, or I ask them for information during the interview and they never get back to me, but I have also had enough bad experiences with people who don’t get things done or do their own thing to want to figure out how to hire the right people!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I used to feel like I was being unreasonably picky about this too, but over time I realized that when you see these problems in the hiring stage, you ALWAYS see them once the person is on the job. Don’t ignore these red flags.

        I suppose it might be different if you’re hiring for a job where being detail-oriented and having follow-through isn’t very important (although I can’t think of a job where that would be the case)!

  5. Wilton Businessman*

    Courtesy interviews in this case is a waste of time. Forcing the hiring manager to interview candidates that don’t meet the minimum qualifications to fill an actual job is pointless.

    That being said, courtesy interviews in general are not a waste of time if they are done for the right reasons. For example, I have granted courtesy interviews to seniors in College that want to get experience interviewing. I make it clear up front that I don’t have a job but I would be happy to put them through the paces.

    I’ve also had formal conversations (not an interview, per se) with people in my own organization that want to advance or change their career to let them know what’s involved in my group. If the person stays interested, I might spend some mentoring time with them to help bring them along.

    1. twentymilehike*

      Wilton Businessman, I like you response. This sounds like the proper way to use a courtesy interview, and I wouldn’t be opposed to the practice in the OP’s situation if the internal candidates KNEW that they were having a courtesy interview for the sole purpose of prepping them for the real deal one day.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      I wouldn’t call what you are doing a “courtesy interview” in the same sense that this post refers to. I’d call it an informational interview — where both the interviewer and interviewee are clear that there’s no actual job on the table, and the value to the interviewee is getting information.

      These “courtesy interviews,” on the other hand, sound like: there is a job; the job has certain qualification requirements; but if an internal candidate applies, he or she has to be interviewed, even when it’s clear that s/he is way off base for the qualifications. That sounds like a waste of time unless the qualifications are poorly chosen and in fact someone who doesn’t have them could do the job well.

  6. Stells*

    There are some union contracts that define “minimum qualifications” differently than if they were an external applicant. I’d at least push back on HR to see why not interviewing these people would result in a grievance. It could be that the contract just wants the hiring manager to give direct feedback to each internal applicant – which means you don’t have to interview, but you’d have to sit down with the EE and explain why they aren’t qualified. It’s a forced development, usually enacted because the supervisors/managers AREN’T doing it like they’re supposed to. It’s stupid, yes, but at the end of the day if it is in the contract (and I doubt it is, sounds like HR is just being lazy) then you can fight it, but you’ll have to wait until the contract is back up for negotiation to get it removed. And even then it’s not guaranteed.

    But I’d just sit down and talk with the unqualified candidates about their qualifications. Instead of doing a 30-60 min interview, just take 10-15 minutes. It’s a nice compromise if fighting it doesn’t work.

  7. two times*

    I worked at a NON Union place that required “courtesy” interviews. Yes, they’re a waste of time. Especially when you know you’re more than qualified for the job but the hiring manager already hand selected his/her buddy for the job. Its annoying, frustrating, infuriating, and embarrassing all at once. I’m glad I no longer work there!

  8. Janet*

    Agree with some of the previous comments that courtesy interviews aren’t terrible if you’re a new grad but otherwise are wastes of time. At my first part-time job out of college I received a courtesy interview for a full-time position. It was great practice and it got me in front of some senior employees that I rarely got a job to converse with. They were impressed enough to offer me another lower position a few months later.

    Fast forward a few years and I applied for an internal job at my large company in an attempt to switch departments and it was clear in the interview that they had no intention of hiring me and were only talking to me because they had to. It was insulting and a huge waste of everyone’s time. I would rather they had told me that they appreciated my interest but I did not have enough experience.

  9. Anonymous*

    They can be awful, or they can be good—

    My husband used to work at a large company. Their courtesy interviews were in fact a waste of time! He spent the entire evening before preparing, only to show up to the “interview” to quickly realize it was a complete waste of time and they had no interest in actually considering him for the job. He later found out they wanted to hire an external candidate, but had to post it internally due to company policy.

    I work for a smaller company (about 150 employees), and anyone who applies for an internal position gets asked to meet with the hiring manager. We never refer to these meetings as interviews, and instead as a meeting to discuss the internal opening. If someone seems qualified, the position is explained in greater deal and an interview progresses.

    In the case of an employee who is not qualified, the hiring manager will meet with the person for a few minutes to discuss shortcomings and what can be done to make the person more eligible for a similar transfer going forward. I think this is very beneficial for the candidate, and also helps them understand why they are not being chosen for the role (thus preventing hostility/resentment).

  10. Anonymous*

    I used to work at a place that did courtesy interviews – managed to stop it as it was a waste of everyone’s time, and often got expectations up for no reason (no matter that a candidate knows they don’t have all the qualifications, they still hope). It’s far better to offer decent interview and career management support for those at the stage in their career where it’s helpful.

  11. Mike C.*

    Sorry, I don’t buy the “avoiding union grievances” excuse. It doesn’t do the union any good to give people interviews for jobs they’ll never get. Either they can’t find someone in HR literate enough to read the contract or they’re scapegoating.

  12. ChristineH*

    I like Wilton’s idea of using courtesy interviews as a way to prepare those just about to enter the workforce for the first time, and maybe even for career-changers. Otherwise, I honestly do think they can be a waste of time, especially for external candidates. I’ve had it happen to me a couple of times (I don’t think either were union-affiliated employers). One interviewer actually came right out and said she had someone else in mind, but brought me in “just in case”.

    For internal candidates, I’d say if you can’t fight doing them, keep the interviews brief.

    1. Liz*

      I once found out that the person my interviewers hired for real was WORKING on site, doing the job, the day I interviewed. (She actually made some blog posts for the company site that were time and date stamped during my interview, and you could see she had been doing them for several days before and after my interview, until the company announced her as the new hire :)

      I had a weird vibe during the interview. They seemed overly nice, and out of nowhere the interviewer said, “Well of course we want to give internal candidates a chance. They deserve a chance.” So I knew when I walked out, but it was still pretty weird.

  13. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    I think this whole “courtesy interview” thing would actually be really, really good if 1) The candidate is told at the outset that they are not actually in contention for the job, and 2) the rest of the interview is spent discussing why the candidate is not qualified (or why they are hiring the person they are), and discussing what they might do to become more qualified for this or other jobs within the company.

    Treating it as an acknowledgement that the internal candidate deserves more of an explanation of their rejection, as a morale booster, than outside candidates and using the time productively to help encourage the employee’s career in the company. Especially if it’s in another department… getting that kind of feedback from a totally new person could be just what that employee needs.

    But I agree with those that say these should be shorter, somewhat, than the “real” interviews.

  14. Editor*

    If the internal candidate knows they’re unqualified but wants a chance to talk to someone in the department about becoming qualified, I can see the usefulness of a courtesy interview, at least for the candidate.

    If there are a lot of internal but unqualified candidates, why can’t HR arrange an informational session about the position for anyone who’s interested now or in the future, and bill it as such. Then the qualifications can be explained, but there can also be talk about training options and career paths and expectations in the job (as opposed to duties — more of a “what would the first year at this job look like for a successful candidate” information Alison has written about).

    HR needs to be committed to allowing union workers to advance if they come up with the qualifications, though, instead of eternally stonewalling them. For instance, can HR arrange with the local community college to offer on-site training for certain qualifications so they create a pool of potential hires?

    I wonder if the concern about grievances is because the open position supervises union workers who feel they are qualified to supervise based on what they know about the line or the warehouse or whatever, so there’s a lot of tension about “bringing in outsiders.”

  15. Liz*

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    I have been the unwitting beneficiary of the “courtesy interview” too many times now. It is basically a horrible experience, and I didn’t learn anything in the interview that I couldn’t have researched in a less painful and embarrassing way.

    I still don’t think I’ve figured out how to properly thank the people who set it up. They obviously meant well, but it strained my nice-girl skills to come up with six different enthusiastic ways to say ‘Thanks for the chance to talk with people who didn’t want to hire me. It was… helpful… to be part of the process (of someone else getting a job I wanted).”

  16. Malissa*

    I’m the OP here and I’m very happy to see that my instincts on this were right. I do plan on fighting the system in the future. I also promise to talk to the internal candidates who apply but are under-qualified.

  17. Elsa G.*

    Courtesy interviews in my view are discriminating. In my work building, courtesy interviews are usually given to external individuals, while the hiring staff already knows that the internal individual will most likely receive the position. It bothers the crap out of me the most for the hiring staff to have me make copies and copies of applicantions that probably aren’t even being evaulated equally. It’s discriminating to the external interest. This is what happens most of the time when you work in larger groups. So much for equal employment.

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