should you interview for a job you know you won’t take?

A reader writes:

I just moved to a suburb outside a big city, and I am 85% sure that I don’t want to commute to work in the city because it will be about 1.5 hours each way. I’ve always lived a short subway ride or walk away from work and I value my sleep and after-work activities.

Before I knew what the commute would be like, I had a phone interview for a job downtown. I didn’t think I would get a second interview, but I did. I really like the organization, but I know I don’t want the job. Is it wrong to go in for the interview and tell them afterwards that it just won’t work for me? I feel like I could gain some good connections by meeting them, but I also don’t want them to have negative feelings toward me if they suspect I was leading them on. I also know that they do not support teleworking.

Well, in general, I believe that if you absolutely know for sure that you wouldn’t take a job, you shouldn’t interview for it. That’s because most employers have a limited number of interview slots; they’re only interviewing, say, their top five candidates. If you take one of those slots knowing that you wouldn’t accept the job, you’ll have taken it away from candidate #6, who might really want it. So candidate #6 gets rejected instead of getting the chance to interview, just because you wanted to take that slot to make connections.

(Also, more selfishly, I really don’t want to spend my time interviewing candidates who know they’re not interested. But that’s not a candidate’s concern, while the taking-the-slot-from-someone-else should at least factor into your thinking.)

However, in your case, I’m not convinced that you do know for sure. You describe yourself as only 85% sure that you don’t want the commute. If there aren’t other reasons making you sure you wouldn’t take this job, I think you should go to the interview. You might end up interested enough that you change your mind about the commute. (And living in a suburb outside a big city, it might turn out that most of the jobs you want have a commute anyway.)

I think it’s legitimate to go, and that you should. But keep an open mind when you interview with them.

{ 49 comments… read them below }

  1. some1

    I can sort of relate to this. When I applied at my current employer, I was extremely hesitant at first because it was in an industry I had no experience and barely any knowledge in, but the kicker was that it was located kitty corner from a building I worked in for 6 years (at a job I was glad to leave) so I felt like I’d be buying a house across the street from my old boyfriend.

    My friend pushed me to do the phone interview and I realized that previous work experience would translate much better than I thought. Long story short, the company eventually hired me, and while it feels odd to be working so close to my former employer, I have actually enjoyed running into old colleagues, and even the ones I have run into that I didn’t get along with have been mutually cordial enough.

    So my advice is to go to the interview and ask about commuting. It could be possible you can set something up where you aren’t commuting in rush hour (like 7-4 or 9-6). You might be surprised they are willing to work with you.

    1. Tamara

      +1 This is great advice. I once had a job that was about 1.5 hours away, and they were able to work with me on the start time, so I was up there before rush hour even started. Unfortunately, they weren’t flexible on the end time, so my commute home was generally around 3 hours. But that really just showed me the value of what they were providing and that I should have pushed just a little harder on that end time!

      1. Carrie in Scotland

        I second this advice! Also you could ask if they have a car-sharing scheme or some sort of benefit for taking the train/subway/bus (delete as applicable) which might go down well as you are thinking about the fit/seeing yourself in that position.

        What about temporary jobs that you may/may not know if you want though? Should you say something upfront like “I’m looking for ft perm but I am happy to this until I find that position?”

        1. cf

          I took the train 90 minutes each way to my job in Miami. My boss was cool with my arriving at 9 and leaving at 5 as long as I got my work done. (The train ran only every 90 minutes, so it was that or very early and/or very late.) I would take my computer on the train and get work done. I also read The Economist cover to cover every week.

          Now I have a 40 minute bus ride to work. I love it because I can read without guilt.

          1. BW

            I took a job a year ago that allowed me to switch to public transit. I don’t miss driving, even at my last job where I had a 20 drive and needed gas only about every 3 weeks. I walk a mile between my house and the subway if I am not lucky enough to catch a bus. It takes about 45 minutes door to door, and sometimes the weather is miserable, but it’s so much more relaxing despite the crowds and inevitable delays. It’s 45 minutes where I don’t have to think. I can read. I also get much more exercise, which has probably also contributed to feeling better. I don’t have to worry about digging out of the snow or where I’m going to park or what I’m going to do in case my car is in the shop. Winter is brutal for me. I park on the street in the city, and I have terrible back and neck issues that make it difficult to shovel. The down side is I can no longer stop and grocery shop on the way home or run errands at lunch, but I wouldn’t trade it for a short drive. I also like that it forces me to get some exercise. I live at the top of a huge hill, and I get a good work-out especially walking home.

      2. Meeta

        This doesn’t seem they were being flexible to suit you, more like they were being flexible to suit themselves. It seems as if they’ve managed to get you to do more hours, with it seeming like it benefits you.

  2. Jamie

    I know it’s so variable, but I wonder what the average commute is.

    Does anyone have links to good stats on this?

    I do about 1.25 hours to and about 1 hour home – as traffic is a little lighter when I head home.

    That’s pretty average for a lot of my co-workers.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      25 minutes, nationwide. Longer near cities, of course.

      Source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/22/commuter-nation/

      When I had a real job and thus had to commute, it took me anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to drive one way, depending on traffic. Now I just don’t drive during rush hour at all and it’s glorious. The other day I timed a meeting badly and found myself driving home in rush hour and was shocked by how much it sucks.

      1. Jamie

        The only time I mind it is when the roads are sloppy…and in Chicago that’s defined as ‘bad enough that I’m not sure I’ll get home without a tow.’

        Other than that, I actually kind of like it. I don’t know what I’d do without my built in blocks of alone time. I like the solitude.

        1. AnotherAlison

          +1 – during the summer, my youngest son rode to and from work with me so I could drop him at camp a block away from the office. He talked the whole time. While the 1-on-1 time was nice, I missed the quiet time just for me.

        2. Josh S

          Heheh. On days when the snow hits at 3pm (so there’s accumulation by the time rush hour is in full force), I find a bar/restaurant near work and hang out for a while. It’s easier to manage a foot of snow once everyone else has cleared some tread-lanes and gotten off the road.

          Yeah, you might get home late, but that was going to happen with a commute that’s 4x longer anyway, right?

          I’m thinking of the Dec 2005 snowstorm here. I worked in Lincolnshire at a major corporate campus at the time, and some of my coworkers who left ‘early’ at 4:30 were just getting out of the parking lot when I was getting ready to leave at 5:50… so I walked to a sushi/wine place until about 7:30.

          YMMV if you choose to be on Lake Shore Drive when the blizzard hits…

          1. Tiff

            Reminds me of my 1.5 hr each way commute from MD to VA years ago. I became a regular at the Chilis next door, they served free wings and cheap draft during happy hour. Especially if I knew there was an accident or bad weather.

        3. GeekChic

          I enjoyed my 90 minute commute when I worked in Toronto and lived in one of the surrounding communities. I enjoyed it largely because the commute was via public transit not driving.

          On my way in I had a chance to wake up and do work-related reading so that I was ready for the day when I actually got to work (my boss used to comment on my ability to hit the ground running each day). On my way home, I had a chance to decompress and relax. By the time I actually got home all the stresses of the day were gone.

          My commute is a lot shorter now and sometimes I really miss the decompression time on the subway and the bus. [Yes, I’m one of those weird people that can relax on public transit.]

          1. Esra

            Oh man, please share with me your secrets to zen on the TTC. The daily delays, overcrowding, and breakdowns have me cranking up the volume on my headphones and muttering swears.

            1. Rana

              For me, it’s accepting that there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it, and it’s not my responsibility, and eventually I will get there. It doesn’t make it fun, just bearable.

              It’s a bit harder to achieve that state when you’re running late for something important, of course.

      2. Dan

        AAM,

        When is it *not* rush hour in DC? That said, I live and work in the outer suburbs, so I can get to/from work in under 15 minutes each way.

        I have a flex schedule on top of that. Boy I love my life :)

    2. AnotherAlison

      Yuck! I work in one of the furthest outlying office parks in a suburban area, so I’m only 15 minutes (normal) to 25 minutes (really bad) away from home. . .there are several alternate side streets, so really bad is very rare. After the exit for my office, it all hits the fan and you could be looking at 25 minutes on a good day, 35-40 minutes rush hour average, just to go another couple miles.

      As for the OP, it’s definitely worth interviewing. You never know, it could be that once in a lifetime opportunity job that’s worth giving up some free time for.

    3. ChristineH

      Most of my jobs have been close to home, which for most people would be awesome. However, because I use alternate transportation, a commute that would normally take 10 minutes has occasionally turned into an hour, sometimes more, depending on the route that day (it’s a shared door-to-door service) and traffic conditions.

      For an internship during the 2005-2006 school year, I used public transportation, and with all of the transfers, my commute was 2 hours each way until the secretary offered a ride to and from the train station, thus cutting the time down by about 45 minutes. It’d have to be a dream job to get me to do that again.

      1. K.

        I did a commute on public transportation that was 90 minutes on multiple forms. (It was a reverse commute – I live in the city, the job was in the ‘burbs.) Driving, it was 25-30 minutes. I did it because I didn’t have the luxury of turning down work and buying a car solely for that job or doing a long-term rental made no financial sense (it was a contract job. Had it been permanent, I would have bought a car). It ended up being a great job and my boss was super-understanding about the commute (she had a lot of trust in me because I showed up on time and got s*** done, to quote myself on an earlier post), but the commute really, really sucked. The worst part was the multiple forms – until the last leg, I was tense because if one thing gets thrown off, everything else does too. Thankfully I was able to be on time every day – if anything went wrong, it tended to be on the way home.

  3. photodiplo

    Never close a door unless it is absolutely necessary.

    I once interviewed with a company I thought was a total joke. I accepted their job offer, stayed for several years, and loved it. It was a great place for me to grow and learn about skills I never knew I had.

    Never close a door. Take the interview.

  4. ChristineH

    I agree with everyone else…if you like the organization, I would definitely keep an open mind. I completely understand not wanting a long commute, but you never know…they might be able to work something out, as others have said. Even if they can’t, you may find something out in the interview that makes you really want the job if selected. I know for me, if a really awesome opportunity came up that was further away than I’d like, I would absolutely still consider it and find ways I could make it work out for me.

  5. Esra

    I commute an hour and I’m looking for something closer. I would be 100% happier if more job postings would include: a/ location, and, b/ salary range.

    1. Your Mileage May Vary

      Agree with this 100%. At the very least, the location where your primary office will be. It does not do me a bit of good to know where the regional or national headquarters are if I’m looking for a job in MyTown.

      Salary range would be a bonus, as well, but I can see them holding off on that because someone super qualified may not apply because they think the company wouldn’t negotiate up to their asking price.

    2. BW

      Totally! I also find that many posting will list the closest major city or “Greater City Area”, and then turn out to be out in the burbs somewhere, and not close burbs, like a good 30+ miles (this is really far for someone who lives in urban New England – where everything is squished together, unlike those big states out west of here lol). For someone who lives in the city, this is very frustrating. Recruiters are notorious bad about this. I can’t tell you how many times I have expressed initial interest, only to pull back when I find out the real location of the company and job.

      1. Esra

        That’s exactly my problem, I live in a GCA and postings can be anywhere from 5mins-2hrs away on transit. It’s a pretty wide net and it can be hard to track down a company’s HQ or find the office the job is located at.

  6. Laura

    I also commuted 1.5 hours by car each way for a year. I wasn’t going to take the job because of the commute but it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

    I know switched jobs and live about 30 minutes away (all traffic). I long for 1.5 hours of open road. Much nicer than 30 minutes of city traffic.

    1. Blinx

      Me too! I used to travel to a site that was 50 mi away, on back country roads. A beautiful, relaxing drive. Much rather drive that than an hour on 4 lane highways (white knuckle driving!).

  7. Anon

    I moved an hour away to be closer to my job and wow do I love my “commute.”

    It went from 30 miles in horrible rush hour traffic (could be a 2 hour drive) to 3 miles on back roads.

    Now it takes me 7 minutes to get to work.

    I did hard core commuting for about 10 months – NEVER again. But I’m glad I started at my work place in the first place :)

  8. Blinx

    At my old job at Huge Corporation, the commute was 10 miles…wait for it… per week! Yup, I only lived a mile away. Then the commute mushroomed up to 3 mi one way after I moved. I was SO spoiled for 10 years! Bought gas every 2 or 3 weeks. *sigh*

    Now, in my job hunt, I’m looking at jobs in downtown Major City —
    1 hr train ride + 15 minute commutes to and from the station. And I’ve upped my mileage in my job search queries from 25 mi to 50 mi from where I live. Not happy with this, but what to do? I’d rather travel a distance for a job that I’ll really like, than work around the corner for a *meh* job. (Not that I’m being offered jobs around the corner, that is.)

  9. Aimee

    I used to commute 45 miles each way to my office, in Los Angeles traffic. I worked a 5:30-2 schedule, but even in non-rush hour times (like there is ever such a thing in LA) it would easily be 1 1/2-2 hours to get home every day (getting there that early in the morning wasn’t that bad, which was why I jumped at the chance to have that shift when the person who had been doing it left). It was stressful, and I hate driving that freeway now.

    Now, I live about 10 minutes from my office. Between dropping my kid off at preschool and stopping at Starbucks, I have a 20-30 minute commute, but since I’m getting coffee, it’s worth it. :) I only get on the freeway if I want to (rarely), and I can even skip the busier street with a lot of traffic lights in favor of the small back road with a slow speed limit and lots of stop signs, but barely any traffic. The only times my commute is better is when I get my husband to drop the kid off at school and work from home!

  10. Rosemarine

    First-time commenter (but longer-time fan of AAM) here.

    For context: I grew up in a part of northeastern New Jersey where many folks (including my dad) commuted into New York City (mom was a freelancer). All commuting was via mass transit, not car. For a while, I ended up in the same industry my parents were in, and rode the bus in to work, just like my dad. Many other people did the same kind of commute (and, I’m sure, still do). Out of rush hour, the bus could get me from one point to the other in about a half-hour. In rush hour, it was at least an hour, sometimes much longer (especially in bad weather).

    OP: not all commutes are the same. If any of your neighbors commute into the city where this potential job is located, you might want to talk to them about their impressions of their commute. You should research local transit options in your area, too. Even if you decide this commute isn’t doable for you, you then have more information that you can use when deciding what jobs to apply for in the future (I get the impression from this post that you’re new to your current area).

    I concur with other commenters who suggest going for the interview anyway. Your potential employer may have ways to make the commute less of a problem. And many areas are trying to find ways to make commuting easier, more so if they have a large commuting population.

    Good luck!

  11. Anonymous

    I recently applied for a position (my dream position) as a Hospitality Sales Manager based in LA and managing a territory with which I am very familiar and have numerous solid contacts. I was contacted today by HR to interview for the same position but representing a different territory and based in the company’s NY offices. I love visiting NY but not sure I’d like to live there. I would also love to work for this company but confused as to why they would consider me for this NY position as opposed to the one I applied for. Has anyone had similar experiences? Is it likely they will consider allowing me to work from their LA offices?

  12. KellyK

    I agree with everyone who has suggested interviewing, getting more info about the commute, and waiting until you actually have an offer to see if it’s worth it. The job might be so fantastic that it’s worth moving closer to the city for (depending on the pay and cost of living, of course).

  13. Hello Vino

    I say go for the interview! 85% sure is not 100% sure, so keep an open mind! You’ll learn a lot about the company and position from the interview. If it’s a great opportunity, the commute might be worth it, you might decide to move closer, or you might be able to negotiate some kind of arrangement, etc.

  14. Dan

    So many people have talked about the commute, I’ll swing this back to the OP’s comment about connections.

    What kind of connections do you think you’ll make on a single interview? If you won’t keep up with them, it’s unlikely they’ll do you any good. What, exactly, is a guy who interviewed you three years ago going to do for you today?

  15. Anonymous

    I drive 20 miles and it takes me a good hour. Boston suburbia, fun times! Anyways, I think you should still interview for the job even though you know you won’t take it – it’s great practice. Who knows, maybe you will get the job, maybe you won’t. Whether you do or don’t might help you learn where you do stand in your industry, you can gain more insight into salaries, take in a different corporate culture while interviewing.
    …and- maybe this job will let you work from home a few days a week!

  16. C.J.

    If the commute’s the only thing that’s holding you back, I’d still interview for the job.

    I was contacted for an interview for a company. My commute at the time was 5 minutes (when I caught red lights on the way) and the potential employer was located an hour away. But I was truly unhappy at the nearby company, so I decided getting out of that position was incentive enough for me to go through with the interview despite my feelings about the commute.

    Well, during one of the series of interviews with the company I was asked, “Would you be opposed to working remotely? The company is exploring this option.” Uhhh, heck yeah!!!

    So I went from a 5 minute commute to no commute at all and I work for a company I absolutely love. You never know, it may work out for you after all!

    1. Meg

      You and Alison are making me nervous now! I’m interviewing in the DC area (anywhere from Gaithersburg to DC to Tyson’s Corner). I had a recruiter contact for a position in College Park (from Gaithersburg) and when I brought up how awful traffic is on 495 in that area in Rush Hour, he’s like, “Oh, you could always take the ICC! It’s hardly no traffic at all!” I had to call my BFF who lives in Gaithersburg to ask her what the ICC was. “Oh, it’s the toll roll right by my house, the Inter-County Connector!”

      Tl;dr – DC traffic… *shudders*

  17. BW

    I’ve been in this situation. I took an interview with a company that was about an hour out without traffic and not accessible by public transit, which would leave me hanging in case of car issues and make commuting in an active snow storm unbearable under any circumstance. I took the interview because it was a job I was interested in and could possibly be a good fit, I couldn’t know if there were perhaps other aspects that would override a crappy commute, and actually going out there would give me a better idea of what the commute would actually be like. I didn’t want to write off a potentially good opportunity on account of distance.

    After I interviewed, I crunched the numbers and on top of being long and stressful, that commute would increase my transit expenses by 3-fold, increase my car insurance (losing low mileage discount), and put me in a position where if my car broke down that I’d be unable to go into work at all. I considered how stressful it is for me driving to work, and being able to keep other commitments outside of work, and other quality of life issues. It ended up not being worth the trade off for me. I may have taken it if I did not already own my place and had the option of easily moving closer in the future.

    I felt really bad, like I wasted their time and the time of the recruiter, and after that I just flat out refused to apply for any job outside of a certain radius, because I then knew for certain I was not willing to trade off a more reasonable and less expensive commute, especially when I live in a city where there are many opportunities, and if I’m patient I could find something closer to home and on public transit to use either regularly or as a back-up plan. So it was a worthwhile experience, both to learn about the company and meet people get a feel if I would want to make the tradeoff, and then learning that, in the end, that answer is an emphatic “No!”

  18. Joey

    I’m not sure I buy “don’t interview because someone else might lose out” advice. While that’s noble I just think the vast majority of people would never justify turning down an interview out of compassion for an anonymous person. I just dont think it’s realistic.

    But I agree that she should go unless she’s 100% sure she won’t take it.

  19. Aja

    If you’re 100% sure you won’t take the job, don’t interview, for the reasons AAM stated. If you think there’s a 15% chance you might take the job if offered, despite the commute, then interview. Only you know for sure if you are truly open to taking the job or not – make your decision based on that.

    I understand the commute issue, but think about this: 6 months from now, if you haven’t found a job yet, this one will look pretty damn good despite the commute. So I’d factor that in too. And if you took a job with a long commute, you might be able to work somethign out like working at home one day a week. If the job is somethign you really want to do, it might be worth compromising for.

  20. Andrew

    Look at it this way: it is common for companies to interview candidates whom they have a less than 15% chance of hiring. Your actions would be no different, ethically.

  21. Anonymous

    OP, if you do take the interview, why not try to set it for a time where you would commute during rush hour? If anything, it will give you a taste of how your commute would be on a daily basis.

    I live in NYC and my commute from my outer borough home to my job in Manhattan is about 70-90 minutes, depending on traffic/weather. Sometimes it’s only 50 minutes, if there’s no traffic and the bus doesn’t have many people on it.

    1. Rana

      Oh, gosh, don’t do that! Do a practice commute run, yes – but not for the first time just before the interview. That would stress me out!

  22. kelly

    What about withdrawing from a phone interview with a job that is out of state? At this point I am 95% sure I don’t want to move to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere but I am also unemployed so I think I would feel pretty guilty about turning it down. Thoughts? (btw I don’t think this company would help with relocation costs and the timing is not good for me to start when they are hoping to have someone start)

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