was I right to turn down this interview with a jerk?

A reader writes:

I’m writing to you because I just turned down my first job interview, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, I feel really bad because the job market is tough these days (particularly with an entry-level employee like me) but on the other hand, judging by the way the guy handled scheduling the interview, I did not want to work for him. The phone conversation went down thusly:

HR: “Can you come in at 1 pm today?” (NOTE: This is less than two hours from when the call was made.)

Me: “Uhh, no, that’s not going to work for me. Do you have any other times available, or perhaps a phone interview would be more convenient?”

HR: “Look, you either come in at one or we move on.” At which point I was hung up on. No departing remarks or a “goodbye,” even.

This is where the red flags came up. Look, I appreciate that companies are busy, particularly the Human Resources department when a company is understaffed, but something about the way this conversation was handled rankles me. I feel like no negotiation took place here; I was shut out of the conversation and instructed to “take it or leave it.” If there’s no possible way to reschedule, or to do a phone interview, surely there are more civil ways of saying so? Slapping a prospective hire with an ultimatum just makes you sound like a jerk to me.

With less than two hours to get myself sorted, and the way that I was treated on the phone, I have to ask: does it make sense for someone like me to turn this offer down? Or am I overreacting emotionally, and needlessly tossing out an otherwise perfectly good opportunity?

Yes, of course he’s a jerk. You don’t talk to people that way. And you don’t expect them to drop everything and appear before you in two hours with no notice. (It is true that sometimes employers only have certain interview days available and can’t be flexible, but they’re generally still polite when explaining that it’s take-it-or-leave-it, and those slots usually aren’t the same day they’re calling.)

Whether or not you should consider interviewing with a company that treats people that way really comes down to your financial situation. If you have options, no, you should not sign up to work for an abusive employer. If you don’t have many options, then you need to calculate whether the income you’d receive is worth the treatment.

Some people take jobs working with jerks and aren’t especially bothered. They have thick skins and they let it roll right off them. Other people are much more bothered. If you’re in that last category (and most people are), then you’d only take an interview like this if you were fairly desperate for a job.

(There’s a tendency out there to dismiss any situation like this with “no, of course you shouldn’t want that job” — and it’s a tendency I have too. But the reality is that not everyone’s situation allows them to make their decisions that way.)

Either way, though, you’re certainly not overreacting in concluding this this guy is a huge ass.

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Lisa*

    I totally agree that person was a jerk, but I would like to recommend something. I once had a scheduled interview that I went to in the morning, but then got a call to interview for another place in a few days. I was already dressed and ready to go, so I suggested that I had time that day. They said, they were busy most of the afternoon but had time now. I said I could be there in 30 min with traffic, and I went. I got the job, because the owner liked that I was willing to drop everything and go in. He said it showed initiative and that I wanted to work. I was there for 4 years.

    My point is, when you are out of work, it may help to be interview ready as in dress in nice clothes and have resumes in your car. Just in case things like this pop-up. This guy was a jerk, but next time could put you at an advantage if you suggest coming in same day. Just matter of fact say “I have time today” and see what they say. It could put you ahead of the pack especially with the interviewer so focused on finding someone that he is scheduling interviews so you end up meeting him /her at their most “i’m ready to hire” moment.

    1. LadyTL*

      Unfortunately in this day in age there is still alot people who don’t have a car. Thus when things like this come up, they can’t just hop in and drive off and be somewhere.

      1. ChristineH*

        Exactly. Even if you have access to public transportation, figuring out the schedules and routes at the last minute is incredibly stressful unless you know the route by heart. Even then, it doesn’t always pan out; delays happen all the time.

        I’m not knocking those who can go to interviews on the spot – if you can do so, then by all means, go for it. Just realize that not everyone has that option.

        1. Kristin Jagelski*

          Let alone arranging child care! With 2 hours’ notice, many people would already have a “prior commitment”.

    2. Anonymous*

      Thats fine but this question isn’t about having your best foot forward – its about the hiring manager having unrelistic expectations.

      If someone rang at 9am and had a slot at 4pm it would be a different answer but with only 2hrs notice there are numerous reasons why its not possible to do it even if you have got your interview clothes ready etc.

    3. AG*

      I would never interview somewhere without having at minimum 24 hours to prep! I am going to want to re-familiarize myself with the company and position, go over both general interview questions and ones specific to the position. Plus I have to iron my suit, possibly buy new stockings, get up extra early to do hair and makeup. I also am currently living at least an hour from most of the jobs I’m looking at (living with family due to my unemployment) so transportation time is considerable.

  2. Lanya*

    It’s important to remember that an interview is just as much the company making an impression on you, as it is you making an impression on the company.

    After the way this guy treated you, you probably really didn’t want that job anyway.

    Consider it a blessing in disguise and happy interviewing with other people who treat you with respect.

    1. Anonymous J*

      Since I’m unemployed and have extra time, I would have called up the company to see if that was an HR person, manager, or the owner. If it wasn’t the owner I would probably mention how poorly the person had treated me and whether or not they liked how he was representing their company?

      Obviously I would do this knowing I have no future of working with that company, but I wouldn’t work for anyone who hung on me anyway.

  3. BCW*

    I’d also like to point out that while the HR guy was a jerk, you don’t know what the hiring manager would be like (unless you would be working in HR). I’ve had great managers, and really enjoyed my job, at companies where the HR department sucked.

    I probably would have tried to make it work. I don’t mean this to be a jerk, but its not like you are taking off work to do it. Again, you don’t know what the person would be like that you’d be reporting to.

    1. SC in SC*

      I agree that you should try to be as flexible as possible but it sounds like the OP did try to make it work and was immediately cut off with no options. I think it’s reasonable to expect the OP would have responded differently if the conversation goes more along the lines that the HR person acknowledges that they’re making an unreasonable request, the OP counters with how about a phone interview, HR says that won’t work but counters with a later time in the day or some other option. If I was the OP I wouldn’t lose a minute’s sleep over this one. Well…maybe a little just thinking about what an ass the HR person was.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think the interviewer had decided to only accept one answer “Yes, I will be there at 1pm.” If he did not hear that answer his plan was to hang up, no matter what else OP could have thought of to say.

    2. KarenT*

      I’d also like to point out that while the HR guy was a jerk, you don’t know what the hiring manager would be like (unless you would be working in HR). I’ve had great managers, and really enjoyed my job, at companies where the HR department sucked.

      Exactly what I was going to say. It sucks and he sounds like an ass, but you may never have to deal with him again. I’d follow BCWs advice and make my desicion based on how the hiring manager treats you. It’s also easier to find work when you are employed, so you could work this job for a year and then start shopping around.

      My first job out of college I was interviewed by a nutcase. Seriously, this woman was unhinged and mean and so scattered. I took the job anyway (with some reservations) because my field is very hard to break into and I knew I could tough it out for a bit. She ended up getting fired after I’d been there a month and her replacement was one of the best manager’s I’ve ever had. My point? Don’t let him being an ass cause you to be the one who misses out.

  4. LL*

    I like Alison’s advice. If you have other options, you don’t have to let potential employers treat you like this.

  5. Jenn*

    Wait, so the guy hung up on you before you had a chance to decide whether you’d come in at 1pm after all?

  6. Dr. Speakeasy*

    Is this a company that you’d heard of before? If not – I wonder if this is a DS-Max/Cydacor venture (google it). They often pressure people into making quick decisions regarding interviews and accepting the job. They don’t usually have an HR department but I could definitely see the owner or admin making calls and saying that they are HR.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I agree, why the high pressure act? OP, can you google The Glassdoor and find out about the company? Honestly, I pictured a person getting to that interview and being told if they had to decide on the job before they even left the interview.
      ICK. Run, run.

    2. MistahFixIt*

      OP Here.

      No, it wasn’t a DS-Max/Cydacor scam; this was HJ Bartlett, a major electrical contracting company in St. John’s, NL. This isn’t “one electrician and six fax machines”, as they say.

      Which is why I’m both surprised and disappointed in their Hiring Guy’s behaviour. Not only have they lost a potential employee, but also a customer; it would take some seriously extenuating circumstances for me to consider contracting these guys for any kind of repairs or upgrades.

      1. Dr. Speakeasy*

        Wow. Yeah- you know your practices are skewed when they make people go hmmmm, I wonder if this is a scam when you’re a legitimate business.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “Not only have they lost a potential employee, but also a customer; it would take some seriously extenuating circumstances for me to consider contracting these guys for any kind of repairs or upgrades.”

        YES! This. What is the matter with these companies that they do not realize their potential employee is ALSO their potential customer?
        We see this with retailers A LOT. Don’t these companies realize that grapevine trumps advertising ANY day?

      3. Elizabeth*

        I just looked at their website – lot of test, blank pages and nothing recent as far as news updates. Not good…I would think twice based on the website.

      4. ab*

        hj bartlett electrical is a horrible place to work. they have cliques of workers.who skip too many corners mind you.but are untouchable lackies to management.not to trusted or befriended.i cant see how they pass inspections, they disregard code. and dont use proper materials.they are angry about about having to raise wages based on union grabbing of their journeyman.and decided to take it out on employees.they lay workers off on wims…good workers at that…their apprentices are expendable.if someone at hrdc seen how many people they have laid off for no reason other than bitterness and resent..you would be alarmed and im sure they would be nailed for employer bullying and misuse of the entire work system. i personally feel the way they operate will ultimately doom them..and they will go tits up. so take it from me and many others stay away from h.j bartlett ltd.

    3. Anonymous*

      Cydcor was the parent company of a company I worked at earlier this year haha. My friends all thought I worked for some pyramid scheme. But I needed a job for a co-op credit at school so I was desperate and stuck around for the 3.5 months.

  7. ChristineH*

    Pardon my french, but what an ass. He even ASKED if you could come in! So to cut you off like that is not cool.

    Having said that, however, it is certainly possible that the Hiring Manager is not like that. However, I do believe that any HR recruiters have to realize that they are making a first impression to the candidate. If they’re that inflexible or rude, chances are, they make things difficult for the actual Hiring Manager, who could be a dream to work for.

  8. anon-2*

    I once interviewed with a horse-like mammal like that.

    I was unemployed at the time. Long story short – he stood me up on two phone interviews. We finally touch base. After the interview ends, he said “You’re my top candidate, but I’m not going to extend an offer until after the first of the year.”

    OK, I can’t argue with that. But it was late October. I said “OK, that’s fine (since relocation was involved). ” I went on, assuming that if I was the top gun, he could make an offer, I’d accept and we’d go forward.

    No – that wasn’t what he meant. He wasn’t going to extend any offer to anyone until January 1. “OK, then, call me then, I hope to not be available but I might be.”

    His reply = “Well, that’s what I want to talk to you about. Can you make a promise, that you will stop looking, and not accept any other job in the next two months?”

    I replied that I am always honest with people. I could tell him, yeah, OK, but I’d be lying. I explained – I *have* to keep looking. I have a family, and bills to pay, and I was unemployed. I’m not going to turn down any employment situation that would work.

    Sure enough, Mr. Dumdum called me the first Monday in January, while I was at my new job, and offered me the job.


    Nothing exposes more pig-headedness to anyone, than to interview with people while you’re unemployed. I was even called in for an interview by a guy who admitted he was just doing so for his own amusement.

    1. nyxalinth*

      * I was even called in for an interview by a guy who admitted he was just doing so for his own amusement.*

      What. This guy…now there’s a nickname for Richard that starts with D, or a hat for posteriors. Who the hell does that?

    2. Elizabeth West*

      At that point, if someone admitted they were interviewing me because it amused them, I’d get up and leave. Right then. “Really? Then I don’t think any arrangement with you would be mutually beneficial. Goodbye.”

  9. Unanimously Anonymous*

    Love, love, LOVE that the OP was willing to name the company behind such rude, crude and socially unacceptable behavior. More companies that pull bovine effluvia like this need to be named and shamed in detail online, so that when the economy and the job market improve they’ll have so much trouble hiring and keeping staff that they’ll either clean up their act or fall apart like a cheap suit.

  10. Betty*

    I am a legal/administrative assistant. Lately one of the questions I am receiving when called for an interview asks what my expected salary range is. My last position paid $16.78 per hour, but most employers today don’t want to pay more than $10-$12 per hour to start. I’m afraid if I tell them my last salary it will scare the pajeebers out of them, yet considering the complexity of the job, I don’t want to work for $10 or $12 per hour; espectially true if I have to drive more than 8-10 miles to work. Any advice that would help me escape from between the rock and a hard place would be appreciated. Thank you.

  11. Joey*

    Is your position evolving on the working for jerks dilemma?

    Anywho, for the op, take comfort that recruiters like this are usually hirin for jobs with crappy pay, hours or duties. They’re looking for a warm body, not the best candidate. Chances are high that they lose employees faster than they can hire them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I’m trying to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone has options, and someone may be in a situation where a crappy option is still the best one. But I’ll never stop calling that option crappy.

  12. Rachel*

    I record all my business calls using a free App on my Android phone. I work as an IT contractor, and I find it invaluable in confirming the details of what has been agreed on the odd occasion when that becomes necessary. In this situation I’d have no qualms about sending an MP3 of the call to the company’s CEO along with a brief note saying “if this is how you go about finding talent, I wish you luck, but I’m certainly not interested in working for an organisation that treats prospective employees this way”.

  13. Anna J. W.*

    I went through an interview that was arranged just like this. I’d been job-hunting unsuccessfully for 2 months with a lot of pressure from family members to “just take whatever comes along”. It was a teaching position, which I had no interest in, but it required a nursing license, which I have.

    Anyway, I sent in my resume at 8am, got a call at 10 am (was asked to come in a 1pm), and got a job offer at 2pm. The whole deal was pretty sketchy. I was very unprepared for the interview, had zero experience in teaching, yet was offered the job immediately, pending verification of my license and transcripts.

    Immediately the next morning I received calls from the district wondering why I hadn’t submitted so-and-so paperwork yet. I replied that I was going to do it that very morning, and was told “Well you should have done it yesterday.” Yesterday, as in right after the interview and before dinnertime. The next business day they tried to call and schedule a contract-signing meeting in less than 24 hours. Of course I already had other commitments. They were super annoyed and couldn’t seem to understand that sometimes people do make plans a week ahead of time and can’t back out. Meanwhile my parents were pressuring me to accept the job (because “no real hospital would hire someone like me anyway.” Thanks parents!) Finally I decided that there were too many negative factors to make this a reasonable job offer – too shady, bad side of town, low pay, too much pressure, history of previous teachers quitting mid-contract – and I called the principal to turn it down. And he hung up on me!

    Now, I do realize that some people might shrug this all off and call me an entitled wimp, and I do understand that in poorer circumstances, I would have taken the job anyway. But I was fortunate to have a well-paying part-time job, and currently have a better job offer on the line. I’m very relieved I didn’t accept! The OP should definitely feel okay about turning that interview down.

    1. Rachel*

      “I do realize that some people might shrug this all off and call me an entitled wimp”

      Some people might, but I’m guessing that most of them work in jobs they hate. I’m a professional that’s been working in her field for 25 years now. These days I turn down around 75% of the work I’m offered purely because I don’t have time to do it. Jerks make it easy for me to put them in the “thank you but no” pile of prospective offers. When I started out, I fretted a lot about job offers exactly like the one you describe. These days, I’m able to see the red flags a mile off, and don’t accept invitations to interview from people that can’t even get the basics of common courtesy right. I treat the people with whom I deal with professionalism and respect at all times, and I expect no less in return.

      I find that the world of work is a lot like dating, particularly during the actual interview process. All parties to the process are on their best behaviour and trying to show their finest qualities in the best possible light. Working for people like those you described is conversely like being in an abusive relationship. If tolerated, not only does such an arrangement deplete your self-confidence and enthusiasm for whatever it is that you do, but it also ironically acts as a barrier to you finding something more worth your time. It’s a two-stage thing: first, stop (or ideally don’t start) dealing with jerks; second, find work that’s more worth your time and skills.

      Well done on taking your first step towards finding work that’s more deserving of your efforts, and good luck.

      1. Anna J. W.*

        Thank you! Sure enough, a week or two later I had a much, much better job offer. I’m happy where I am now, have great coworkers, am not teaching (thank goodness!), make a decent wage, etc. etc. I’m glad I escaped that scary job offer!

  14. Anon*

    Another thought on the turning down of an interview. If the hiring people are not able to tell you why the previous employees left, or why they have three positions open at the same time in the mid-year (science teachers), then yes – it seems ok to turn down that interview.

    Also, if they invite you to interview one week in advance but then contact you less than 24 hours before hand and ask you to fill out extensive ‘self-reflection’ documentation that requires documentary evidence to support your ‘proof’ of ability to teach, then yes – you are allowed to turn down the position.

    It is incredibly hard to turn down a job or even an interview in this economy, but I am coming to see that sometimes you risk more emotionally by being mis-treated either at the interview or the job. If the red flags are so glaring even before you interview, then yes it seems reasonable to walk away. Hard to do when you need the money, but working in a dysfunctional environment can cause alot of harm in the long and short term, and sometimes it is better to just wait for a better situation and not sell ourselves short.

  15. a ninny mouse*

    This happened to me twice! Once for Jersey Mikes. I got called the day before for an interview, and I had already made plans I couldn’t change. I politely asked if I could get the interview changed to a different day. The guy who called me was very rude, and said I wan’t going to work there. Boycotted the franchise ever since.

    The second time I got an email from a place I applied to two months before. I forgot I applied there since it was so long ago. I got a very vague email the night before requesting I come to an interview to a place I couldn’t remember the email was so vague I had to ask what it was regarding. Anyway same as the last time I had plans that I could not change. This guy wan’t rude I just wish he would have given me a little more notice.

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