is there a nice way for an interviewer to short-circuit an interview if the candidate obviously isn’t right?

A reader writes:

I’m very interested in your point of view (and your readers). As a manager, we all have had to interview a person where you know 5 minutes in that there is zero chance you are going to proceed with them. Sometimes it’s a lack of interest on their end, inability to answer clearly or professionally, or maybe just being woefully unqualified. Is there a nice way to cut bait?

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

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

This is one of the huge advantages of doing phone screens before bringing people in for in-person interviews. You can’t eliminate this problem altogether, but you can cut way down on it.

But you’ll still run into it on occasion. There are candidates who seem great on paper and who do pretty well when you talk through the basics on the phone, but when you bring them in, they have an obvious deal-breaker pretty early on. Or, you might work in an organization that strictly dictates what hiring procedures you’re allowed to use and for unknown reasons doesn’t phone-screen candidates first (or that has someone inept selecting candidates to bring in to interview with you). If that’s the case, you should push back on those practices.

In any case, whether or not there’s a polite way to cut the interview short depends on what the person’s specific deal-breaker is.

If the reason is something that you can easily articulate, it makes sense to do that. For instance, let’s say that you thought from a candidate’s resume that they’d had pretty significant experience in curriculum design, but when you start probing into the details of it, you discover that they’ve only delivered trainings that other people have designed. You might say something like this: “For this role, we’re really looking for fairly deep experience with curriculum design, so it sounds like it’s not quite the right fit. I’m sorry we didn’t catch that earlier. I so appreciate you taking the time to come in, and I’d be glad to keep you in mind if we have something in the future that’s more focused on curriculum delivery.” (And again, ideally you’d ask the right questions to catch this in a phone interview, but sometimes something weird like this slips through.)

You can use a softer version of this too, airing your concerns but leaving it more in the candidate’s court to decide whether to continue talking. For instance, if the candidate makes it clear that they adore old-school PR and you really need someone who’s passionate about social media, you could say, “This role is heavily focused on social media and doesn’t involve much traditional PR. Knowing that, does it make sense to continue talking, or are you really looking for something with a different focus?”

But often at this stage, instant deal-breakers are likely to be things that you don’t really want to articulate on the spot — for instance, that their answers are vague and don’t show any insight, or their appearance is so horridly unkempt that you could never put them in front of the audiences they’d need to work with, or that they’re oddly combative, or any other of the myriad interpersonal reasons that are a lot harder to explain to someone’s face than an experience mismatch.

And when that’s the case, I’d say the best thing to do is to continue on with the interview, but without spending as much time as you’d generally spend with a strong candidate. For instance, if you’d normally talk for an hour, you can probably wrap up in 30-40 minutes by asking fewer questions (I’ll usually cut out the ones designed for lengthier, more in-depth discussion). It might feel like a waste of time, but it’s an investment in good will — because after all, this is someone who set aside to come in and talk with you, probably spent time preparing beforehand, might have taken time off work, etc. It’s a recognition of that.

And actually, one way you can spend that time is in probing more into the areas where you think they’re lacking. If you’re mentally rejecting them because they seem weak in X, make it your job to test that belief. If what you hear confirms your original impression, well, you’ll know you were right. But for all you know, you might discover that the story is slightly different than what you thought at first. Or even if not, you might learn enough about them to think of them for a different role in the future, or to realize that they really should contact your friend Phobeus Ridgemont, who is looking for someone just like them.

{ 203 comments… read them below }

  1. EM*

    Have to say…if I spent the time preparing for an interview, drove to the location, dealt with my own nerves…and then the interviewer cut the interview off after 5-10 minutes I’d feel pretty irritated.

    Maybe this is just me, but I feel the least you can do is spend 30 minutes and then send a rejection email in the next couple days.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I can see that, but let me argue the opposite of this: If the interviewer discovered quickly that you didn’t have some essential qualification, wouldn’t you want to know up front?

      1. Anonymous*

        If it was an essential qualification and they didn’t suss it out in the phone screen, I’d still be pissed that their lack of ability to conduct an accurate pre-screen resulted in my wasted time.

        There’s not really a great option here – either my interview is 5 minutes and I find out on the spot I wasted time and money being there or they go thru with the interview and I mistakenly think I have a shot at the job when I don’t.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Agreed, absolutely. Although sometimes it’s something that didn’t come out in the phone screen and it’s not due to any fault on the part of the interviewer. Some people reveal information about themselves differently in person, or mention something highly relevant that you would have expected to come out on the call.

          1. anon-2*

            I once had an interview cut off after 10 minutes – because it was obvious I wasn’t what they were looking for, and I appreciated it. It was cordial.

            Although there was no phone screen in advance — but still, we were both better off and the interviewer’s response was what AAM said — “if there’s a position… I’ll keep you in mind.”

            This, of course, has to be contrasted against an interviewer who calls you in for a job that you’re obviously not a good fit for — or worse, lures you into the interview by dangling a carrot for one job, yet begins discussing a lower, and different position.

            In my early career days – I’d be called in for a systems technical position, then find out they wanted me for operations support, and I was brought into the interview on a ruse. At that point – I WALK OUT. “That’s not what I came here for….” …

            1. Jamie*

              Oh if it’s a bait and switch that totally different, you owe them nothing.

              I went to an interview once that the phone screen indicated was in my line of work, but get there and it’s some financial adviser commission thing and it’s a group interview. I walked out and expressed my displeasure at being lied to.

              I don’t mind burning those bridges.

              1. Ruffingit*

                Those group interview things are always a huge red flag for me when they involve anything with the position of “adviser.” No good has ever come of such things in my experience. It’s always some hard sell/multi-level marketing thing.

            2. anon-2*

              BTW I have a “Dinner Table Story” about a headhunter who dragged me 1500 miles for an interview – she lied about the salary, and I was vastly OVERqualified for the position…

              I was upset, so was the hiring manager — not with me, but for what she put the two of us through …

              1. Ruffingit*

                Wow, that is so wrong on many levels. I can only imagine how bitter both you and the hiring manager were on that score.

                1. anon-2*

                  Yeah, it was odd, and I was particularly upset over it – then again, the days of the unscrupulous headhunters in the computer business are probably over.

            3. Casey*

              I had the opposite. Head hunter sends req saying: moderate skill. This signals “team-member” to me which I was fine with since I had not worked in the area for about a year. Also, I am at a point in life where I wanted to spend more time at home and enjoy life more. It is still a highly-technical position.

              I study and practice my skills for the week to prepare for the phone interview (I should also note that the last 4 jobs I have had, I have been either hired over the phone or through the email).

              When I get to the interview, the manager then says:”We are looking for a lead to manage several teams and provide guidance to the members. You would be interfacing with management and engineering (system) designs, etc. ”

              I was like – WTF?? This was a far cry to what was sent to me by the head-hunter in the EMail!

          2. Elizabeth West*

            But interviewers don’t always mention everything either, or they don’t answer questions as well. This happened to me last year–I had questions about the amount of accounting involved in a job (clerical work in the courthouse), and the phone person gave me some very vague answers but then still wanted me to come in.

            When I got there, it was a panel interview with five people, and I found out in the first ten minutes that there was a large amount of cashiering where I would have to balance to the penny. I had to excuse myself from consideration immediately. I think they were surprised, but there was just no point in continuing. If they had been more forthright during the phone screen, I would not have wasted their time and mine.

            1. Ruffingit*

              So weird when they’re vague like that because the amount of accounting was clearly a lot so it would have been easy for the phone screener to say “You’ll need to do a lot of cashier work and balance to the penny.” Pretty basic requirement of the job so she could have told you that. What’s the point of being vague?

              1. Jamie*

                I hate this and am not defending it, but I’ve seen it happen a lot – especially for those positions – where they are still figuring out what the job will entail late into the hiring process.

                It sucks – but it happens a lot.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  The stupid part was that this was a COURTHOUSE, and it wasn’t a new position. The woman should have been able to answer my questions, but she was vague to the point where I had no clue it was cashiering. It was presented as a clerical position. I should have been screened out over the phone, or been able to screen myself out.

      2. Ruffingit*

        I sure would. I’d rather not have my time wasted. It’s the same theory for me behind not bringing me in for an interview simply because you need to interview a certain number of people before you can give the job to the internal candidate you have in mind for the position all along. Wasting my time is a huge pet peeve of mine. If the interviewer knows that it isn’t going to work, let’s both just move on. If I’ve taken time off from work that day for the interview, then I’ll find a more productive use for that time than wasting it on an interview that isn’t going anywhere.

        1. Don't Know*

          Agreed. I’ve had this happen. Spend hours on interview prep, dealing with nervousness, get my hopes up, pay for parking and then it’s clear very soon into the interview that they have no interest in hiring me. The $9 I had to pay for parking for a bogus interview really upset me.
          Then I had an experience on a second interview (I was invited back before the end of the first meeting) where it was clear within the first 10 minutes that the female interviewer hated me on sight and was very combative. Turned out she wanted her friend to get the job.

      3. Bwmn*

        When I was living overseas, I once applied for a position that was posted in English and made no reference to requiring any additional language skills. I was called in for an interview, and conducted all of that conversation in English. I prepared and took out the time and traveled all the way to a difficult to find office. Within 5 minutes, it was clearly obvious that they needed someone fluent in X language (that I had no knowledge of). There was just no point in continuing the interview. While the time and travel were unfortunate – I was glad that no more time was wasted when obviously I would never be able to do the job.

    2. BCW*

      I can see both sides of it. I’m very much of the opinion that if you aren’t in the running, they should let you know. That being said, I do think 5 minutes is a bit much. I think a half hour is a good cutoff. With that said though, I think the company should get back to you the next day and let you know that you are out of the running so you don’t sit there hoping something will come of it.

      I will say though, I had an interview that I think we both knew within about 10 minutes it wasn’t a good fit. The interview went on about 40 minutes though. This was about 10 years ago, so email was prevalent, but a lot still happened through regular mail. Well I think they must have dropped my rejection letter in the mail 5 minutes after I left, because I got it 2 days later. And I’m in the Chicago area where mail is notoriously slow.

  2. Karen*

    I was in a somewhat similar predicament recently. I passed the phone screen, and made it to the phone interview with the Hiring Manager. On paper, the job description was a perfect match to my resume, and the pre-screen with HR went well.
    So I get on the phone a week later with the Hiring Manager, and she was looking for something completely different from what I was qualified to do. About 10 minutes into the interview, she very apologetically said that she could see how myself and HR would have thought I would be a good fit, as she explained how the role was different. The Hiring Manager was extremely embarrassed, and told me that she was “sorry for wasting my time.”
    I completely understood her after our brief talk for the confusion between my resume, the job desc,HR, and what she was looking for. In the end, I was just SO MAD that I spent a good hour reading up about the company and their product line. **le sigh**

    1. KJR*

      This is why it is critical that the HR person, if at all possible, thoroughly understand the job they are screening for! It takes a little more time, and I guess it wouldn’t be possible if they had a huge number of positions. But I have found it helpful to spend time with the hiring managers, having them describe what makes a person successful, the good and parts of the job, and letting me observe or even try the job for awhile (I even operated a plastic injection mold press). This also helps me get a feel for the hiring manager themselves and their personality. Interviewing is such an imperfect art form, every little bit helps.

      1. Jamie*

        And if the job is technical enough that the HR person can’t properly screen then for goodness sake hand it off to someone who can.

        I think almost all of us in IT have stories of replying to job ads with the wrong technology, or wanting 5 years experience in something 2 years old, or doing a phone screen with someone who doesn’t know the difference between a programmer and a systems analyst…or someone who is reading questions off a page and you could answer “How do you deploy a script through group policy” with a cast list of all Muppet movies and they wouldn’t know the difference.

        It’s painful and it’s a waste of time.

        1. Anon this time*

          Ah, when HR just doesn’t get it… There were two openings in my husband’s workgroup for sys admins (one senior, one mid). HR took the detailed job descriptions, screened resumes, and sent along as a qualified applicant someone whose total work experience was as a supermarket cashier and a medical office receptionist. Er, what?

          But at least the manager had the opportunity to review the selected resumes. At my soon-to-be employer, HR screens the resumes and then selects the five candidates to be interviewed. Managers can only talk with those candidates. If a fantastic applicant didn’t tailor her resume perfectly in alignment with the written job description, too bad. (I tailored carefully, thank goodness)

          1. Audiophile*

            I worry about that scenario happening a lot in many companies. With prevalence of ATS systems and HR, it seems if you’re not throwing in keywords, you’re likely to get shut out.

            For example, I’ve applied several times for vague, entry-levelish positions at the company I do contract work for. I’ve watched people come in and interview for these positions, get hired and say on their first day, that they don’t know what the job entails. It makes a person not even want to bother applying.

          2. Windchime*

            We had HR send us a candidate that they thought would be awesome and he passed the phone screen with our manager with flying colors, because the manager talked about general things (people skills, etc). But when it came time to talk to the technical team, the poor guy crashed and burned. At one point he said, “You are sure asking a lot of questions related to QA”, and one member of our team replied, “Uh…..yes, this is a QA position.” (It was clearly advertised as such). So we are perplexed how this poor guy made it past HR and the manager when he had really, really weak technical skills. So it goes both ways. We did the interview, but we all knew after about 5 minutes that it was a “no”.

        2. Ethyl*

          Or doing a phone screen with someone from HR who kept asking me to slow down in my answers because they were *transcribing my answer* as I talked because they couldn’t understand literally anything I was saying and was asking me questions FROM the hiring manager. Why couldn’t the hiring manager do the phone screen then!??!

          1. AnonK*

            As a hiring manager in IT, I do this all the time with HR. They have to fill many positions in various areas of technology (and sometimes other parts of the company!), and it isn’t reasonable to expect them to be knowledgeable in the minutiae of each position. HR deals in key words, not so much the application of those key words. Given this, I still get incredibly frustrated of what they send through for a screen with me. If I post a position, I usually get 75-100 applications within 2 weeks, and of those, maybe only 3-4 are worth my time to talk to. It’s HR’s job to find those 3-4, and they may need to screen 50 or more to find them. I simply do not have the time to speak to everyone.

            To ease them in finding those 3-4, I’ve given my recruiter a couple of very high level questions, along the lines of “can you define xyz for me?” or “name which applications/tools you have used to perform the task of abc”. The recruiter then can use those answers to determine if they move the candidate forward for an interview with me. And HR usually cannot determine based on the answers if it is appropriate. But then they are only forwarding me an email with a transcription rather than dozens of resumes to sort through.

            1. Meg*

              I’ve done the same for recruiters hiring contractors for our companies. I can give a few screening questions, a few things to look for on the resumes, etc. We’ve gotten pretty good at the initial screening stage to the point where there’s a good chance if you MAKE it to the in-person interview, you’re going to be hired.

    2. Anon for this*

      My current job is a complete disconnect from what I interviewed for. It’s frustrating (I gave up a nice severance package to take it) although it pays enough and has decent benefits so I’m trying to make do right now.

      It was presented as a combination of finance and HR – basically I do all the AP and AR for this location, and the only HR contribution I make is uploading payroll and having to sit in on meetings in which I can provide zero input because it’s not part of my role.

      So I sit here, processing AP paperwork and doing billing, wondering why on earth the interviewers presented it as they did. If someone had just put together what they needed, I could have realized that it would be boring and not at all what I wanted. I took it to get the HR experience, and it’s not there.

      It’s just in everyone’s best interests to lay things out in the interview honestly. You’re not doing a favor by skimming over things, or even admitting that a role is still under construction.

    3. HR Guy*

      This is precisely why our HR department is not involved in phone screens, interviewing, making an offer, etc. We leave all that jazz to the hiring manager.

  3. Jamie*

    The examples you gave don’t seem to be reasons to end it in 5 minutes. Interviewing is an incredibly stressful experience and unless the job requires the skill to hide nerves (some sales, people who will be working in front of a cold audience, etc.) why not give them a few minutes to warm up?

    How do you assess lack of interest 5 minutes in? Do they even have all the information they need to know if they are interested or not?

    Answer clearly and professionally – could be nerves. If their job doesn’t involve making a smooth impression on strangers maybe they will be much more clear and professional once they get more into the conversation and the initial nerves have subsided a little.

    Woefully unqualified? Either they lied on their resume, in which case yeah – cut it short – or someone on your end didn’t screen properly because woefully unqualified people who were honest in their submission materials won’t have made it to the interview stage.

    If you are literally talking about 5 minutes in you’re running a huge risk of people thinking you took one look at them and ruled them out because they are a woman, a POC, older…because as Alison says the things that will ping the first 5 minutes will be things you probably don’t want to talk about (dirty, stinky, keeps touching their crotch, whatever.) So they will try to figure out why you immediately decided against them and they aren’t going to come up with the real, but unspoken reasons, because they obviously didn’t think they were too dirty, stinky, or whatever to interview.

    For jobs where the interviews are hours with multiple people sure, cut it off before everyone’s time is wasted. But 5 minutes in looks like you didn’t even bother to give them a chance…why not do a 20-30 minute truncated interview and maybe they’ll change your mind. Or maybe they won’t but you’ve mitigated the risk that people in protected classes think you crossed them off the list the second you put a face to a name.

    1. rlm*

      I’ve never had a candidate that I knew in the first 5 minutes they weren’t going to be hired. That’s just not enough time to do any kind of assessment, unless the first words out of the person’s mouth are something awful like insulting my outfit. 20-30 minutes is about the time I’ve had that type of revelation. Is this happening a lot or was it just a one-time thing? If it’s happening a lot, there’s something wrong with your screening practices or you are forming opinions way too fast.

      1. rlm*

        Oops, that was supposed to be my own comment, not a reply to Jamie. But basically, I agree with Jamie!

      2. Jamie*

        I agree with this. If this is happening with any frequency I’d look at your screening processes – because it should be a pretty rare occurrence that someone is so unequivocally unsuitable that it’s immediately apparent.

        1. abby*

          I recently had my first experience with knowing within 5 minutes a candidate wouldn’t be hired, and it was because the candidate dropped the f-bomb and a couple of other words in a very inappropriate manner. As the position would require tact and dealing with lots of people, we knew it wouldn’t be a good fit. But we proceeded with an abbreviated version of the interview, anyway.

          1. Anna*

            Wow, that’s gutsy. I didn’t drop the f-bomb until I’d been working at my new job for about 5 months and it was in a happy hour setting.

            1. llamathatducks*

              I recently had a Skype interview in which I (visibly) very nearly said “fuck”! In my defense, it was because I was telling the interviewer about some linguistics research I had done about that word, or rather about phrases like “who the hell” and “what the fuck.” The interview was informal enough that the first was definitely okay, but I didn’t realize the second wasn’t until I’d already said the “f” – then I quickly put my hand to my mouth and said “oops,” and I’m pretty sure the interviewer knew what was going on.

              (I got the job!)

    2. Cat*

      I think there are times where you can assess lack of interest that quickly. When I do screening interviews on-campus, for instance, the first question I always ask is “so why are you interested in [us]?” I find I can reliably eliminate about half the candidates based on their answer to that question (and I do continue on with the interviews after that and so have plenty of chances to test this). And since it’s students, I’m not looking for prior experience of super-specific knowledge about what we do, or even particular interest in our practice area. But what I often get is, e.g., students who enthuse about wanting to do direct legal services when what we actually do is in the nature of policy work for institutional clients.

      1. Cat*

        (That said, that might be a fairly specific situation – we’re not allowed to pre-screen students, so we can’t weed out clearly unsuitable ones based on cover letters.)

      2. rlm*

        That’s a very good point. I’ve done interviews at job fairs and you’re right, there were times when I knew fairly quickly.

      3. Tina*

        Not often, but I agree, sometimes lack of interest, or even poor fit, can be suspected early on.

        “Why are you interested in us/this position?”

        “Because I LOVE to do X…” but job involves doing Y. In some cases, it’s a reasonable misunderstanding of the job description, but in other cases, what they’ve just told us they love is a completely distinct role from our actual job.

        Or in once recent case, a candidate took 17 minutes to answer our first question. I’m not kidding, we counted. And the worst of it was, he didn’t actually answer what we asked. We kept going, but his subsequent answers confirmed his long-windedness, inability to stay on topic and lack of listening skills.

    3. Original poster*

      Since it was my question, let me clarify what happens to eliminate yourself right away. And this is at the phone interview stage (after a screen with HR, which is a sieve and let’s much through that they shouldn’t).

      First question – what do you know about the company? (Or a variation of this). If a candidate has not done any research OR if they aren’t prepared to ask me a question back here, it’s a pretty good indicator that A. They are unprepared and B. They aren’t interested enough in the position to have spent 5 minutes googling before the call. I’m not interested in a candidate who needs everything spoon fed. So in the first 5 minutes, this is a common way that I decide I’m not interested in you.

      Another issue I’ve had where I know right away I can’t move forward with you is basic communication skills. Mumbling, hearing you type or multitask while on an interview, one word answers, etc. I understand that sometimes people are nervous but I’m talking about something way beyond that. I’m in a tech field, so introverts with poor communication skills are not unusual. I’m talking severe cases where you cannot understand them or their attention span is elsewhere.

      I also once had a guy say fa**ot when talking about why he wanted to leave California in the first couple of minutes on a phone interview. That’s another easy elimination.

      1. Jamie*

        I totally get this now that you clarified you’re talking about phone screens.

        I was thinking in person a big part of those first five minutes is welcoming them, ushering them to your office, light small talk about the weather or commute…giving them a few minutes to relax and find their voice sounds fair. But the phone is totally different – if they are typing, distracted, and clearly looking up answers to stuff they should know it’s over. Also the swearing.

      2. EM*

        OK, I agree phone screens are different. I think I was basing my original comment on an in-person interview. I think with a phone screen, it would be more appropriate to cut off after 5-10 minutes if they are clearly not a good fit.

      3. Mints*

        Yeah, knowing that it’s a phone call completely changes my reaction. I’ve had phone screens that went well enough to get in-person interviews that were less than ten minutes because it’s the bare bones. So I can see asking two questions then being done.
        In-person interviews should be at least like twenty minutes, or I’d feel like I was turned around at the door. I’d porbably have paranoid reasons that Jamie mentioned in my head

      4. lonepear*

        Hearing people type–I hope this isn’t universal, or at least that you look for other signs of inattention! My laptop is my second brain, and on a phone screen I am likely to take notes for future reference…

        1. Original poster*

          Are you taking notes as an interviewer or an interviewee? It’s pretty inappropriate to be typing during a phone screen. When I hear a curious mashing of keys, I am left wondering if you are multitasking or worse, looking up answers as I ask them. In either case, it’s a major red flag for me. I’m taking time out of my always packed day to discuss a position with you. I feel that the candidate who respects this and is interested would have separated themselves from their “second brain” for 30 minutes.

          If you feel the need to take notes while you are the one being interviewed, I think it’s polite to at least inform the interviewer. I even do this as an interviewer – “I’m going to be taking notes here, just in case you hear the sound of typing”.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I don’t think it’s at all rude to take notes, but you should explain it. Just say you’re going to be taking notes and that you hope it’s okay. I do the same thing at the start of any interview I conduct — “Just to let you know, I’m going to be taking notes, so might you hear me typing.” Sometimes candidates will respond that they plan to do the same.

          2. lonepear*

            I’ve done this both as an interviewee and interviewer. As an interviewee I assume that the phone screen is going to lead to another interview if it goes well, and I want to remember if you seemed interested in topic X even though it wasn’t in the job description, or emphasized a particular area that I’ll want to be sure to have a lot to say about later, or said the name of some thing I’d never heard of. And as an interviewer there is no way I’m going to be able to keep people straight and remember what they said if I’m not writing it down.

            I don’t agree at all that it is a sign of disrespect–if I’m really taking the other person seriously and respecting their time, I am writing important things down, and I’m probably doing that the same way I store all my other notes. I do agree that it’s nice to note it so the other person isn’t wondering what the noise is.

        2. Jamie*

          If taking notes is needed tell them you’re typing, but if you’re asked a technical question and there’s typing…I will never assume you’re taking notes on my question I will assume you’re googling the answer.

          If you need to take notes I’d use a pen, lightscribe pens will allow you to turn it into typed text without retyping, but typing is generally rude.

    4. Kerr*

      The examples you gave don’t seem to be reasons to end it in 5 minutes. Interviewing is an incredibly stressful experience and unless the job requires the skill to hide nerves (some sales, people who will be working in front of a cold audience, etc.) why not give them a few minutes to warm up?

      Wholeheartedly agree. I would be extremely irritated if an interviewer dismissed me after the first five minutes, based strictly on nerves-related speaking ability. If there’s a glaring skills/experience mismatch, that’s the sort of thing to ask about in a phone screen, before I spend hours preparing and traveling. And if they didn’t give a reason, I probably would wonder if they just didn’t like my looks.

      Now, if it’s a phone screen, sure, cut it off. Likewise, I can see a few circumstances where an interviewer could reasonably stop the interview ASAP – outrageously offensive behavior, for instance. But otherwise, at least take the time to ask questions, and make sure that your initial impression is correct.

  4. Bryan*

    Say they did ok in the phone screen and came for an in-person interview and were going to meet with 6 people. If the first person did not like the candidate is it fair to not seek the input of the following interviewers?

    I know personally I’ve interviewed with a string of people where I did well with many but not all of the people I met.

    That being said when it’s clearly not a good fit I am all in favor of not wasting time.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It depends on who the first interviewer is. If they’re a decision-maker, then yes, it doesn’t make sense to waste the time of the other interviewers or the candidate. If they’re just one voice of many in the process, it makes sense to continue … unless what came out in the first interviewer was something it’s obvious that everyone would agree was a deal-breaker.

    2. anon-2*

      You have to remember, some pig-headed places use a “one strike and you’re out” system.

      I worked in a place – that had high expansion and turnover. There was some management alarm one day — a fellow came in for an interview for one position. He wasn’t a good fit — but two months later, he interviewed for a different position – this one WAS a good fit and he was hired.

      Management got their, shall I say, panties in a knot — “but we REJECTED him…. what’s he doing here?” And a memo went out expressing that this should never happen again …

    3. Jen in RO*

      In my old job, the candidates had interviews with HR, the local team lead and the manager (in this order). The team lead interviewed them even if HR wasn’t thrilled, and then she sent her and HR’s assessment to the manager, with a recommendation on whether the manager should perform the final interview. So candidates always had 2 interviews, HR and team lead (usually back to back), and if they passed this “screening” phase they went on to interview with the big boss.

    4. Lynn Whitehat*

      At my last job, we used to do interviews in 3 rounds. The third round was with the higher-ups. We told candidates that it was “if they have time today”, but secretly it was “if you make it that far.”

  5. Cat*

    The other advantage of continuing on with the interview is that candidates who aren’t the right fit but who are impressed with the organization often refer friends and colleagues who are better fits. We’ve gotten more than one good candidate this way.

    1. Original poster*

      That’s why I hate the idea of ending an interview early. I’m afraid of how it reflects on the company. I want them to have a positive impression of us, even if I don’t with them.

      1. Tax Nerd*

        THIS. It reflects badly on the company to end an interview early, and why not try to let the candidate leave with a positive impression of the company, even if they don’t get the job?

        Way back in my campus interviewing days, I saw a student go into an interview with a very conservative accounting firm wearing a very visible eyebrow ring. (This was when it was still fairly edgy, and it was in the midwest. Edginess was not a thing accounting firms looked for then/there/now.) I could tell by the look on the interviewer’s face that she wasn’t going to get the job. (In a lot of fields, it wouldn’t be an issue, but accounting firms are known for wanting a conservative image.)

        But he sucked it up and interviewed her for the allotted 45 minutes. Maybe she’s popular with her classmates, and he doesn’t want her badmouthing the firm to her friends who he does want to hire. Maybe she’s the daughter of his dream client’s CEO. Maybe 5-10 years from now, she’ll be a decision-maker at a client where he’s bidding for work. Even if this person isn’t a good fit, it’s worth being polite enough to hear them out. Maybe the initial impression will be overridden.

        Even if I had a candidate that cursed or was overly combative in the first interview, I could stretch it out to at least 20 minutes to give them a chance to correct themselves, improve, or keep shooting themselves in the foot and confirm my initial impression. Saving myself 10 or so minutes of time after ending the interview early and escorting them out wouldn’t be worth the bad impression I’d leave with them. And this is definitely something people talk about to just about everyone.

        1. PEBCAK*

          This is a good point. The only time I ever wrapped something up early was a student who informed me that I was late. I was polite, but short.

          1. Mallorie, the recruiter*

            Very good point! A lot of the people I interview are also customers – so even when they are TOTALLY wrong, I still try to be as nice and pleasant as possible (even when wrapping up early) because I want them to keep their positive impression of the company! I try to wrap up interviews without being super obvious about it – I don’t ask as many questions or get too indepth with the person but still try to spend at least 10-15 minutes (these are phone interviews BTW which typically last about 30 minutes with strong candidates).

            1. SevenSixOne*

              It’s crucial to remember that many candidates are customers! There are several companies that won’t get my business anymore because the application and interview process was so unpleasant.

        2. anon-2*

          I have spoken often about one, now-defunct technology company, which had a reputation for its HR / interview process, and that it was a three-ring circus — apparently by design.

          Do you think anyone who ran out of that loop holding his or her nose would ever want to do business with that firm?

          And, when that company began taking the gas pipe, what do people think about those who were coming OUT of there, trying to get employment?

  6. ChristineSW*

    I’ve had an in-person interview cut short after less than 5 minutes..maybe even 2 minutes. It was at a county early intervention program, and I think the position was for some sort of service coordination role. Anyway, as we got underway, the interviewer revealed that it involved a lot of fieldwork, since many EI programs conduct home visits. I disclosed that I didn’t drive. The interview ended right there. That was definitely my fault…a big “duh” moment for me. Since then, I ask up front whether driving is involved before agreeing to an interview. Maybe not the best strategy, but it’s better than wasting my time and that of the employer.

        1. Wilton Businessman*

          Eh, requirements are sometimes grey. I can put down 10 requirements and I’ll be happy if the submissions have 8. I know everybody is not going to have exactly what I want, there has to be some give and take.

          1. Anonymous*

            “I can put down 10 requirements and I’ll be happy if the submissions have 8.”

            Then they’re not requirements – they’re desired qualifications. Describe them as such.

          2. Victoria Nonprofit*

            But, in theory, you could have a firm set of requirements. ChristineSW’s example: You must be able to drive. Or: You must have experience as a classroom teacher (for a role as an instructional coach). etc.

            1. Jamie*

              Yes – requirements aren’t gray for us. If it’s required it’s a deal breaker, we get audited and we can prove we are hiring per our stated requirements.

              Which is why I make sure all the requirements are valid and real – preferred is another story. Stuff we prefer can be a mile long…but requirements are non negotiable. You’ll find that a lot in companies with external QS certifications.

              But a lot of other companies aren’t that tight on the verbiage and their requirements aren’t necessarily written in stone.

            2. Amanda*

              Exactly. I like the job postings that seperate “requirements” from “desired qualifications” in two different categories. Less guesswork on my part.

              1. Felicia*

                requirements and desired qualifications should definitely be seperate. And once i didn’t have x, which was listed as a desired qualfication, but I met all the requirements and several other desired qualifications. Found out in the interview that x was a requirement.

                If there are 20 requirements and you know few people will meet every single one, it’s hard to figure out which of the requirements are non negotionable. You may meet 3/4 of the requirements, but then the 1/4 you don’t meet are actually most important.

        2. ChristineSW*

          I just remembered…I didn’t apply for this particular job. The woman had gotten my resume from someone else (don’t know who), and thus called to invite me to interview. Since I think it was through county government, there likely was a comprehensive job description. Had I seen the position announcement myself, I’m sure I would’ve seen a driving requirement and thus would not have applied.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      That’s why I ask about accounting. I also learned that the hard way. See my post above–if I get vague answers, I press. If they don’t like it, tough. There’s no point in wasting everybody’s time.

    2. Kelly O*

      I had a very, very short interview at a medical facility for a prison system.

      I should have known it would be odd when they told me the only things I could bring in was basically just my car key, my ID (two forms) and nothing else. And not to wear heels.

      When I worked up the nerve in the interview to ask about the people housed at the facility and found out it was, basically anyone, I thanked them for their time and said that perhaps I would not be a good fit for the position.

      This is why you always phone screen. Or at least mention “by the way you have to walk past guys on death row who maybe caught the flu on your way to the office” in passing somewhere.

      (And yes, I am a HUGE chicken when it comes to that sort of thing.)

      1. Cat*

        They didn’t tell you it was for a prison? That seems absolutely insane not to front that! I can’t imagine how many people would self-select immediately after learning that. (Not that it’s not an important job . . . but yeah, not for everyone.)

        1. Jessa*

          Different facilities house people who committed different types of crimes. A place with death row prisoners for instance is different than a place with short termers. It might not have been a deal breaker if this was a unit that housed mostly white collar or short term prisoners. An adult facility housing major felons is different to a juvenile one.

    3. Maeve*

      Ugh, I took a half day off work to go to an in-person interview and within the first few minutes discovered they needed someone with a car, which was nowhere in the position description. The interview continued but I knew it was pointless.

  7. Vicki*

    Flipping the question around, what of you (as the candidate) are pretty sure that the job isn’t a good fit 5 minutes in?

    This has happened to me twioce now (once as I walked into the lobby and saw the workspace. It resembled a Call Center (but this wasn’t a Call Center job) and another time after several questions from the first interviewer.

    Is it better to stop the interview? Or to keep going in case anything sounds reasonable and perhaps they might have a different sort of job open up (second situation).

    1. Wilton Businessman*

      You’ve traveled to the office, you’ve gotten there 10 minutes early, you’ve taken the time off, you still have to travel back to work/home. You’ve already got a couple hours invested, what’s another 30 minutes?

      If you don’t like it, follow up with an email saying that you thank them for their time but you realize it won’t be a good fit.

      If you want the interviewer to respect your time, it has to work in both directions.

    2. anon-2*

      Generally – it is not a bad thing to say that the position being discussed wasn’t what you expected.

    3. Jamie*

      Back when I was interviewing this happened to me a couple of times, I knew pretty soon in I would say no whatever the offer…but I always stayed because I figured it would be good interview experience, which I needed being new to the whole thing.

      But we’re talking about normal 30-60 minute interviews – I wouldn’t have wasted their time if it were a longer process.

      Oddly enough the second I knew I didn’t want to work there I relaxed and gave a much better interview. This happened a handful of times and each time they offered me the job or a second interview. So my stats are 100% for the jobs I don’t want, so not helpful.

      So after that when on an interview for one I did want I’d try to convince myself I didn’t want it…trying to trick myself into relaxing because apparently apathetic me is more engaging. It never worked, I can’t trick myself because I’m always on to me…I just cannot pull the wool over my own eyes.

      But yeah – normal interview see it through, and even though I knew right away I did listen to what they had to say, so I kept an open mind. Besides, my industry is pretty incestuous locally and paths cross a lot – don’t want to offend someone when reputation is everything.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        So after that when on an interview for one I did want I’d try to convince myself I didn’t want it…

        Ha ha, I tried to do that too. Unfortunately, it didn’t always work. Harder for me? Pretending I WAS interested when I had only applied because I couldn’t find anything else to fill the UI sheet that week. For a while, it seemed like those were the only ones who ever called me. *eyeroll*

        1. Anon*

          I’d be afraid of actually getting an offer from one of those places and losing my UI. If the interview was going TOO well I’d be tempted to take drastic action, like taking a dump in the potted plant.

      2. Anonymous*

        Pulling the wool over my own eyes doesn’t work, but apparently low confidence in my own status does? I recently landed a huge new position (50% salary increase, back to the work I want to be doing, etc) exactly by being convinced at every stage that there was absolutely zero chance they would ever even consider me, and so I was completely relaxed and totally myself throughout the process because I didn’t think there were actual high stakes.

        (After “we like your resume, please send portfolio” became “we like your portfolio, please come for interview” became “we liked your interview, please perform two-hour test” became “we liked your test, please authorize references and background check because we want to extend you an offer tomorrow” I finally considered the reality that hey! I was getting a new job! A bit slow on the uptake this time, haha.)

    4. Yup*

      I’d probably keep going and use it as practice. (Unless, as others have said, it’s a 4 hour deal. Or the interviewer was screaming at me or something.) Worst case, you get some extra interview practice and maybe met an interesting contact that could turn into a fruitful connection in the future.

    5. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yes, I’m curious about the same thing. It’s happened to me twice as well. (The first time, it became clear in the first 5 minutes that my interviewers were overworked, burnt out, and completely disengaged. The second time, I realized that I did not have experience or interest in some of the unlisted but required additional job duties.) Both times I struggled to find a good way to prematurely end the interview. I suppose you need a few different strategies, depending on if you would be interested in other positions or not.

    6. Sascha*

      I think the strategies Alison outlined work on the flip side as well. I would give it a chance but probably keep it short.

      I’d like to add an anecdote: I had an interview like this where I realized within a few minutes the job wasn’t for me. At the beginning of the interview, the hiring manager told me to tell her at any point if I didn’t think the job was for me, I should tell her. After about 15 minutes, she asked if I had any questions, and I politely told her I didn’t think the job was a good fit for my experience, and I would be passing. She then spent the next half hour or so reaming me out for telling her that, criticized my interviewing style, criticized my experience and resume, and I left the interview in tears.

      Morale of the story: even if the hiring manager says to tell them to cut it short so no one’s time is wasted, be careful – they may be crazy! :)

      1. Jamie*

        When I hear things like this I’m always curious why people stay for the screaming.

        You don’t work there, you don’t want the job…if it were me the second it became uncivil she’d ranting to an empty room.

        I’m not being snarky and certainly not judging, I’m just curious but so many people have these experiences and I just don’t get it.

        1. Sascha*

          I was young and not as assertive as I am now. I was also brought up to be doormat-levels of polite and endure that kind of crap. If someone tried to pull it on me now, you can bet I’d get up and walk out. :) I think there’s also the shock of it – I was just so stunned that someone would actually do that.

        2. Del*

          There’s shock, and there’s also a large degree of social conditioning involved for some people. In a professional setting, when you’re going in with the mindset of ‘gotta be on my best behavior,’ it can be hard to break out of it as blatantly as walking away from someone in the middle of whatever they’re saying (even if the saying is more like screaming).

        3. some1*

          What the other folks said about the shock. And when you are in a building you have never been in before, you don’t always have an escape plan.

    7. MissDisplaced*

      I’ve had that happen twice.
      Once the place was far away, plus looked horrible/bad neighborhood. I went in and told them thank you but I didn’t think it would work for me

      At the other place, a nasty lady flipped through my portfolio, without even speaking to me, all the while she was smoking. I told her thanks, but I was no longer interested.

        1. anonn*

          yeah. I even ask new people at someones house who *does* smoke if it bothers them. My host looked at me strangely and I explained it was to minimise the guests discomfort if he wasn’t ok with it as I was right next to him.

    8. ThursdaysGeek*

      This happened to me too. I drove 2 hours to the main campus for an interview, hoping that it would be flexible enough to be physically located at the branch campus that was local to me. (I should have asked up front, but I was unemployed and wanted to hope.) The first question was, “So, why do you want to move to ?”

      I admitted right off that I was hoping for the other location to be a possiblity, and after some discussion, we agreed to continue the interview. But when it came to meet the next level of managment, I introduced myself, and let him know he shouldn’t waste his time on me. We spent less than an hour total, so not much time was wasted.

      It was a nice day for a drive.

    9. Jen in RO*

      I would stay and finish the interview, both as practice or just in case I misinterpreted something. (To take your workspace example, maybe they wanted me to work in a different location that looked much better.)

  8. Anonymous*

    To avoid situations like this, my company has recently begun requiring 10 minute in person interviews at our corporate office following an initial phone screen before scheduling further in depth interviews. I like it in theory, although I do think it can be disrespectful of applicants’ time when they’re interviewing for roles in our outlying offices, which can require drive time of over an hour one way for such a brief meeting—especially when those who make the cut will still have 3+ interviews to go, even for an entry level retail position.

      1. Jamie*

        On a couple of levels? 3 interviews for entry level retail?

        And intended that way or not, a 10 minute in person interview to decide who moves on screams “let us see what you look like before we bother speaking to you.”

        Valid if you’re hiring an actor, model, or whatever…but otherwise this is awful.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Totally agreed. 10-minute interviews will tell you virtually nothing about the person except what they look like. If you’re going to do this, you could at least have a meeting point closer to the interviewee. It’s just so incredibly rude to expect a two-hour round trip for 10 minutes of someone’s time. Maybe you could do it via Skype or something if you’re going to do this at all.

    1. KimmieSue*

      This is a terrible practice. You should try and influence your company leadership and HR to stop it immediate.

    2. Sydney Bristow*

      That would be extremely annoying to me. Does the company at least alert the candidate that it will be a quick 10 min thing so they can opt out if it isn’t worth it to them?

      1. Ruffingit*

        Yeah, if not, it’s even more outrageous! And, really, even if you are telling them, I can imagine you’ll be missing out on a ton of good candidates because no one but someone really desperate will drive two hours round-trip for 10 minutes.

    3. SevenSixOne*


      Four interviews for anything but an extremely high-level position is absurd. Four interviews with an two hour round trip (!!!) for an entry-level retail position which almost definitely pays less than $10 an hour is beyond disrespectful.

  9. Dala*

    I’ve been on half day interviews where I wish they would have done this! Give me enough time to prove myself (half hour or so). Then if you know I’m not what you’re looking for, then give me the courtesy of being honest with me and letting me leave early and not string me through another 2 hours for no reason.

  10. Wilton Businessman*

    I usually spend the first 5 minutes engaging the candidate in chit-chat to loosen them up. I’ve prepared for this interview just as long as the candidate has (if not more). I give them the respect of talking to them for at least 30 minutes. Perhaps I will find out they are more than they appear to be in the first 5 minutes. Perhaps I will learn something about interviewing if I carry this to the end. Then again, I might find out that after 30 minutes my 5 minute impression was correct. But either way, I will give them the common courtesy of finishing the interview.

    I think if this candidate is not worthy of 30 minutes of face-to-face time, you need to seriously re-investigate your phone interview tactics.

  11. Anonymous*

    I had an interview that lasted about 30 seconds in high school. It was at a clothing store and since I was apparently ten pounds overweight they ended it right after introductions .

          1. Jamie*

            Their shares took a hit after their leader made those horrible statements.

            My son works for one of their main competitors and he loves it there – they have a great management team.

            Bonus for me? Since his sister found out he has a 40% discount on everything she’s been much nicer to him. :)

          2. KJR*

            Not to mention the noxious perfume smell you are assaulted with the minute you walk into A & F! If I didn’t walk in with a headache, I sure as heck am going to walk out with one.

            1. Windchime*

              The noxious perfume and the thumping club music, combined with the freaky dark store and the way they make you walk through like it’s some kind of apparel haunted house–yeah, no thanks. I’m glad I didn’t live near one of these stores when my kids were younger.

          3. KimmieSue*

            I can’t stand this store either. I will not spend my money there. Several years ago, I was shopping and found some jeans that I thought were cute. Of course, all of the sizes within reach were 0, 2, or 4. I’m a 10 or 12. I had to ask the salesperson for help. The gorgeous 16-year old looking woman had to get the long stick thing to bring down the “bigger sizes”. My response was “you are joking, right?” She clarified that they indeed put their “bigger sizes” up higher because most of their clients are in the lower size range. I walked out and have not spent one single penny there. Even with my teenage kids who would like to wear their brand.

            1. Jen in RO*

              But… what’s wrong with putting the most-requested sizes lower down? No store has unlimited shelf range…

          4. EvilQueenRegina*

            I have to admit I had that same thought! There was a big fuss in the UK about them, I think it was a woman with an artificial arm who they tried to keep in the stock room out of sight of customers or something along those lines. I don’t shop there on principle.

    1. MR*

      Must have been Abercrombie & Fitch or one of those similar stores. Sorry to hear this happened to you.

  12. Brett*

    I’m not sure what is wrong with our processes, but I’ve had a couple of candidates who flat out lied about their qualifications. It became glaringly obvious when they bombed the most basic technical questions which bluff answers. Because of legal requirements we had to continue with all of our defined questions, but we just started cutting the candidates short and asked zero followup questions.

    The HR rep was so ticked (because they had lied in the screening process) that they were disqualified from future employment with any position in our organization. What really scared me though is that one of the people was a high up technical manager at another company! I think this meant that his lying and bluffing had actually successfully landed him another job

    1. KimmieSue*

      Brett – did anyone define for you “technical requirements” that made the interview proceed? Are you in the USA? If the candidate (whether on paper or during an in-person interview) doesn’t meet the qualifications of the posted job, I don’t know of any requirements that say you legally have to continue to interview.

      1. Brett*

        I work in the public sector. Our state’s human rights act requires public entities to define a set list of questions to ask all applicants who are interviewed. It’s pretty complicated because we can ask follow-on questions but also have to have a defined list of questions to work from for each candidate and have to limit our general topics to that list.
        It is meant to be a protection against discrimination.

  13. Thomas Taylor*

    I agree with AAM strongly here. Although, one situation I can think of where you would know pretty quickly that someone is not going to get hired is if you have interviewed a candidate already who really did well, and is very likely to get the offer unless someone does even better. If someone comes in and is doing noticeably worse, but not necessarily horribly, for the first 10 minutes, you know you’re going to decline them. But still, I think that getting the interview to at least half of your normal time and then politely closing it up is the decent thing to do.

  14. LOLwhut*

    There are certainly interviews I wish had been cut short.

    Phone screens aren’t necessarily bulletproof, either. A lot of the time it’s an HR Coordinator/Manager doing the phone screen, while the hiring manager(s) conduct the in-person interviews, and there’s all sorts of potential for miscommunication. Anyone ever ace the phone screen only to get the “why are you here” vibe at your in-person interview?

    1. Rachel*

      I had a phone screen and a phone interview that I aced with HR. Then when I went for the in person interview, the hiring manager only asked me one question and spend the rest of the 20 minutes talking about himself . I get the feeling he knew immediately I wasn’t right for the job. It’s okay, I was unlikely to accept even if offered the position. But I definitely got the vibe from the interviewer.

  15. Original poster*

    Hi all,

    I was the one that submitted this question and I should have clarified – how do I terminate a PHONE interview when it is clear it is awful.

    What triggered this question is that yesterday I had a candidate who mumbled so badly that I literally had to have him repeat everything he said. His communication was atrocious. He’d cut me off to say random things not related to the question I was asking. Then he’d go off on a tangent asking for information about the company that he could have found in a google search that woe have been nice if he had done before the interview. He obviously wasn’t going to be brought in for an interview, because this job requires speaking to customers on the phone. No way would I put him in front of my customers!

    Yet, I went through the motions for the full 30 minutes and was incredibly frustrated because it wasted my time. This is the sort of situation I wanted to cut off early.

    1. KJR*

      Personally I wouldn’t feel as bad about cutting off a phone interview early. Maybe skip a few questions, don’t ask follow up questions, and be done with it. 10 minutes, 15 minutes tops?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh! Very different!

      It’s much easier to short-circuit a phone interview. When you’re scheduling it, don’t be super specific about committing to a time length. I say something like “20-30 minutes, give or take,” and then I don’t feel bad about cutting it off after 10-15.

      If you can give a specific reason to them, you can cut it off earlier than that and explain why. If it’s poor social skills, I’d at least do 10 minutes though, if it’s a pre-scheduled call.

    3. Jamie*

      Totally easier! Yep, 10-15 minutes max of generic questions and no follow up, thank you for your time. Following day a nice rejection letter letting him know you won’t be proceeding and done.

    4. thenoiseinspace*

      I do want to briefly stand up for the guy on one point: with the cutting you off/talking over you thing, it could have been bad reception. I know that’s happened to me whenever I talk to one particular friend with a terrible phone – we’re constantly cutting each other off because there’s a delay, so one person will hear silence and want to fill it when the other is actually talking. I know you said it was for a phone position, but I’m guessing that he would have been using an office line, which might have been more reliable.

      Granted, this doesn’t negate your other reasons – it’s just something I wanted to point out. Bad reception happens!

  16. KJR*

    I was interviewing a guy a few months ago who, 10 minutes into the interview, proceeded to tell me how he had berated his dying mother for having to take care of her, and in the same breath told her his drinking problem was because he was her sole caretaker. (This was in response to my asking about a gap in employment). He was great in the initial phone screen, and his resume was a perfect fit. I didn’t cut him short (maybe I should have??) but I wasn’t interested in anything he had to say after that.

    1. Sam*

      If you hadn’t said it was a man I would have sworn I had interviewed the same person. She looked amazing on paper, passed a phone screen, and spent the interview complaining about how demanding her dying mother had been in her final months. I had a new manager observing the interview process, or I would have cut it short by skipping some questions, but we went through the whole thing, and endured political rants and more jabs at the candidate’s late mother.

  17. B.Fab*

    I just interviewed someone this morning that I knew wouldn’t be a fit from the first question they answered. Still dragged it out for another half an hour and it kept confirming my thoughts that she wasn’t right.

    How do people feel about following up with the person who interviewed with some tips on how to improve their interview skills? The lady was new to town and kind of new to this career? She has potential but just seemed to say everything wrong!

    1. anomnomnomimous*

      Honestly, as a candidate, I’d appreciate the feedback (provided it’s given in a polite a courteous way, but I’m sure you’d do that.)

    2. fposte*

      I like the suggestion that’s been made here previously–rather than just giving her the tips, ask her if she’d be interested in feedback. Then if she doesn’t say yes, move on.

      1. Ethyl*

        Yeah, definitely ask first. That way it’s not going to be perceived as belittling, or berating, or unwarranted criticism. I think I’d feel like any criticism received unsolicited was more about the interviewer (wanting to prove something, wanting to feel superior, something) than about them wanting to do me a favor.

  18. anomnomnomimous*

    Ironic – my boss was in this situation this morning! I’ve been sitting in on the interview committee, and our interview this morning was horrendous. Showed up too early, incredibly long and rambling answers, constantly interrupting and talking over my boss (then at the end telling us what a good listener he is), and made a whole lot of demands (wanted us to provide him with a personal laptop, more equipment and an assistant!). The whole thing was lasted more than double the usual interview length- even when we stood up and walked to the door, he was still sitting there yakking! The cherry on top was that within an hour and a half of leaving, he had managed to call my boss not once, not twice, but three times, trying to arrange a drop-off of some of his DVDs so she could watch the “Director’s cut” (it’s a video position.)

    My boss said she knew by his tone as soon as he opened his mouth that he would be wrong for the position, but like Alison said, it wasn’t really something we could stop. I mean, you can’t really say “I just think you sound really arrogant,” can you? I kind of feel bad for the guy – everyone says to be confident going into interviews, and in this case, it came off as way too cocky.

    1. some1*

      “(wanted us to provide him with a personal laptop, more equipment and an assistant!)”

      Maybe this was the guy who wrote to Allison awhile back and wanted to share his CEO’s assistant?

      1. some1*

        ETA: the “show up way too early for interviews” folks never work out, do they? I couldn’t put my finger on why for a long time (even when I was a receptionist, so they personally annoyed me).

        I think it just comes down to a lack of understanding of social conventions, like why you’d never pick up a date early because you assume they want to get ready.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I should write a whole column on things that aren’t deal-breakers in and of themselves but which are never done by anyone who ends up being a top candidate. Showing up really, really early is one of them. Having a five-page resume (in most fields, not all) is another.

          1. Ruffingit*

            Please do write that and include the people who treat the interview like their talking to their best friends – that is, joking around and being way too unprofessional for the interview environment. Some people see that as being “open and relaxed.” I don’t.

            1. anon*

              +1 Oh my god, lately I have had way too many people showing up for appointments really early and then getting really put out because I’m not ready to leap up from my desk and meet them immediately.

              It annoys me because I feel like it marks a total ignorance of the fact that I have other work to do, and preparations I need to make before I meet with them.

              One guy showed up 45 minutes early and then got really miffed that I wasn’t ready…

              1. Sam*

                Yes! I hate this! I get wanting to be early, I really do, but when the candidate is 45 minutes early and the front desk calls up to my office and I’m there but not available for the interview until the appointed time, the candidate just sits there, annoyed for 45 minutes, and then for some reason I feel apologetic when I come out to greet them, right on time, because they’ve been waiting 45 minutes.

          2. Maeve*

            How early do you think is too early?

            I feel like I am often a little early (like 10 minutes), mostly because I take public transit and I want to make sure I’m not going to be late so I choose a bus that will get me there obscenely early, and then I tire of lurking near the office waiting for it to be time. This is especially awkward when the interview is in the middle of nowhere and I’m just hanging in the parking lot. If they’re not ready for me I apologize for being early and wait patiently. If it’s in a big building I also get nervous about finding the office so I want to enter early, and then it feels weird to just…loiter outside the office. But maybe I’m making a bad impression?

            1. Ruffingit*

              Honestly, I’d say 10 minutes early is the earliest you should be. I always go for 5 minutes early myself. If it’s a loitering in the parking lot kind of thing, you can maybe find a quiet spot to hang out in with a book or something rather than entering the building, once you know you’re in the right building area.

  19. books*

    I’ve met candidates who 5 minutes into a phone screen I’ve known they were wrong for the job. I’ve also been in an interview where it was pretty clear that the candidate was not right (lack of detail in answering questions, apparent lack of interest in work, optimistic interest in the mission) and it went like this
    “Do you have any questions for us?”
    “Great. Well I don’t think we have anything else, [other person] do you? [No.] Thanks.”

  20. Just a Reader*

    I’ve cut off in-person interviews that weren’t going well. I’ll do mine as I normally would, but for subsequent interviewers (my boss and team), I’m not going to waste their time.

    Example: i’m in PR. When I asked one candidate why she would be a good fit, she said it was because she would “Pitch her a** off.” Right before she asked if she could sometimes leave early a couple of days a week to work a second job. She also had inappropriate cleavage showing.

    I finished the interview, thanked her for her time and didn’t bring anyone else in to meet with her. Not worth it.

  21. Sunnysideup*

    I had a situation early this year at my current company where a manager cut off an in-person interview halfway through. The hiring manager (male) and the person who the candidate would be working with closely and learning about their job from (female) both interviewed the candidate (male). The interview room has large windows and a square table. The hiring manager and the current employee sat opposite each other, and the candidate sat on the side in between them. The candidate turned his body to completely face the hiring manager with his back to the current employee and potential colleague. He would only address her when answer a direct question from her, and then he would not turn to completely face her. After 10 minutes the hiring manager excused himself and gave the receptionist a note that said “In 5 minutes please come in and tell us we have an emergency call from (biggest client)”.

    To be honest, this made me so proud to work for the company I do. Instead of letting the interview go on, the hiring manager was so upset about the disrespect being paid to his employee that he terminated the interview. It was a great feeling.

    1. NBB*

      WOW. Your company dodged a bullet there, good for them to recognize such rude behavior and not put up with it!

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Not saying the guy wasn’t a jerk BUT

      Had a recent situation where a first interview was being treated at the level of 2nd/3rd, as the candidate was a highly recommended former co-worker of one of my staff, and very qualified for the open position.

      In the interview: me (exec level), one of the company princpals, and the woman who would be the interviewee’s direct boss.

      I loved her, as did the principal, and only after the interview did we find out that the direct boss was not happy with her. Turns out, the interviewee barely looked at the direct boss during the whole thing and addressed responses (even when asked a question by direct boss) to mostly me and the company principal.

      Ouch. Deal breaker, right?

      Well not really. Really it was our fault. The unconventional set up, even where people were sitting around the table, made it hard for someone who was a nervous interviewee to address responses equally.

      Plus, I tend to fill up a room when I’m in it, unless I remember to dial back and share. Which, I didn’t. I also didn’t remember to be inclusive enough of the direct boss, “Well, Gertrude here has been leading this up for five years and *her* team which you would be on blah blah blah. ” “Gertrude needs…”

      Direct boss thought the candidate was stand offish and was not inclined to hire her in the least. I asked the direct boss to please give the candidate a clean slate chance since I was pretty sure this was my fault. We brought her back in, had 30+ min of a one on one between the two of them and it was an entirely different experience.

      She was hired and all has worked out great, not only with her work but also her relationship with direct boss and the direct boss’s team.

      New rule: no more than two people in a room interviewing and always seat the two people directly next to each other so the candidate doesn’t have to choose whom to address with head swivels.

      1. r*

        Yes, exactly my point. When you’re already nervous, it might be difficult to decide who to focus on. It would be tempting to pay more attention to the higher-ups.

        1. Anonymous*

          Yup, I had this thought too. Or, the interviewee could have been more focused on the people asking questions when answering, so if the higher-ups were the ones asking most of the questions, that could have been the reason for the lack of equal attention as well. I’ve been in this situation in interviews a few times and have made a conscious effort to try to address everyone equally, but when one person is asking most of the questions, my tendency is to direct the answers mostly to that individual, and I’m guessing I’m not alone. I like Wakeen’s new interview rule!

  22. steve G*

    Early in my career I went through 2+ hours of pre-interviews, typing and math test for an Exec Asst position – only to get to the final interviewer who was making the decision who make a big stink that they brought someone in without experience, and why do they keep doing this, etc. etc. Very annoying!

  23. SantaBaby*

    I had a similar experience at my last interview. Keep in mind this was a third-round interview. I met with the person was the VP of the segment of the business I wanted to work in and the position was a fairly high-level position.

    The interview was on a Friday afternoon and lasted about 20 minutes. I could tell he/she would have rather been anywhere but there. They also kept checking their iPhone every 30 seconds, which I found disrespectful. Here’s a sampling of the questions they asked, and well as some general statements:

    “So, it looks like your current company sucks and I guess that’s why you’re here.”

    “What position are you here for? I have no idea.”

    “What kind of idiot schedules an interview for Friday afternoon?”

    When they asked if I had any questions for them, they gave me a look like, “Don’t you dare have any questions for me!” I had a couple of important questions so I asked them any way and tried to keep them as brief as possible. After I asked my last question, the interviewer said, “Well, it’s Friday afternoon and I want to go home so I guess we’re done here.”

    Silver lining: Going on an interview like this makes you appreciate your current job in a new way. :)

    1. Limon*

      My favorite crappy interview from earlier this year started ten minutes late. I had to sit and wait while the group interviewers talked about how much they liked another applicant within earshot. They gave me ten minutes and read rapid fire questions from a written script.

      After these ten minutes were up, there was a short pause and the head person said: well, do you have any questions for us? and as I opened my mouth to speak, with my mouth now open and I am taking a breath she says: “ok, well thank you for coming in.”

      I had driven 8 hours to meet them. Thankfully, I was also going to spend the weekend with friends there but wow! They were very unfriendly and cutting me off just as I open my mouth? awesome. It has made a great story to tell friends, particularly my friends who live in the area.

  24. Anonymous*

    If you are going to take this tact you must be very diplomatic and very careful in your approach, otherwise you’ll just look rude. I once went to an interview where after 10 minutes the hiring manager started to pick apart my qualifications to demonstrate that I wasn’t actually qualified or a good fit for the job. It was so cruel that I actually stopped the hiring manager, thanked her for her time, and said this position would not be a good fit for either of us. She was so stunned that I beat her to the punch that she apologized, and later followed up with an emailed apology acknowledging that she could have handled the situation differently. Long story short, if you aren’t careful you’ll end up sending the wrong impression about your company and probably feeling a little sheepish.

    1. Limon*

      I second standing up for yourself and setting a polite boundary. Great job saying what you did. It’s easy to get brainwashed into just sitting there and taking whatever they hand out, but that can really pull you down deeper if you are already anxious about getting a job.

      If you are polite and friendly about it it makes an even better impression (and you feel pretty good, too!). Especially since their disrespect has clearly not gotten to you and it has instead bounced back onto the one who was dishing it out. Yay !

  25. HR Gentleman*

    For a phone interview, 10 minutes is very reasonable for a clear non-hire.

    I had sat in one in-person interview with a hiring manager for a QC Manager candidate (food production). She had come highly recommended by a current employee and had some direct experience. She also had many non-traditional piercings including slag in her earlobes resembling an unfortunate boiler explosion- and it was beginning to rust.

    Honestly, I tried to make a good appearance, however the HM shut down the moment she came in and I couldn’t drag any participation out of him.

  26. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    I did a five minute in person interview one time – woman showed up in faded jeans, sneakers and a bandana on her head for an office job.


    I was particularly frantic busy that day and I’d probably handle it differently all these years later but, maybe not. I asked her a couple of short questions and thanked her for her time.

    Not much more than five minute in person interview – back when carrying personal cell phones was relatively new, dude *answers* cell phone at about the five minute mark. Regarding another job. Not making this up.


    One more question during which I regained my composure and then I thanked him for his time, goodbye.

    1. Original poster*

      I’ve ended only one interview early and I feel extremely guilty about it. Which is why I sent in the letter. I guess deep down I’m a people pleaser.

      It was a phone screen and when I called the candidate, who was currently out of work, the din of wherever he took the call from was very loud. I normally would try to work through it, but in this case it sounded like he was in a bar and I couldn’t hear a thing. I asked if he would be able to call me back from somewhere more private or if he had a landline he’d prefer we use. Begrudgingly, he stepped outside of whatever establishment he was in,’complaining the whole time “it isn’t THAT loud”.
      Question 1: Are you familiar with this company? He just said “no”. Ugh. This annoys me because he applied on our website, went through the HR screen, so I know this isn’t true. I’m just looking to see their understanding of what we do so I know what direction to start taking the next questions. But since he answered “no”, I took a different tact.

      Question 2: are you familiar with . Answer: “no”. He had now stepped back into the bar or wherever.

      At this point, my time was being wasted and so I did something I never do – I lost my cool a bit on the interview. So I asked, “I’m a little uncertain how to proceed. We are supposed to be talking about a position where you would be a subject matter expert responsible for all customer escalations for support on at , but you aren’t familiar with either”. His response: “what the F are you talking about?”

      I told him to enjoy the rest of his day and hung up. I feel bad for getting sarcastic, which is one of the reasons I wrote this letter as a follow up.

      As for the candidate, he still applies to any opening we post. Anything from receptionist to a C level, he’s applied. Not bad for someone who apparently has no interest in the company or what we do.

      1. Original poster*

        Again with the iPhone evilness. I swear it looked fine when I proofread.

        Question 2 is: what can you tell me about . And his answer was along the lines of “I don’t know what that is”.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        That’s a great story.

        Lookit, what are you going to do? You don’t owe somebody like that anything. On the other hand, if it’s going to bother you, you might as well spend an extra 10 minutes so you don’t fret on it later. Plus, the story might have gotten even more amazing with more time.

        My woman in the bandana bothers me a little 12 years later. I coulda woulda shoulda been more charitable. (Also, if I’d taken longer I might have found out *why* she was wearing a bandana in hair and now I will never know.)

      3. Ruffingit*

        I’m guessing this guy is on unemployment and is applying to tons of jobs so he can tell the UI people that he’s making an effort to find a job. There is no other reason someone would apply for every job from receptionist to C-level and then be that incredibly short and rude in the interview. Quite likely he doesn’t actually want any of the jobs, but he can tell UI he’s “trying.”

        1. Original poster*

          Excellent observation and probably entirely accurate.

          After 20+ years in IT related jobs, I’ve just come to accept that some people are quirky and have limited social skills. I never considered people would behave like that consciously.

      4. HR lady*

        OMG there is NO reason to feel guilty about ending this one early. Did he actually say the letter F or did he say the whole word? Either way, it doesn’t matter, there is no way that someone should say “F” or the whole word in an initial phone screen.

        Not to mention that all of his other answers and statements added up to him being the wrong candidate, too.

        I would NOT feel guilty about this, OP. You did the right thing.

  27. smallbutmighty*

    I sat in on a panel interview for a candidate who was well-qualified on paper and whom we even knew somewhat (and thought well of) because he was employed by one of my company’s vendors. Based on everything we knew about him, he was a great candidate (and I think to this day that he likely would have been good at many functions of the job). But in the interview he managed to hijack every single question and take it in a religious direction. When asked to provide examples of handling difficult situations, he related something that had happened in his church. When asked what he would do in a specific ethical quandary, he went into what the Bible said about such scenarios. It was so awkward and showed such astoundingly poor business judgment that we all kind of exchanged glances while he sermonized, wondering how we could bring this whole thing to a merciful end.

    He continues to work for our vendor and I occasionally interact with him. He’s very gracious and pleasant to work with. He thanked me for the interview but has never asked any follow-up questions about why he didn’t get the job. I like him and respect his intelligence and work ethic, and I’ve wondered on occasion if it would be worth setting up a coffee with him and telling him how he came across in that interview. He’s pretty young and comes from a conservative part of the country, so maybe his conduct in the interview is what he believes is normal and appropriate.

    1. Ruffingit*

      It could well be that he believes this to be appropriate in light of coming from a conservative area of the country. Not being conservative myself, but living in an area that is, I’ve seen many businesses specifically advertise themselves as Christian owned or operated. Also, if he’s from a smaller town where everyone knew everyone and it was expected that everyone was Christian, he may think this is normal. Might not hurt to ask if he’d like feedback and let him know the religious overtones and sermonizing is not going to be helpful to him.

    2. EE*

      I’m reminded of a book called Sucking Sherbert Lemons about a young man who spends time training as a Jesuit before quitting. Back at ‘normal’ school, he analyses Hamlet by writing that the main character violated the Fourth Commandment.

  28. You won't believe*

    The only interview I’ve wanted to end early, I couldn’t. My coworker refused to look me from the “answer” until the interview was completed because we knew that we’d start laughing.

    The question asked: Can you tell me about a time where you handled a situation under pressure?”

    The answer: “Yeah, sure…well…there was this time that I had to wait for the results of my HIV test to come back. It took a couple weeks, and I was real nervous. So I kept talking to people about it, and kept visiting friends to take my mind off the test.”

    1. EE*

      I suppose when she’s waiting to hear about the implementation of a work project she’ll take her mind off it by visiting friends too?

  29. Pigbitin Mad*

    I have been bum rushed out the door in 5 minutes and I am pretty sure it had to be age. (I don’t think I was dressed inappropriately, nor did I smell bad).
    Nobody made the slightest attempt to verify my qualifications. I couldn’t imagine why they called me in. I am sure I could have done that job in my sleep. All they wanted was someone “good at computers,” which I was (and I said so). Obviously, they did not want to find out if it was true, because then they would have to find another excuse for the bum’s rush.

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