is there a polite way to walk out of an interview?

A reader writes:

I am hoping you can offer advice about a bizarre interview situation I faced.

The job was not entry level – it was a directorship position for which I met all qualifications listed in the job description. When I showed up at the interview, it turned out that they had the other candidate in the same interview! The panel read each question and we were instructed to answer as we see fit, but we were also told we could not agree with each other (i.e., if the other candidate said something that matched how I would have answered the question, I had to stumble and come up with something else on the spot, and vice versa). I found that we were both rushing to try to answer “first” to avoid our individual ideas being “taken”!

When I was contacted about the interview, I was not warned that the other candidate would be interviewing at the same time so I didn’t have the opportunity to decide on the phone whether or not I was interested.

If this were to happen again in the future, is there any polite way to exit the interview? I feel that since it was not an internship or entry level, there was absolutely no reason for this kind of situation to happen. In retrospect, I wish I would have gotten up and walked out when I realized that the other candidate was there as well.

For the record, I did not get the job and had I been offered the position I would have declined anyway, based on the way they interviewed us.

Ick, yeah, I wouldn’t want anything to do with that either.

If you were absolutely sure that you didn’t want to stay in the running, it’s totally reasonable to decline to participate in this type of crappy interviewing process. In this case, I’m not sure at what exact point you became sure of that– as soon as you realized there was a second candidate in your interview or once they explained their ridiculous rules about not agreeing with each other? — but at either of those points it would have been reasonable to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I misunderstood the nature of the interview. I don’t think is for me, so I’ll excuse myself now.”

You’re not under any obligation to explain beyond that, but if you wanted to, you also could have added, “I think we have a pretty fundamental difference in philosophy about how to hire well.” Personally, I also would add, “Not being allowed to agree with each other makes no sense to me” because that piece of this is the most ludicrous part, but it’s not really your responsibility to explain to them why they suck.

Frankly, I wish more people would decline to participate in truly ridiculous hiring processes — and especially when they’re part of a group, since seeing one person say “I’m not tolerating this” can be the nudge that makes others comfortable saying it too.

{ 160 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*


    This is BIZARRE. The part about not being allowed to agree with each other is just…I don’t understand. I find myself insanely curious to know what organization would do this.

    1. Mike C.*

      *Rushes in the interview, shouts the following*

      “Water is wet” and “Hitler was evil!”

      Then I watch the other candidates not be allowed to agree with me.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        Ha! This reminds me of an exchange with a friend of a friend on Facebook who is very politically conservative — pretty much the polar opposite of me. He always tells me I’m a stupid, pinko, Obama-loving moron too stupid to question anything. Then when I do question something he says, he turns around and tells me that I’m snobby and elitist and I’m just trying to lord my education over everyone else. (Googling a word to get a precise definition is snobby and elitist? Sure. OK.) It makes me laugh.

        Anyway one day I told him I was going to state that the sky is blue, and then check back in a few hours to read all about how I was absolutely wrong about it, and how my assertion about the sky being blue was somehow related to the fact that I lean left on certain issues.

        He blocked me. Hee.

          1. MentalEngineer*

            I submit for your consideration (because my advisor, whom I otherwise love, just made me read it) Barry Stroud’s The Quest for Reality. Some people do in fact believe that colors are part of the things we see and not artifacts of mental processes.

            1. EngineerGirl*

              Except everyone’s eyeballs are physically different. Take for example color blindness. So your blue may be different than my blue. We may agree to call it blue but we’re probably seeing slightly different colors. Add in the differences in brain processing and the possibilities are endless. Oliver Saks has a nice short story about an artist that was in a car accident and lost the use of his cones (The Island of the Color Blind).

              1. the celt*

                And some of us don’t even agree to call it blue! My colorblindness always has me wondering is something is green/blue or blue/purple a lot of the time. I just ask my husband. I also can’t tell the difference between navy blue, dark purple, and black, so I pretty much just buy everything in black to avoid confusion. ;-)

                I didn’t learn until my mid-20s why my colors were not the same as everyone else’s colors. I just thought people liked to argue about colors all of the time. (I still can’t get my mother-in-law to quit asking me about things related to her sewing and the colors she’s using, because I’m a woman, so I must have a great color sense, right? Ummm…)

        1. krisl*

          Interesting. I have 1 friend who posted an article that outright stated that conservatives have a lower IQ than liberals and another friend who will indicate that if you don’t agree with his liberal views, there’s something wrong with you.

          I guess there are argumentative people on both sides.

      2. Liane*

        How about “Water is a polar compound” & “Some literary scholars maintained that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was an allegory for World War 2, which may imply Hitler inspired Sauron”?

        And if you run out of the interview, make sure you don’t impede my fleeing as well.

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          Since Tolkien himself repeatedly stated that The Lord of the Rings was not allegorical, and that in fact he disliked allegory, I think that last one is up for debate. :)

          1. Tomato Frog*

            Now I’m imagining two candidates turning the interview into a debate about Tolkien, which would be the best way to deal with this, I think.

          2. A Non*

            Plus, Tolkien fought in the trenches in WW1, and it left a very deep impression on him. (Sam and Frodo’s journey through Mordor always strikes me as a description of being on the front lines. The despair and terror and fatigue…) If it’s a reference to anything real-world, it’s probably the first world war, not the second.

            /Tolkien nerd hijack

            1. the_scientist*

              Agreed, the dead marshes seem to me to very obviously describe the trenches of the first world war.

          1. periwinkle*

            They can disagree on the route. One candidate runs out the door, the other ties a rope to a desk and rappels to freedom.

            1. MissMer*

              Well, how should we score their answers? The one who ran out the door chose the most efficient solution, but the other showed good use of resources and thought outside the box.

    2. BRR*

      I don’t get it either. Some questions do have a right answer or best answer.

      Maybe somebody is watching how to get away with murder and everybody is to give a different theory

      1. Artemesia*

        I think I would assume that this was a ‘test’ and answer the question how I damn well pleased and thought was appropriate; I am sure I could build on or add to any answer the other person came up with and vice versa, but to accept the ‘rules’ the interviewers laid down is absurd.

        And ending my answer with ‘Hitler is evil and water is wet’ as noted above would be tempting.

    3. Gina*

      I am the person who submitted the question. It was actually for a federal job on an Army base. Not private sector.

      1. AVP*

        I’ve never worked for the government, but given the way people talk about their rigid hiring methods and rigid processes in general, it seems there would be a lot of situations where there truly is only one right way to handle something, or one right way to answer the question. Maybe they wanted you to compete to see who gets it right first, like in Jeopardy?

        1. De Minimis*

          It’s just a bad hiring practice, there are plenty of federal agencies that do a conventional interview.

          I had an interview with a quasi-government agency that wasn’t quite as bad as this, but was close. They’d ask you pre-selected questions, but could not respond to anything you said, whether it be to probe further or ask a follow up. All they could do was write down your response.

          1. Adonday Veeah*

            I work for a quasi-government agency. I am trying to turn this battleship around. Not an easy task. Who invented these stupid procedures?!

            1. De Minimis*

              And even then, it seemed to depend on the department, because I had another interview there for a different position in another department, and that one was just a regular interview.

              1. LPBB*

                I had exactly the same experience with a state level quasi agency. Once I realized that it actually wasn’t the way they had to do the interviews, but that hiring manager’s weird preference, I was very glad that I didn’t get the job.

          2. JMegan*

            That last part is SOP for government interviews, with the rationale that it makes the process fair to everyone. Most people I know think it’s ridiculous, and not actually fair at all, but it seems to be What Is Done.

            1. Artemesia*

              Someone who was not too bright a bear but very concerned about discrimination was once hired to be in charge of assuring non discriminatory practices and this was what their not too bright mind came up with and somehow it got adopted by other dim bulbs. Only thing I can imagine. There are so many ways to encourage diversity without being dumb — but alas whoever came up with this didn’t manage to find any of them.

              You can have a set of common questions without the rigid process described here. When we used to hire, the hiring team would come up with a set of half a dozen key questions so all our interviews had a similar structure and everyone was also required to demonstrate instructional skills and present research if it were for a teaching/research job. If it was for an administrative job then they would demonstrate skills with software ranging from word/excel to SPSS depending on the type of job it was. Everyone had the same shot but there was no restriction on follow up questions and such; why would there be?

              This restrictive approach is genuinely brainless and doesn’t deal with discrimination — because that is ultimately in the judgment made by the interviewer not in the process.

          3. Gina*

            It was the same at this interview. They took lots of notes, but no probing or follow up questions. They had a standardized list of questions that they pulled from.

            1. De Minimis*

              The only good part was that they made sure candidates knew about the rules well in advance, and that we needed to elaborate as much as possible because the interviewers wouldn’t be allowed to prompt us or ask for more information.

        2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Or multiple ways to answer a question, but the candidates might still agree – e.g., “What experience do you have that makes you qualified for this role?”

          First candidate: [talks about how they used to be head of IT for a university]
          Second candidate: [starts to talk about how they also used to be the head of IT for another university]
          Interviewer: Sorry! You’re not allowed to have the same experience as the other candidate!

      2. XLibrarian*

        Oh ho ho. I once took a job with a government contractor that was supposed to be a directorial position (well, a one-person library) on an Air Force base. Once I was in the position, I found out that another contractor had apparently also been awarded the contract somehow. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but it ended up with my being expected to work with the other librarian, without either of us telling the other one what our contractor’s SOW said about what we were supposed to be doing. I wasn’t supposed to be in the library when the other person was in there, but somehow his contractor had first dibs, so he was there all the time, and I ended up sitting at a desk in an office with nothing to do. My manager got increasingly nervous every time he talked to me and wouldn’t tell me whether I really had a job. I left after two or three weeks because it was just too weird.

        Just saying: At least they didn’t ask you to compete for the job after, y’know, HIRING you. :-)

    4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Back when I was out of work – I went through some bizarro interviews, and bizarre interview experiences as well. This is not surprising.

      I think what you have to watch for — companies and environments that do this to candidates are obviously playing “head games”. If you’re good at head games — that is, you’re smarter than the managers playing them, and you don’t mind playing them, and you need the job, then play the game.

      On the other hand – eventually that gets tiring. Been there, done that. One of my first jobs was a palace for head-game playing managers, and once you outsmarted them, it was no longer fun to work there.

  2. PEBCAK*

    I am kind of curious why group interviews are considered okay for entry-level, but not for higher level. I know that’s the convention, and my gut tells me it makes sense, but why?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think they’re ever acceptable, but when people do think they’re okay to do for entry-level, it’s probably because they figure there’s not a lot of “substance” to interview candidates on at that level anyway … and so they’re treating the whole thing as a squishier process. (That’s a totally wrong way to approach it, but it’s the only explanation I can think of.)

      Plus, more senior candidates have more options and more experience, and are less likely to be okay with being subjected to a cattle call.

      1. Mike C.*

        Yeah, when I think of group interviews, I think of the Joker breaking a pool cue in half and announcing that he’s holding “try-outs”.

        1. louise*

          Though even then, asking candidates to LEAD (facilitate? I’m not sure the appropriate language) an improv session (skit? Um, see above parenthetical…) would make more sense. How well someone does something does automatically indicate their proficiency at teaching the same skill.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        I remember one group interview and I loved it. There were several of us competing for a few positions in a technical male dominated organization. There was a clear (male) favorite that they wanted to put in the position. They asked us all the same questions and we got to hear all the answers. I completely and totally blew the competition away – the candidates knew it, the management knew it. My answers had a richness in detail (showing intimate subject knowledge) as well as processes for solutions. They knew that they had to give me the job because my answers were so much better than their favorite, who gave plain vanilla answers.
        They stopped giving group interviews after that.

        1. louise*

          I hadn’t thought of that super obvious outcome — that if you don’t hire the best person, all the other candidates would know it! And good job. :)

      3. Blue_eyes*

        I went through a very rigorous process for my last position which included an all day group interview. At the beginning of the day they put us in teams and we had one hour to come up with a product (similar to work we would do at the job) and present it to the employees and other interviewees. Then we each had individual performance tasks (doing the actual job), and individual panel interviews (no joke, there were about 30 people sitting across the table from you). The organization had a very specialized team-based model, so they really wanted to see how you would work together in a team and get a sense of your personality. Except then they still hired some people who showed themselves to be pushy jerks in the group interview, who went on to be pushy jerks in the workplace.

      4. Mme Pomme*

        I worked part time for an eletronics company who makes & sells their very popular consumer products out of thier own retail stores. They often do group interviews for the first round at hiring events during key times of the year. There were 50 people at my hiring event, and we did interviews in groups of 10 or so. Anyone who passed through had a 2nd interview later one-on-one.
        IMO, it worked quite well. It did a good job of weeding out undesirable candidates, and made it easier to compare better qualified candidates.

      5. Training Manager*

        In the training field, both as the interviewer and the interviewee, I am used to having panel/group interviews. However, they are not done anywhere but the front line or new trainers. I guess it never bothered me because I am at home in front of a group of potential peers, and when I was interviewing for trainers it helped me see how people reacted in a group setting. The “No same answer” part is completely ridiculous as you can agree with someone else and still provide additional perspectives to the answer.

      6. Astor*

        I had one done as a screening stage as part of a mass hiring, after a short phone screen. Then a group interview, with multiple available times, where they put 25 people in a room together and did a number of written skill tests alternated with verbal “getting to know you” type questions. Later, I was invited to an individual interview. I thought this was reasonable for the type of hiring they were doing, even though I would have preferred less steps before hiring. To me, it was obviously a time and cost efficient way to screen candidates for a position that didn’t require any work history.

        On the other hand, I applied for an office job a few years ago that required me to book off of work to schedule a skills test, and then after they evaluated that, they asked me to book off another time to do a follow up individual interview. I thought that was the wrong approach, and that even if they saved time by using the skills test as a filtering tool that it wasn’t worth the trade-off for the lack of consideration of candidates’ time, especially given that the posting stated a required level of experience.

        Short version: I think group interviews can have value as a screening tool, but that just like other screening tools, that value needs to be considered with multiple other factors involved.

      7. Artemesia*

        We used group interviews when recruiting for a class experience that was competitive e.g. leadership development for managers or whatever. We had say 100 applicants would winnow it down to 40 finalists and then do a series of group interviews that were actually problem solving discussions to select the final 22 for the course. They were presented with a scenario and our manager facilitated the discussion as if it were a workplace team. Observers rated the participants on the quality of their contributions and on their interactions with others. It produced pretty good results and the people whose performance concerned us in some way but made it through tended to exhibit those problematic behaviors throughout the highly interactive process of the professional development course.

        I think it is in appropriate to do group interviews if one is not actually looking for group interaction — narrow the pool down to a manageable number and then give each the courtesy of listening to the person.

    2. OriginalYup*

      Sometimes there are multiple identical positions available at entry level. So you could be looking to hire 5 Teapot Assemblers at one time thus a group interview, but it’s unlikely that there’d be more than 1 Executive Vice President of Global Teapot Strategy spot open. I still don’t like group interviews on principle but this is my understanding of the logic.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        So you’re saying it’s a time-saving measure, in that if you assume you need to interview 5 people for every 1 you hire, you’d be trying to avoid doing 25 in-person interviews?

        It still seems sketchy to me. You could narrow down your pool with phone interviews and then do, say, 8-10 individual in-person interviews and probably find your 5 from there.

        1. OriginalYup*

          I concur. But yes, that’s how it was explained to me: “We have 5 open positions, so we’ll just bring everyone here and pick the best & brightest in one go instead of dozens of separate interviews.” It’s a very ‘Chorus Line’ mentality.

        2. ME*

          This tends to happen with entry level positions for rotational programs or fellowships. It’s because the organizations make an event out of it to get the “best fit”. It usually consists of a networking event one night and the interview the next day.
          In my experience it was the closest experience I can imaging comparing to rushing for Greek life…

          1. Miss Chanandler Bong*

            Actually, for sorority recruitment anyway, it’s never more than 2:1. I mean, yeah, there’s a whole huge group of people in the room, but the rushee is never talking to more than one or two members at a time. (There were actually really strict rules about this at my campus). Very occasionally, 2 rushees will talk to 1 or 2 members, but it’s considered very undesirable. So even Greek Life doesn’t tend to do mass interviews like this!

        3. Nerd Girl*

          I’ve been on two group interviews. One was out of college and the interviewer stated that she was short on time and this was how she was going to make 10 interviews happen so she could get on to more important things. I was offered the job but turned it down based on the interview process. I believe in getting things done, but not to the point where I would treat people like we were treated. The other intereview was very similar to the one in the link with the “stolen” ID. I walked out of that one with 6 or 7 other people. It was more sales pitch than interview.

        4. ro*

          My old job did group interviews so as to save on time. The candidates are told that they are interviewing for one of two positions (senior vs. junior) and the stronger candidate is the “winner” and gets the senior position. Most of the time the “winner” declined the offer and we ended up hiring the “loser.” The catch is none of the candidate pairings had similar comparable experience. Imagine interviewing with someone who has 20 yrs experience when you only have 1 year total experience. One time I got the dept to protest the potential hires and the alternative from my boss was to spend a day with them and see who I like…annoying especially since they do not meet basic qualifications.

      2. Traveler*

        This is what I was thinking – the way that new restaurants do group interviews, because they’re hiring 10 kitchen staff, 20 servers, etc.

            1. Dan*

              That doesn’t mean they’re screening for it though. When you do mass hiring for a restaurant startup, you just know some people aren’t going to make it.

          1. Traveler*

            Pulse check? Disagree. Restaurant staff make or break you, especially when you’re new in town. You need people who can think on their feet in rough customer service situations – that skill is invaluable. There are better ways to do this than a group interview. I’m sure, but when you’re searching in volume and you don’t want someone that will wilt under pressure, I can see why you might think putting them in intimidating situations like group interviews is a good idea.

            1. Dan*

              I’ve never worked for a corporate restaurant, or for that matter, interviewed with one, but I did work for a mom and pop restaurant. While you’re correct on the skills required to be a server, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re screened for in an interview.

              Retail, restaurants, and academia are frequently exceptions to the hiring norms that exist in most industries.

              1. Traveler*

                It goes beyond a pulse check in my experience. It is a waste of time and money to train someone who is just going to be weeded out (or worse yet cause problems for the restaurant) by being nothing other than a live body. It means you’ll just have to recycle the process in few weeks or months, which no one wants. From what I’ve heard its an even bigger deal now when bad yelp and google plus reviews can seriously damage your brand.

                1. Anna*

                  I think you’re missing his point. If you’re interviewing 20 people at once, there’s really no way you can get an idea of which one of those people has the skillset needed to do well in a busy restaurant setting. Being intimidated in a group interview is not the same as not being able to hack it on a restaurant floor.

                2. Traveler*

                  @Anna I never defended it as good practice, merely that that was a place I’d seen them used to narrow down a broad field of applicants. My point was even if you consider it poor practice, that they are still more than a pulse check. The bar is not “are you alive and breathing?” at those things, the bar is – do you show up on time? can you answer questions in your allotted time? do you, on cursory inspection, have a personality that will fit in here? do you have any brand knowledge? do you act like you want to be here? are you intimidated by a large group of people? If you pass that bar, then you go on to having your skills tested either through a second interview or initial training.

        1. Helena*

          I think that sort of set up, when they’re hiring multiple people, would be the only time the bizarre “your answers can’t agree” would even work – if they are looking to form a team of people who will tackle problems from different angles, instead of coming to the same conclusion. Sort of like the way House hired his team in season 4 by kicking off anyone who looked at the evidence the way he did, and kept people who disagreed and turned over other stones.

    3. tesyaa*

      Time. Interviewers, especially senior ones, don’t want to waste a lot of time individually interviewing a bunch of entry level candidates. I have never, ever been a part of group interviewing, but that’s my impression.

      1. Ali*

        When I was applying for sports jobs, I came across a team that wanted me to come in for a group interview for a six-month position that did not guarantee further employment after the six months was up. And of course, the temporary nature of the job wasn’t noted in the ad, so I was led to believe I was applying for a full-time, permanent role.

        When the team called and explained the process, I declined to go further. (Especially since the role would’ve required relocation, which was fine. It was their deception that wasn’t.)

      2. Kathryn*

        I guess the orgs I’m familiar with are different, but many of the senior people I work with take hiring very seriously. (Until you’re an executive, making a bad hiring decision is one of the potentially more expensive mistakes you can make, in terms of salary, productivity and morale lost until you can replace them, not to mention the training time and having to go through the hiring process again.)

        Then again, we pretty strongly resist shananigans with our hiring process – we want to get a clear view of the candidates and are willing to invest time and energy to get the information we need to make a good decision. That we intend to live with for years.

        1. AthenaC (used to be AC)*

          Yeah, my job (LAST DAY TODAY WOO!) will bring in groups of people, but they’re not interviewed in groups. They’ll stick them in rooms and cycle the managers and supervisors, but there’s only ever one candidate in a room. Does that make sense?

          1. Janis*

            Is that BAH? Yep, I was interviewed that way. It was actually very interesting. I shown to a little office and two or maybe three supervisors came in one after another and interviewed me. It was kind of like speed dating, only not quite so speedy.

          2. bob*

            Digital Globe does that also. After a while it gets real tiring saying the same things over and over to different people. And over.

            1. College Career Counselor*

              Exactly. Part of this is seeing if you can present effectively over time. As I tell students, “just because YOU’VE said it 5x, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give your best response to the latest interviewer.”

  3. Liz*

    Sorry to hear about this kind of ridiculous behavior. Not sure if this is more prevalent now with the economy the way it is, I feel that years ago the process was much more straight forward.

    Take it from someone who went through six weeks of ridiculousness to get a job this summer: meeting in a Starbucks hours away from the job, team interview, being asked for 15 references and yet one more interview where the job offer was lower than promised, and low for the job duties and area… in all that I negotiated more money and took the job. An Administrative Coordinator position. Within a month they wanted to promote me but started playing more games. After two months I left and I wish I would have bowed out as soon as I saw these people were so unprofessional and didn’t treat anyone with respect.

    So good luck to everyone out there and I don’t think I’ll ever make exceptions again!

    1. Mike C.*

      I’m sorry, is that a typo, or do you really mean 15 references!? I think outside federal office after half a dozen you should be allowed to fake the rest, christ.

      1. AVP*

        I’m trying to think of 15 people who know me well that aren’t related to me, college friends or boyfriends and…nope. Definitely don’t know that many people.

        1. Dan*

          I had someone ask for references that *weren’t* past or former members of the offices I used to work in. I was like, WTF?

          1. OriginalYup*

            Was it for a job that needed security clearance? That’s the only scenario I’ve encountered where I sort of get the personal reference angle. Otherwise it just feels oddly Victorian, like I’m supposed to show up with a letter from my lordship stating “OriginalYup is sober, cleanly, and respectful to her elders.”

            1. De Minimis*

              I think it’s common for various government clearances–but it’s still a big pain to fill it out. It seems to assume that you have all these social contacts outside of work and family.

              It’s especially bad if you’ve changed residences several times [even within the same city,] you have to come up with a new reference for every address.

            2. brightstar*

              Last year I applied for a normal office job, no security clearance, and they only wanted personal references. That’s what seemed odd to me, they didn’t want any professional references and security clearance wasn’t involved.

          2. Worker B*

            It almost sounds like what they meant is they want a reference from someone currently working at one of the places you used to work — not a reference from a person who also no longer is there?

      2. Liz*

        Just saw there was a reply, sorry… Not a typo, they wanted 15… 5 from supervisors, 5 industry references (I used co-workers) and 5 personal. This was for an Administrative Coordinator position at a Real Estate firm. I reached out to a friend who works for the same firm in another city, seems it’s their norm for the staff. It was a real challenge… I moved years ago and with layoffs and such, I came up with 13 and added 3 old reference letters going that would be ok… and they didn’t check a single one. I also had to do a personality test which was reviewed at the first interview in detail at the Starbucks and I literally thought the whole thing was a pitch for a sales job or something, it was very strange. I was even asked during the interview process if I mind making sure the office is neat and cleaning up when necessary and I responded that I had no problem with that. The truth was they had a cleaning lady come only once a month and office staff had to clean the bathrooms and kitchen and take the trash out each night. I didn’t last long. Can’t wait for a stronger economy and better job options as a result.

  4. E.R*

    I once wanted to walk out of an interview that was really uncomfortable because the interviewer kept badgering me to say bad things about my previous employer (who was a competitor). I would respond diplomatically, and he would get very angry and red and huff and puff and say, “I know you’re lying! Tell me what you really think!”. So unnecesary. But I was young and naive and even though my gut told me to run for the door, I couldn’t do it- but I spent that interview (which was essentially a full hour of this) literally staring at the door while deflecting his rage.

    Then when he finally let me go (after telling me he didn’t think I would do well at the job – whew) I ran to the parking lot, threw up, and never looked back.

    1. Mike C.*

      I had one of those. Kept pressing and pressing me on “why do you want to leave your current job”, “no really, why”? Three or four times each interview, it really pissed me off. You’re basically telling me that I have to lie to you, repeatedly.

      1. Dan*

        One of my more recent experiences was someone grilling me about getting laid off. Did you deserve it? No. Was it a department wide RIF? No. So why you then? I donno. Sure you do. Made me mad as hell.

        That after getting grilled about my lack of experience in a domain that I did not claim knowledge of, nor did they specify in the hiring announcement.

    2. Anna*

      I did walk out of a group interview that was poorly organized, bizarre, and so outside of what I was looking for the fact that I had been unemployed for several months wasn’t enough to keep me there. Note to anyone out there doing hiring. Marketing is NOT the same as sales. Sales and Marketing is false advertising because what you mean is sales. STOP DOING THAT! Please.

      1. A.*

        Another related note: “Community outreach” and “community relations” is NOT sales. Stop doing that, please!

  5. Ann Furthermore*

    Just when I think that I’ve heard everything, I hear something else. This is loony!

    Maybe the part about not being able to agree with each other was meant to force each candidate to come up with their own answer instead of skating by on, “Yeah, what she said.” But hey, guess what? There’s a better way to get individual, independent answers — interview candidates individually and independently!! Dear God.

    I’m starting to think that some companies have positions called something like “Director of Bat Crap” that are specifically designed to come up with bizarre hiring practices and outlandish policies and procedures.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        Or would it be VP of Excrement, with divisions for Bat Crap, Bull Crap, etc, each with its own director?

    1. Karowen*

      New goal in life: Become Director of Bat Crap. Subsequently fail at designing outlandish policies, but succeed in being super weird.

    2. HRC in NJ*

      Just don’t apply as a Director of Corporate Research And Planning, because then you’d be the Director of CRAP.

      1. Chinook*

        True story – for 24 hours the. Current Prime Minister of Canada was leader of the Conservative Reform Alliance Party. Presumably no one thought to check the initials before releasing it to the press. (as a side note, there are probvably a few people out there who can say that they were fired for calling their former organization CRAP)

  6. kas*

    When I was applying for internships, I declined an interview when I found out it was a group interview. I don’t think group interviews are ok at any level.

    It is truly bizarre that they wanted you to respond differently, even if you agreed or had the same thoughts as the other candidate. I guess they wanted you to be able to come up with different answers/scenarios to see your thought process maybe but I don’t think that’s fair when interviewing. There are many topics in which I only have one answer for and making me come up with a different answer that makes sense and providing the reasoning behind it is ridiculous. I’d feel pressured to respond quickly but that would be impossible.

    1. AnonyMouse*

      I think group interviews can be instructive in some really specific situations. For instance when I was at university I worked part-time in a department of student services doing a job that involved a lot of listening/communication, so in addition to the individual interviews we had small conversation-style group interviews so the director could see people’s listening skills in action. It was a pretty casual thing and a lot of candidates actually liked it. But the key is that you do need to warn people in advance, so they can prepare appropriately and decide whether they want to participate, because something like that won’t be for everyone. And I do agree with you that something like this (a surprise group interview where you can’t agree with the other candidate) isn’t okay for candidates at any level.

  7. HM in Atlanta*

    I’ve walked out of one interview in the middle of it (I really think I was interviewed so they could say they interviewed a woman). The other job, I just removed myself from consideration at the end (one executive thought I was great; the other was determined to hire a nephew so I was compared to nephew after each answer I gave).

    The best part of both situations – which were well and truly in the realm of bizarre – both executives were astonished. They still thought I should desperately want to work there, even though they didn’t want to hire me.

    For the record – I told both “Best of luck, I don’t believe that your position is a fit for me.”

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      Good for you :) I’ve had a couple that I should have walked out of, but didn’t have the nerve. It haunts me to this day.

      On the other hand, I’ve been interviewing someone who was absolutely drowning, and I wished they would have left. They had to know they were never in a million years going to get the job. But I kept the interview going out of respect that they had to take time off of their current job, get their spiffy interview outfit dry cleaned, etc. Wish I also had the nerve to cut bait in these situations as well.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        I stopped an interview once with a candidate who was clearly smart and looking to level up, but just didn’t have the skills we wanted. He had flubbed several questions and was getting flustered, so rather than prolong the agony, I decided to end the process.

        What I did was to let him know that he seemed like a great candidate, but that he was missing unix skills pretty much entirely, and we didn’t have time to train someone up on that in the given position. I then suggested some training resources for specific skills and said that I would be happy to re-interview him if he got those skills under his belt (truth). It was still kind of painful to deal with (for him even more, I’m sure) but it seemed a better choice than making him spend six hours in a series of interviews he was likely to fail.

        1. CdnAcct*

          That seems like a really respectful and helpful way to save everyone’s time. If I wasn’t doing well in an interview and it was obvious like this, I’d really appreciate this approach.

  8. Dan*

    Sometimes, you don’t know the interview is a waste until it’s over. IOW, one part sucks, but the rest could be fine.

    Examples coming from a single interview:

    1. I was asked to do a “skills” test in Excel, and given about 30 minutes to do it. The thing is, the first thing they were testing was string manipulation. If you bombed that, you couldn’t do the rest of it. *I* don’t do string manipulation in Excel. I have other ways (free, mind you) of cleaning my data first. So I bombed that.

    2. Then, I had back-to-back interviews with co-managers of the department. The first one was a bajillion questions of the “tell me about a time” variety. The thing is, I was interviewing for a position at a trucking company, and lets say that I used to be a long haul truck driver. I fully expected to talk about how my background and knowledge could help them solve their problems, and whether or not this was the right fit for me.

    I figured the next guy would be better. Nope, more of the same. For the last question, finally he looks at my resume and says “oh, I see you used to drive a truck. Tell me about…”

    So sometimes it’s hard to know that an interview is a waste until it’s too late. That job, I sent them thank you notes. The next job that pulled that crap on me, the only follow up they got was “I accepted another job. Thanks!”

    I’m cool with corporate bureaucracy. I’m not cool with places that don’t allow me the opportunity to evaluate for fit. (That’s not code for making sure to ask “any questions?”) It means we need a meaningful dialogue of assessing what the job entails and whether or not I’m a fit for it.

    1. the_scientist*

      Oh lord, this is bringing back terrible memories! Last month I interviewed for a job with the government- it would be a fantastic opportunity (just getting pulled from the external applicant pool for an interview is a significant accomplishment) and would effectively double my salary, and I absolutely met all the qualifications. I got the “inside scoop” from connections, prepped and practiced the crap out of my interview and was nervous but confident on the day of. The interview was three parts- a 15 minute presentation on a topic they assigned me in advance, an interview (consisting of four questions) and a “written assignment”. I felt like I aced the presentation and the interview- the interviewers were impressed with my knowledge of different datasets, I was able to answer follow-up questions, etc.

      Then, I get to the written assignment, which I had assumed would be a writing assignment. NOPE. It was “here is some poorly organized in Excel, use it to propose a funding model”. A). I don’t really do funding models and existing knowledge of funding models wasn’t specifically required for this position B). They were recruiting specifically for SAS skills. Like you, I don’t “do” excel, because I use SAS to clean my data!!! I spent the entire interview trying not to burst into tears. It was horrible.

      1. Dan*

        Ha. I’m of the mindset these days that if I’m being interviewed for a position that requires heavy Excel usage, I pass on it. Why? In the world of data analytics, Excel is Mickey Mouse. I’m not denigrating those who know it well, but when you’re doing serious analytics, computations, and presentations, there are other tools much better suited for that. If the company isn’t using those better tools, it raises real questions with me about company management and fit. Some of these are not cheap (such as SAS) but some some are free (open source) such as R. If you told me I couldn’t use a free tool to do the job I need to do, and instead I have to use Excel, I have to wonder what’s wrong.

        1. the_scientist*

          You’re right- excel is wildly inefficient for big data and any serious analytics. My boyfriend is a whiz with excel- he can do pivot tables and tons of other stuff that I absolutely don’t know how to do, but I work with administrative health data (he works with sales data)- that’s millions of individual entries, with thousands of variables- sorry excel, this is the big kid’s table. It was so baffling to me why they would recruit for SAS programming experience and then not test that experience, but instead ask someone with SAS programming skills to use excel to do things that could be done 100x more efficiently in SAS. I get that SAS isn’t cheap, but my interviewer clearly stated that they use SAS regularly, so they obviously have a license for it.

          The healthcare field is still really stuck on SAS (because it’s validated, I assume) but R is becoming more and more popular, which I’m really pleased about. Free= great, as far as I’m concerned (plus, as a devoted Mac user, SAS is annoying to run on a Mac).

          1. Dan*

            My guess is that it was some convoluted effort to level the playing field. Not everybody has access to SAS. Presumably every breathing creature knows Excel. Jokes on them (or possibly us I guess). But yes, companies need to do a better job of assessing the message they send (and the talent they get) by trying to make the hiring process “fair.” Hiring isn’t about being fair, it’s about getting the best person for the job.

            My company has a substantial health care practice. I know nothing about it, as I work in transportation. But I was going to an internal class on how to use a new BI tool, and a bunch of the people in there are former nurses now working for us.

            On my side of the house, nobody cares what language we do things in (makes some of our projects a mess) and I’m not sure we have a SAS license. But R usage is rampant.

            If you’re in the DC area and looking to move on, there’s some potential there.

        2. AndersonDarling*

          This reminded me of the one time I used the excel formula to find a standard deviation. Yep- Mickey Mouse is the perfect description.

      2. Dan*

        During my last visit to the job circus, I did get my resume pulled out of the giant abyss for two fed jobs. One I tried really hard for, the other I didn’t and was surprised. I never made it to the onsite interview, because the process dragged out really long, and I got my current job in the mean time.

        The fed job wouldn’t have come with a rock star salary. At best, they would have hired me at the top of the pay range, and then I would have stagnated. The starting salary would have been fine, but not the stagnation.

        The thing that drives me nuts about my field is that I *would* consider fed jobs at the GS13 or higher. But all of the stuff in my field wants a lot of contract management experience that is much harder to get when you’re just a mid level technical person.

  9. Another English Major*

    I wonder how this works in the opposite direction. How soon is too soon for the interviewer to end it? It’d feel like crap to get the boot after the first question, but I think I’d rather not have my time wasted if the interviewer already knows they’re not going to hire me.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      I struggle with this too.

      Had a guy fly in for an all day interview. He did well on the phone, but just bombed in person. He would answer everything yes or no, even if it was an open ended question.

      “How would you solve for situation XYZ if we have the limitation of 123?”
      “Ok, I’m going to need you to be a little bit more descriptive in your answer”
      “I am going to assume you don’t know how to answer my question then. Am I mistaken?”
      (Silence ensues while waiting for him to elaborate)
      “Ok then, moving on……”

      His flight wasn’t for 6 more hours so I felt obligated to carry him through the process. I have never felt actual disdain for an interview candidate until him. I really am angry still….

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In a case like that, I think it’s totally reasonable to say, “I’m having trouble getting answers to my questions from you. These aren’t yes or no questions. I don’t think the role is the right fit, so let’s wrap up here.”

          1. De Minimis*

            Did the company pay his way? I almost wonder if he was just in it for the airfare and had no interest in the job.

            1. GrumpyBoss*

              Yeah it came out of my budget. But we had a car pick him up and take him to the airport, so I have no idea what his motivation was.
              English was a second language. Doesn’t explain the discrepancy of when he was on the phone.

              1. Rocky*

                I’ve had some experience of candidates from a certain large Asian country *cough* who have had someone else fill out their application. It certainly comes as a disappointment when they front up in person and are literally unable to converse in English. In theory, for some roles, you could get around it if their statistics skills were outstanding, but there’s team dynamics to consider, so…yeah.

    2. some1*

      I think at least 15 minutes is courteous. If nothing else, the hiring manager gets practice conducting an interview.

      One of the reasons it’s important for employers to be respectful during the hiring process is that the rejected candidate could also be a potential customer, client, member, or donor.

      1. SevenSixOne*

        Ding ding ding! There are several companies I avoid completely now because applying or interviewing there was so awful.

        1. De Minimis*

          I was working as a bookkeeper for a non-profit and they were considered using an audit firm that hadn’t treated me well during my job search. I was sorely tempted to say not to use them, but I decided to let it go.

        2. AnonAnalyst*

          Yes, I have a couple from my last job search that are both B2C companies. Whenever I see ads for those products/organizations my first thought is “no way in h*ll am I ever buying that.”

        3. voluptuousfire*

          +1. I interviewed with a company that provided an app I used quite often and enjoyed but they treated me terribly in the interview so as soon as I turned my phone back on after the interview, I deleted it. No more business from me! One of the few interviews where I felt like my time was truly wasted.

      2. Malissa*

        Or if you interview a local candidate in a town of 2,800 people, it might be awkward when you run into them again at the post office. And faking a call on your cell phone only works if it doesn’t ring while you are doing it.

  10. De Minimis*

    A former employer would bring in groups of people, but they were interviewed individually. Also, this was s second round interview and there were multiple positions–if someone was being brought into the office they usually got an offer unless something really went bad.

  11. HR Manager*

    Often tough interviews are set up in a way to gauge an important skill needed to vet the candidate pool for a certain ability, but I am completely mystified by what they were trying to measure or achieve here. Panel interviews in general are intimidating but to be directly ‘competing’ against someone else and to forbid duplicate answers sounds like a scenario for Candid Camera or a game show.

    If someone were to warn me of this, I’d think I’d go out of pure curiosity to see what in the world they were planning. This is when those timely thank you or no thank you notes come after the interview. They are great to reiterate interest, and also to let them know you will be running away screaming (diplomatically of course).

  12. Smilingswan*

    I had a job interview (set up through a temp agency) a few weeks ago and I only had the opportunity to ask one question, since the hiring manager was behind schedule. I went with “do you have any reservations regarding my fit for the position that I can address for you?” They loved that, and I got the job, but still have very little idea of what I’ll be doing or what the environment will be like (except for the fact that the manager is really busy!). I took the job, because I’m desperate, but I’m super nervous. I wish hiring managers would take into account that we have questions too.

  13. TheExchequer*

    You can’t agree with each other?!? What?!? Are they expecting you to never agree with a coworker, should you get hired? OP, I think you may have dodged a bullet here.

    1. De Minimis*

      I’m guessing it was to keep them from just saying the same answers as each other [wonder if they do a coin flip to see who gets to answer first?]

      But the solution is to not interview them at the same time!

      1. TheExchequer*

        I wonder what refusing to play by the rules would have led to. “No, actually, that is the best answer and I’m not changing mine just because they said it first.”

    2. Rocky*

      *Maybe* they wanted to see how the candidates disagree with each other? That’s the only rationale I can come up with…like is the candidate able to provide a controversial view in a way that is respectful to the other candidate? As a test of their ability to handle difficult conversations? It’s a stretch, though.

  14. Leah*

    My sympathies. I also had a group interview surprise but the whole process was so chaotic, I don’t think it was intentional. WE interviewed with the executive director of the organization and things just bounced around for most of the 1.5 hours I was there. The ED wasn’t sure whether he’d hire one or both of us, whether it would be full or part-time, and how much we’d be paid. Two parts of the process were particularly frightening: 1) I had a short one on one conversation that mostly consisted of me trying to get the ED to focus on the conversation. 2) We had a competition of shouting out ideas and answers to questions as fast as possible. I think I “won” but the whole thing was so weird and far from anything I’ve ever seen in our field. I also wrote the interviewer a note saying “No thank you”.

  15. Janis*

    Ooooooh, I’m having a flashback to an all-day interview I had to be a Foreign Service Officer about 20 years ago. Nightmare! Just the worst. I wish that I’d walked out at lunch, but I gutted it through to the end of the day. I think I had stars in my eyes about the fabulous places I might be able to go if I got accepted.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I’ve done that interview. It is TERRIBLE (or was–I hear they have made some changes in recent years) in so many ways. It’s hard to tihnk which was the most off-putting aspect. Was it the deliberate and passive aggressive lack of feedback, eye contact or basic courtesy (career bureaucrat leaned back and dozed during a 45 minute interview session)? Or maybe the idiocy of having 22 year olds with no experience interview with experienced 40 year olds FOR THE SAME JOB? Perhaps the completely artificial group presentation/discussion dynamics?

      It did accomplish one thing, however. By the time I got out of there, I wanted nothing to do with the foreign service (or government, for that matter), if the process and the tasks they had me do were indicative
      of the work. And now, ironically, I work in higher ed, which has its own bizarre and byzantine bureaucracy.

  16. L. Lankin*

    I went to interview with the VP of Engineering at one of my target companies, Teapot Communications. As we’re sitting down, he says, “I see here in your resume you worked at Teapot Works. Did you know Joe Blow?” Yes, I knew Joe. He was, in spite of a very smooth veneer, one of the most self-centered, arrogant, back-stabbing people I ever worked for – yes he had been my boss. While I’m shaking that image out of my mind, I realize the VP is saying, “Good old Joe. You know – I taught him everything he knows!” The room seemed to get a bit darker, but I persevered, reminding myself “never let them see you sweat.” A little while later, when it was my time for questions, I asked, “I know that Teapot Comm (we’re on more familiar terms by now) has been growing through acquisitions. I’ve been in companies that were both the acquired company and the acquiring company, and I really know that it’s never easy. How have the transitions been working out?” “Great question!” he replied enthusiastically. “Let me give you an example. There was a small company out west that had some interesting technology and a few customers we’ve been trying to attract. So we bought the company, fired the people, shut it down, and kept the technology and the customers. Wasn’t that great?” I really wish I had had the courage to have walked out. But I stuck it out to the end. At least I got a great story out of it!

  17. Biff*

    I think some level of ‘interview games’ is okay, but this is egregious. I wonder what problem in they had in the past that trigger *this* solution.

    1. MR*

      That is the key in this whole situation. Somewhere in the past, they had an issue (or issues) that led them to create this terrible hiring situation. Instead of dealing with the problem (my guess, is that they hired a few bad apples), they messed everything up going forward.

      Companies can’t continue with shenanigans such as this. They will either fix this or lose most good people because most people won’t accept this.

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