should you walk out of a bad job interview?

A reader writes:

I know people say “run, don’t walk” when you find yourself in a job interview with someone you would never work with in a million years. But does that mean that you can leave right in the middle of the interview itself?

I flew to another state for a job interview with the VP of HR for an automotive parts maker. The only flight I could get was for mid-morning, and the VP couldn’t meet me till after 6 pm at a restaurant. So I flew to Detroit, rented a car, and poked around in a small town for hours (turned out to be her hometown–not where the facility was located), and met her at the restaurant as instructed. She arrived with a rep from the executive recruiting firm, and they largely ignored me and smirked together as I put forth my earnest answers to the few questions she asked and sat patiently listening while she spent the majority of the time telling me about what a big shot she was. It was so bad that at one point I felt tearful and had to hide it. I felt trapped and couldn’t think how to end it gracefully and just waited for her to bring it to an end.

I called the recruiter I had originally talked with the next day and told him it was not going to be a fit on either side, but I still wonder how to extricate oneself from a bad interview situation that lasts for hours.

I am not a rude person, but I sometimes think the best thing to do is to just say, “Thank you for your time, but I’m sure you will agree that this is not going to be a good fit,” and end the misery. Thoughts?

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 141 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK*

    I once went for an all-day interview, and there were two other candidates. I was the only one still around in the afternoon, so I figured that was a good sign.

    All of which is to say that, IME, companies have NO PROBLEM cutting things short if they sense a bad fit. Candidates should feel free to do the same.

    1. MK*

      I don’t think it’s wrong to gracefully shorten an interview, but in cases. like the OP’s, when it’s during a meal, it’s a bit awkward. There is something rather melodramatic about getting up from the table and leaving in the middle of a meal. I wouldn’t do that unless something extremely offensive was going on.

      1. PEBCAK*

        Sure, I guess I’m picturing more of the type where you are meeting with several people throughout the day. As you draw to a close with one interviewer, maybe that’s when you say you don’t want to continue.

  2. Adam*

    I’ve always seen it like getting through a bad date.

    If you realize halfway through that “While there’s nothing particularly wrong with this person, I’m just not feeling it” you smile and get through it and delete their phone number once the evening is over.

    If it’s like a montage of horrifying dates from a rom-com it’s a bit more complicated for all the reasons Allison listed. Most of the time you’re probably going to go through the same procedure of grin and endure it until it’s over and then feel relieved that at least they aren’t likely to be calling you for a second “date” either.

    1. PEBCAK*

      I once went out with a guy who said horribly racist things within 5 minutes. I left that one a few minutes later. The others, yeah, you stay long enough to finish your drink and then move on.

      1. Adam*

        All caveats go for the date who’s obnoxious on an astronomical level. You usually don’t have to worry about insulting them as they’re in a dating pool you don’t want to be swimming in anyways.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Agreed. Some things are just on the level of totally OK to walk out AND throw a drink in the face of the jerk. Racist comments are on that level.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      It has always been my secret dream to stand up in the middle of a date, throw down a $20 bill and say, “Yup. Reeaaalllllly not feeling it. Have a nice evening,” and walk out.

      1. Audiophile*

        I’m now picturing this as a sketch for SNL or something. I’ll give you a story credit for it.

      2. nyxalinth*

        I had a guy do this ten minute into a first meeting once. what made it especially suck was he knew exactly how I looked and had even seen pictures! He was still convinced I was one of those full-figured girls with more boob than butt, and I was just “Told you so.”

  3. Nicole*

    This isn’t exactly the same as an interview, but reminds me of something that happened to me once.

    When I was much younger I got a job doing telemarketing. I wasn’t new to the practice, but once I arrived at the new company and started going through training I was completely turned off since it was cold-calling literally from the phone book using a huge phone that was uncomfortable to hold against your ear for hours at a time (no auto-dialer or headphones like I was accustomed to using at previous jobs). I stuck out that first day and then let them know it wasn’t going to work out. I was surprised when they told me that the training was unpaid (which hadn’t been mentioned beforehand). I was so mad that I had spent the whole day working for free!

    1. rory*

      Legally, can they even actually do that? That doesn’t sound like it was “training”, that sounds like they told you what to do and you spent the day doing it, and then they decided they weren’t going to pay you for the work that you did.

      1. Meg*

        I *think* that if Nicole was listed as a 1099 employee and her salary was entirely commission-based, they don’t have to pay her for the so-called “training”. I’m definitely not a lawyer, but I had a similar experience once when I was younger and foolishly started working for an insurance company doing cold-calling. Any time we spent in the office doing the actual calls was unpaid – we were only paid based on the policies we sold.

        1. Burlington*

          Yeah, there are special rules for bona-fide commission based employment, but those generally shouldn’t be 1099 contractors. If she had to show up at a specific place at a specific time using their equipment, she was almost certainly an employee, and cold-calling for a day doesn’t fit into any exemption from paying for training. Meg, I sorta suspect the way you were paid was illegal too (though at least you got paid!)

          1. Meg*

            Ugh, I wish I was surprised. I was fresh out of college and horribly naive, and did not have the slightest clue about employment law. It’s a nationwide, well-known insurance company too!

              1. Meg*

                Haha no, but I know which one you’re talking about :) I don’t know how comfortable Alison is with naming company names when they’ve been exceptionally terrible, but I promise they’re pretty well known.

                1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  No need to name names; I was just checking to see if I’d discovered a hint hidden in plain sight ;-)

      1. Nicole*

        It was 20+ years ago so I think that ship has sailed. It didn’t seem right to me but I was young and had no idea what to do. I was just glad to never deal with them again!

  4. A Teacher*

    I’ve had a few friends with job interviews like these and they use them as amusing stories, sometimes they even share the name of the company. I teach school–high school and college–if I know a particular student or former student is looking for a job at an employer that is a complete asshat or interview like this I will give them a head’s up. Not to tell them to not take the job, but to be aware of some of the crazy they might see and evaluate it for themselves.

  5. Ann*

    I stopped an interview halfway through when I realized that it was a multi-level marketing company (insurance sales) and they’d completely misrepresented the position on the phone.

    I was polite about it and just said that it wasn’t going to be a good fit for me, and the interviewer didn’t look even remotely surprised. They probably get that a lot.

    1. Chloe Silverado*

      When the company employees sketchy hiring practices (and misleading candidates with promises of marketing positions that turn out to be MLM schemes is a sketchy hiring practice, in my opinion) I think it’s fine to walk out. I walked out of my “Hospitality Marketing Coordinator” job interview when it turned out to be door to door coupon sales, specifically in nearby business parks that had giant “No Solicitation” signs up. I was polite about it, but since I was looking for a traditional marketing role with an hourly/salaried wage, there was no point in continuing once I’d heard that. Under any other circumstances I’d probably see the interview through, unless the interviewer was straight up abusive.

      1. louise*

        Ha, I got lucky on that one – I lived with my sister when I was fresh out of college and had landed an interview for a marketing role…I thought. My 14 year old nephew (who at the time wanted to be in the CIA, and now, 10 years later, is doing something along those lines. He lives overseas and speaks very vaguely about what he does…) insisted upon looking up company information and was delighted when he found out I was about to end up in a Vector knives sales pitch and he could rescue me before I left for the appointment.

    2. Mallorie, the recruiter*

      I went to interview for an Office Manager role and it ended up being fire extinguisher sales ….. yeah, you read that right. I was interviewing at the same time as 4 other people and 3 of us walked out!

    3. Takver*

      Ah, those companies aren’t really “interviewing for employees” so much as they’re “recruiting customers who think they’re employees” anyway, so you’re definitely good. I wouldn’t even classify walking out of a MLM pitch as walking out of an interview anyway.

  6. Sandy*

    I actually walked out of an interview once.

    The two interviewers (let’s say one was responsible for teapot spouts and the other for teapot bases, both in the teapot construction division) spent the entire time I was there openly fighting and sniping with one another.

    I’m not sure they even registered that I left.

    I sent a thank you note after the interview, basically saying “thanks for. Taking the time to meet with me. I think we can all agree that this position is not a good fit for me” and that was the last I heard of it.

    I’m not sure I would have had the guts to do that if I had flown out for an all-day interview though! This one was just down the hall…

    1. maggie*

      See that’s my issue. If the flight and car were prepaid by them, totally. But if I was getting reimbursed, I know I would chicken out and totally be abused, just so I wasn’t stuck paying for the torture.

  7. Jerry Vandesic*

    I once had an all day interview with Google, and two interviews in I knew that it was time to leave. They either didn’t read my resume, or their culture is just too focused on code monkeys, so the kinds of questions they were asking were very far afield from my background. In the third interview I politely told the director that it probably wasn’t a fit for me. I stuck it out through the rest of the day, but nothing changed my opinion. It just goes to show you that it can happen any place.

    1. Helka*

      You told the interviewer you didn’t think it was a fit, and they just barged ahead and kept interviewing you for the rest of the day?

      1. maggie*

        “probably” can be interpreted a number of different ways. If the interview didn’t realize this meant that they should now excuse the candidate, and the candidate didn’t immediately get up and shake their hand and walk out, i’d say this is bad on both their parts.

        1. Burlington*

          Yeah, “probably” could easily be interpreted as “I’m giving you the chance to really “wow” me, but I’m being upfront that you’re chances aren’t great.”

  8. Dan*

    “Of course, often the people who conduct the sort of interview that would make you want to end it early are exactly the people who are likeliest not to react to that well (because they believe they are in control, not you)”

    I work in a niche field and had an interview with a “big name” company in my field. My background tends generally exceeds the minimum requirements and typically falls into the “preferred” category. I thought this could be a great fit. Frankly, there aren’t a ton of jobs in my niche, and not a lot of people with my background, so to actually stay in my niche is sometimes luck more than anything. Likewise, when my niche hires, they also hire people without my domain knowledge. Think hiring for chocolate teapot makers — there might not be a ton of chocolate teapot maker jobs around, so if that’s would you do, you might have to find a more general “makers” job, and for that matter, your company probably hires for general manufacturing background, not just those with an expertise in both manufacturing and actual chocolate baking.

    Except one of the interviews was a complete dick. I really wanted to walk out of the interview but just didn’t. Finally, at the end of the interview, I looked at him and said, “X, I’m sorry this isn’t the right fit, and that I don’t have the skills you are looking for. But I want you to know that I am only applying for chocolate teapot maker jobs, so if I don’t work for you, then so be it.”

    The look on his face was priceless. He sort of stammered out a “but there aren’t many jobs like this out there.” I agreed with him and said, “you’re right, but when you’re good at what you do, with a background like mine, all you need is one.”

    Up until then, I couldn’t tell if being a dick was just his general personality, but by his reaction, it was quite clear that he was making a point of giving me a difficult time. Coincidentally (or not), while I was waiting for my flight home, another job called me with an offer. Had they done so the night before, I would have more bluntly told the interviewer to kiss my ass. (He was honestly over the top rude. Between chastising me for not having certain experience on my resume and all but calling me a liar when I told him that I didn’t know why I was laid off, I had pretty much had it.)

    It’s the one time I never sent out thank you notes. The best I could muster was when I started my current job, I called them up and informed them that I was no longer available.

    I have no idea if those guys would have made me an offer. At my previous job, I did have a manager who would say that he knew if he would hire you within the first five minutes, he’d spend the next 25 jerking you around. I always wondered why he thought that was an effective way to market yourself to top talent.

    1. fposte*

      That last bit is just bizarre–why, if he knew he wanted to hire somebody, did he want to make it less likely they’d accept and more likely they’d inflate their asking price?

      Because jackasses aren’t known to be smart, I guess. (A calumny on actual donkeys, who are pretty savvy.)

      1. Dan*

        That last boss became mine through a reorg. He was a dick in general, too. He once or twice either flat out told me or certainly implied that I was overpaid. “You must have been a really good negotiator.” Um, no. That was the offer extended to me from *your* boss, that I accepted as-is.

        I’m not sure how he climbed the ladder at that company (he leapfrogged his boss into a senior VP spot) but he finally got pushed out for pissing off the wrong person.

        1. Juni*

          Ooo, I had a new inherited boss tell me I must have been a good negotiator. I told him that in fact, I was good at a lot of things, and I was sure he’d come to rely on that expertise as he got settled into his new position.

    2. Cinnabar*

      “you’re right, but when you’re good at what you do, with a background like mine, all you need is one.”

      Now THAT deserves a *slow freaking clap* right there. I’m sorely wishing I could pull something like that off too, but alas!

    3. snuck*

      Why on earth would he interview you if you didn’t have the experience he wanted or trust you to be honest?

      What a waste of time… !

  9. T*

    Would it make any difference when the company pays for travel for an out-of-town interview? I would be more likely to stay through a miserable interview if I thought leaving early might mean they wouldn’t reimburse me for travel.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      Yeah, I would stay too, under those circumstances. Who can afford to eat that expense? (Not me!)

    2. Not telling*

      Would YOU pay for someone else’s travel if they walked out in the middle of the interview? Regardless of the reasons, no one likes to pay for something they don’t receive and in this case the interviewer paid for your time, so you’d better provide it if you want to see that reimbursement check.

      I did once decline a position immediately after returning home from an out-of-town interview. They had given me a reimbursement check at the end of the interview and I offered to return it to them since I was declining (and I did return it). I am in a small field and during the interview we had discussed several people we both knew–even though I was completely within my rights to decline the offer, I didn’t want them resenting me or feeling like I had ‘led them on’ and speaking ill of me to people I know. Returning the money was a small price to pay for my reputation.

  10. Dasha*

    I once had an interview where the owner of the company yelled at me… I was young and kind of in shock (I kept thinking- this is really happening? Is he joking? Is this a prank?) but I stuck it out and maintained my cool. He then proceeded to tell me he respected that I was so well composed, then walked out of the room and another person on the interview panel rushed me off to do a tour of the office and then apologized profusely.

    I’m always thankful for bad interviews! Better a bad interview than taking a crazy job!

    1. So Very Anonymous*

      I had something like this happen, too, and in retrospect it was telling that no one apologized to me or contextualized it in any way later (it was in a group interview). That everyone just sat with their eyes averted (yeller wasn’t in a position of authority, someone else in the room was the group’s chair) later seemed like a red flag about how uncollegial the culture was.

      1. Dasha*

        I’m glad I’m not the only one who had this happen! The interviewer who was yelling at me was yelling because I was looking for a job while I had a job and I was disloyal to my current company… yeah, all types of crazy.

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          Which doesn’t really make you want to work *there*, does it? Because God forbid you wouldn’t want to stay *there* forever…

    2. Sascha*

      Yep, I see that now! I had a terrible interview when I was younger, about 20. I was still very shy in interviews. I met with the director of admissions at a college about an admin assistant job in her department. She started the interview by telling me she was “no nonsense” and that if, at any point, I didn’t think this was the right job for me, then I should speak up so neither of us would continue wasting our time in an interview. Halfway through, I realized “Yep she’s crazy-pants” and very politely said, “I don’t think this job is right for me, thank you for your time,” and got ready to leave, and then she yelled at me and grilled me on how poor manners that was. And then grilled me on how I should always beg for the job, even if I don’t want it, and never, ever make the interviewer think I don’t want to the job. She then criticized my shyness and clothing and walked me to the door, and told me she was doing me a favor. Uh, yeah, by not having to work with a contradictory loon. I cried in my car.

      1. Dasha*

        Sascha- I was also around 20 when this happened to me.

        Hearing other stories kind of makes me sad… I can’t believe there are so many crazies out there who do this to young candidates (especially young female candidates). =/ I really felt like the guy I was interviewing with wanted to see if he could make me cry. *sigh*

        Thank God I haven’t had any other crazy interviews since- except one where the interviewer accidentally let out a really big burp!

        1. Anx*

          You know what?

          While my resume, sadly, hasn’t really changed much in the past few years, I noticed that interviewers seem much less hostile now that I’m not in my early 20s anymore.

          “I really felt like the guy I was interviewing with wanted to see if he could make me cry.”

          Yep, I haven’t had one of those interviews in a few years now. I wonder if it’s coincidental or if I’m aging out of it.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        And companies wonder why people do not feel loyalty. If a person meets a few people like this a person could start thinking this is the way it is in the working world. It takes a while to undo that and to convince some people, “No, that is not how it is with good companies”.

        I have found some articles that talk about how interviewers, bosses. managers should be aware of how they treat employees/interviewees because that person goes home and tells others exactly what happened in that place of business.

        One woman was denied any break time at her work. She worked at a well-known employer in this area. I am sure 100s of people heard about the incident before the dust settled. Makes me wonder if the grapevine is more powerful than a good ad campaign.

    3. AmberS*

      I once had someone yell at me when I didn’t immediately accept an internal position on the spot, and then HR didn’t believe me!

      I had been working for a company for 3 years in a position I was way overqualified for, but it was the recession so whatever. The company sold itself to Company B, and a couple of our positions were being terminated, so we were told to internally apply. One position I applied to would be a step up but still within my qualifications and the other would be a lateral move. When I went to apply for the lateral, I learned they were hiring for the lateral position or a lower level position. I let them know upfront that I was applying for another internal position and that while I would be happy to work here as a lateral move, that other position was my first choice.

      The woman called me up and told me, “Great news, we’re hiring you for the lower level position! You start Monday.” I told her that the other department hadn’t gotten back to me yet, so I couldn’t give her an answer till next week and she blew up! I hung up. HR called me, and when I told them I would never take a job with her because of her yelling, they accused me of lying. They acted like I should be grateful that they were cutting my pay by $2/hour too. I calculated my PTO, e-mailed them with my end date and said I expected to receive my full PTO benefit at my current wage, and I was out of there.

  11. Mallory Janis Ian*

    I haven’t had to walk out of any job interviews yet, but I have walked out of a hair stylist’s appointment.

    I was trying to describe to the stylist the cut I wanted (a blunt chin-length bob with razor-cut ends for a little movement). She acted like she didn’t understand what I was talking about, and argued for some other cut that she would rather give me. I told her that the cut I wanted was primarily for easy styling: I could simply blow-dry it straight and let it fall into place.

    She said, “Oh, so you’re telling me that you that you just want to have no style at all!” It was then that I said, “I don’t think this is going to work,” and got up and left.

    My rule with hairstylists is that you have to be able to communicate with them before you trust them with your hair.

    1. Dasha*

      “I don’t think this is going to work” – best get the heck out of there line ever!

      1. maggie*

        I did that with my last dr appt. I was really looking for someone to take over my anxiety med prescription and she was such a raging dick that I said exactly that line and got the hell out of there.

        “Oh, so you’re telling me that you that you just want to have no style at all!” People are such assholes sometimes. I say this because this is my exact hairstyle she’s insulted! lol

        1. Ruffingit*

          That is horrendous because if you’re already dealing with anxiety, the last thing you need is Dr. Prick.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Hey, it’s a good hairstyle! I still subscribe to it, lo these many years later! :-)

        3. manybellsdown*

          I had to fire a doctor too! It was for my daughter, who has TMJ. The doctor kept insisting she had sleep apnea instead because that was his “thing”. That is a completely different problem from the one we are trying to solve, thank you!

          The best part was when I told him she’d had a comprehensive sleep study and they found no evidence of apnea, he said “Well they can miss a lot.” Finding apnea is what a sleep study is FOR. I just cancelled the rest of her appointments and said we’d be seeing another doctor. All this guy wanted was to sell his patented sleep apnea device.

          1. Witty Name TBD*

            We have a doctor like that in our area. My son came to him with pneumonia and all of a sudden was diagnosed with asthma. Following his instructions, we went in for a lab test, to a lab that he preferred, and the test showed no signs of asthma. When we came back with the test results, he gave us a “who cares what the test showed, I’ve been specializing in childhood asthma for fifteen years and I know better”. We walked out and never went back. I’d call their office to make an appointment and specifically ask for “anyone but Dr. Bob”. And I was far from being the only one – apparently “Dr. Bob” has a reputation in town for finding asthma in each and every kid that walks into his office. It’s weird that he doesn’t realize how many patients he’s losing because of this.

    2. rory*

      I once walked out of a haircut *in the middle*. Well, it was after a couple cuts, but it was clear that the stylist hadn’t listened to a word I’d said about what I wanted, was continuing not to listen to me, and that we were on the path to disaster. When I was younger, I’d had a disastrous haircut that I knew was going to be a disaster from the first dramatic cut (think asking for a trim and them taking off a foot immediately) and stayed and regretted it. This time, I just left, and found a different place to fix it.

    3. Sabrina*

      Many years ago I went to my BFF’s stylist. I just needed a trim, and I wasn’t going to do anything drastic with someone I just met. She actually said to me “If I did nothing with my hair like you, my boss would fire me!” Well, OK then. I never went back. My friend still sees her, but couldn’t believe what she said.

      1. Sascha*

        I don’t get how they think insulting the client is going to make them want to stay and get their hair cut. I guess they don’t see it as an insult…just “telling it like it is.” Which can be insulting.

        1. Ruffingit*

          I think it’s a weird form of reverse psychology. People are primed to defend themselves and/or want to fix a problem so I’m thinking this woman thought if she told the person she was doing nothing with her hair, the person would start thinking “Oh no, she’s right, I should do something with this…” That really does work on a lot of people.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I guess it does work on a lot of people; all it does for me is make me think the person is a jackass.

            1. Ruffingit*

              Totally agreed. I never buy into that kind of thing because I think it’s crappy.

    4. Witty Name TBD*

      “She acted like she didn’t understand what I was talking about, and argued for some other cut that she would rather give me. ”

      It’s my pet peeve when I tell a stylist what I want and they respond with: “Uh, no, you don’t want that, you want (completely different haircut)”. The few times I stayed and let them cut my hair, it didn’t work out well at all. That was a red flag already. “You have no style” was of course the last nail in the coffin!

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        It sure was! And a blunt-cut bob is a fashion classic — no style, my hind left cheek!

      2. manybellsdown*

        I have very curly hair, so I’m super picky about my stylists. A lot of people don’t really know how to cut it. After one appointment, I spent several minutes showing photos of what I wanted and describing how it should be layered to manage the curl … and then the guy gave me a blowout. I look like a drowned rat with straight hair, and the layering for curl didn’t help. I had my back to the mirror and didn’t realize what he was doing at first, because I never ever straighten it!

      3. maggiethecat*

        This happened to me a few weeks ago. The hair stylist A) didn’t want to give me the layers I asked for because “You’re pregnant and your hair is going to fall out once you give birth”. B) cut my hair several inches shorter than I asked because “the baby will pull it / you won’t have time to style long hair”. I cried on the way home.

        1. Witty Name TBD*

          What? WHAT?? I gave birth twice and at no point did I lose any of my hair. I heard that some people do, but it’s in no way the default! The “baby will pull it” is even more bizarre. The baby will grab and pull on anything, your eyeglasses, nose, ears, clothes, etc. Does it mean everyone who’s just had a baby should stop wearing glasses, strip naked, and, I don’t know, trim their ears and nose? Sorry that the stylist made you cry. If it makes you feel any better, they sound like they don’t know their arse from a hole in the ground!

          Also, new mothers do, too, have a way of styling long hair. It’s called a ponytail. BTDT. :)

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I got a hair cut one time that was so incredibly bad. The second stylist (at another place) fixed it as best she could. She did not charge me extra even though it took her a while. She considered it almost like rescue work. I kept apologizing and saying I realized it was unfair to her. She did what she could. I ended up with about 1.5-2 inches of hair all the way around. Then I had to go to a holiday party. Fun times.

      When I called to complain to the first stylist, she told me she did a great job. I let her know I would not be back. The woman who had to fix the “great job”, did not think it was a great job, either.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I got the best stylist I ever had when I went to an industrial-league baseball game with my new short haircut. One of the other players’ wife was behind me in the stands. She complimented me on how well the short hair suited me, then have me her card and said, “but let me just fix it a little for you.” I went to her shop couple days later, and the difference after she refined the cut was stunning. I stayed with her for years; she taught me what a good haircut was, and without making me feel self-conscious at all.

    6. beckythetechie*

      My stylist pointed out something I’ve never really thought of before: it’s lack of maintenance that makes so many people hate their hair. If you don’t want to get trims every month, like I don’t, then suggesting a short cut that needs that schedule is the best way J. knew to be labeled a “bad hairdresser” and never get steady clients. If a stylist is pushed for a certain number of appointments a week, it’s easier for her/him to feel pressured to give certain, higher maintenance styles to pad their future sales, just like any other commission-type industry. It also steadies their ‘budget’ to a degree because they can count on Mrs. A to come in around the 15th of every month for her trim. Still makes for bad business practice from time to time, but not every stylist I know stuck in that kind of a system resorts to insulting their customer. That’s a special kind of bad service.

    7. Gal*

      I went through the same thing a few months back! I wanted a longer styled bob, long enough to still pull it back if I wanted and the stylist talked me out of it with some lame excuse, something similar to “You don’t want that, with how wavy your hair is, it will curl up on your shoulder.” Okay sure, benefit of the doubt. But I think I know my hair better than a stylist who’s spent two minutes with me. But still, I wanted to hear her suggestions out. She gave some vague ideas on thinning out the back with layers but keeping it at my shoulders like I wanted. (Cause I guess it would only curl at the ends with the style I wanted and not hers?) Sounded like I’d kinda get what I wanted so instead of listening to my gut and walking out, I ended up staying and ended up getting the famous ‘Rachel’ cut (from ‘Friends’..ya know, first season). Including added hair moose and teasing. Did I mention my hair is naturally wavy and this was in 2014? As soon as I got home I ended up getting my husband to help me fix the back. What she called layers was really a chop job and I ended up having to cut it to a traditional chin length bob to make it work.
      tldr: trust your gut, not a new stylist.

  12. Helka*

    I had one job interview that I realized halfway through the interview was going to be a terrible fit. It was internal, but it turned out I had a somewhat distorted idea of what it was like to be in that particular department; short of getting out of my miserable position at the time (call center, ugh) I would be going from the frying pan to the fire. The manager told me outright that she expected, valued, and rewarded ferociously competitive behavior and she did not want to hire a single person who did not have their sights set on snatching up her job as soon as possible.

    I stuck out the interview, but I’m pretty sure she saw me go pale when she said that.

    1. Leah*

      I kind of like that she said that. A job like that wouldn’t be a good fit for me either, but it was honest and this way she can find those ultra-competitive people that she’s looking for.

      1. Helka*

        Oh yeah, I super appreciated her forthrightness about it. But I still breathed an enormous sigh of relief when she told me a few days later that she didn’t feel I was quite right for the position. (And still thanked her graciously for her time, because networking!)

  13. Not an IT Guy*

    Is it ever ok to walk out of an interview when your answer to a question is so moronic and bone headed that you know you’ve just killed any chance of getting the job?

      1. Not an IT Guy*

        Interviewer: “So what was your overall goal with getting a degree in communications?”

        Me: “Um…so I can have a good conversation???”

        Needless to say that wasn’t my finest moment.

        1. super anon*

          this reminds me of my first actual job interview when i was 16. i interviewed for a job at a movie theatre and when they asked me why i wanted to work at a movie theatre i replied with “you have a cotton candy machine and i’ve always wanted to make cotton candy – it looks like so much fun!”.

          i somehow got the job (and i learned that making cotton candy SUCKS when you’re short, it makes a huge mess that gets all over you) despite my absolutely inane answer. i guess when you’re barely 16 you get a pass on terrible job interview questions.

          1. lonepear*

            If I had been hiring, I might have hired you because it was amusing and probably meant you wouldn’t be a horrible surly employee (and because basically everyone sucks at interviews when they’re 16)… and then laughed a little bit to myself, knowing how much of a pain in the ass it actually was to make cotton candy.

            1. jag*

              Yeah, that answer is not bad. It’s nice. I don’t see what would be a stronger answer. “I want to make $7/hour” or whatever doesn’t seem better.

                1. john b*

                  “I love finding classmates trying to round the bases on the floor of a screening of Beavis and Butthead Do America” (true story)

                  — former longtime movie theatre employee

            2. beckythetechie*

              I would too because even that’s way better than, “Uh, my dad says I have to get a job.” Or “I gotta make child support next month and I can’t move enough Mollie.” (Heard them both. Candidate 2 was confused about why we didn’t elect to call him back.)

          2. fposte*

            You may also have been one of the few applicants who showed genuine (if misplaced) enthusiasm. That can count for a lot.

          3. Snargulfuss*

            Well, they probably knew how miserable making cotton candy is so they were happy to hire someone so enthusiastic about it!

    1. fposte*

      I’m going for a nope. Walking out will make you look even worse, while staying allows you to reputation-salvage even if you can’t position-salvage. Plus pulling back out of a spin is a really useful skill that you don’t get many chances to practice.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      What Fposte said. You can be either the idiot who gave a bad answer and then !!actually freaked out and ran away!! — we’d STILL be talking about that guy! — or you can be the guy who gave a bad answer but recovered fairly well, who we’ll remember positively should another opening come up or should we encounter him elsewhere in life.

      Interviews are about more than just getting the job. Yes, getting the job is 90% of it, but you’re practicing your interview demeanor, building your network, evaluating companies in the industry, packaging your skills, selling yourself…and learning to recover from mistakes. Recovering might not get you that job, but it certainly will help you the next time you face that question in an interview.

      Also, frankly, most people give bad answers to something. You’re competing against humans for the job, not robots. Rare is the person who answers every question perfectly. Especially if your resume is strong enough, you might have only knocked yourself from an A- to a B in a pool of people where the next best was a B-.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        Now that I’ve seen the actual answer, that was a completely recoverable mistake. Turn it into a joke, smile, and move on. (…says the person with a degree in psychology. I have never actually answered “So I can read people’s minds!” but I’ve been tempted.)

    3. Sherm*

      What Jen S. 2.0 said. You get good at interviews by…going to interviews. Cut it short, and you miss out on some of the practice. That’s why I think interviews shouldn’t be walked out of unless the interviewer is a real piece of work.

    4. T*

      I very nearly excused myself from an interview under these circumstances. First 25 minutes was a panel interview that consisted entirely of “fun questions,” including such gems as “What type of tree best represents your personality?” (Answer I narrowly avoided blurting out: I’m like a pine tree because we both smell good.)

      1. manybellsdown*

        Hoo boy, I don’t think I could restrain myself from giving really ridiculous off-the-wall answers to those. Like … “Alex TREEbek!” or “Remember that tree from ‘The Last Unicorn’? That one.”

    5. HR Pro*

      Recently I had a long interview with 4 interviewers in the room at the same time. Although they didn’t interrupt each other, it was still mentally draining for me and by the end of it I was struggling. I gave a poor answer to a question, they asked for clarification, I still gave a poor answer. Finally I just said “I’m sorry; that was a bad answer.” They were nice enough to say “no, no, that was fine.” and we moved on to the next question. Oh, and I did get the job :)

      In hindsight, I might not have felt bold enough to admit to a bad answer at the beginning of the interview. But by the end, I sort of felt like I “knew” them a little already, and felt like it was better to acknowledge it was a crappy answer than to try to pretend I was making sense.

  14. So Very Anonymous*

    I had a dreadful day-long interview in Super Expensive City, during which, over the course of the day, it became clear that they really wanted an internalish candidate — one person kept hectoring me in several group interviews about my lack of experience at their specific location, which should have been *extremely* obvious from my resume and my prior phone interview. The public presentation I’d been asked to do was on a topic I was explicitly told, earlier in the day, was not really relevant to the job (!?), and the presentation was scheduled near the end of the day for a tiny room that would have seated maybe 10 people. I was also given about four different descriptions of the job from three different people (yes, one person gave me two different descriptions…?). I did the best I could, but after the presentation I kind of went onto interview-smile-autopilot. I’d been advised by the person mentoring me not to withdraw (for various reputational reasons) but the thank-you notes were difficult to write, since I didn’t want to look like I was naive enough to think that it had gone really well. I never heard a thing back from them. I do know that I dodged a bullet (the person who would have been my supervisor resigned weeks after my interview), but my confidence was definitely shaken by the experience.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Egad, what are people thinking when they practically set candidates up for awkwardness? Its hard not to internalize when you fell you haven’t performed well, but under those circumstances, few people would. You did well to make it through the presentation with your game face still [mostly] on; I don’t know that I could have pulled that off.

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        Thanks! I’d had another really strange one maybe two years earlier, where someone told me, after my presentation halfway through a day-long interview, that I’d presented on the “wrong” topic even though I’d given exactly the talk I was asked to give. They’d given me a trick question, which, huh?!? So I had had some practice with keeping it together, which, yay? What I learned from those: just keep smiling, tell yourself you that yes, that just happened but you’re going to pretend it didn’t and not mention it at all, say neutral-to-positive things, and then do something to treat yourself afterwards… both times, I looked for a nice bookstore, since there aren’t many where I live. And maybe a nice hot bath after. For the second one I think I also sent out a text or two to a friend during bathroom breaks, just because I needed some reminder of an outside world where people knew I was smart (kept phone turned off during all the interviews but still with me).

  15. YandO*

    I just had an interview with a founder of a startup

    I asked “what is your vision for the company?”

    He responded “As you can imagine nobody has EVER asked me that questions before” with obvious sarcasm/annoyance.

    He made a few more comments like that throughout the interview. I am a very sarcastic person but I do not think an interview is an appropriate time for it.

    1. Stephanie*

      That’s weird. It seems like as the founder he’d want to talk earnestly at length about his vision. Some of these tech startups almost seem to have evangelical takes about the potential of the payment apps.

      1. YandO*


        And I wanted him to tell me about his vision so I can ask more specific questions, not because I did not have better questions

    2. NickelandDime*

      What a jerk! Most leaders love to answer this question. So now you know that every time you ask this person a question, you will get sarcasm. Even as a newbie, you will be made to feel stupid every time you open your mouth. You will do something because you are new, and they will rake you through the coals about how you should have known, when you wouldn’t have, and couldn’t have known.

      Believe what people show and tell you the first time.

      1. YandO*

        I responded with “I know, I am super creative” in a sarcastic tone of voice

        While I can take it and give it, I really did not think it was a good sign. I rejected them and it was not the only reason, but part of it for sure

        1. Adonday Veeah*

          Founders often have a God complex. But not all of them are assholes. Glad you ditched that one.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Even as a newbie, you will be made to feel stupid every time you open your mouth. You will do something because you are new, and they will rake you through the coals about how you should have known, when you wouldn’t have, and couldn’t have known.

        Believe what people show and tell you the first time.

        This is where I am now with my boss’s wife (aka also my boss; I say boss’ wife because I worked for him for six years before I worked for her). I’ve been meaning to post a question in the Friday open thread about it, but I think that, “believe what people show . . . you the first time” is the answer when it comes to her.

  16. Witty Name TBD*

    I had an interview once that lasted less than five minutes. I’d gotten it through a recruiting firm. The interview was at the recruiting firm’s office for some reason; both the interviewers and myself had to drive for quite a bit, in the downtown rush-hour traffic, to get there. I walk in, we introduce ourselves, I sit down.

    They: “So why are you looking to leave your current job?”
    I: “I want to get away from the 24×7 on-call support.”
    They: “Hmmm, we have that too. How many sites do you support?”
    I: “17”
    They: “We have over 800.”
    I: “Wow. So this probably isn’t going to work for me.”
    They: “Yeah probably not. Sorry. Have a great evening.”

    I am still so thankful to them for cutting the interview short. They pretty much helped me “walk out of a bad interview” five minutes into it. I’m not quite as thankful to the recruiter, who’d apparently tried to pull a fast one on me and trick me into taking a job with on-call support, that I’d told him I did not want, just because they paid well and so his commission was going to be huge.

    Under different circumstances, I’d have loved to work for these guys, just because of how they handled that situation.

    1. jag*

      Too bad about the wasted time, but that’s a great interaction – no BS, got to the end fast. Hopefully the interviewer took an equally dim view of the recruiter and either made them straighten up (or even fired them if this is an ongoing problem).

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        It would have been tempting to have turned to the recruiter immediately upon the mutually-ended interview, and said (with somewhat suppressed sarcasm), “And thanks for your hand in all this.” :-/

        1. Witty Name TBD*

          He pulled me into his office after they left to ask how the interview had gone. So I told him. He almost cried! I kid you not. He was a young kid and hopefully learned his lesson and didn’t do this again.

    2. Job Candidate*

      Seems like the kind of thing a phone screen should have uncovered before you met anyone in person.

  17. Chairman of the Bored*

    I once had an interview for a secretarial position that was going quite well, until the interviewer (who was the chief accountant in a very small firm), offered to show me around the office.
    When we got to a particular door, he opened it and said, “This is the broom closet. About once a week or so, the secretary cleans the office.”
    I was very young and I didn’t know how to tell this guy his request was way out of line. Instead, when he offered me the job, I told him I “really wasn’t good with numbers” and declined his offer. I’ve always wished I’d told him what a jackhole he was.

    1. jag*

      At least he told you up front it was part of the job. Ideally it should have been in the job description that brought you in.

  18. Bunny Purler*

    I was once invited to interview with a local government organisation (which shall remain nameless) here in the UK at very short notice. When I got to the venue, we had a day of site visits and office tours, culminating in individual interviews. There were 6 of us, and I was the only female candidate (I later heard that this was why I had been asked to interview, because having an all-male shortlist would have violated the council’s equal opportunity policy). During the tour of the offices and the talk about what the job would entail, all of the candidates were ignored apart from the one internal one – and the interviewers were saying stuff to him like ‘this’ll be your desk’ and ‘when you start, you’ll be doing x task’. It was blatantly obvious that they had already made their choice. I was furious – I had taken 2 days off my work to go there and had missed getting paid, and it was abundantly clear that they had wasted my time, and everyone else’s. In the individual interview, they were barely going through the motions. I am not a confrontational person at all, but halfway through, I stood up and said ‘It’s been obvious from your behaviour that you’ve already chosen your candidate. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to catch an earlier train, and then we can stop wasting one another’s time.’ I was inwardly horrified with myself – it was like I was having an out-of-body experience! – but to my surprise the entire interview board looked straight at me and actually seemed to SEE me for the first time. They did have the grace to look shame-faced. Their internal candidate got the job. I later heard that this organisation were infamous for doing this, and many years later I heard the tale of the unknown bad-arse woman who had called them out on their shit during one of their pointless recruitment days…

    1. shirley*

      Did you ever know that you’re my hero?

      No seriously though, this sounds infuriating and I love that you said something. Well done!

    2. If I had a crystal ball*

      Actually, even when jobs in UK government offices are adverised as open competition, many are still rigged in favour of internal candidates. Bought a few of those t-shirts.

  19. aimee*

    I usually lurk here, but I’ve got a story to tell. I had a 20-30 hr/week job in college and one of my coworkers invited herself over with a man to explain another job opportunity to me. It was clear to me it was a pyramid scheme, and I wondered how I should extricate myself. Eventually (about 20 minutes in) I just stood up and said “I’m not interested. Please leave.” They didn’t take it well. This situation is doubly horrifying when it’s happening in your own home!

    1. Tasha*

      Yeah, the MLM training sessions actually tell members how to ensconce yourself in the home of a prospect so they can’t walk out on you.

    2. NickelandDime*

      Someone did this to me at a part time job, but they had me trapped at someone else’s home. A friend also did this to me too. I’m so happy you tossed them out. I’m sorry you were put in such an uncomfortable position to begin with, but they got what they deserved. I just despise the cloak and dagger routine people employ with these pyramid schemes to get people signed up. Just be up front so I can say no immediately and we can move on with our lives.

  20. ScottySmalls*

    One of my first interviews out of college, was a group interview. There were 6 of us and they asked us 3 questions: Experience, when can you start and why do you think you’d be a good fit. My experience was mediocre compared to 4 others there and I couldn’t start the next week. So I wasn’t too bummed I didn’t get it.

  21. Former Cable Rep*

    Back in my early 20s I interviewed for a part time position at a book store where the manager doing the interview relentlessly browbeat me for 90 minutes. She didn’t ask “what types of books do you read?” she asked “tell me everything you’ve read in the past year”. At the time I was up to 3 to 4 paperback books a week, anything and everything I could get my hands on basically. I told her as much and she still wanted me to name every single title, and got more and more hostile as I was listing things off, demanding to know the major plot details of most of them. Which is reasonable I think if I’d said I read maybe ten or fifteen books a year, but expecting me to remember the plots of almost 200 books was insane. She was very nasty whenever I couldn’t recall something.

    Then we got to actual job duties, I told her I’d just had minor outpatient surgery and wouldn’t be able to do any lifting until my doctor examined me again and cleared me. I told her I would have to wait two weeks for that, and she demanded to know the exact date I would be able to lift heavy weights again. I didn’t know, I wasn’t a doctor, no sooner than two weeks? No I must give her an exact date. Then she demanded to know what kind of surgery I’d had and the name of the doctor so she could ask him when I could lift things. By that time I’m nervous and shaking and ready to cry, and there’s no way I’m about to tell a strange woman who had been verbally assaulting me that I’d just terminated a much wanted pregnancy and that’s why I couldn’t lift anything for a bit. I know now that her question was at the very least invasive and crazy, but I was young and going through a bad patch in my life. I felt completely trapped and unable to defend myself.

    If I had to do it over again, I’d have realized very early that I did not want to work with this woman and just ended the interview. The experience was so bad I never set foot in her bookstore, I was even glad when the chain went bankrupt. Good riddance!

    1. Ruffingit*

      That is truly horrifying and I’m sorry you had to go through that on the heels of terminating the pregnancy. No one should have to deal with that sort of abuse, but it’s made worse by the fact that you’d just had a very emotionally-laden surgery. HUGS!

  22. JAL*

    I had an interviewer tell once me my education was completely worthless and that I shouldn’t even be looking for jobs in the field. Three days later, I had another interview outside of my field and I got the job, who apparently values me way more. Next month is my 6 month mark at the company. It made me rethink what I wanted to do with my life.

    I feel like even bad interviews (sans ones with people who are completely abusive) are learning experiences, and you should be self reflective about them afterwards.

  23. AMD*

    I was 26, and about to graduate pharmacy school with $144k of debt and follow my husband into an area with almost no pharmacy jobs, totally saturatd market. I put my resume up on, and got a phone call from a cheery voiced lady who said she was calling from an insurance company and after reading my resume thought I would be a good fit. After a few minuts of conversation, it became clear that she had not read my resume, and I became suspicious, and started responding to her questions about my customer service experience and career goals with points, “As a pharmacist, look into practice in a pharmacy environment , I-” etc, and she replied that they had a variety of positions available. She asked about my salary expectations, and I said, “Well, as a pharmacist in a pharmacy environment, I am looking to make $90-$110k yearly,” and she responded on-script with, “We can accommodate that, We have opportunities at many pay levels.”

    Knowing it was some kind of scam, but hoping for practice with interviews anyway, I printed off my resume and headed to their office on my interview day. I found myself in a lobby of other folks, each of whom was called back by a smiling man in a nice suit for about five minutes, then escorted into another larger room down the hall. I read through their literature while I waited, and realized I was in some kind of insurance sales pyramid whatever scheme, and that we were probably all going to be given some kind of group presentation on how to sell insurance.

    But my naive, gullible little heart still hoped that even scammy insurance companies need pharmacists to monitor their prescription drug formularies or something, so I took my turn interviewing with Suit Guy.

    We both clearly realized that I was a dolphin in their tuna net. He asked me if I hadn’t suspected this was not what I was looking for when I researched the company online, and I confessed that I had been confused, but the lady on the phone had emphasized that they had a variety of positions available when I told her what I was looking for.

    I exited gracefully, but was kind of tempted to run into the big room and yell “It’s a scam! Run for it!” Or something.

  24. Not telling*

    Yes I once walked out on an interview, when it was clear the position was an entry level position and I had many more years of experience…and I had arrived to learn that their interview process was an all-day affair that they had not mentioned when they scheduled it.

    It was very empowering to take control of the situation in which I felt belittled and taken advantage of. But I think this resolution should be reserved for only the most serious of cases, when clearly the interviewer has been dishonest to get you there or is being abusive. Personality and culture fits are a two-way street, and so are clashes. Don’t burn a bridge that is as much your issue as theirs. You never know when you might cross paths with that interviewer somewhere else–as a hiring manager, as a coworker, even as a client. Chalk it up to a life experience and move on.

  25. long time reader first time poster*

    I went to an interview once with two interviewers — the guy that responded to my resume, and his boss. His boss came into the room and picked up my resume, quite clearly reading it for the first time. After he scanned it, he said to the other guy “Why did you ask her in? This role is for X. She doesn’t do X at all.”

    Which was true. I myself thought I was interviewing for something that was a lot more… Y.

    The other guy was like, uhhhh. Awkwardness moment.

    I said, well, do you want to hear what I DO do, in case you could use someone like me? And they agreed, and we had a short face-saving and pleasant interview. We all shook hands and I never heard from them again.

    I could have just excused myself at the awkward moment, but I was already dressed up and figured I’d give it a shot.

    1. Anon reader*

      I’ve had this EXACT same experience, except I had to travel for 2 hours to get to their office in the middle of nowhere.

      Very pleasant and polite conversation, ultimately useless, never heard from them again.

  26. mel*

    I haven’t slogged through many interviews in my life (less than 10?) so the only one I cut short was for Vector. For whatever reason, I thought that meeting strangers on their turf with knives sounded like the least safest thing in the world and was super annoyed that they didn’t even tell anyone what the job was until we were there.

    (I don’t understand why some managers think that not disclosing important information in order to trick people into staying for two days and then quitting is such a good idea. Mine likes to hire teenagers with no car, train them, and then surprise them that their shift ends at 2am after busses have stopped running. Such a waste of time!)

  27. AW*

    they largely ignored me and smirked together as I put forth my earnest answers to the few questions she asked

    Oh good lord, I’ve had that interview before.

    Actually, I’ve had that interview a lot at various levels of ignoring and smirking. It’s rough on the self-esteem, especially when it’s the nth time, but you have to tell yourself that when someone goes out of their way to make someone feel like crap it says more about them than you.

  28. Vicki*

    > if you’re able to change your perspective to “this is going to make a great story, and I’ll never have to see this person again an hour from now.”

    I got a two-part blog post out of my worst interview. 

  29. OldAdmin*

    I once interviewed at a company my then partner already worked at. This was not in the US, but in a country that did not have the Walmartish culture of companies frowning on workplace relationships back then.

    Well, I walked in, and introduced myself to the hiring manager, who turned out to be American, so we switched to interview in English.
    Early on in the interview, he suddenly said “Well, you know I’m from the US, and my policy is not having my employees in a relationship with each other. That could cause trouble…”
    I was completely taken aback, as my partner had basically set up the interview, so there was no way Hiring Manager did not know that previously. My answer was “In that case, I’m afraid we will have to end the interview now.”
    He: “Wait, what? Hang on..”
    I: “You do know I am in a relationship with X in your company. I obviously cannot adhere to your policy, and thus there is no way I can start working here. I am sorry, but there is no way we can proceed further. It is best that I leave now.”
    He spluttered, and I was wondering what he wanted me to say – that I would behave? Cover up? Separate? Marry?
    I am proud to this day I had the guts to politely but firmly say good bye, leaving behind a dumbfounded manager.

    It turned out he was a rather decent guy after all, and even years later, he would apologize when we met (and hint I should come back). His company folded before my later employer did, so that never happened.

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