can you end a job interview early if it’s not a good fit?

A reader writes:

A few years ago I was in a situation that I’d like some insight on. I applied for a job that, based on the description, seemed like I was qualified for (a mix of admin and marketing work). However, once I got into the interview, I realized it was much more about complex graphic design and publishing than was previously indicated (work related to marketing but not my area of expertise). I felt so stupid at the time; maybe it should have been clear to me earlier that this was what the role was but I assumed that, given the job description, that they’d have a team handling the different aspects of the role. It was so obvious I was unqualified and I just wanted to leave the interview rather than continuing it. However, I was quite new to the workforce and I was desperate for work. I didn’t even know if you could wrap up an interview early and regardless, I don’t know that I would’ve felt like I did that. Suffice it to say, I didn’t get the job and I was like, “Duh, I was wildly unqualified in ways that I wouldn’t have known before the interview!”

What’s the best way to prevent this? For example, is there a way to screen jobs in depth before the interview? Obviously you’d read the job description and do some research on the company, and reach out to contacts if you have them at the company. Am I missing anything else? Since you can’t interview the company to ensure it’s what you want before you apply, you kind of have to apply and hope that it lines up with your goals. Right?

Or is there a script where if you get into an interview you can be like, “I feel like X and Y details weren’t mentioned in the job description when I applied. How big of a thing are those?” Or, “I just realized I don’t want this job at all”? Or do you just have to sit in the interview and get through it? If an interviewer told me mid-interview that they weren’t going to hire me, I’d think it was incredibly rude so maybe it’s not OK for the interviewee to short-circuit things in the moment either. But I’m genuinely curious how to handle it if I encounter another situation where I think I’ve applied to X and it’s really more like Y.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 153 comments… read them below }

  1. De Minimis*

    We had someone do this recently, they got frustrated with too many technical questions early in the interview [not my call on how the questions were put together, and not how I would have done it] and decided to end the interview after about five minutes. There were going to be more behavioral questions afterward that they could have answered, and most of the candidates also weren’t able to answer the preliminary questions, but they didn’t have a way of knowing that.
    Hoping soon that I have a lot more control over the interview questions, I plan on doing things differently.

    1. anonymous73*

      I mean, the fact that they were getting frustrated that there were too many technical questions in the first 5 minutes tells you what you need to know about their behavior.

      But we don’t do that either. The first round is more basic and getting to know you type questions. Then we pull in the technical person to make sure they’re qualified.

      1. De Minimis*

        This is true, we did end up hiring someone who basically answered “I haven’t had any experience with that, but I’m sure I can quickly learn” for each question until we got to the behavioral stuff.

        1. Nick Savage*

          My current job is basically that. I applied at a job in a tangentially related industry to the one I was in. I knew the very basics of what the firm did, but didn’t really have any appreciation for how it worked. I only really started cluing in after three or four interviews of interviewers asking “do you know about x or y” and me saying “nope! but I’m sure I could learn”. I’ve only been here around six months so far but it’s going really well. Sometimes it pays to be honest about your abilities

      2. Chriama*

        Well, yes and no. If someone asks me a bunch of technical questions that I don’t know the answer to, my assumption would be that I don’t actually have the skills they need for this job. Why waste our time continuing an interview for a role that I can’t fit?

        If you’re asking questions that you don’t expect candidates to be able to answer, I have to wonder if they really need to be asked at all. It seems you could get much the same information by asking behavioural questions about how they’ve dealt with a situation where they didn’t know how to do something, or to describe how they learned technical skills in the past, or to explain if/how they continue to develop their technical knowledge over time.

        No need to front-load the interview with questions that sap their confidence for skills you know they don’t have.

    2. A Penguin!*

      How many technical questions were there in five minutes that a candidate got frustrated enough to leave? In my experience the most you can even get through in that amount of time is two, MAYBE three (and often it will just be one).

      I suppose if they were questions the candidate couldn’t answer, as you state was the case for other candidates, I suppose you could ask more in that time frame. But still, unless you tell me ahead of time that non-answering isn’t a deal-breaker: if I can’t answer two (I’ll give myself a pass on one) technical questions I’m going to assume I cannot do the role you’re interviewing for and suggest cutting the meeting short. Frankly, even if you tell me an inability to answer isn’t a deal-breaker I’m still going to be questioning my suitability to the role. And I’d rather this happen in the beginning than later, so I don’t waste my (and your) time.

      You say you don’t have control over the questions, so you may not have answers, but I’m so curious why you’re asking technical questions where inability to answer is not eliminating candidates.

      1. De Minimis*

        It’s for a federal government position, and the current supervisor has several questions that would be almost impossible to answer unless someone had previous experience specific to our agency [and even then sometimes we have people not recall it well enough] or with US federal government accounting. It’s not an entry level role but I don’t think anyone is being well served by the way the supervisor had been doing it. But he’s leaving and I think I’m probably going to be the one tasked with putting together the interview questions for future interviews.
        It also seems to lead to us continuing to just hire people from other locations within our agency or from other agencies. I’d like to see us hire more entry level and train them, but that’s not how things are structured here [also the pay grade for more entry level isn’t really competitive.]

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      This is an interesting example, because I can see a version where the candidate doesn’t have the skills needed and sorting that is efficient, and I can see a version the approach lands as a very adversarial, nerd gatekeeper, “Let’s see if you know the details only a REAL Pokemon aficionado would.” If it feels like a gotcha, someone can nope right out of the interview even if they are, in fact, able to identify every Pokemon by a glimpse of the ear.

      1. Prof Space Cadet*

        I had the weirdly adversarial version of this in an interview several years ago.

        INTERVIEWER: How many llamas can you groom in a day?
        ME: That depends on several factors, like the age and temperament of the llama, when it was last groomed, and the types of brushes/combs available.
        INTERVIEWER: But how many llamas can you groom in a day?
        ME: Assuming an adult llama of normal temperament, about 10-12
        INTERVIEWER: I didn’t ask you about adult llamas of normal temperament. How many llamas per day can you groom in general?
        ME: 10-12. If they’re not well tempered, it might be like 7-8.
        INTERVIEWER: Okay, I don’t understand why you’re being resistant to answering that question, so moving on . . .

        I didn’t get the job. Didn’t want it. I assume they had a strict grooming quota and were only interested in candidates who could promise to meet it. I later found out through the grapevine that all of their top candidates turned them down.

    4. Kes*

      Yeah, I’d be a little wary of stopping the interview because there are many cases where interviewers will ask questions until the interviewee stops being able to answer them, or questions that are set up to be able to go beyond the level of ability they actually expect and need, in order to see how far the candidate can get.
      Also, I’ve had interviews that I thought I totally failed that I was then offered the job for. So perceived performance within the interview may or may not be accurate, and you may be shortchanging yourself if you stop. That said if you really can’t answer anything and are having a miserable time there are cases where it makes sense to just stop and cut things short rather than trying to slog through.

    5. Anon For This*

      A coworker likes to tell the story of “way back when” he was interviewing for a position. He was concerned he didn’t have experience in X. Recruiter told him it absolutely wasn’t a problem. He interviewed, they go over his lack of X, not a problem. Later he gets a follow-up call/interview from Big Boss. Big Boss asks him about X, why doesn’t he have experience in X, what is he going to do about it? Coworker goes OFF and burns the bridge spectacularly….
      Recruiter calls him back to find out what happened. Coworker had to eat crow when Recruiter informed him “Not having experience in X isn’t a problem. Big Boss just wanted to see how you would handle people asking you about it and feeling under pressure.”

      A candidate getting frustrated by your questions tells you a lot.

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        Re: your last sentence, the reverse is also true: an employer trying to deliberately frustrate a candidate tells you a lot. It tells me I don’t want to work for them.

        1. Cringing 24/7*

          This is the one. If you want to know how I do under pressure – ask me. Don’t try to simulate pressure for me unless it’s an absolutely necessary and crucial aspect of the job, and even then, doing it without warning is both unkind and unprofessional.

        2. infopubs*

          100% this. Interviews are stressful enough without creating scenarios that deliberately stress candidates.

        3. Alternative Person*

          This.

          I had a variation of this experience when a newly promoted manager decided to personally interview all the staff at contract renewal time (read: find excuses to remove all those he didn’t like). Just make me redundant and give me a few months severance, don’t spend two separate ‘re-contracting’ meetings yanking my chain to ‘justify’ your decision. They made great hay of me getting frustrated, but of course I was, that was their intention.

        4. Emmy Noether*

          Ugh, one of my fathers favorite interviewing “tips”: put the candidate under pressure to see how he reacts!

          I heartily disagree with him. The candidate is already stressed by the interview situation, I am mostly trying to un-stress them! We hire mostly recent grads for a role that doesn’t often require a lot of coolness under pressure, so what am I even trying to learn? I do ask some trickier technical questions to test on-the-fly thinking, because that is a valuable skill. I try to make it the least stressful possible though.

          1. Dutchie*

            Is on-the-fly thinking a skill they need in the job you hire for though? Do they encounter a lot of situations in which they cannot take a step back, think and come back even a bit later with an answer?

            Because if the answer to the last question is no, I would say that yes, it’s a valuable skill to have, but so is lockpicking (in case you lock yourself out of the building) and presumably you don’t test whether the candidate can do that, because it’s not needed in *this job*. ;-)

      2. Captain Swan*

        A long time ago I tanked an interview on purpose. It was an on campus interview that recruiters setup with career services to interview graduating students for entry level positions. It happens that I was finishing my masters not my BS when this occurred. The interviewer didn’t spend more than 30 seconds preparing to speak with me and asked what I had been doing since getting my BS two years earlier. He was stunned when I politely directed him to the next line on my resume which showed the MS degree. I ended the interview shortly after this because I was only marginally interested in the position to begin with and he hadn’t bothered doing even a cursory read of my very concise resume.

      3. Chriama*

        I’d call this an ESH situation. Why on earth would you try to put someone on the defensive instead of just asking them how they act under pressure? That’s disrespectful, especially keeping in mind the inherent power imbalance in many interview situations. Furthermore, people who jump to aggressive interactions like this are hardly likely to restrict their assholeishness to job interviews. I wouldn’t want to work with someone like that. Obviously the candidate shouldn’t have burned the bridge so strongly, but given how the situation is described I have to wonder if the big boss went “how dare you believe yourself worthy of this position, grovel and plead with me to give you the job” and candidate just went “I discussed my lack of X multiple times and was assured it wasn’t a problem, but if it is then I don’t think this job is right for me.” In other words, I wonder if the candidate was actually unprofessional or if they just decided to stop participating in whatever game big boss thought he was playing.

    6. Patrick Nielsen*

      At the very start of my career – I was surprised by an interview that literally started with a test. Bits of math, statistics and economics. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting – not surprisingly, I didn’t do well on the test – and the interview went nowhere. I went on to find success elsewhere. I’ve often wondered why the company chose that approach – I spoke with a few fellow student who had also interviewed with the company in question and they too were surprised by that interview approach.

    7. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I had an interview like that, except there was a nice warm-up getting-to-know-you phase first. I kept answering “I have no idea” even though I could have made an intelligent guess, and then at one point I realised that I was supposed to be making intelligent guesses and getting most spot on. I felt so very stupid, I said “ha, you said this test was to show whether I have potential for learning about the technical aspects of this job, and it’s crystal clear to me at least that I have zero potential! I’m totally not the right person for this job” and managed to get out of the rest of the interviews they had lined up for me (and cancel the babysitter since I was home in time to pick up the kids).

  2. Kia*

    I have actually done this. I just realized there was absolutely no way I could handle doing the job and asked to leave. They seemed ok with it.

    I have to admit, I would be a bit hurt if this happened to me as a candidate though. Especially when I was newer and unsure of myself.

    1. Echo*

      As the interviewer, I’d never in a million years stop an interview short just because our candidate’s answers didn’t score out at a “pass”. In fact, I’m trained specifically to give them more chances to succeed.

      The scenario where I’d do this is where the candidate said something that made me suspect they’re looking for something very different, like a more technically-focused role, and even then I’d clarify and ask them if they’re still interested.

      (I guess I’d also stop if a candidate yelled/cursed at me/called me names but I’ve never even heard of that happening to anyone I work with.)

      1. UKDancer*

        I’ve never had a candidate yell at me. A few jobs back I was on a panel recruiting for a job. Part of the recruitment involved a roleplay exercise where we made the candidates roleplay a scenario with an actor. Part of the task was to establish a relationship and develop a plan for resolving an issue that hadn’t worked very well between our company and the (fictional) company the actor was representing.

        It was a key part of the job that they could build a relationship and establish rapport with suppliers and people we worked with closely so we asked the actor to be a bit difficult. One of the candidates got really aggressive and was banging his fist on the table and raising his voice and was really quite unpleasant to the poor actor. So I (as the assessor) intervened and stopped the activity. We did not appoint that person.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I stopped an interview after ten seconds once. I asked the candidate to remove their earbud (I could hear music coming through) and they said “no I’m good thanks”. I just got up and said “OK, here, you can have your CV back, thank you for your time”. They were a bit stunned, but so was I. Not only at their behaviour but at my ability to just shoot right back with the right answer – normally the right answer comes to me at 3 am.

    2. StellaBella*

      I have done this too. In December of 2018. I got an interview that was not my first choice but I needed the practice, and wanted to see what they were about. 15 min in, the questions that the woman was asking were terribly worded…and she came off as very aggressive… “Why did you even apply to this role if you do not know X?” (X was not listed on the job advert as needed), etc. So 20 min in, I said, “I am terribly sorry. This is not the right role for me.” and got up, and got my coat and thanked the 2 people for their time. Then at home emailed the recruiter to tell him I withdrew and how I appreciated his time too.

    3. Sakuko*

      I once went to an interview and when we where still talking about background and family I mentioned my young son. They where like “wouldn’t that be a problem with the long travel periods” and I was confused, because the listing just mentioned “some travel” which usually means the occasional week at a customer or conference every few month. But no, they where actually looking for someone to implement software solutions for customers over-seas, a few month to half a year away, once or twice a year. I noped out of that immediately, and they where very understanding. They even pulled up the listing and went over the text with me, agreeing it should be phrased more clearly what they are looking for.

  3. Raboot*

    I’d like to add that as an interviewer, if a candidate was clearly missing key qualification or experience I’d love for them to bring it up because it means I don’t have to. The one time I did, I felt SO SO RUDE, even though it was the right thing to do and we uncovered the source of the misunderstanding together once I brought up the elephant in the room – like you, they thought they applied to X but it was Y. If a candidate themselves is aware they’re missing something key it’s probably easier for them to bring it up in a way that doesn’t imply “hey I’m stupid” but just “hey I don’t have these specific skills”. It’s very awkward to interview someone without the necessary skills but usually it’s not so egregious I want to risk being seen as rude.

    1. Raboot*

      To add to this wall of text, this is my take as someone who is not a hiring manager and doesn’t screen resumes, peer interviews are common in my industry. Ymmv if you’re interviewing with someone with more input into the selection process.

    2. Emily*

      Hmm. Maybe I am off or have low EQ, but I have never felt it was rude to tell a candidate who was not qualified to end an interview early. I don’t see why either of us should waste another 40 min when it’s clear from the first 10 that they don’t have the technical skills I’m looking for. I always take a very straightforward tone, not like “you’re an idiot”, but more like “it’s a skill mismatch”. I also usually add that they are clearly qualified in a different area X so I’ll recommend their CV if I see an opening in that area in my company, etc. It doesn’t look to me like that has been particularly poorly received, though of course I wouldn’t know for sure.

      1. Chriama*

        If it was an in-person interview, I would find it really frustrating. I once interviewed for a part time position merchandizing that was advertised as being really flexible, weekends-only. I had to pay for a copy of my driver’s abstract and then bring it to the interview. The office was quite far and the interview was early in the morning, so I had to take a busy road I’m not comfortable driving on, during rush hour. Once I got there, in the first 2 minutes the interviewer reveals that flexibility is on *their* part, i.e. I need to be flexible to basically take a bunch of shifts on the weekend at various times. I mention I have church on Sunday mornings so that won’t work for me. Interview ends there. In what universe could that not have been discussed during the phone interview???

        So in general I think that a phone screen should catch the major dealbreakers. If people are making time out of their day to come see you, it’s common courtesy to at least make sure you’re on the same page.

        1. Taco Bell Job Fair*

          Has the same thing happen with a restaurant job it said afternoon shifts. But when I showed up the lady wanted people to work late nights. From 10pm to the early morning. She bait and switched me I got up and left.

          1. Dutchie*

            The thing I don’t understand is why she didn’t just write that down. Because there are people who are looking for that kind of shift! I can guarantee you there are people who are desperately searching high and low, swearing at the job searching websites that they cannot find late night shifts. Just be honest with what you have on offer!

        2. Merrie*

          When I was interviewing some years ago, I had two interviewers do this to me. One informed me when I got there that the hours weren’t what they said in the posting, they were a bit different–and it was different enough that it clashed with my school schedule and I couldn’t do it. Another one was for overnights. They let me go on for a while about how I could totally work overnights, and then informed me that they’d filled that position but they were looking for people for possible future positions. Jerks. And I never got a call back about any other position.

  4. Miss Betty*

    I’ve been in an interview similar to this. It was for a legal assistant position that also required working the front desk – but the person who posted the position forgot to mention reception duties when they did. This must’ve been a deal-breaker for too many interviewees because when it was my turn, the lead interviewer, after a pleasant five minutes, said that they had an additional requirement and if I wasn’t interested, we’d just end the interview there and part with no hard feelings, He told me about the receptionist requirement, I said that wasn’t something I was interested in (which was putting it mildly), and the person who posted the position apologized for forgetting to include it. We ended the interview on friendly terms and if I were ever looking for a legal assistant position again, I’d probably shoot them a resume. It was the friendliest and most pleasant dead-end interview I’ve ever had! (And short. Very short!)

    1. ecnaseener*

      That’s nice that it went so smoothly, but I gotta wonder why oh why they didn’t do phone screens before the interviews if they knew they had forgotten to tell candidates about a common dealbreaker!!

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I’m guessing they didn’t realise until the first in-person interview.

        But what a waste of everyone’s time – in my experience, people who want to work reception don’t apply for jobs without it, and vice versa, so they’ll likely have had no suitable applicants at all.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          Very much agreed. I had a bad experience in my early temping days being put on reception with a full board of lines, and finding out that almost half of the people working there wanted me to lie about them being available. My last job, about 3 weeks after I started my manager brought up that our department and the other admins provided front-desk coverage for the receptionist’s breaks and lunches, and I almost lost it. We absolutely had a conversation about whether it was a deal-breaker for me, and I was assured that I’d only be on the desk for a couple hours a month, and I reluctantly agreed to it but felt very ambushed and angry about it for the first few months there. The coverage situation did slowly get worse before it got better, but we pushed back and got things improved. I ended up staying there for 10 years because I was working for the best boss, but if there had been much more reception coverage requested, I wouldn’t have stayed.

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        Yes, the only time I’ve had an interview cut short (it was mutual) it was during a phone screen so it was no skin off of anyone’s back. I hate when the phone screen is so broad it doesn’t uncover anything and then you realize during an in-person interview that it’s a bad fit. That said, these days my last several interviews have been through zoom anyway, which is sort of in between and I wouldn’t be as annoyed if it turned out to be a mismatch after only a few minutes.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I had one where the department was doing interviews for 2 positions with very, very different criteria (graphic designer and biostatistician). The admin who’d put together must have put my resume in the wrong interview stack after she’d scheduled me. The interview team had already reviewed resumes prior to scheduling but must not have looked at the packets in depth on that day. I’m not sure who was more confused during those first questions. Once we sorted it out they tracked down the right panel and rescued one very confused graphic designer from the other panel.

  5. ElleKay*

    I worked at a large organization with a very rigid tier system for jobs. Each job description was tied to the rank & salary of that tier and there was no flexibility allowed

    IE: Job X, Tier 3 this these duties; Job X Tier 4 has *those* duties; even if, in reality the individual role being hired for wouldn’t be doing most of those duties, or would have an emphasis one way or the other.

    HR presented this as an equity thing (and it may have been since it was very open that salary bands existed and there was no variation; everyone in each role made the same as everyone else) but it was also super frustrating on the hiring side. You would have to list a JD with all these components (b/c, in theory, that role includes them all) while knowing that you really only needed someone to focus on a few.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Ah, my office is like this now. Teapot Administrators are split into smaller teams of painters, designers, and inspectors, but the job posting includes ALL of the duties with no hint that the actual job will only include a subset of them.

      It’s suuuuper frustrating. The entry level postings don’t get applicants because they don’t sound entry level. The higher level postings don’t attract people with the specific experience we need. We are always understaffed.

    2. Lab Boss*

      We’re in the process of fighting that. Without getting too identifiable I work under the development arm of my company, but my team doesn’t do the type of work that the rest of development does. So job descriptions were either meaninglessly vague or actively misleading. It’s only over the last few years that we’ve badgered HR into approving a tweaked version of every job tier for US, that actually describes what we do.

  6. anonymous73*

    I’ve experienced this recently on the other side of the table as the interviewer. I’m a Project Manager and we were looking to hire a junior developer. Initially, my manager asked me to write the job description based on a current one we had. That was mistake number 1. I am not a developer (although I was in the dinosaur days) and am not qualified to write an accurate job description for the position. Our recruiter was new and wasn’t vetting candidates properly. That was mistake number 2. The first batch of people we interviewed could barely communicate. One rolled her eyes at us. I finally suggested having our lead developer review the job description and she was able to add more detail so we had qualified candidates to interview.

    We did have 1 candidate state that once he heard more about the details of the job, he realized it wasn’t something he wanted to pursue. He was honest and polite and we ended the interview early. We also had candidates we knew from the start that were not right for the job. We were professional and polite, but basically stopped asking questions and ended early. Everyone is busy, and if it’s obvious from either perspective that it’s not a good fit, it’s 100% okay to say so and end an interview early. I would much rather not waste anyone’s time.

  7. Just Me*

    One time, a long time ago, I was in an interview for a coordinator position for an enormous mission-driven organization. I was busy describing my experiences coordinating educational programs for at-risk youths (speaking to what was in the job description) and the interviewer stopped me and said, “This isn’t a coordinator role.” I couldn’t hide my shock and said, “But….the title is XYZ Program Coordinator…?” and she said, “Yeah, we don’t know why HR did that. You’re basically just managing a schedule of events for our head teapot maker. It’s not a coordinator position.” Hiring was done by a large department unaffiliated with this office and had written this job description basically spinning all of the job duties to make them sound more like project coordination then they actually were. (e.g. “Work with partners to plan events” was actually supposed to be “Call them and get their availability.”) At that moment we all realized that this was a horrible mistake and waste of time and went through this cringey charade of finishing the interview and asking follow up questions. I called the HR office in the parking lot the minute the interview ended and asked to withdraw my application.

  8. Thorn*

    I did this a few years ago. I was working as an office manager with a fair amount of responsibility, and applied for what looked like a similar role. The new role ended up being more of a receptionist position. Once the interviewer explained the role (very early on), I politely said that I didn’t think it was a great fit for what I was looking for. He agreed – saying I had seemed “over-qualified” by my resume but wanted to at least chat. We left on good terms.

    Another time, I accidentally misrepresented my experience on a resume. I was a new college grad and listed a specific task I had done as an intern. In the industry, the word I used to define the task describes something very high level. (I was checking the llama reports for accuracy; not reviewing the llama reports for accuracy.) The interviewer was extremely hostile about my “senior” experience as a new grad. I explained my mistake and she ended the interview. Given that the interview as on my campus, I left feeling like she had only chosen to interview me so she could point out my error. It was with a well known company and I still don’t have great feelings about them.

    1. Valkyrie (OP)*

      Honestly I do wonder if I misrepresented my level of experience on my cover letter; I was taught to really hype myself up, and was probably like “yeah, I toooootally know how to use programs like Photoshop”, which of course, I really did know how to use them but wasn’t exactly top notch/pro level at them it was more like “yeah I know how to use Photoshop as long as it’s only for basic things and you better have an actual photographer/graphic designer to do the technical stuff”. It’s not that I would have outright lied, but I was also desperate and got bad advice so would’ve hesitated to contextualize the experience if I had to say something bad about my experience level (like “I know how to do this, good enough” kind of attitude)

      1. Thorn*

        Oh yeah! That can definitely happen. I try to look at that as the reason to have interviews though – not so much that you misrepresented yourself as that they were seeing if you were both on the same page about the level of skill needed to do the work.

  9. BetsyTacy*

    As somebody who is going through a lot of hiring right now, I would really endorse Alison’s approach of specifically calling out your concern and asking if it makes sense to continue. In my experience, we often get approved for ‘batches’ of new hires at a time so it’s rare that there will only be one opening in the entire organization. Sometimes, it only becomes clear when you start talking to somebody that this person might be perfect for the Spout Handler job your colleague is hiring for, even though you called them in for a Teapot Painting interview.

    If this is happening frequently though, please look at your resume (or ask a friend to!) and see what exactly is flagging you as that type of expert. For example, we had someone express frustration that they kept being called in for a job type they didn’t have the skills set for – they were misusing an acronym on their resume that made it look like they had a really high level of expertise/a specific certification but it was something totally different. Think somebody put ‘CPA’ on their resume and had it stand for ‘Customer Program Analyst’. They were shocked when they kept getting called in for accounting interviews…

  10. learnedthehardway*

    For sure – if you realize that the role is one that is wildly outside your experience, or if you’re way too experienced and the role would be a step back that you’re not prepared to take, it’s perfectly okay to tell the interviewer that you’ve realized this. They may be wondering why on earth they are interviewing you, themselves, but not want to be rude about cutting off an interview too early. (Do be sure, though, that you’re not suffering from imposter syndrome when / if you do this. Don’t let a lack of self-confidence derail you. This is for times when you realize you are totally unqualified or the role is absolutely too junior for you.)

    Do ask the interviewer if your reading of the situation aligns with theirs. They might say they’re willing to train an inexperienced candidate who lacks X and Y, but who does have A, B and C requirements. OR they might say that they would like to consider you for other roles, OR they might agree that the role isn’t a good fit for you.

    If the last, you will gain their respect, at least – They’ll realize that you are self-aware and respectful of the process, rather than trying to portray yourself as something you’re not.

  11. Elizabeth West*

    But there are also times when it does make more sense to speak up, like if you’re in the middle of an all-day interview or if your interviewer is so unpleasant that you can’t stomach continuing on.

    I do wish I’d ended the one where the hiring manager launched into a huge M@G@ rant when she saw me wearing a mask (at the beginning of the pandemic). If that ever happens again, I’m not sticking around.

    Sometimes it’s worth talking to them in case there’s more info. The job with the Jensen Ackles-looking hot boss didn’t have healthcare, but I went through with the interview anyway because the job sounded good. I had hopes they would pay enough for me to get it through ACA, but alas, no.

    1. anonymous73*

      I hear you! I still have regrets for the interview I had when I was unemployed and desperate (and this was almost 15 years ago). He took me to his office (IME I’ve always gone to a neutral location like a conference room for fewer interruptions). He proceeded to hand me a puzzle to solve (it was a Business Analyst role), while answering emails and phone calls and asking me some questions in between. I wish I had the guts to say something snarky like “it’s clear you have better things to do so I’ll leave you to it” and walk out, but I just sat there and muddled through the interview knowing I had no desire to work for this a$$waffle. I did unload on the recruiter afterwards though.

      1. Robert in SF*

        In your scenario, I would love to have added after your wish, “It’s clear you have better things to do…”, with “I know *I* do.” :)

      2. Yet Another Office Manager*

        I actually did admin assistant technical interviews where I announced, up front, “there are three tasks in this interview, and I will keep interrupting you while you’re working on the first two – so, doing the tasks well while being interrupted is in fact the third task.”

        1. anonymous73*

          That’s not the point I was making. The interviewer was not paying much attention to what I was doing or what I was saying and therefore wouldn’t have been able to accurately assess my abilities to do the job. It had nothing to do with me being interrupted while trying to complete a task he had given me.

      3. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

        I had a very similar interview once.

        First, the interviewer was late. I was cooling my heels in the lobby for 45 minutes. After 30, I had called the recruiter to confirm the interview. I was about to call him again to tell him I was bailing out, when the interviewer showed up.

        Then, while I was sitting in his office for the interview, his phone rang and he spent 10 minutes on the call while ignoring me, someone else showed up in his office door, and he ignored me for another 15 minutes. I wish I had had the self-confidence to terminate the interview right then and there, but didn’t. I’m quite glad they didn’t call me back.

  12. MuddlingthroughManagement*

    I had this happen to me as the recruiting manager once. The candidate was sat at a desk to do a task. When we collected him to come in for the interview he told us (paraphrased, I don’t remember exactly) “I’ve realised this job is very different to what I thought it was. I’m in no way qualified for the level you need, and doing the task made me realise that. I don’t want to waste any of your time when I know this isn’t a good fit. Thank you so much for the opportunity”

    We were both a bit stunned, mainly because of how professional and polite he was about it! We asked if he was sure, said we appreciated his honesty, but in case it was nerves would he still like to complete the interview. He again confirmed it wouldn’t be a good fit and we said goodbye.

    It was very strange but to this day I highly rate that man’s integrity, honesty, manners and professionalism. I really hope he found the right job for him soon after that!

    1. AnonInCanada*

      I hope you kept this person’s resume/CV on file for when another job he may be better suited for becomes available. That was a very gentlemanly move by him having the foresight to not waste anyone’s time going through an interview for a position he knew wouldn’t be a good fit. Kudos to him!

    2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I did that once as a candidate. I was working with what I thought was a staffing firm to find a job right out of college, but it seemed like they were mostly recruiting for low-wage, high-turnover shift work. I had an interview for what I thought was customer service/sales at an appliance store, but the pre-interview task they had me do was comparing numbers to see if I could spot the difference between two sets of numbers (essentially prep for warehouse work). Halfway through I realized this was absolutely not the job for me and I politely excused myself. The staffing firm was furious, but I still think I made the right choice!

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I once had someone at a staffing company lie to me that a data entry job was a data analysis job right up to when the actual client company sent someone to interview me. The interviewer from the staffing company’s client looked at my resume and asked me what I was looking for in a job. I said a bunch of stuff about data analysis and programming. She said, “You know this is a data entry job? It sounds like you wouldn’t find it very interesting.”

        The staffing company recruiter started trying to insist that it was NOT a data entry job and I would not be bored. She straight up contradicted the client to her face. I was amazed.

        The client and I agreed that it didn’t sound like a fit and I left after like five minutes. I was FURIOUS at the staffing agency but the client’s honesty impressed me. The client also said that they were having a hard time with turnover because they kept hiring people who found the job too boring. I wonder how that could have happened.

  13. Retail Not Retail*

    I had an interview that fizzled out after the “where do you see yourself in five years” question. “Working here full time as a manager!” ….. no one is full time to get around obamacare legislation.

    Luckily I went full time at my retail job a few weeks later but sheesh

    1. Forkeater*

      The last time someone asked where I saw myself in five years I actually laughed out loud and may have asked outright if they got that from a list of most common interview questions online. And then said I had no idea because my day to day job was working with technology I’d never heard of five years ago, so who knows what the future holds? Somehow I got the job!

      1. TechWorker*

        Is it really a terrible question?

        My experience is that rejected candidates can be antagonistic about it so I have never rejected anyone during the interview, despite multiple times knowing after 10minutes there’s no way we’ll hire them. (This is for grad roles and the interview process is short so it’s not a huge waste of time). Often the reason is not politely articulable but even when it is I wouldn’t dare! One candidate answered the 5 year question with ‘I really want to be working for ’ and then was sending angry emails about why they didn’t get the job. We’re not going to hire and train you when your stated goal is to move somewhere else :p

  14. Alexis Rosay*

    This sounds totally reasonable. I’ve done a lot of hiring, and if there is a serious mismatch on either end, I see no reason not to end the interview early. After all, interviews are just meetings, and everyone loves a meeting that ends early. Plus, if the company is not advertising the position accurately, this could be important feedback for them.

    I have done this as an interviewer as well. I used to run interviews where the candidate first completed a 30 minute skills test and then a 30 minute behavioral interview. If the candidate’s skills were seriously lacking in the first half, we would not proceed to the behavioral interview. It was rare, but it did happen.

  15. Phony Genius*

    I have been in an interview where both me and the interviewer realized it was a bad fit. We both agreed to end it right there.

    1. starsaphire*

      I’ve been there too – and I consider it the Best Job Interview of my Life.

      I walked out knowing I wouldn’t get the job – but that it wasn’t my fault, that both my interviewers were super impressed with my skills and experience, and straight-up told me I had the exact skillset they wanted – but one question I answered clearly indicated I was not a good fit for the work environment. The lead interviewer stopped the interview, the other guy shook my hand and said he was sorry because he would have loved working with me, and the lead interviewer walked me out to the front.

      I was super impressed with their honesty and I agreed I would have been a terrible fit (I do not handle getting yelled at very well at all).

      It was a GREAT interview because it taught me that I had the chops for the industry, and that it was okay to stop an interview if it was clearly a bad fit. Those are two great lessons, and I got them both for the cost of an afternoon and two Uber rides.

      1. starsaphire*

        Just to clarify: The interviewers themselves didn’t yell at me. They made it clear that it was common for people in our job to get yelled at, and I noped out.

  16. Been there*

    I did this once — when I arrived they explained the job was at least 80% being on the phone and the interview would involve a practice scenario. It was customer support but I hadn’t realized how much. They asked if I was comfortable with it, and I politely said it wasn’t something I could do. It was the scariest thing I’d done because I needed a job but being on the phone that much was not for me. , It saved me and them a lot of time. If I had known those details beforehand, I wouldn’t have gone in at all

    1. Fabulous*

      OMG this reminds me of one of my first jobs. I had been hired as a scheduler, so I knew I’d be on the phone (and I hated the phone, but that was neither here nor there – I needed a job). My first day, they threw me on the phone and said, “Schedule an appointment with this guy – he’s never bought anything and Steve wants to land the sale.” That’s when I realized, it wasn’t “just” a scheduling job – it was a prospecting job. I was essentially “selling” this guy’s services to people. That was A LOT for someone who hates phones. But, I did end up scheduling that first call, so it got my confidence up a bit about it. But, ugh, I probably wouldn’t have even applied if I had known.

  17. irene adler*

    I did this in an interview- and it took the interviewer by surprise.
    I’d applied knowing there were two skills I did not possess (out of a bullet list of a couple dozen job requirements)- not much GD&T knowledge and one other skill.

    So the very first question: outline your knowledge of GD&T. Response: only book knowledge.
    Second question was on the other skill I lacked. I told her so too.

    Then I said, “Well, thank you for your time but I think we should end this right now. ”

    She was surprised. Probably never happened to her before. She wanted to continue the interview.

    I pointed out that clearly the top two skills they were looking for were the only two skills I lacked. So how much farther along the hiring process would I possibly get? I knew it wouldn’t be any farther.

    I thanked her and ended the interview. Why waste any more of her time?

    1. goducks*

      Obviously I wasn’t there and don’t know the details, but just because they were the first two things asked about doesn’t mean they were the top two things. The fact that the interviewer wanted to proceed might have meant that your lack of skill wasn’t a deal breaker if there were other skills that the position required. She may have inquired about those two skills first simply because she didn’t see them on your resume. Maybe they were just a small part of the job.
      I’m all for not wasting people’s time, but perhaps if you find yourself in a similar situation in the future, consider asking whether your deficit in an area is a deal breaker. It’s entirely possible that they expected that most candidates would be short on one or more skill on the list.

      1. Chriama*

        Someone at the top of this post mentioned having a candidate who ended an interview within 5 minutes because of technical questions they knew candidates weren’t likely to be able to answer. Here’s the candidate perspective on a similar situation!

        I do agree that it would have made sense at that point to stop and ask “these are the first 2 skills you asked about, which makes me think they’re pretty important for the job. I don’t have any experience with them, but I applied because I have experience with x, y, and z other skills mentioned in the job posting. Given my lack of experience with skills a and b, does it make sense for us to keep talking?” I’m a little surprised that Irene went straight to withdrawing from the position rather than just asking about things – because, as you say, the fact that they were the first 2 things asked doesn’t necessarily mean they were the most critical, or that they wouldn’t be willing to hire someone who didn’t have those skills but had other expertise — but maybe something about the way the questions were asked made that clear to her.

  18. the cat's ass*

    OMG, this brings back the research gig i interviewed for fresh out of grad school. Them: delightful New Zealanders in an office park with interesting work. Me: soaking through my interview suit with terror sweat when about 1/2 way through the panel interview i had an epiphany that I didn’t really want this job or to do research, I wanted to do patient care. I then spent 15 awkward minutes talking them out of hiring me. There was pushback which was weird and flattering but I kept backing away until one of the scientists finally said, “Okay, thanks for coming in and wasting our time.”

    My worst interview experience ever, and i still have the occasional nightmare about it 26 years later.

    1. Sherm*

      Yikes, that was an unnecessarily snarky thing of the interviewer to say, no matter how much of a case you were making against yourself. Anyone with some understanding should know that a stressed interviewee will not always be smooth in bowing out.

      1. the cat's ass*

        Well, I’m grateful it wasn’t any worse! I had to stop the car and barf once on the way home, and when my DH opened the door at home and saw and smelled me, he was “oooo, that bad, huh?” Fun times.

        1. tessa*

          When I was barely 18, I was able to get an interview at a now-defunct airline for an office position; had inside help for securing the interview.

          It went okay for the first few minutes, and then the interview said I had to undergo a drug screen. Did I have any questions about that?

          Being the chatty, new-to-adulthood teen I was, I chirped, “Well, I’ve smoked pot a few times and tried quaaludes once, and have had great times with both!” (or something very close to that). Nope, no question. Just makin’ conversation.

          The interviewer looked absolutely horrified, ended the interview right then, and my inside person couldn’t decide if the whole thing was embarrassing or funny.

          As for me, I still cringe, 30 years later. :D

  19. Ama*

    When I was still pretty young, I applied for an internal transfer position that seemed like it was one step up from my then current one (general university administration). In the interview it turned out the role was a lot more “personal assistant” than “university admin” (lots of picking up the Dean’s drycleaning, running things to and from her house, etc.) I have NO poker face so I think they sensed I wasn’t thrilled about that aspect and didn’t hire me, but I wish I’d understood then that I could say it wasn’t what I was looking for and excuse myself.

    In the subsequent years, before I left that university, I learned that HR made it so difficult to change job descriptions from their standard templates that departments would just post whatever template fit the general skills and paygrade they wanted and then would make sure that in the interview they explained any specific duties that the job description didn’t cover, so I suspect that’s what was actually happening. It’s such an inefficient way to hire, but that’s university admin for you.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Our HR group insists on using the same description for anything involving the title “Team Lead.”

      … We’re a hospital system with 30,000 employees stretched over the whole state, and teams range from clinical to administrative to facilities to cafeteria to … you name it. And we’re not allowed to customize it at all.

    2. Weird Time Soup*

      Having had friends who work in the administrative side of higher ed, I’ve quickly learned that it is NOT the field for me. That being one of many reasons why. More power to the people who actually do it and love it!

    3. Catabodua*

      Amazing how that’s still the same. Our university has standard job descriptions that WILL NOT BE CHANGED but then they give the hiring manager a small section at the bottom where they can try to put in a real description. How HR thinks this is useful is beyond me.

  20. Meghan*

    During my last job search, I applied to be receptionist at an animal hospital. Pay wasn’t listed. The interviewer brought it up as their 2nd question, and it wasn’t a number I could accept. I asked if they could negotiate, and they couldn’t. I thanked them and left. 2 minute interview.

    There’s nothing wrong with being up front and politely nope-ing out if the job isn’t for you. Just say thanks and move on. In my current position as a hiring manager, I would be okay with a candidate who did this.

    Good luck!

    1. Fabulous*

      Oooh this reminds me of a position I applied for, I was looking for something full time, and in my initial interview I ended up asking what they pay range was to make sure it made sense to continue talking. Turns out it was a part time position, which was NOT listed in the job description!

    2. fueled by coffee*

      As a college senior, a recruiter contacted me about a job (nonprofit, fundraising-adjacent). I wasn’t especially interested in it, but my parents suggested I go through with the (phone) interview as practice and who knows, maybe I’d end up being interested in it.

      Phone interview:
      Recruiter: *describes absolutely hellish schedule of 10 hour days, 6 days a week, calling donors and canvassing*
      Me: *Politely answers questions about myself, personally thinking that there’s absolutely no way I’m taking this job.*
      Recruiter: So you’ll get a stipend of $1200 a month—
      Me: Wait, for sixty hours a week? That’s less than minimum wage.
      Recruiter: Well, it’s a stipend, so it’s different. And we’re all so passionate about [cause] here…
      Me: Yeah, I can’t do that. Sorry for wasting your time.

      1. Hacker For Hire*

        Imagine having polished your suit, dressed up, driven 1 hr in traffic, waited for the interviewer to show up, then hearing this in the first 2 minutes of the interview.
        It happened to me more than once. And this is the reason why now, as a job seeker, I expect the first interview to be a phone interview. There’s no point for me spending half a day to hear about a job I have no intention to take. If, then, there’s mutual interest, I’m all in for an interview (or interviews) in person at a later time.

    3. Chriama*

      Pay is such an exasperating facet of interviewing. If you know the number and it’s not negotiable, mention it in the phone screen — or better yet, put it right in the ad! TBH put it in the ad anyways, even if it’s a range and is negotiable. I feel like I suffer from sunk cost fallacy, so I likely wouldn’t walk out of an in-person interview, but I would end a phone screen. Saves everyone’s time.

  21. Funny story, probably personally identifiable but meh I'm not working at the moment*

    If all else fails, any form of “I’m sorry but this is not right for me” is better than the already not doing very well person who hung up on my manager when my manager asked them how to harden a network.

  22. Miss Mabel*

    Something like this happened to me. Based on the ad, the job was a perfect fit. The HR director called me for a pre-screen and said that the job had changed direction since they published the ad. After our discussion, he agreed I was still a viable candidate and I agreed I was still interested. Then came my interview with the hiring manager. She asked me a number of questions about skills not related to either the job in the ad or the revised job I discussed with the HR director. Some skills I was familiar with some I had not used in a while, and others I did not have. As we wrapped up the interview she asked what I thought. I answered honestly and said that based on the skills she seemed to be looking for I didn’t think I was the right person for this job. She answered “On the contrary, I think you’re a good fit for this job.” She hired me and I just finished 14 years here. I joked that she hired me out of spite just to prove me wrong. If the employer is interested enough to bring you in for an interview, they see potential in you. The additional skills she asked me about were just a “bonus” in her mind, and something she was willing to teach me.

  23. Fabulous*

    I once applied for a job – I can’t remember what it was called (coordinator?) but the duties consisted of creating learning plans for schools or something like that. In talking about the duties of the role during my interview, it just kept sounding more and more like a sales job, but they weren’t outright saying “sales”. No you wouldn’t be selling the learning plans, you were just making them up and then calling the schools to see if they fit their needs. Ok, bub. No thanks!

  24. Miss Fisher*

    I wish I would have done this for an interview I had back in my younger days. Out of college, I took a job at a small catholic school that only lasted a year. That following summer, I got a call to come in for an interview for a position teaching Spanish. I explained on the phone that my Spanish was pretty limited and not conversational. The principal assured me that this wasn’t a problem, because the job was essentially teaching words, etc to elementary school aged kids. I agreed and showed up only to be completely embarassed when the high school Spanish teacher was there to ask the questions in Spanish. I wish I would have ended it, knowing it would not work out. Luckily they switched to English, but I knew I had blown it immediately.

    1. Nanani*

      Honestly it sounds like the principal did you dirty, and would have done the kids dirty by hiring you (no offense),
      Kids need high quality language instruction, it’s not just because the content is less complex that you can get away with a non-fluent speaker doing the teaching. I’m gonna bet the principal is monolingual ;p

  25. Anonymous Hippo*

    I had an phone interview once were the job seemed a step back for me, but the recruiter assured me that the company was aware of my level and salary requirements and that there was a lot more to the job than the job description required. The first question out of the interviewers mouth was “why do you want this job”. I replied I don’t know that I do, it appears to be a very junior role compared to where I am now, but the recruiter assured me there was more involved. She was shocked and said no, the job was exactly what was on the job description. So we ended it right there. I don’t think the recruiter expected me to be as blunt as that, and thought he could squeak this by both of us. Refused to use him after that since he clearly wasted both our times.

    1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

      Had one about 25 years ago that was similar.

      Background, I’m a software developer. At the time, I had absolutely zero experience in database management (I still don’t, actually). I had made my recruiter aware of this.

      So he sends me on an interview, and of course the job was for a database manager. As soon as I found this out, I told the hiring manager that there must have been a mix-up, and apologized if I had wasted his time. I asked him to keep me in mind if something came up in the future that was a better match for my skills.

      Needless to say, I refused to use that recruiter after that, just like Anonymous Hippo.

  26. Elenna*

    I’ve done this once before. It was for a university co-op position – I don’t recall the details but I definitely realized halfway through the interview that it was a very different position than I thought it had been based on the job description, and I wasn’t interested.

    The thing with my university’s co-op system was, if we got any offers, we were required to take one of them – I guess to prevent students from just spamming applications to anything. (We did 6 different 4-month co-op terms over the course of undergrad, so it wasn’t too bad to have one bad term.)
    Thus, I was sitting there thinking “oh crap, if this is my only offer I’ll have to take it, I have to make sure they don’t give me an offer.” So as politely as I could, I told them that I didn’t think I was a good fit for the role, and I didn’t think it would be helpful for either of us for them to send me an offer. It was kinda awkward, but the interviewer didn’t seem horribly offended or anything, just a little confused.

    1. Elenna*

      Maybe worth noting that I’d pulled an all nighter the night before (I bought Stardew Valley planning to play maybe 30 min of it and do work, instead got sucked in and played 10+ hours of it), so I might have been influenced to end it early by a desire to go home and go to sleep. :P
      Then again, it’s not like I regretted that decision after getting sleep, and I definitely wouldn’t have done it if the job had been what I expected.

  27. Hosta*

    I have a niche role. It is weird enough that the first question I get from candidates most of the time is “what exactly do you do?” Right now I’m hiring for multiple roles and I’ve had a lot of requests to just chat before someone engages in the hiring process formally. I’m happy to do it because a couple minutes of my time is better than setting up 5 interviews that don’t work out.

    Sometimes I’ll answer a couple questions over email or social media. Other times we set up a 15-30 minute call. The best candidates ask questions like “what’s the day to day like?” or “how is success measured in this role?” and “what does the interview process entail?” We also have a lot of that info available in various corporate blogs that our recruiters can share if candidates ask.

  28. Green tea*

    I’ve raised the issue in an interview before, once I realized a gap in my experience might be more important than the job description indicated.

    I asked something along the lines of “I don’t want to end up in a position where I don’t do well because I lack key experience. Do you think that someone without experience in X has a good chance of succeeding in this role?”

    I didn’t end up getting the position, but I was glad I asked the question and we had a candid discussion on how prohibitive a lack of experience in X would be, and it gave both of us an opportunity to pause for a moment and see if the interview was worth continuing.

  29. Emily*

    I’ve had two interviews where I thought very early-on, “I am so clearly not qualified for this based on the questions.” One of them, sure enough, the recruiter immediately followed up and confirmed this. The other one, I actually did get the job, and additional discussions confirmed that we were on the same page about what the role entailed and getting me up to speed in the areas that I was not currently there on. I do think that if you decide you do not want the job, this is a good reason to end an interview, but someone may be asking questions that you don’t know the answer to, and that could be okay.

  30. catsforbrains*

    I literally did this yesterday. I arrived at the end of an interview where their vision for my role was to manifest the impulses of the founders. It was only a 30 minute interview so at the end of it I let them know I appreciated their time but I was looking for something else and there was probably a better candidate for the role out there.

    They thanked me for my directness and said “I really respect that.” If you’re worried it’s disrespectful, so is wasting their time!

  31. Nea*

    I’ve done it. On paper, we looked like a good fit; in practice what they were thinking when they saw “experience in x” was not the actual experience I had doing x. Essentially my resume said Teapot Tester and they wanted someone to write and run procedures to stress-test new teapot designs, while what I actually did was quality test current designs according to set protocols.

    I politely told them that I was not who they were looking for, thanked them for their time, and hoped they would find a better fit. Polite and professional are key when you’re backing out. No reason to burn a bridge because there’s an initial mismatch in expectations.

  32. Elsa*

    I recently ended an interview early as the hiring manager. It was a senior management position and the candidate took 13 minutes to answer 8 open-ended questions. She answered a question about how she has addressed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in her current position with “well, there’s a committee for that.” After her interview, I dismissed the rest of the search committee. She was scheduled to meet with the rest of the staff and then a follow up 1:1 with me. I told her that I didn’t think this was going to be a good fit and I didn’t want to waste anymore of her time. She was very surprised – I think I could have started by asking how she thought it went? I’m dreading running into her at professional meetings.

  33. De Minimis*

    I had one where I wanted to leave, but didn’t. It was during the Great Recession and I’d submitted my resume to them a couple of years prior. He calls me in after that, doesn’t read my resume until during the interview, and then kept asking what I’d been doing all this time and why hadn’t I found a job [in a city that often flirted with double-digit unemployment even during normal times.] I think he’d expected someone who wasn’t entry level [which I still was at the time] due to my age–I was a career changer in my late thirties but only had a single year of experience in my field.

  34. UKDancer*

    I’ve never ended an interview early. The one time I did really want to was when I discovered that the job involved commuting to small town with no train station 2-3 days per week. The job description said they wanted someone to work either in London HQ or small town office. They actually wanted about equal time in both. Getting to small office would take me 2 hours each way and be really difficult by public transport and I wasn’t keen on driving that far as it would involve a lot of time on the M25.

    Having come to this realisation I decided I really didn’t want the job. They weren’t particularly enthusiastic either. I ploughed through because I felt too awkward to try and get out of it. I then withdrew my application as soon as I got home.

  35. k bee*

    I applied for a county job that I ultimately didn’t get, but the manager passed my info along to another department and they invited me to an interview. I was curious to learn more, and even though it didn’t seem like the ideal fit for me, I figured that they saw my resume and knew something I didn’t about the role.

    All of the questions were about data management, processing, etc. All quantitative. I’m a social sciences person who only has experience in qualitative and would need significant education to get up to speed on quantitative stuff. About ten minutes in, I explained as such and asked for some clarification on the role. I told them it sounded like a pretty clear mismatch and that we should probably cut our losses and move on to the next thing. It kind of sucked because I was eager to move on from my current job (and because the person who sent my resume on to this department knew me & my work experience well and also should have known it was a mismatch), but it wasn’t a big deal to call it quits mid-interview.

  36. Mary PopTart*

    Reminds me of a time I had a mismatch with a job in an interview but it ended up being a positive experience. I was recruited by an internal company recruiter, and while my technical background (quality coaching) was a match, my business experience wasn’t (required customer-facing experience, while my background was operations/back-office).

    Here’s what happened – the hiring manager and I mutually realized I was not a fit, but then had a great conversation about his need, and what they were looking to do. Even though it wasn’t a match, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, and we both ended it on a high note.

  37. Harried HR*

    We phone screen candidates to eliminate this kind of thing.

    Our positions are hybrid in the office 3 days a week WFH the other 2 days, This is listed in the job posting multiple times and when I bring it up during the phone screen if a candidates requests 100% remote I respond with… That is not an option in this role given that does it make sense to continue the process or did you want to withdraw ?

    Why people apply to a WFH Hybrid role in Georgia when they live in California boggles the Mind !!

    1. Nanani*

      Could it be that the job site/s where the role is posted obscures this? Like it’s being listed as remote because it’s PARTLY remote but the “partly” part isn’t beign made clear by the posting.

      1. Laney Boggs*

        Yeahhhh I’ve gotten 2/3rd through applying to a LOT of “remote jobs” before seeing that it’s actually hybrid. There’s probably a lot more times I didn’t catch it.

        While obviously one should read the entire posting before applying, this is def a job board thing.

    2. Weird Time Soup*

      I really wish that job sites made it easier to indicate when a job may work remotely “x” amount of the time, but still has in person requirements. We have a department that is WFH most days but also involves things like processing paper time sheets that have to be picked up in person, attending organization-wide in person training, quarterly team meetings in person, etc. The people in those roles really still need to live relatively locally – which like you said, we are very clear about in the job posting! But invariably something always goes wrong when trying to post the job externally and it gets marked as a solely “remote” position and we get flooded with applications from all over the country, from candidates who have 0 intention of relocating.

  38. Weird Time Soup*

    I really appreciate when candidates do this. I do a lot of recruiting for what are entry level positions that have a lot of nuance to them that is difficult to convey in a job posting. During the first part of the interview, I’ve gotten very comfortable with being frank about some of the more intensive parts of the job and asking people to confirm that they are comfortable with those requirements. Even still, sometimes people will go through the full interview, accept the offer, show up to work, and then leave after a week because the job was… exactly what we explained in the interview. For your sake and mine, candidate, I would much rather you tell me upfront that it’s not what you’re looking for. Not every job is for every person and there are no hard feelings, really!

    That being said, it is definitely much easier to do during a phone interview than in person – all the more reason that phone screenings are so important on both sides, IMO.

  39. Critical Rolls*

    I’m a hiring manager in a field that people sometimes romanticize or oversimplify, and apply at the entry level without much understanding of what’s involved. (That’s not a kiss of death or anything, as entry level is pretty teachable.) I wouldn’t be upset at all if a candidate got more info during the interview and decided it was a bad fit. Surprised, probably, and I’d hope we could make sure it was a real mismatch and not a misperception. But it would be perfectly okay. Of course, we’re not doing full day interviews that people are getting on airplanes for. Hopefully good quality phone screens are being done in cases like that.

  40. CyclingCommuter2412*

    Oh goodness! This happened to me so many times at my Co-Op program in university. (That’s a work/study program you do for credit; one semester in classes, one semester of paid work in the industry you’re studying for.) I applied to every job that said “Position X” and when I arrived at the interview, they’d sit me down in front of a web page and ask me about web and graphic design (so… NOT position X at all).

    It was so frightening to muddle through those interviews, demoralizing to not get the job, and then frustrating to wonder why the job description asked for X when they really wanted Y and Z. To top it all off, we couldn’t complain to the Co-Op office about it because they were more interested in protecting the employers for future placements than their students.

  41. Laney Boggs*

    I tried to end my last interview early, but the guy basically refused. (“Oh, I don’t know that it makes sense for us to keep talking…” /// “No no we can keep chatting!”)

    I cried when I finally hung up.

    1. Anon for this*

      I didn’t want to be rude ending an interview with someone because they genuinely seemed to think I was qualified for the role, and I really don’t want to be instant rejected for other positions in this company in the future, so I finally resorted to subtly texting my boss begging him to call me with an emergency to end what had turned into an interview that went half an hour overtime and was still going.

  42. Dragonfly7*

    Please remove yourself from hostile interviews. You DO NOT have to put up with that. I’ve fortunately really only had one. It was the first time I bothered to truly tailor my application to the job description (supporting a new program at a local non-profit), but apparently, the job description didn’t at all match what the position would actually do. Someone called me 90 minutes after I submitted my application, demanded to do a phone interview on the spot, and proceeded to repeatedly berate me and accuse me of not doing any research on the organization before applying. At some point, I cut them off and said, “Based on that, you obviously don’t think I’m right for the job, so why don’t you move on to the next person?” It worked!
    I’m okay with the interviewer ending early if they can be polite about it and can explain why. Being polite also goes for me. I turned down an interview last week by saying “I want to respect your time” and asking a clarifying question.

  43. Ellie Rose*

    My first-ever in person interview was one of these. The 2nd interviewer was asking technical questions, and they were WAY beyond what I had indicated knowledge of on my resume, and weren’t in line with my career goals (which I had already stated in the screening), so we had a brief, frank discussion about that — perhaps too frank, but I was following their lead and appreciated it. Something like (in a kind tone) “to be honest, if you don’t have must experience in programming language X, and being a developer *isn’t* your goal, I’m not sure why you’re interviewing for this role” and I replied something like “Me either, honestly: I was surprised to learn that the interview was for a developer role, given the minimal experience I have listed and my expressed interests during my phone screen. Perhaps there was a mix-up?”

    They then paused for a minute, and then said “you know, we ARE hiring for some positions you might be a good fit for, so perhaps there was a mix-up. I’ll send someone else in for a chat.” and some brief social niceties.

    The subsequent role they pivoted to WAS a good fit for my skills, but didn’t meet my other requirements for a job (it was on-call, often with evenings and weekends). Since we were both being upfront about the expectations, I basically turned it down during the second impromptu interview, in a “not a fit for me at this time” and got a “keep us in mind if that changes and feel free to reapply” in response.

    While the end result was no job offer, I’m very glad that we stopped the first interview. It saved both myself and the interviewer time, and if I *had* been interested in the 2nd role that they pivoted to, it would have potentially gotten me a job.

    It’s not always the case that you can pivot mid-interview, and this case, I was just so baffled when they brought me in (think, they needed a mechanic and I’d indicated I’d done my own oil changes a few times). They weren’t clear up front what role the interview was for, and that was my biggest gripe. In the future, I wouldn’t go to an interview with the minimal information they shared.

  44. Location, location, location*

    On the job hunt right now and had this situation a few weeks ago where I was invited to interview and only realized that the position was in New York state but not New York City (where I currently live) about 30 minutes before the interview (I did look into the position before the interview but the location wasn’t particularly clear in my research and I made an assumption). I got on the interview with them anyways but brought up the location issue right away. I asked if it would be possible for the location to be remote and they said no (looking at the job duties I think it could have been, but it’s their prerogative). I told them sorry, I can’t relocate at this time, and didn’t want to waste their time. They said alright, and they’ll keep me in mind if anything remote opens up as they were impressed by my resume and we ended the interview in a professional and friendly manner.

  45. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    I recently had an interview lined up for an executive level position, and the recruiter (very helpfully!) sent the questions in advance. She asked me to prepare to discuss my experiences with a number of different facets of the role, NONE of which I have enough experience in to be successful. I’m so grateful she sent them ahead of time so I could cancel in advance (“It’s clear from these questions I don’t have the experience you’re looking for”) rather than bumbling through an interview and wasting both of our time.

    1. Valkyrie (OP)*

      That would have made me so happy in my own situation. I remember trying SO HARD to come up with the answers and, at the time, I didn’t have much work experience, so I assumed that Of Course People Train You, especially because I worked in retail and food service roles for a long time and felt like I was trained (e.g. “here’s how you use a cash register/here’s how you slice the deli meat”) so I just assumed that making sure people knew how to do the technically stuff was standard. I had no idea how many jobs so called “training” was really basically a health and safety orientation. I literally work in a professionally licensed field that requires graduate degrees and I honestly found the training to be comically symplistic (e.g. “here’s some EXTREMELY basic training on anti-racism/LGBTQIA terms etc.”) and the more technical training was like “here is how we do scheduling/ here is how our client system works” but you really have to come in knowing how to do the job, which is a god damn nightmare for grad students who, by virtue of their student status, wouldn’t necessarily know how to do the job outside of the theory/ideas espoused in school.

  46. Joan of Arc*

    I did. No regrets.

    A high-tech company president was incredibly rude to me during the interview. She then gave me a work assignment which I was to do immediately on-site, warning me it could take all day.

    I thanked her for her time but declined.

    1. Valkyrie (OP)*

      Woaaaahhhhh! Did they not tell you that you had to do this work assignment ahead of time?! That seems bonkers! And a lengthy one at that? So many things sound wrong with that. Sounds like you made the right call.

    2. Gilgongo*

      I once did an unexpected 3+ hour test. Every skill I marked off that I could do, I was tested on. HTML, CSS, Photoshop, Illustrator, Word, Excel, and several more. I was exhausted & bleary by the end, and almost in tears. Every time I thought I was done, it a new test would appear. I stayed & did them all because I kept thinking “Surely I’m almost done!”

      It was about 10 years ago, and I still hugely regret not walking out. They never even got back to me, afterwards!

      Now, I won’t do any tests. If that’s part of the interview process, I take myself out of the running. Maybe I’d do it for a FANG company, but that’s it.

  47. Valkyrie (OP)*

    I could 100% see this happening. I sometimes see organizations in my field where the person doing the hiring doesn’t understand that there is a difference between the roughly 4 designations relating to my field (e.g., I saw a website for an org that I am interested in that was largely targeted to designation A but it was missing a critical detail for designation B – but they had people for designation B working for them and I was like hmmmm ok then). Or I’ll see people hiring for X who does A B and C but I am X who does B E and G, and given the nature of my work, it literally doesn’t matter, I just only work in the scope of the practice (think being a lawyer who mostly does immigration when the firm is looking for a lawyer who does business law – assuming that they’re a firm that offers several types of law, not JUST business law, you could theoretically see JUST immigration clients, but so you could apply and maybe they’ll hire you + a person who does business law, assuming they have the capacity for both).

    But in this past situation, that certainly wasn’t the case – they needed me to do A B and C, not B E and G, and there was going to be no “well, how about you hire me for B E and G and someone else for A B and C”

  48. tessa*

    I once engaged in an interview in which the person was just awful. Rude and condescending doesn’t begin to describe her.

    But I wanted my hotel and plane fare reimbursement, so I stuck it out. Just something to consider.

    1. Valkyrie (OP)*

      So it sounds like in your case, there was a reason to stick it out. I could see doing the same in my new career – I wouldn’t travel for a job interview (the nature of my work + life mean I am not planning to move, and if I was, it’s very uncommon to require people to travel in my work), but I could see sticking it out if I applied for a job with some circumstances – think I mentioned if they wanted X with A B and C and I was X with B E and F, like comparing it to being a lawyer who is in immigration law applying to a place that wants someone with business law Just In Case. I’m not a lawyer, but it’s comparable for my purposes. I figure if they called me in for an interview under those circumstances, and it became apparent that they really did need someone with business law, it would still be worth taking advantage of that opportunity to cultivate a relationship, just in case someday it would be the “right time”

  49. Here we go again*

    I’ve left an interview early. I applied for a receptionist position at an insurance company. They interviewed me for door to door sales a position I had no desire to do, not to mention I had to pay for the training and commute 3 hours round trip. I asked what happened to the receptionist job they said they hired the owners cousin, they said they still wanted to interview me. I was shocked at how shady it was.

  50. rebecca*

    Fresh out of college I applied for a job as an advertising assistant. I sent my resume, was invited to come in an interview. When I sat down with the HR person for a screening conversation she was incredibly rude and dismissive – at one point, while rattling off some of the job duties, she stopped and said “Do you even know what any of these words mean?” – it was very uncomfortable. When I spoke to the hiring manager, he shuffled through my work samples and said “I believe in being very honest with people…” and then told me about how I shouldn’t have wasted everyone’s time applying for a role as an ASSISTANT ADVERTISING MANAGER. So either the wrong role was posted, or someone got confused, but the moral of the story is yes end an interview early if you want. I certainly should have!

  51. Zel*

    I wish I had these tips 5 or 6 years ago when I interviewed for a role in the sciences where one of my interviewers was so actively hostile toward some research and publications in my CV that after I explained my work at his request that he accused me and the rest of my research and data collection team of falsifying the data because the techniques used were “not possible”. Never mind it was a gold standard test used by the industry and we were just compiling a database and looking for novel patterns! I was so insulted and flummoxed that I personally shut down and gave some rather short answers after that. Would that I had the backbone at the time to call it all off myself!

    I’ve since stepped away from full-time work and became a scientific consultant: I know my expertise and can sell it, and there’s no harm in being vocal up front about a skills mismatch or a mismatch in what I want out of my next project! It just took me over a decade and some toxic work environments and interviewers to properly learn to be my own advocate.

  52. Elle Woods*

    I once applied and interviewed for a job working at a small legal firm. I’d heard about the position through my neighbor who worked there. There was no formal job description; she led me to believe the role was more of a marketing role. Nope it, it was a receptionist job. The lead attorney seemed surprised I was interested in the role based on my background. Within about five minutes, we both realized that what I thought the role was and what it actually was were vastly different and agreed to end things early. Things were SUPER awkward with my neighbor for a while after that.

  53. Gilgongo*

    I’ve stopped several interviews once I found out what the pay is. They’ll say “The salary is ______.” ($50k less than I’d be willing to accept)
    I will politely reply that really, “The lowest I could go is ______ and, given that, does it make sense to continue our chat?”

    Sometimes they’re relieved that I was up front and end the interview. A few times, they acted very surprised & try to continue the interview… which always surprises me. I don’t want them to waste their time, and I certainly don’t want my time wasted, either!

    A couple of times, the position was listed as fully remote, but when I talked to them, they were all “I mean… you’d still have to come into the office once or twice a week! So we’d expect you to re-locate.” Nope!
    And twice, I ended interviews because I would be expected to attend 5am meetings. No.

    On another note, I’m so shocked at the disparity in salary my particular role has. Like, $45k – $170k. For the same experience, skills, etc… (I’ve even seem my job position listed as unpaid on LinkedIn. Like, asking for hard-core coding skills w/ 5+ years experience. For free! More recently, they said only those with Christian values & faith can apply… which I’m pretty sure is illegal)

    1. MissDisplaced*

      $45k – $170k? Jeez! And I thought marketing was bad for that. Someone making the upper end of that range is definitely not going to be interested in the $45k. Just. Why even do that?

      1. TechWorker*

        I read some stat that said there’s a huge range of efficiencies between programmers too – something that takes one person a day could take another 2 weeks. I’ve not seen quite that where I work but there’s definitely a lot of variance even between people with similar backgrounds who start at the same time. So looked at that way perhaps 45-170k isn’t that crazy – the 170k roles might just be a lot more demanding.

  54. MissDisplaced*

    I ended an interview early when I realized we were just way too far apart on salary and would never be close. By that, I mean a $4ok difference. I was extremely polite about it because they seemed nice, but there was no point continuing and meeting lots of others and wasting everyone’s time.

    I think they were “kicking the tires” to see what a more experienced person meant,. Lesson learned, get their broad salary range up front. I usually do, but this had some unusual arrangement and went right to interview for some reason.

  55. Betsy S*

    Happened to my team recently! We met a candidate and it was clear within a few minutes that his experience was in, say, presales stable design, not hands-on llama handling. After we described the job and asked a few skill-based questions, the candidate very nicely cut the interview short because he realized we were looking for an experienced llama groomer.
    I suggested both to him and to the recruiter that there were a couple of other job openings where he might be a great fit. It was nice to be able to be honest , and it was a positive experience, even though each side was also a little disappointed. . He’d clearly been working in a different direction and had some good skills. Hope it works out, that would be a win-win!

    (now,

  56. red floyd*

    Happened to me many years ago. At the time, I was working with a recruiter, and had specifically told him, “I don’t know X. Please do not refer me to any positions where I would be doing X.”

    So I go to an interview, and — surprise, surprise — the job involves doing X. After the hiring manager discussed the position with me, I apologized to him, and informed him that the recruiter must have made a mistake by sending me to him. I explained my situation, and again apologized, saying that I hoped I hadn’t wasted his time, and to please keep me in mind if he had anything in the future that was a better fit.

    Needless to say, I was not as kind to the recruiter. I stopped using his services at that point.

  57. Econobiker*

    Yup, bail out early if it’s not going to work. I was once recruited and the recruiter didn’t mention any salary money range even when I told him my current job’s salary. I got onto the call with the hiring manager and she mentioned a rate $15,000 less than my minimum (and current job’s salary) for a position that would have had a lot more responsibilities! Yikes!
    I told her nicely that I wasn’t ready to waste both of our times discussing the position when the recruiter hadn’t mentioned a salary range. When I called the recruiter back he was miffed about the salary issue claiming that we’d discussed it. No, dude, we hadn’t because I wouldn’t have scheduled the hiring manager call for $15k less!!!
    Cut loose quickly yet professionally and don’t waste any more time.

  58. Olivia Oil*

    I have to admit that there were times when I SHOULD have done this, but I had prepared so much for the interview, taken PTO, and everything that I fell into a sunk cost mindset and just completed the other thing. I guess there is a silver lining of getting interview practice if you’re early in your career, but that’s it. There were a couple of times where the hiring manager’s idea of the job and the job description were totally different and they accused me of misunderstanding the job. I should have left right away because that was a red flag for sure.

  59. toadsandfrogs*

    I recently interviewed for a job where the primary duties of the position had not been mentioned in the job description at all. Think a job description that said it was for “staff job writing complicated soup ingredient labels” but when the interview started it turned out to be “new position writing press releases about food for major media outlets.” Sure, both are “writing” — but one is very different from the other in terms of experience, personality, and all kinds of things. I left the interview shaking my head as to why they didn’t just put this in the ad in the first place. Plenty of people with PR experience could have applied who didn’t, and the people who did apply probably weren’t who they were looking for!

  60. No name this time*

    The inverse situation happened to me. During a stretch of unemployment ten years ago when, for a variety of outside factors, job in my field became scarce, I had to apply for jobs for which I had little expeience, paid too little, were a horrible commute, etc. in order to meet my state’s unemployment systems requiring a certain number of contacts each week. Along comes an opening for the “perfect” position for me in terms of duties on the lengthy job description but the stated location might be a doable commute. It was posted as a 2-3 month temp slot for the busy season and then convert to permanent with benefits. I applied through the recuiting firm that posted the job and got an interview. My drive to the office at the end of a morning commute made it clear that a commuted would not be sustainable. The person conducting the interview asked the usual questions about my background and skills but made it clear that my duties would consist solely of the very last item in the job description, proofreading customer details on a computer screen, something that I despise and thus do not do well. Moreover, the job would never become permanent. I thanked her at the end of the interview, went out to my car, and called the recruiter to withdraw. The unemployment system would require me to accept it if offered and it was the worst possible job with the worst possible commute. The recuiter (one of those overseas folks) would not take no for an answer so I blocked his e-mail and would not answer his calls. As the song goes “You gotta know when to fold ’em.”

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