is it dishonest to interview for a job when I’m not that interested in it anymore?

A reader writes:

Until recently, I was looking to leave my current project management role. After being at the same title and essentially the same pay for five years, I was feeling frustrated with the lack of advancement in a job that was expanding in scope and responsibility. While I enjoyed the work, I felt like having the same title would gradually make my resume look stale. Moreover, the whirlwind of inflation we got hit with this year made me feel pretty anxious about my pay. I spoke about these concerns with my management multiple times over the year, including during my interim review (which was very positive), but got little more than “we know this is a problem and we are working on it/things are in store for you, but we can’t tell you anything.” I work in the public sector, so messaging like this is not abnormal, but after a year of hearing it I was ready to move on.

That is … until three weeks ago. Everyone on my team received a substantial (close to 15%) raise on top of a merit increase of 2%. I feel much better about the pay question now. While my title is still the same, a new deputy director has quickly labelled me a “rock star” and I am receiving a lot of repeat positive reception on my work. More importantly, I am having my ideas listened to and implemented on a level I have not experienced before. My perception of my job has improved significantly in a short timeframe and now I am no longer looking to leave.

Unfortunately, I now have multiple interview requests coming in from all those applications I made back when I wasn’t as pleased. Some are outside my current organization, others are internal. I interviewed for one job recently, but the process left me feeling dishonest as I wasn’t really interested anymore (although in that job’s case it wasn’t a great culture fit anyway). After I got a follow-up call from the hiring manager (who was very excited about my candidacy), I had to downplay any interest and I felt like I had wasted their time.

I have another job interview request, this time internal, and I’m torn on what to do. It’s for a genuinely interesting role which would also be a title and pay bump from my current role, so on paper at least I would want to learn more by interviewing. But if I’m honest, the thought of leaving now following the recent pay/experience changes leaves me anxious as I quite like my current job, so I’m inclined to politely let them know I’m no longer looking. I could interview anyway, but I’d be walking the same path that left me feeling dishonest.

Do you have any advice for me?

Well, first, it’s not dishonest to keep accepting those interviews. You’re allowed to have business conversations about jobs in your field even if you’re happy where you are. And you’re allowed to interview for jobs you’re pretty sure you wouldn’t take in order to learn more, if you’re open to the possibility that you might learn something that changes your mind.

But if you’re sure that you would not take any of these jobs regardless of what you learn in the interviews, then yes, it makes sense to back out. Candidates back out all the time! It’s no big deal at all. You’d just say, “I’ve decided to stay where I am for now, but best of luck filling the position.” Or, “I’m no longer searching for a new position so I’d like to withdraw from consideration. Best of luck with your hiring process.”

But if you want to go on some of the interviews and would be open to switching jobs for the right offer, keep taking the interviews! It’s not dishonest to interview just because you’re less motivated to change jobs now than you were when you applied, or because the bar would be higher to get you to leave now than it was earlier.

The one caution I’d give is about internal interviews. With internal interviews, it’s pretty common for your current manager to be informed that you’re interviewing, so if you’re not really serious about pursuing one of those jobs, it doesn’t make sense to deal with the questions that can raise if you don’t have to. Plus, if you interview and then turn down an internal job, it can sometimes have repercussions later (for example, by making you less likely to be considered for another internal job you really do want in the future — not that that’s reasonable, but it happens).

But with external jobs, you won’t generally have those same considerations. If you want to take those interviews and are open to hearing what they have to say, have the conversations and see what you think! An interview isn’t a commitment to accepting a job if it’s offered.

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I was pretty sure there was mutual disinterest when I was interviewing for my current job. Learned more as the process went on that changed my mind completely, and it also turned out my initial read was wrong and I was a top candidate. If you’re not 100% sure, it doesn’t cost much to keep talking.

  2. Lynn*

    LW, can I ask a question? You are now happy with your current position, but is the process you experienced to get there likely to be repeated? Is there a next step to continue growing your title and pay, or are you like stalled out now for another several years? If the systematic rules still exist you may still want to have an open mind about other opportunities.

    1. Spearmint*

      That’s what I’m wondering, too. It’s easy to feel a “sugar high” after getting a raise or more recognition, but will LW go back to feeling as they did in six months or a year? Would they be willing to wait years more for another raise or a promotion? If they’re not sure, it might be worth taking these interviews just to see how they feel after they have evaluated a concreate alternative.

    2. ferrina*

      Yeah, this was my concern too. It may be that it took a long time to go through the processes to get the changes pushed through; or it could be that the changes will only last a couple months then peter back to the old ways. Think about what you know about your organization, and whether this is more likely to be a lasting change, or a passing fad.

    3. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

      It’s also worth pointing out that this isn’t a binary situation of “job hunt right now or stay forever.” Want to stay put while you weather the coming recession? That’s fine. Want to try for the internal position and then use that higher rank/salary as your jumping off point next year? Also fine. If you don’t want to leave, you don’t have to. That door will still be there for you to walk through next year.

    4. Artemesia*

      This.. They didn’t promote you and barely gave you a raise after years of not. Maybe it is time to value yourself more and look to make that rock star mean something i.e. with real career advancement. Words are just words.

    5. Sara without an H*

      What Lynn said. In some ways, this is like turning down a new position because your old organization makes a counter offer. But while the counter offer may fix the salary issue, the underlying issues that made OP start looking will still be there.

      OP, why don’t you just do the interviews at the places that most interested you and just see what happens? You may find something you like better at an organization that doesn’t make you go years without a raise.

      1. PotsPansTeapots*

        That’s my thought. Maybe you learn at the interview that there’s a ton of opportunities for promotions or professional development. It can be hard to get a read on that from a listing.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It is more than a “counter offer” because they have started listening and implementing her ideas, so she’s feeling like they take her seriously now. If she moves, she loses her rock star status that she’s only just earned where she is.

  3. Qwerty*

    It has only been three weeks, that isn’t enough of a data point to know if the changes will stick around or if you’ll still be happy with the salary in a year. Bad jobs have a way of getting better for a little bit and instilling hope. Maybe it will stay better! But do you feel confident enough to put all of your eggs in that basket?

    With the internal position that you are torn about, is there someone you can manage expectations with? Personally I would still go for it and really give that job a fair fighting chance. If you decide at the end that you want to stay in your current role, then you have a really good out of “I was ready to move on 2 months ago, but there have been substantial changes to it since Jane came on as the new director so my circumstances have changed”. You could still even pull out after one or two rounds if you realize the internal role isn’t for you with a similar line and thanking them for the opportunity/consideration.

    1. Meep*

      Yeah my bad job was like a rollercoaster. I would be close to quitting after being promised miles of change only to back off when they gave an inch. Went on for years. Loved my work and my coworker, but my employers treated me like crap.

      LW’s job reminds me a lot of that.

  4. Meep*

    Honestly, I know you like the work, but why stay at a place that offers a 15% pay raise after FIVE years even if they were offering you retroactive pay (which it sounds like they are not) and 2% raise to account for 4% inflation? They have showed you that they don’t value you. You can wait until it is something you are excited about, but it is time to move on.

    1. ferrina*

      The 2% was a merit increase, not a COLA. If LW only had COLA in 2018/2019, then pay freezes in Covid, and they just resumed with pay adjustments, this would make sense.

      But yeah, I’d investigate this really closely. This could easily be a retention tactic. How does your current salary compare to market rates? I worked at an org that would find any excuse not to give a raise. Even after they weathered Covid, they waited until folks were starting to leave before they stared increasing compensation. I got another offer in hand before they suddenly increased my salary. They wanted to give me a 20% increase!…which still left me $15-20k below market rates. My new offer gave me a 60% increase and brought me slightly higher than market average.

      1. Meep*

        Same difference imho. Merit increases are rarely based on merit and are associated with COLA, which is lower than inflation. It basically compensates inflation and is bare minimum to ensure your employee doesn’t start looking.

        1. nope*

          They said they work in the public sector. Large, and infrequent, salary increases after a comparative salary study is conducted is pretty common.

    2. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      I agree. 15% seems like a lot when you’re used to a lot less, but they likely could find something that increases it more and has a salary bump.

      But the good news is with the raise, OP can be really picky and only accept interviews/offers they are excited about.

      1. Anonym*

        Also, a promotion or level jump might significantly exceed 15%, depending on the circumstances. Something to consider.

  5. learnedthehardway*

    Obviously, if you just aren’t at all enthused about an interview opportunity, I would decline it – you want to bring your A Game when you’re interviewing.

    But, for really attractive opportunities, I would keep having interviews – it seems to be the one new director who is driving most of your re-engagement with your job and company. While it is good that your company revisited everyone’s compensation and is making that effort to stay competitive, I think you need to look more broadly at your overall job satisfaction. What happens if that director leaves or gets hit by a bus? Do you have other people at the organization who also recognize your value, or would you be in the same situation as previous?

    Just make it really clear that you’re exploring and that things have turned around somewhat at your current company. You’re open to opportunities, but you’re not as motivated to leave as you were before, so the company, role, management, and compensation would have to be very attractive to you.

  6. MCMonkeyBean*

    It sounds like you’re no longer actively looking to leave, but might still be interested if something good enough came along. I’d look back over where you applied and think “Was I really interested in this job specifically or was I just applying because I wanted to leave?” Things that fall in the first category, I’d vote still go interview! For others, maybe reach out and say you’re withdrawing your candidacy.

    For the internal role, if you are still curious to learn more, I would just approach that will full transparency on both sides. Since it is a title bump as well it seems worth at least looking into. I’d talk to both the hiring manager and also to your own manager and basically say that you’re happy in your current position, but interested in learning more about the other position and whether it would be a good fit.

  7. The Prettiest Curse*

    It doesn’t hurt to look at what’s out there (just in case things go sideways at yoir current job again) and to get some interviewing practice. Talking about yourself in interviews gets easier the more experience you have, and low-stakes interviews are often the best to use just for practice purposes, since you won’t be as nervous.

    I wasn’t that interested in my current job until I interviewed for it, and it has been great! You never know what can happen in an interview process.

  8. SpaceySteph*

    I have twice interviewed for jobs that I didn’t think I wanted. I got offered both of them and took both of them. One turned out to be a great personal and professional move, the other I just started in so…we’ll see. I also think I do better in interviews when I’m meh about the job because it calms the nerves. So… you know, if you REALLY don’t want to leave don’t do the interview because you could end up leaving. On the other hand… does it hurt to see what’s out there?

    1. SansaStark*

      That was exactly my experience, too! My second interview was with someone who professionally intimidated the hell out of me, but my only goal was to make a good impression so that they’d think well of me when a better job opened up in the future. I even turned down the job at first but they sweetened the deal so much that I couldn’t say no. I’m really happy with my decision even though I was initially really sad/scared to leave.

    2. Dona Florinda*

      Same here! My best interviews were the ones I wasn’t really excited about, and more than once I accepted the job and it turned out it was a good decision.

  9. Project Problem Solver*

    Not your actual question, LW, but if you have the actual title “Project Manager,” don’t feel too worried about your job title looking stale. While there are a lot of different things you can be called as a project manager (for example, currently a Project Integration Manager), the role itself doesn’t change, and I’ve never had a problem keeping the title Project Manager for several years at a time. You might be able to get a “Sr Project Manager” in there somewhere, but it’s not terribly necessary from a resume point of view in my experience.

    It’s one of those weird field-specific things like a PMP holding more weight in general than a Master’s Degree.

  10. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

    Perhaps I’m missing something (today has been a lot), but OP has been asking about advancement at current job, and then gets offered an interview for a higher-ranking position at current job. Is it possible that they did listen, and this was their way of responding (positively) to your request? Additionally, if you like the organization and the type of work but are worried about a stale title, doesn’t this new role solve that issue?

    I know I desperately need a nap, and may be misinterpreting, but this seems straightforward, and would appear to me to reflect well on the organization.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      Well, that’s a really good question, isn’t it? Is this just a one-off to make people happy in the short term and less likely to leave (essentially kicking the problem down the road), or is this a sign of better things to come? There is no way to know the answer to that question.

  11. Sparkles McFadden*

    You might find a job you like better! If you get an offer but you don’t want to take it, don’t take it. At least after interviewing you’ll have a feel for other workplaces, and maybe something will open up in one of those places in the future. It’s always good to have interviewing practice and to get an idea of what else is out there. You may even feel better about staying put.

  12. Water Dragon*

    I just think it’s cute that the OP is worried about the ethics of wasting employers’ time in the job hunting process. Employers certainly don’t worry about your time. Well, not all employers. It’s just the 95% of employers that are giving the other 5% a bad reputation.

  13. pinetree*

    There is one factor that would make me cautious of going too far in an interview process I’m on the fence about. Which is, if I might want to apply again at that company relatively soon. I’d prefer to avoid the risk of the company deciding they wasted their time on me and therefore being less receptive to another application down the road. For that reason, I’d stop to pause and reflect after speaking to the hiring manager and make a decision about continuing at that time. That doesn’t mean I won’t still later decide to withdraw/decline, but that I’m being purposeful about going forward.

  14. A Nominal Nonymous*

    I’ve been in a very similar situation, where I wasn’t getting promoted and started applying to other jobs, and then talked to my manager and they told me I was going to get promoted at the end of the year, and then I had to decide whether to stay or not and what to do with the jobs I had applied to and was then getting interviews for.
    First of all, I just want to say it’s great that you got a raise, but it still doesn’t seem like you have the new title or the plan/timeline to get to the new title. Have you raised this with your manager? If you don’t get the title, is the new raise alone going to be enough to satisfy you or is the title dissatisfaction going to seep back once the glow of the raise wears off?
    In my situation, I took some time to think about it and concluded that, like you, there were a number of things I did really like about that job, so I kind of wanted to stay if possible. First of all I withdrew from one job I had applied to that was at the same level I was already at, because no point in taking that if I could get the higher title from my current company. With the other applications I continued on with the interviews, but looking at it from a higher standard of what would make me say yes and being more willing to withdraw from the process if I felt after an interview that it wouldn’t be a better position or fit than my existing one. Ultimately I only went to the final interview with one (well, out of four I had applied to) and by that time I had mostly concluded that I would probably stay with my existing company, but I still wanted to see how it went. I probably didn’t prepare enough for that interview because I knew I probably wouldn’t take it, which likely contributed to them not offering me the job, which was fine (although obviously I should have properly prepared for that interview). I don’t regret continuing with those interviews because there was still a chance I would have taken them and I didn’t want to rush my decision to stay without giving it due consideration. And the places I was interviewing with are places that I was interested in in general so it was good to learn more about them even if it wasn’t the right fit right then. I was also ready to reconsider whether to leave if that promotion hadn’t come through as promised.
    So basically, I did end up staying but I don’t regret continuing to interview with places that I was still open to considering if they proved better and withdrawing if I concluded it wouldn’t be better for me. I also think that your current company often has some inertia/the unknown is always more uncertain but don’t let that sway you too much, do take some time to think about what really will be best and whether you think you can be satisfied not just at the moment but also a bit longer term if you stay.
    Good luck!

  15. BubblesBubblesBubbles*

    This is timely for me, as I was invited to a interview just this week for a job I’m pretty sure I don’t want. I do want to work for this particular organization though, but when the hiring manager told me the salary range, I thought, “Oh heck no.” It was about 30k below my current salary. I think I should have declined the move forward after I heard that, but the call from the hiring manager caught me off guard – I had just applied for the job the previous day, and it was the first time they had reached out to me, and basically did a mini-screening interview right then that I was not prepared for. Unfortunately I panicked and said that salary range sounded okay and we could move forward. :/

    Now that I write it out, I should probably call them back and withdraw. It’s an organization I’ve been wanting to work for a long time, and if the salary was higher, I would seriously consider the position. My friends think it wouldn’t hurt if I went just to get to know more about the organization and the job, but I definitely can’t take a 30k cut (I can’t take even a zero cut right now, the only thing that would make me leave is higher pay than what I currently make).

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      You might want to say something about you had misheard or misunderstood the pay so they know why you’re withdrawing.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I find this to be an odd comment.

      I worked in the public sector for years. That’s not a euphemism. It’s legitimate terminology.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I agree that’s an odd response to the letter! That’s what it’s called, and it’s relevant information since that the way and frequency with which raises happen is likely different than in the private sector.

  16. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

    I find this to be an odd comment.

    I worked in the public sector for years. That’s not a euphemism. It’s legitimate terminology.

  17. Caroline+Bowman*

    A 17% raise all at once feels like a substantial amount, but if you divide it over 5 years (and I’m aware there may have been very small cost-of-living increases along the way so this isn’t strictly factual), but it comes to around a 3.4% raise for each of those years that you didn’t get a raise.

    That actually sucks epically. Sorry, but it does. Not only that, but they haven’t even given you a title bump, just told you that your work is excellent (which is great! I feel like it probably is more than true and they’d like to keep you where you are, a nice hard worker who asks for very little).

    I’m sorry to be sour and cynical about this, but I really think you should continue interviewing elsewhere. You may now decide certain roles are not for you, and certainly don’t waste time on those (your time, not theirs, their time is important to them, yours is to you), but please don’t shut the door on other opportunities, having done a lot of groundwork for those.

  18. An Australian In London (currently in Australia)*

    OP, if you’re sure that nothing could persuade you to change jobs now or for the next few years, yes I think it’s courteous to withdraw.

    However, if you’re only, say, 98% sure you’re not interested, I suggest you accept all external interviews. How wonderful to have interview and resume practice when it isn’t devastating to not be selected!

    A few years ago, I would have been a lot more concerned with not wasting their time, but right now, my sentiment does not favour hirers. They did not treat workers well when they held the balance of power; let them be on the back foot now that the tables are mostly turned.

    Perhaps don’t continue after a first-round interview, but they will be interviewing others in the first round and you won’t cost them much.

    I agree with the advice to withdraw from other internal opportunities though, as that seems likely to send the wrong message to your current management.

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