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Monday, August 3, 2009

the ethics of cancelling remaining interviews once you find "the one"

Where do you stand on this question?

An employer is interviewing for a position. They have five interviews scheduled. Interview #3 is fantastic, and the interviewer's experience tells them that the other candidates won't beat #3.

If you were candidate #4 or #5 and your interview hasn't happened yet -- say it's scheduled for later this week -- would you rather that the employer continue on with your scheduled interview, even though now they're pretty sure it's going to be a waste of your/their time because they're almost definitely going to offer the position to the other candidate (who appears certain to accept)? Or would you rather they not make you put in the time when it's so unlikely to pay off?

(Assume for the sake of the question that if candidate #3 turns down the offer, the employer will resume the remaining interviews.)

I could argue this either way, but ultimately -- if I'm that sure about candidate #3 -- I'm on the side of not wasting people's time.


Lance said...

HR in me says "What happens if the others are better?"

The pragmatic in me says "Let's not waste anyone's time. They'll be disappointed and we should be ready to explain that."

Pragmatism wins.

Anonymous said...

If I was the candidate #4, I would rather the employer continue with the interview. Although everything seems certain, there is always the chance of something not working out or candidate #4 may be qualified for a future position. An interview is still the opportunity to establish a relationship that could be helpful to the employer in the future.

Unknown said...

I totally agree. It would be hard to hear, but I would definitely appreciate the honesty, and getting back the time I would have stressing about it and preparing for it.

shannon said...

I would rather the employer continue with the interview. It helps to have a back up candidate in case the number #1 candidate finds something better or turns out to be less then stellar.

Plus it keeps the door open for further communication about other possible positions available.

Unknown said...

As long as it's not some full day interview involving meetings with six different people, I'd probably prefer they still call me in. Unless they see an obvious weakness in my background, who's to say I won't come in and blow oh-so-wonderful candidate #3 out of the water? Even if I don't, you never know if that interview may lead to something in the future.

George Guajardo said...

Selection, like all other decision-making processes often drives us to select between optimizing and satisficing.

Candidate 3 meets all expectations, so we can consider this candidate to satisfy our needs. To find the optimum candidate (from among the 5) we would have to interview the remaining 2 candidates.

From a practical standpoint, the choice between decision-making approaches have different trade offs. It is up to the decision maker to decide what approach to take. Optimization leads to "the best" results, but is ill suited when the problem space contains a large number of options.

If you only have two more choices to consider, it probably a good idea to go ahead with the remaining interviews.

A Girl Named Me said...

Definitely, definitely complete the interviews.

If #3 is unable to accept the job for whatever reason, you would have to restart the process.

We advise job seekers to continue looking until everything is in order and an offer is in hand because they never know what could happen and what seems like a sure thing could fall through.

As an employer, I follow that same advice and keep my options open.

Anonymous said...

If you know for sure you're not going to hire me, don't waste my time. I will be stressed out and nervous getting ready for the interview and in the interview itself and if it's just a charade so you can complete what you said you were going to do, that's for your comfort, not mine.

Anonymous said...

Keep the schedule, especially when people are making arrangements to leave work (faking a sick day or similar).

I wouldn't count on #3 to come out and knock everyone over. That person could have a bad day, turn down the offer, or something else could happen. Then they're losing face with the other candidates.

I would definitely be a little upset if a company canceled their interview, and then later on asked me to come in. That would be very suspicious.

Who knows - maybe #4 or #5 might be a good hire elsewhere in the company.

Deirdre HR Maven said...

I would continue on with the other interviews. You just never know.

Tracy Tran said...

I would complete the whole process and have the other two in for the interview.

There are many ways why to complete the process:

1. Make sure the top candidate is really there after the interviewing process. You can be sure, but make sure you have the candidate

2. The other 4 might not get the job, but they can pay it forward and recommend other candidates for other jobs or a networking event and have a conversation. Sometimes, people remember your name and you don't know the two going to meet face-to-face for the first time. We do live in a small world and our profile is open to the public.

3. There will be someone who might surprise you and it's alright to have a second look and if the person has something the other candidate that doesn't bring.

jmkenrick said...

Even if the employer knows that I'm not going to be hired, I would still appreciate the interview. I've probably already blocked out the time and done some research, and it will give me an opportunity to get to meet the employer and make a good impression that might be worth something further down the line.

That said, I'm also still new to the career game, so even if I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get a job, I can still treat every interview like practice.

Em-Dash said...

If there isn't a lot of time difference between interview #3, #4, and #5 it seems rude to cancel.

If there is (a day or more), then you could contact the candidates explain nicely that the situation has changed but would they be interested in interviewing on a more informational basis.

As the candidate, I'd be disappointed at first, but then thrilled that you still want to meet with me. Also, I wouldn't be expecting a job when I interview (but as a manager, you may be able to use the candidate later).

Charles said...

Let me get this straight - You've already scheduled interviews for job seekers who may have already scheduled to take time off, who may have already gotten someone to cover for them, etc. And now you want to cancel without interviewing them? All because you are so certain about the "fantastic" earlier candidate?

Here are my feelings about this scenario:

1. Ideally; Yes, please interview me, you haven't met me yet, so how can you be so certain that I am not more "fantastic" than the earlier candidate?

2. Realistically; If you have already made up your mind, will you even give me a chance? Will you be interviewing me with an opened mind? I suspect not, then please don't waste my time. And I will never do business with your organization again, ever!

Got that? Good!

AAM, I think I will take you up on that offer of a public service to let interviewers know that they suck.

Several years ago, I scheduled to take a day off from work (a vacation day because I was not brought up to be dishonest - I just don't know how others call in "sick" when they plan a day off to go for interviews). My interview was scheduled for 4:30 that afternoon. I let the interviewer know that I would be off the whole day and to call me if her schedule changed, I would certainly be willing and available to come in earlier if needed.

I spent the whole day at home doing nothing but waiting to see if she would call. I arrived for the interview on time, was kept waiting until after 5:15 pm, only to have her come out to explain to me that she has "been burnt" too many times in the past and that she had just called to offer the job to someone else. And she kept me waiting to see if they would accept. She didn't even interview me! She stressed how much she "believed in being honest"!

She should have either cancelled my interview before I left home if she really "believed in being honest" or she should have interviewed me anyway as I took the time to show up.

And that is why today I will not buy nor live in a K. Hovnanian Home! They suck!

Anne said...

If you know I'm not the one don't interview me. Don't do it to be nice or as an information interview, if you know I'm out of the running for this job, TELL ME. Yes I might have taken the day off work. You will just make it worse by making me spend it in an interview for a job I'm not going to get. I would rather use that day for something for myself instead of sitting in an interview for a job you already know I'm not going to get. I don't get these people saying they would want to go through the motions.

Anonymous said...

How can you be so absolutely sure that the other applicant's may not be a stronger fit with better skills?

Sometimes people look fantastic on paper but are dreadful in person and vise versa, some don't have as good a resume but have fantastic skills.

I think in a market where there are so many quality candidates around it would be near sighted to think that no one could be better than the person you've just decided was the best.

Isn't HR about being objective and taking all information to account rather than just making rash decisions?

Ask a Manager said...

I don't think that's the right characterization of it, Anonymous. After all, say you have 15 great candidates, but you're only going to do 5 in-person interviews. You have to narrow them down somehow, and you do that based on what your knowledge and experience tells you about which are going to be the strongest matches. Those aren't rash decisions; it's what hiring is.

And this situation is a smaller version of that. The only difference is that you had already scheduled an interview with this weaker candidate.

Hiring isn't an exact science, and it's not about giving everyone minimally qualified the opportunity to prove themselves in an interview (or you'd be doing dozens more interviews than is realistic). It's about using your experience and judgment to make the best decisions you can. I've done enough hiring to trust my judgment about how one candidate stacks up against another, and I think that's true for most experienced interviewers. Sometimes candidates are close enough that you really don't know until you do the interviews, and other times someone blows you away so much that you know from experience that the guy with the less impressive set of experience isn't going to be competitive against her, and good interviewers know which type of situation they're dealing with.

Ask a Manager said...

Personally, I agree with the commenters who say they wouldn't want their time wasted. But regardless, I think what the discussion here shows is that different people feel completely different from each other on this issue, and they all feel really strongly about their point of view ... which doesn't really point to any one right path for the interviewer.

I think it comes down to knowing how experienced/skilled of an hirer you are (and thus how much it's reasonable to trust your judgment): Has your judgment generally been right on such things in the past? Do you make great hires? Is the favored candidate unusually good, at a level you'd be shocked to find another candidate matching, based on your experience, or just moderately good? Those are all things I'd take into account when deciding whether or not to short-circuit a round of interviews.

M said...

In my opinion the answer depends also on the pressure of the deadline.
If I have the process timeline set and approved by the hiring manager, I interview all the candidates before making a decision. It seems fair to me for both: the company and the candidates.
I selected number #4 and #5 as eligible options, therefore I wouldn’t consider interviewing them a waste of time. Furthermore, as I work in a niche industry, it’s useful for me to meet valuable candidates and build relationships. I am not in charge only with one project, but with fulfilling the recruitment needs of my company. Consequently I have to think on long term.
In the worst case scenario, of a huge pressure of having someone hired as soon as possible, I would offer the position to #3, explain the situation to #4 and #5 and let them decide whether we cancel the meeting or not. But this is a situation I try to prevent.

TisDone said...

My Vote: Keep to the schedule, and interview #4 & #5 with an open mind.

Why? First - a bit of a cooling-off period about the alledgedly-fantastic #3 candidate. Perhaps - with a bit more time to reflect on how the interview went, you may realize that the fit isn't as perfect as the interview initially suggested.

But also - since its just the "rest of this week" to go to the other interviews, that's not too long (IMHO) to wait to see if the other candidates are just a shade better, if not overall, perhaps in one key functional area.

If the interviews were scheduled out more than a week after the magic candidate appeared, OR if I had already interviewed more than 2 other candidates, then I'd be more willing to cut the last 2 loose.

Anonymous said...

I would think that while the person interviewing thinks candidate 3 is a fantastic candidate, hiring decisions may not be up to one person and, furthermore, the "one" has usually has to pass management inspection.

I've been on hiring boards where we found the "one" with the right set of experience and all of us agreed (it was in a university setting where getting 5 different people from 5 different areas to agree is almost miraculous), only to have management nix our choice because they wanted someone else with a particular set of credentials (that turned out to not matter a whit for job performance). Of course, in that setting, you can't stop interviewing if you find someone you feel would be the perfect fit, but it sure made us feel like we had wasted our time.


Rebecca said...

On the hiring end of things, I would go ahead and interview #4 and #5... because twice now, I've been part of a hiring situation where our "candidate #3" was perfect, had us really excited about hiring her, had us seriously considering ditching the other candidates, said she'd take the job if we offered -- and then turned us down. Maybe that's just my rotten luck though...

As a candidate, I would prefer you went on with the interview, because I see it as an opportunity to make a connection, and every connection is valuable. Even if you don't hire me, I still get the chance to make a positive impression that causes you to remember me when another opening comes up.

Also, Em-Dash's suggestion is a good compromise, I think.

Sphaeron said...

As a potential #4 or #5 candidate, I'd rather be canceled on. Having participated on the hiring side of a company, I've see a situation play out in this manner:

It is decided that #3 is great. Interviews for #4 and #5 are conducted without rigor for the sole purpose of avoiding the social situation of having to cancel them. After deciding on #3, the candidate bails or other complications are encountered. (In my current company the pathetic HR process takes weeks. It's not surprising if a candidate pursues another opportunity, assuming that the lack of response means they were not chosen. Hat tip to your related post, Alison.)

At this point, there were four other candidates interviewed. It's unlikely anyone was impressed by #4 or #5 since the interviews were conducted lackadaisically--perhaps even without attendance of key staff.

I'm not saying it's a regular occurrence. But I've seen it happen. I'd rather have the potential to be called back for a
new set of interviews.

Sphaeron said...

Furthermore, even if all five interviews were conducted with equivalent rigor: now that #1 and #2 were already psychologically discarded in preference of #3 I'd still rather be in a fresh pool of candidates instead of part of a pool where #1/#2 and #4/#5 didn't measure up to #3.

Bohdan Rohbock said...

As long as the remaining two seemed like they likely to be strong candidates, I'd interview them all.

Sometimes if the first two interviews were mediocre it can make following applicants seem better than they are.

Less of a concern if you have some highly effective, objective measurement, but that's rare.

Rachel - former HR blogger said...

Schedule your interviews on the same day. Problem solved!

Anonymous said...

Interview me anyway. Even if #3 beats me out for this particular job, I may be a perfect match for another job with your organization in the future. And now your organization knows about me.

I actually found a great job this way - the first job I interviewed for was cancelled due to funding cuts, but they actually contacted me and asked me to apply for the second job - and I was hired. It was a great organization, and the 2nd job was superior to the 1rst.

Julie said...

When I was applying for my first full time job out of school, I was interviewed by a company that waited until we were 45 minutes into a fairly stressful interview (filled with questions that I can only refer to as "soul searching") to let me know that they had already found "the one". Not only had they already found her, the offer had already been given and accepted. They still wanted me to interview because they *might* be hiring in a couple of months (when I'd be out of school) for a totally different position and they thought that I might be a good candidate for it. While that is all well and fine, and handled differently I may have been open to this other option, I was blindsided with this information at the time of the interview. I was completely taken aback and appalled that they felt this was an appropriate way to handle this. Did I mention they used the phrase "We have some good news and some bad news" to preface this announcement?

Also, I just had an interview with a company where I suspect I was given the interview Sphaeron mentioned. I was told near the end that I was the last of 6 interviewees, and looking back he seemed more interested in finding out the gossip about my current company than he was in finding out about my experience, etc.

Susan said...

I've been on the receiving end of the interview when someone else has already been chosen. I can tell you that it was not fun because the hiring manager came right out and told me that I wouldn't get the job because he already wanted to hire someone else. This didn't leave me with a good feeling. Here I had taken off from work at a place that treats those looking to leave like garbage, and this hiring manager acts as if it was no big deal to waste my time and have had me complete paperwork, travel to the interview, and waste my time.

Later, I received a job offer from the company to work for this same manager in a job we never even discussed. I turned down the offer because I couldn't get over how he thought nothing of telling me that it didn't matter what happened in the interview because he had already made his decision before I showed up. The part that I didn't like is that I never even had a chance to ask questions about the job he was later offering me. How can I accept a job without knowing details about it? How can I work for someone who thinks he knows exactly where to place me in his company with no input from me? We didn't even discuss the job he later offered. How insane is that?

If you really felt that match made in heaven feeling with candidate number 3 and you're cleared to hire that person, then cut the other candidates loose. Although the remaining candidates can use the interview for informational purposes and to meet people within the company, just interviewing them to go through the motions could end up leaving a lasting negative impression on them if they find out you were just going through the motions. Of course, you could call them up and explain that you've already made a decision, but still give them the option of coming in to meet with you. I would only do that if I felt the remaining candidates were potentially strong and your company may have openings in the near future. Sometimes, I do get the feeling that hiring managers forget that candidates do turn down offers when the manager has left a bad impression. Interviews work two ways. Some of us, even in a down economy, do have options.

Mel Vault said...

I can live with being put through the motions if I'm just out of college, need the experience, and am unemployed. Otherwise, please don't waste my time.

bg said...

The manager doesn't truly know she's found "the one" until she's interviewed all candidates.

She thinks candidate #3 is so strong that candidate #3 won't beat out candidates #4 & #5. But she didn't think that until candidate #3 interviewed. She won't know what candidate #4 & #5 are really like until they interview either.

Had the manager known that candidate #3 was going to be the best prior to candidate #3's interview, candidate #3 would have been scheduled as candidate #1 and no other interviews scheduled unless needed afterwards. This proves that the manager doesn't know what she's getting until the interview, so she'd better interview #4 & #5 as well.

Moreover, what happens if #3 gives a great interview but turns out to be a wash-out new-hire? When the manager's supervisor asks what the other candidates were like, how does she tell her manager that she didn't do her homework and bet the farm on this one?

Interview all candidates.

Anonymous said...

I had a friend who was that Candidate #4 or 5 and while the interviewer was honest about saying she had most likely already found her ideal candidate, she went ahead with the interview.

However, the interviewer was clearly disinterested throughout the interview and basically just wanted the interview to be over.

So, my two cents to this conversation is, yes - if you make an effort to continue to finish your interview list, then at least put some effort in - the same professional effort bestowed on all candidates - and give your time and respect to the remaining candidates, regardless of the outcome.

It was a very discouraging event for the candidate in this situation and it's soured on her everytime she sees a posting from the company.

Anonymous said...

For the first time, I find myself disagreeing with AAM.

I was the last candidate to be interviewed for my current job. When my now manager called to offer me the position, she said "we thought we knew who we were going to hire ... and then we met you."

Even though you might think you've found the best person for the job, how do you know until you've completed the interviews? It doesn't seem right to deny candidates 4 and 5 the opportunity to show you what they can do (and deny your organization the chance to see what they can do), simply because you happen to have scheduled their interviews later.

I don't see the 4th and 5th interviews as a waste of the candidates' time either - even if you don't end up hiring them. It's no more a waste of their time than it was for interviewees 1 and 2, who are obviously no longer being considered. In the end, most of the people you interviewed are not getting hired, and that's okay. That's how it has to be, so if interviewing someone without hiring them is a waste of their time, then maybe we shouldn't do interviews at all!

Ask a Manager said...

Yeah, my point isn't that you should find a candidate who you'd be willing to hire and then stop. I'm talking only about situations where you know #3 is amazing and your knowledge of #4 and #5 (based on resume and phone interviews) is that they're not competitive with #3. If you know that for sure, because you're an experienced interviewer with good judgment, and you have a track record of good judgment in this area, I think it's okay to stop. If you're not positive, or if you're inexperienced, or if your initial judgement isn't always reliable, then I'd continue.

Liz Harter said...

This actually just happened to me in one of my job interviews. I have mixed feelings in response to it, though.

I had applied for a position and had received a call to schedule a phone interview for the next week. Due to other circumstances I had to schedule my interview on Thursday while the company would have preferred Wednesday. Still, they worked with me to find a good time. I did all my homework - researching the company, prepping questions, exploring their corporate site, their online content and following stories from specific writers (it was a journalism position)and spent a great deal of time doing so. When the scheduled time arrived, however, the first words from the HR director's mouth were, "sorry, but the position is already filled." Then she proceeded to allow me to interview for a different opening which she thought my skill set would match, but it wasn't the same because I wasn't nearly prepared enough to interview for a position for which I had not applied nor seen a job description for.

Part of me says that I'm glad they still went ahead with the interview, because it was good experience. But the other part of me says that had they called the day before and told me they had filled the position I may have been a little demoralized, but I could have used my time much more productively and accommodated a company who had called me that Wednesday and wanted to set up an interview during my phone interview with Company A.

I think I would have rather had them call the interview off.

Anonymous said...

Well I can tell you with experience that nowadays that folks now the people they are going to hire. If you are a hire from a recruiter or off the street you are already behind the 8 ball.

Don't waste my time if all you want to do is put an X in the checkbox which states, Interviewed all qualified candidates.

Sad but true in this employers market for the foreseeable future.

Sara said...

Ok, so let's say you have 2 candidates, and you LOVED #1, and your #2 interviewee is scheduled right after... if you had my luck, this is what happened: I sat down, and was told right away that they loved the person before me and had offered them the job, and that since I was already there, they wanted to complete the interview.