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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

should you end a job interview early if you realize you're not interested in the job?

A reader writes:

In a recent interview, I learned some things about the job that hadn't been in the job description, and those things were deal-breakers for me. (I had not known about these things until the interview, so I wasn't just wasting everyone's time just getting some interview practice.) There had already been other things that made the position less than ideal (pay, location, etc), and the new information told me definitively that it wasn't for me.

If something is brought up during the interview and your honest reaction is, "This position isn't going to pay me enough to put up with that," is it a good idea to just tell them right there that you are no longer interested if that task is a regular part of the job? Or should I just wait until I send them a thank-you note to let them know?

Go through the rest of the interview and stay friendly and engaged, and then let them know afterwards that the position isn't quite what you're looking for. 

Why should you bother, when you've already determined the job isn't for you? Because these people may have a job opening you like better in the future, and if you impress them now, that'll give you a leg up then. And also because if you impress them now, they might refer you to another company that's a better fit. And because the world is small and people talk, and you don't want to be "the guy who abruptly announced that he'd never take a job that involved ___ and got up and left."

Think of it as networking and/or interview practice, so that you don't feel like you're wasting your time.

And when you contact them later to let you know that the job isn't the right fit for you, you might consider letting them know why. For all you know, they'll come back with, "Oh, if you hate doing ___, that's no problem -- we can easily structure the position around just X, Y, and Z instead." And even if they don't, it's still useful for them to know your thought process, so they know whether the next opening that comes up is one that would interest you or not. If they don't know why you withdrew, they won't know if it was their entire company culture that you disliked or something specific to just that position.

But you've got to be pleasant when you do it; don't word it like you did here! For example:

Good: "I'm actually looking for something that doesn't involve significant customer contact; my heart is more in behind-the-scenes work, and it sounds like you really want someone to work with customers."

Bad: "I won't take a job that involves that much customer contact."

As a side note, last year we addressed this same issue from the other side of the equation -- whether the interviewer should cut an interview short if she realizes the candidate isn't right. It raised different, but related, issues and it's here if you want to check it out. (The comments are especially interesting.)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for giving some thoughts on my question. I did finish the interview as though I was still interested and wanted the job. However, I think they could tell by my face when they brought up the parts that were deal-breakers that I wasn't as interested as before.

You gave good reasons for the person being interviewed to continue with the interview. I remember thinking at the time during a pause on their part, that if I had prepared for an interview but they cut it short, I might be a little angry about it (for something less than a standard amount of time). So I assumed that the interviewers might feel the same way to an extent, and it would be more polite to just let them know after it was finished. The safe thing to do was to finish, and that was not difficult.

Anonymous said...

If it seems like it is an intrinsic part of the job then you need to tell them after the interview.

If it seems like it may be possible to change then you should never bring it up until (unless!) you get an offer. Then you can negotiate it, or at least give it a shot.

Charles said...

For the reasons AAM lists I have rarely cut short an interview while job hunting.

Only once did I say that I had heard enough and cut short the interview. The HR rep was really nice, the co-workers were really nice, and the company was a major Law Firm with excellent pay and benefits.

However, the boss who I would be working for was a total a$$ - I decided that there was no way I would be able to report to him on a daily basis without telling him where to stuff it, or worse. It would not be a healthy environment to work in.

After making the excuse that I really had to "catch a train" I went back to the HR rep and with "my great apologies" explained to her why I would not be interested in this exact position.

Interestingly, she actually expressed to me that she was concerned because that boss had been pressing them to hire his friend for the position. While she did not make an offer, she did say that she wished that I would reconsider. As I was not interested in getting into a "office politics" situation I politely declined.

Aside from such extreme cases I would recommend going through the whole interview and seeing what (if anything) they offer - then one can negotiate if it seems appropriate.

Anonymous said...

I had an interviewer end the interview early a few months ago. I had had a very good interview with the HR person, and then the guy who would've been my boss was a total jerk.

The first thing he asked me was if I had any questions (which I didn't at that point, since I had just spoken to the HR person for an hour). Then he asked me why I wanted that particular job. As I was telling him, he looked bored and like her didn't believe me, and then started talking about how it sounded like I didn't REALLY want the job, and that I wanted a job that didn't exist (which wasn't the case- I was describing what I liked about my previous job and how I liked that this job would combine the skills I had learned there with what I majored in at school, and I had based it on my discussion I'd had 10 minutes before with the HR person).

Then, five minutes into the interview, he flat out said that it didn't sound like I wanted the job (which, based on his behavior, I didn't at that point), and asked me if I wanted to end the interview right there, because he didn't want to waste his time.

I was really shocked, but said yes (because really, would it have even been possible to recover from that?).

I ended up sending a thank you email to the HR person and explained what had happened, because we had ended our interview with talking about when I'd be available for an interview with the CEO the following week. I made it clear that I was genuinely interested in the job after speaking to her, but that as for the manager, I "thought our personalities would clash." She was totally nice about it and even emailed me back a few times to ask some questions about how he had acted in the interview. She ended up complimenting me on my professionalism.

The whole thing was really weird though. Luckily, I had been interviewing somewhere else and got an offer two days later. :)