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In a conversation with a friend, he slipped that he intended to go to an interview for a senior position in software development. I was surprised, since I was under the impression he liked his current job. Imagine my surprise, when after asking him if he wants to leave his job, he said he doesn't intend to. He would only go to an interview to test his skills and get the feedback (albeit only Boolean) about whether he'd get hired for a certain position, though he doesn't really think of accepting an offer from the said company.

On the one hand, I realize this is some very valuable information for a professional.

On the other hand, I have the feeling it's highly unethical and basically it is wasting the time of the interviewer, since I doubt he'd take something from the interview.

How is that regarded in the industry? Is it considered rude and unethical? Or am I in the wrong side in this argument?

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I've actually found that going out to companies and interviewing with them was more valuable than doing mock interviews with mentors, friends, or university resources. This was when I was a total newbie to the market though. It was a good way to test out questions and improve myself through that process regardless of whether I was offered something or not. –  Matt Chan Jun 13 '12 at 12:38
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I have heard of some people going on "test" interviews for the sole purpose of keeping their skills sharp. The person who told me this also told me that the interviewer was aware of the situation and had no problem interviewing the candidate even though there was no chance of them accepting. I heard about this from someone who worked in law, so maybe in some industries it's common and accepted to the point that the candidate can feel comfortable being open about their intentions. I know I'd like to be able to do this; it would make real interviews less nerve-wracking if I got more practice. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 13 '12 at 15:32
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There is a difference between an attitude of intending to stay in one's current job and being completely closed to a change. A person can go on an interview with an expectation of staying put, but being open to the possibility (even thinking there's only a 1% chance) that the interviewing organization will make an offer that is too good to pass up. –  GreenMatt Dec 27 '12 at 22:53
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in general any answers related to ethical/unethical are meaningless without context since every region has its own system of ethics; furthermore every industry has its own system of ethics. –  Yuck Dec 31 '12 at 3:24
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Note that the converse (interviewing people as a back-up or even just for show when one candidate is already all but certain to be hired) is not unheard of. Doing interviews and then deciding not to hire anyone (e.g. hiring freeze) happens too. That might alleviate some of your concerns. Being interviewed does not guarantee anything so why should it require any extraordinary commitment? –  Relaxed Mar 7 at 7:33

16 Answers 16

up vote 59 down vote accepted

It depends on how the interview came about. I have been contacted in the past without me soliciting for the position. They contacted me and invited me to an interview. They had to know that I wasn't ready to leave. The offer wasn't impressive, so I didn't take it.

Another time I was contacted via Monster. It ended up being perfect timing because a few weeks later it became clear that I needed to switch companies.

The person invests time in the process of interviewing, and so does the company. If there is zero chance the employee will switch, that isn't good. But if the employee is open to the possibility if the conditions are right, then there is little to be upset about.

In a typical hiring situation they look at dozens to hundreds of resumes/profiles, and only a small fraction get interviews. And only one at a time gets an offer. It is unlikely that a company will be upset.

Also keep in mind that it can take weeks to months to work your way through the process of applying, filtering, interviewing and getting an offer. Sometimes it is a good thing to do, just for the feedback. One day it will have to be done for real, and the experience gained will be invaluable.

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@K.Steff - If your resume is current then it indicates you are currently employed. –  Ramhound Jun 13 '12 at 17:56
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@DanNeely I would assume no. I read it as 2005 until 2012, so the employment has ended. 2005- would be what I assume is still being employed. If it was important for me to know if you're still employed, I'd just ask. –  AndSoYouCode Jun 15 '12 at 10:13

What a strange bunch of answers...unethical

I can't see it being unethical at all. You are giving them a chance to change your mind. That's kind of like saying it's unethical for someone to accept a date with someone they are sure they won't marry.

If you get some interviewing experience out of it, even better.

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You can enjoy the date (dinner, movie, whatever) even if it goes no farther. What does the company get out of this "date" with a foregone conclusion? Does the interviewee at least show up bearing flowers and chocolates? :-) –  Monica Cellio Jun 13 '12 at 17:34
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@Bill - Ethics is defined by a community. This is the reason it is unethical to steal from somebody. It also is against the law to steal from somebody. It is unethical to lie to your parents. It is not against the law to lie to your parents. In the professional world it is unethical to perform an action with a different undisclosed intent. So if people are saying it is unethical it just means their within their community it is unethical. The fact you don't agree that going into a interview with NO intention of accepting a job is unethical isn't a bad thing. –  Ramhound Jun 13 '12 at 18:16
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@MonicaCellio: the company gets another canidate to compare against. If they decide to choose you, they now have an opportunity to convince you to accept their offer. If you hadn't gone, they would be trying to convince their second choice to take the job...which they may do any way, but at least they know it. –  jmoreno Jun 14 '12 at 1:25
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@Ramhound Let's go for another example: is this unethical to enter a shop without buying something? –  Sylvain Peyronnet Sep 16 '12 at 12:34
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@VaibhavGarg perfect analogy! Go ask in a couple shops if they think that a customer entering with no intent of purchasing anything is "Unethical" and get back to us. –  Bill K Jan 1 '13 at 21:42

Should one go to interview for a job he doesn't intend to accept if offered?

Yes, for two reasons:

  1. Nobody truly knows ahead of time that they would not accept a position if offered. The equation might change on either side. That awesome job offer from that company in the next town over? Offer rescinded. Stated salary too low for your liking? What if you impress the heck out of them and they sweeten the pot? Or remind you about a perk that you hadn't even considered?
  2. Repeat after me: Interviewing experience is invaluable! No matter how much preparation you do, you cannot adequately replicate the environment of a live job interview. Use the opportunity for your own benefit. Even if, as you say, there's a 0% chance of you accepting the offer, the interview experience will help you better prepare when you have to explore the job market next time.
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I agree. Plus, it's not just valuable for the candidate but for the company too. It helps them refine their interview process. Like if you're gonna ask a new question maybe don't use your best candidate as a guinea pig for that new question but instead some other candidate. –  neubert May 29 '13 at 21:14
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Good answer. As a hiring manager even if the person said "I don't plan to take the job" I'd say "well, come on in and let's talk anyway." Maybe I can convince them, maybe they get laid off in a week and rethink their position, at worst we refine our interviewing for that particular position. –  mxyzplk Mar 5 at 14:03

In the byzantine world of government, sometimes there's a valid reason for this. Where I work, there's some people on contract. Due to a hiring freeze, they can't switch those people into normal positions (which come with increased benefits and don't have the need to be renewed every year). At least, not normally.

There's an exception that says they can, if the person is on the "hiring list". You get on the hiring list by being offered a position in the government. So what ends up happening is if you already work for department A and they want to switch you to a full time position, first you need to get an offer for a position from department B. Then you wind up on B's hiring list, and suddenly A can hire you without breaking the freeze.

The result of that is people who have no intention of working for B interviewing for the position, hoping they get an offer because it winds up also being an offer for A.

It's pretty silly, but there it is.

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It's unethical as you suspect.

It's also pretty much impossible to stop, detect or do anything about. Which makes it even "more" unethical in my opinion as ethics mean doing the right thing even though doing otherwise is undetectable.

Your friend clearly also lacks discretion or tact ;)

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+1 agree. I find that usually I can spot candidates that aren't really interested and who're not going to accept any reasonable offer we can make, and it really irritates me. It's wasting my time and resources and you can bet that I'm not going to make you any other offers in the future, even if you'd want me to. –  pap Jun 13 '12 at 8:24
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Despite what the friend said, he probably would make the leap if the job interview lead to an offer that was really excellent. The ethical concern is whether or not harm is being done. I don't think there is any harm in this. –  Angelo Jun 13 '12 at 12:58
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Sometimes the only way to find out your value in the market is to interview. Many job openings don't include salary. –  JeffO Jun 13 '12 at 14:45
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I totally disagree. How can this be unethical? Please explain your point of view. Even for the recruiter this can be good : more prospects (so showing the boss/clients a good reach), more insight of what can interest candidates, etc. –  Sylvain Peyronnet Sep 16 '12 at 12:32
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In some industries, interviewing is immediate cause for termination. I once worked for a wall-street firm. One of the traders interviewed at a competing firm and this fact got back to the head trader (it is a small industry and everyone talks); the trader was advised the next day when he showed up for work to take the job if he got it because it was now his last day. He was then immediately escorted from the building. In this case, they're moving tens/hundreds of thousands of dollars in one shot and any lack of trust means GTFO. –  BryanH Dec 20 '12 at 18:29

It would be considered rude should one flat-out tell that to the interviewers. However, should one be tactful about it (for example, by claiming that they already accepted another offer), it could be undetectable.

Doing such a thing could be beneficial for a number of reasons - one could hone their interview skills, check how much they are worth (whether they are under or overpaid in their current job), check what the market needs and so forth. At the same time, it could be picked up by one's current employer as looking into leaving a job without giving them a heads up (which could be frowned upon).

So yes, it is unethical, but at the same time it is useful. At the same time, it doesn't differ much from a person looking to potentially switch a job if given a good enough offer. If done right, nobody should have any hard feelings about the practice (even though being deceived).

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Well, I'm mainly concerned with the ethical side: an interview is a two-sided process of selection. And one of the doors is really shut even before the selection began... –  K.Steff Jun 13 '12 at 0:05

I have worked at several companies that interviewed people they knew they would never hire. They had already made a choice as to who was getting hired but needed to meet the interview quota.

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@James Also, if the other side is unethical, that doesn't free you from your ethical bounds –  K.Steff Jun 13 '12 at 22:03
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@Ramhound: This sort of situation can arise in organizations that have requirements about minimum numbers of interviewees for each hire. I've known people who worked as contractors for organizations that then wanted to hire them. However, the rules required a minimum nubmer interviewees before the hire. These rules are supposed to help ensure ethical behavior in a couple ways: prevent gender and racial discrimination, and make sure the boss doesn't hire a best friend's child just to do the friend a favor. –  GreenMatt Dec 27 '12 at 23:02

IMHO - In your friend's situation, it's black and white. He's violating the golden rule. Would he want someone to waste his precious workday practicing their interviewing on him? There are plenty of mentors and people to practice with. You don't need to destroy your reputation with petty behavior.

There is a specific case where it is acceptable... A firm calls you, and asks if you're interested. It is ok to say, "I don't think it's for me, but I'm happy to talk. I may know people in the market." Then you're being honest, and setting expectations. And you should go out of your way to find people to help them.

The hiring world is small. Untrustworthy people eventually hit their limit.

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"You don't need to destroy your reputation with petty behavior." Unless you are publicising this, how would it actually damage your reputation? –  Burhan Ali Jun 13 '12 at 12:42
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@BurhanAli - The person you interview with might know your boss ( college friends ). They might call your boss and explain what happen. Your boss might decided that because you enjoy going on pointless interviews that he will give you the chance to do it as a full-time job. In other words the world can be much smaller then you might realize. Don't burn a bridge by going on an interview without the other party knowing your intentions. –  Ramhound Jun 13 '12 at 18:02
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That's a lot of mights. Also going to an interview isn't burning any bridges. –  Burhan Ali Jun 13 '12 at 18:13
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@BurhanAli One interview won't, but a pattern of misbehavior eventually gets noticed. –  MathAttack Jun 14 '12 at 1:35
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I have a "friend" who hit his limit here in Denver. After burning all his bridges here, he had to move to a new city to find work. –  Tangurena Jun 14 '12 at 15:54

Whether it is unethical or not depends upon his honesty -- has he lied? If he hasn't lied, then, no. Just as the converse, interviewing people to meet a quota, isn't unethical -- in both cases, a decision has been made, but it is not final, after the interview, either could change their mind.

An interview is a crapshoot from both sides, you never really know what the outcome will be. Sometimes you are testing the waters, other times you are desperately swimming for shore, but you never know what will happen next.

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@le_garry: Not unless he is unable to accept the job. "Interviewing just to practice" expands to "Interviewing with the expecation that any offers will be insufficient to be worth making the change". And that is probably how it will turn out, but that isn't how it has to turn out. The company could decide to offer him an entirely different position which he just can't resist, he could meet someone there that he really wants to work with, he could fall in love with the foosball machine. Whatever, he's testing the water's but doesn't expect to find them good. Doesn't mean he won't. –  jmoreno Jul 11 '12 at 21:14

I see absolutely nothing wrong with the practice. Now, i think that it might be a little off to apply for an interview/accept one you had no plans on taking, but once you accept the interview, then you'd better frakking be there. Intending to accept the final job is not as bad as blowing an interview you scheduled off.

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Just apply the 1 question ethics test.

Would it be uncomfortable if the truth came out? If yes: Probably unethical

In this case I'd opine that it is more rude than unethical unless you were interviewing in an attempt to pilfer competitive intel on the company.

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Yes, this is dishonest and thus unethical. By applying to a job, you are stating that you are interested in possibly taking the position. It is clearly unethical if a person lies when asked why he or she is looking to leave his or her current position. An innocent answer like "looking for a change" is a lie if the person really isn't looking for a change. The organization deserves a truthful answer like "not really planning on switching jobs, but I am open to something new if the job is right." It is wrong to use another company's time and resources for your own skills assessment.

There are ways for the hiring company to somewhat lessen situations like this. The organization should at least ask before an interview the intentions of the interviewer. That should filter out some of the people who are not really interested. In my experience, interviewing organizations do not probe enough into why a potential employee wants to switch jobs. Typically a canned answer like "looking for a change" is sufficient for the interviewer to move on.

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One potential reason to do this is to establish your "market value". Many companies pay based on a "market reference span" which is supposed to reflect what other people in similar positions are making. Many high tech companies do actually exchange their salary data (sometimes through a clearing house), to establish this span.

This is mostly a one-sided determination and the employee has very few way of verifying or checking this info. One way, however, is to go to out and get a real offer letter from someone else. This can be quite valuable in a salary raise or promotion discussion at the current position. It can certainly also backfire so it needs to be thoroughly planned and prepared.

Whether this is ethical or not is an interesting question. First of all, the fact that companies do exchange salary information isn't particularly ethical either, especially since the same companies make sharing salary info a fireable offence for their employees. I would say as long as the interviewing company is initiating the contact and you can (and do) honestly say "I wasn't actively looking but it sounds interesting enough for a closer look", than it seems reasonably fair to me.

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Given that a company does not guarantee you a job when it calls you for an interview, objectively and ethically its fine not to join after the interview

However, impact on future relationships with the company is something you should keep in mind

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If he's dead set on staying put, then perhaps it's unethical. However, companies have been known to do worse to candidates and employees.

Otherwise, he may pleasantly surprised at what he finds out in the interview, visiting the site, and the offer he ends up getting. In some demographics, this is how people move up. For example, a former coworker of mine got a 6% raise after his performance review. One month back, he interviewed with a different company, just to see what they were about. That other company ended up giving him an offer which would be 50% raise. He likes making more money, and all other variables were more or less even, so he jumped ship. The manager of the current company visited him and tried to get him to stay, saying "we have a lot of business coming in", but a common complaint was they wanted to hold on to good people, but weren't willing to pay them that much.

Otherwise, I don't like to have to take vacation days to interview, but practice does make perfect, and it is a nice change of pace to interview without pressure.

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One thing to keep in mind, that I haven't seen mentioned, is that the company may well be completely happy to interview that person even if they know the person doesn't think they have any interest in the position. An interview is a chance to sell the interviewee the position. So, if they liked the resume enough to want to talk to the interviewee, they might be totally fine with the "ostensibly uninterested" person coming in, because they want a chance to change that person's mind.

They also "get their name out there"--in the sense that, having gone through the interview process, if the company made a good impression (which is the company's responsibility, of course), then there is one more person in the industry that knows this would be an interesting company to work for. So, all of the interviewee's friends in the industry are now potential contacts for that company, from one interview.

It's very hard to say that it's a waste of time, even if you don't have any intention of leaving. You might change your mind; you might unexpectedly lose the job you are happy with in another month; you might have a friend who would be very interested once they know what you know having interviewed.

While I think your ethical question is valid as phrased (to distill it a bit: "if you're completely wasting their time, on a false pretense, to benefit yourself, is that unethical?"), I don't think that the premise that this is a waste of time for the company is necessarily a valid one.

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