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Background: I am a software engineer. As a part of my responsibilities I am doing technical interviewing in the company I currently work in. I am happy with my job and am not looking for a change of employer at the moment.

I recently had a talk with a person who mentioned she often attends technical interviews "to stay sharp" and pick up on good interviewing practices. After passing the technical interviews she rejects the offers. It is also clear that she enjoys her job and does not plan on leaving current employer.

Is visiting interviews "to stay in shape" a common practice? Does it actually considerably benefit your interviewing skills (both as an interviewer and interviewee)? And more importantly, is it ethical to waste other companies' resources?

This question "Should I go to an interview I don't intend to accept the job (if offered)?" seem to cover most of the subject, except that it is more about accepting an offer rather then actively searching for one. It also did not cover an important for me case:

Can't it backfire? If you attend an interview with a company A, reject their offer, and then apply again after a few years - wouldn't this harm your chances of being hired?

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If you work for an employer who will walk people out the door if they're found to be hunting for another job, this could very definitely backfire... –  Bob Jarvis Mar 28 at 0:44
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I'm not sure I'd trust someone who said they interview just "to stay sharp" Getting to the point of a face to face interview usually takes quite a bit of work. Which leads me to think that she is trying to cover herself while actually looking or she doesn't really do this at all and was simply making it up. I would just ignore her statements. –  Chris Lively Mar 28 at 14:18
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@JamesMoore: What you describe may be possible, but your comment seems faintly ridiculous, since the OP is in an infinitely better position than you to judge whether it's possible in this case. –  ruakh Mar 30 at 5:30

10 Answers 10

up vote 38 down vote accepted

The bad

Well, it certainly can backfire. If you have previously interviewed with a firm, they will probably have that in your files, and if you rejected their offer, they will remember. They may believe that you interviewed just for practice (as here) or possibly even shared their offer with your current employer to negotiate salaries.

The same goes double if you are extended an offer and start negotiating (maybe you also want to practice negotiating?), only to turn them down. The "target" firm will keep their final rejected offer in their files. Two years later, you might be happy to work under the offered conditions, but they know that you already turned that down once, so they will be less keen on spending more resources on you a second time, arguing that you will probably demand at least as much as you rejected last time.

Also, your current employer may get wind of your interviewing. It's a small world, after all. I'd rather not explain to my manager that "it was all for practice, honest, I'm staying here." Will he believe me?

Finally, this takes time. Tailoring your cover letter and resume is not instantaneous. Is the time spent worth it?

The good

Of course interviewing is a skill, so it makes sense to stay in shape. The "practice" argument is certainly valid.

More importantly, during this practice, you may just be offered a position and/or salary/benefits package that simply is too good to pass on, even if you are happy where you are. You wouldn't have heard of this position/package without your practice interviews.

Finally, you are making it known that you are on the market. So even if you are not offered something at a firm or reject the offer, people there will remember you (see above), and that can certainly be for the good. The next time an interesting position opens up, they may recall your stellar interview performance (due to all the practice ;-) and email you.

The bottom line

I personally don't like spending the time. With a job and a family, I'd honestly rather spend my little spare time at the gym than going to interviews. But your mileage may vary.

EDIT: the ethics

Other answers have addressed the ethical issue, and I should have, too. My bad. Here goes.

Yes, wasting the interviewers' time is unethical, no doubt about that. But I don't think this is totally clear-cut. On the one hand, you would be "practice-interviewing" for positions that are not completely, utterly irrelevant to you, your situation in life and your career aspirations. Otherwise, either the firm won't invite you if you are an obvious mismatch to the position, or you wouldn't go to the interview or apply in the first place, because you couldn't learn anything from that interview. Therefore, even if you are happy in your current situation, there is a non-negligible chance that either of the cases under "The good" above occurs: you may get an offer that is honestly too good to pass up, or you at least make valuable contacts for later on (and contacts are always valuable for both sides). In either case, you wouldn't have completely wasted the interviewers' time.

Conversely, even if you are searching for a job and go into an interview leaning towards accepting an (eventual) offer, you may learn during the interview that the firm and you are not a good match, and you may end up declining an offer. Would you say that you wasted the interviewers' time? I wouldn't.

So: your propensity to accept an offer prior to an interview is rarely a 100% yes or no. How badly you really waste anyone's time is really a function of this a priori propensity. And yes, I do suggest keeping this in mind. "Is the nonzero chance of actually getting an offer I might seriously consider accepting, or of making mutually beneficial contacts worth everyone's time?"

(Don't get me started on employers wasting people's time, because HR had a quota of number of interviews to fill for each position, either because of internal targets or because of backfiring legal requirements.)

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Just to add, I was recently solicited (more than once) by a tech-giant who persisted despite my insistence that I wasn't suitable for the job(s) they were interviewing for. I eventually attended the interviews (and failed) solely out of curiosity, as this particular company is famous for its off-beat interviewing practices. I do not consider this unethical, as I didn't apply for the job and in fact told the company more than once that I was unsuitable. –  Chinmay Kanchi Mar 27 at 17:33
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When I interviewed for the company that I currently work at and am very happy to be at, I "enjoyed my job and did not plan on leaving my current employer." However, my current boss was able to sell ME on joining her workforce. I would argue that this situation isn't as clear cut as it would seem. –  LJ2 Mar 28 at 15:16
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I think the "practice" aspect is overrated. If you mean practice answering questions and presenting yourself, you can use your webcam and evaluate yourself or have friends evaluate you. (It's actually harder then live, because you're not getting visual feedback.) If you want to practice doing techie puzzles, there are plenty of websites, online coding challenges, etc. There's no substitute for an actual interview, but given that you've had a few, you dont need to overcome the fear of unknown factor. Is this really the ego trip of "beating" the interviewing company and turning them down? –  Wayne Mar 29 at 13:16
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About the bad: if you are afraid that your current employer will react negatively if they find out you have been interviewing elsewhere, then you definitely should keep your interview skills sharp; you'll need them. Your current employer should take other companies' interest as a sign that you are valuable and should be kept, not that you are disloyal. It's also a good way to remind them to steadily increase your current rate. You are employed because you make your employer money, and for no other reason. So any reasonable employer will want to keep you, in spite of competition. –  Seth Battin Mar 30 at 3:18

Nobody likes being used.

I'd be very angry if I discovered that a candidate was just using my time--and me--as a way to "stay sharp". It takes time and energy to review resumes, prepare questions (can't keep reusing the same ones over and over), conduct the interview, talk to/negotiate with others about an offer, write emails giving my opinion, etc. And often it's not even my candidate--I'm doing it as a favor to someone else, taking time out of my own schedule.

"Is it ethical to waste other companies' resources?" I don't mean to be abusive, but is that really a question you need help with?

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There are far more ethical ways to stay sharp on the technical side of interviews using things such as mock exams and example technical interviews from the internet

With regard to the non-technical side of things, it's my opinion that if you are attending an interview for a job you know you are not going to take, you will behave completely differently to an interview for a job you covet. So in this sense, it is an unrealistic practice

I agree with the other answers also that it takes an interview slot away from people genuinley interested in the vacancy

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But my point was that there are places other than LIVE interviews to practice. Would the musician practice on stage in front of an audience? Probably not. There is still pressure but I am saying that there are differences, not that it is useless. Not sure I used the word useless. I think I said unrealistic, which I stand by –  Mike Mar 27 at 14:34

There is something profound which bothers me with this question: you (and your colleague) look at interviews as a 'test' that you can train for.

Honestly, an interview is much more like a date than like a test. Two parties talking and seeing whether there would be a match. And during this interview, you want to show as much of your skills as you can.

The skills that any future employer likes to see during an interview, are typically:

  • Good, solid reasoning
  • The ability to explain this reasoning
  • The ability to entertain/please while explaining the reasoning
  • The soft skills to know whether this reasoning is understood or whether there are disagreements
  • The diplomacy to get an agreement on the reasoning and the conclusion

Depending on the job, there may be other skills they are searching for. Interviewers ask questions to see whether the candidate has the required skills for the job. If you train to pass the interview, you will be disappointed during your job. It is much better to train for your job, and this will clearly show during the interview.

The only exception is jobs where you are all alone, not requiring any soft skills or convincing. In that case, an interview requires skills that you will not use during your job.

Now, for the core of your question:

My friend often goes on dates with people she is not interested in. She does this to "train her dating skills", in the hopes of better wooing the guy of her dreams when she finally meets him.

Is this ethical?

Aside from the fact that it is a pure waste of time, it is also not smart. There are much better ways to improve your skills.

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I disagree with your basic premise. Consider that I, and probably everyone else, was terrible on dates until I had been on enough of them to know what to do. Fortunately, a job interview is not so intimate that one should feel embarrassed for doing it too often and with too many people. –  BinaryTox1n Mar 27 at 14:28
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The dating analogy doesn't quite work. The interview itself may be like a date, but the surrounding situation doesn't match up. If you've decided it's time to leave your current company, you shouldn't quit until you've found a new job; on the other hand, going out on dates when you're already in a relationship will make you look bad (even if you've decided your current significant other isn't the right person for you). –  Adam V Mar 27 at 17:00
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does this then mean a job fair is similar to a swingers party? –  gbjbaanb Mar 28 at 12:10

I think one could argue that the whole system is really broken but given the nature of the system she is doing what is in her best interest which is what is really at the heart of capitalism.

In the same way as standardized testing is meant to 'test' what a person has learned or if they are able to get over a certain bar but actually can only test a small portion of what was learned and typically has little to do with the role that is being trained for. Interviews are trying to find out which candidates on the basis of 1 - 10 hours or so of testing are going to perform like for the duration of employment with a company. It is not too difficult to see that one does not necessarily have that much to do with the other. If you can figure out brain teaser puzzles this will somehow make you a better employee? It's nonsense. It probably has a lot more to do with employment law that it is very difficult to turf useless people than it is to keep them from coming in the door.

Professional athletes have to have game time to stay at that level and nothing can replace that. Not practice time with a professional team or game time with a minor league team. I would say that in order to land the best job possible, it would be beneficial to know the interviewing process inside and out.

When it comes down to it those are probably the highest paid hours of your life given the difference in salary it can make for you.

It is easy for her to attend interviews and if she gets an amazing offer she can think about it, if not she already has a job she likes. It's a win win. As for 'wasting other companies' time', I would of course feel annoyed if I found out afterward this person was never going to accept the offer but many things in business are a waste of time and you never find out what thing is going to pay until after the fact.

Are they less likely to hire her in the future? It would depend on the position but at least you'd be informed that she will just as easily leave your company as she did the last one so I would only put her in non critical roles.

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If you want to go, you should. Don't lie, but keep your intentions to yourself. Whether discovery would harm your chances depends entirely on how pragmatic your potential employer is. As you can see here, most people have an adverse reaction to it.

However, I'd argue in most cases that there are better ways to spend your time than attending interviews for jobs you aren't interested in, unless you know or fear you might actually need the job or connection.

In the remainder of this response, I'd like to take a contrary stance to 90% of the respondents here who claim it is unethical. They claim you are "wasting the interviewer's time", but I think this misses a very important fact the US labor force has become far to complacent with.

Your OWN time is valuable. Yes, that's right.

I'd agree of course that you are costing the (potential employer) company more, of course. But is that unethical? Clearly that company interviews many potential employees, and typically they won't choose to share how many, or when they have made an offer to someone else, etc. The organization's intent is only to make an offer to a fraction of these people, and they are likely to keep alternates hanging as a 'backup-plan' as long as they need to be sure they fill the position. There is no obligation for either party to offer/accept. In the spin of especially large and bureaucratic machines, you would easily expect them to "waste" many respondent's time, through simple laziness or ineffectiveness in accurately capturing and communicating job requirements, for example. Or interviewing people they have no intent to hire (e.g. to meet a quota, as Stephen mentioned above) so they can proceed to hire a pre-selected 'candidate'.

Also, this same company probably spends quite a bit to market themselves and their product. They present it to you constantly, and often without your consent. If you consider that your primary resource is your time, you are simply doing the same. (Now, if you are discovered, obviously you've done a very poor job at this "marketing aspect" of staying sharp. You lose.)

Because the ethics complaints here are rooted in honesty, it seems to me that the "unethical" claim comes primarily from the expectation that an organization is more likely to take advantage of an individual than the converse, therefore it is dishonest for the individual to act counter to this norm. I call bogus. Remember that reciprocity is a pillar of any sustainable ethics system.

Now, if the company is being wholly transparent, I'd agree you would have the same responsibility. This is probably the influence of a person, more than economics. So, maybe, just maybe you owe your interviewer that. But ultimately in most cases the company is interviewing you for their benefit/profit, not your shared benefit.

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That really is inconsiderate and unethical, not only she waste interviewer time she could also prevent other people to get interviewed. That aside it probably wont affect chances of being hired in the futures unless if people find out that you go to interview without any intention to get hired, there is a chance company already blacklist you without being in interviewed first.

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You might consider how you would feel if you were looking for a job and someone interviewed you to make up the numbers, with (as you later learn) an intention to make you no offer regardless of how well you do.

  • would you feel there's a problem with the interviewer's ethics?
  • would it affect your likelihood of arranging future interviews with that employer?

I think interviewers can be expected to have the same reaction to their time being wasted. Of course the two situations aren't identical, but the gut reactions are likely to be similar.

Individuals remember interviewees, and companies keep some records. Whether they're allowed to use that information in future hiring decisions depends on their policy, but it's certainly possible. They may choose not to interview someone they consider a time-waster.

That said, there is no implied contract in applying for a job or attending an interview, that you will accept the job if offered. Especially when employers are very coy about the compensation -- if they choose to not tell you how much they'll pay you then they must expect to make some offers to people whose expectations simply don't match the budget. So even if it's impolite to waste their time, it's difficult to pin it down objectively as wrong-doing since they are offering you their time with no guarantee of a benefit for them. However, it's difficult to pass an interview without saying anything that suggests you want the job (which in this case would be lying).

As for whether it helps, I suspect that the job offer as proof of still being sharp is more concrete than the experience of being interviewed as keeping you sharp. Interviews don't completely change every few years, and most people don't need to keep their interview skills up to date. There are other ways to practice impressing people in general, than by attending job interviews in particular. The skills are mostly transferable ;-)

If you have no job and are trying to develop interview skills in the first place, as opposed to keeping them sharp, then I think attending interviews at which you have little chance of being offered a job is far more valuable than attending interviews where you expect to be offered a job and turn it down:

  • you'll be stretched more
  • you might get a job
  • the ethical issues disappear -- if they've seen your application and decided to interview you then it's their choice to spend their time on you, not your choice to waste theirs.

I'd probably argue that the same would be true when trying to "stay sharp", except that as I've already said the concept doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me so I'm not certain quite what will achieve it!

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Since all the answers have already covered the pros/cons of doing this and whether or not it is risky, I'd like to cover the ethics. My opinion on it, anyway.

I believe it is unethical to waste their time. On the other hand, I also believe that it is unethical for the hiring manager to waste other people's time. What do I mean by this?

"Unfortunately, the calibre of applicants in this intake proved to be very high...". And, besides more copy+pasted waffling, nothing else. No feedback on how you did at that last stage interview, no comment on what went right or wrong. Or if they give feedback, often times a few months into the future and too late to company #2's interview where you could've really used the feedback.

There are so many firms that do this, which is fine if you were rejected on the initial stage. If you got to the final interview, however, I find this completely unacceptable.

Another point - they have all the information on the market compensation, whereas you have none. Is it ethical for them to be negotiating your salary with this big advantage in knowledge? On the other hand, you seeking out offers from other companies will give you an equal amount of knowledge on what you should be getting in compensation.

Therefore, I feel no shame in being unethical to people who are unethical to me.

That aside, I don't think it will affect your future chances much. Yes hiring managers talk, but there are thousands of people who apply and you surely are not the only person to reject their offer. Also, in the UK atleast, we have laws which prevent our data being held by a 3rd party without our consent, so we can ask the company to destroy the data afterwards. They most likely bin your application anyway; I know because I've re-applied to 2 different graduate programs using the exact same application I used when I applied the first time and was successful the second time around in both.

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Hi @EvilWashingMachine - My suggestion if you're going to cover what you believe is an important point that isn't part of the question is to also address the core as well. Sharing your personal experiences as you have is a great way to meet our site's back it up rule. Based on your recent edit, I feel like your answer meets our criteria. Nice edits! –  jmort253 Mar 28 at 1:37

Yes! It can harm the chances for the job but it all depends upon the one whom you interviewing. Everyone has their own goals and "to stay sharp", yes it can be the good reason for attending interviews. But it would certainly harm for being selected next time. And it is a backfire.

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