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I went in for a technical job interview with a small company where they described the process as speaking with two or three groups of people for about 1+ hour each. They mentioned that they liked everyone in the tech group to meet candidates to get a feel for them. Everyone was friendly and it started great.

The first group asked general background questions as well as some straight forward technical questions and white board programming. Very much the usual, but also some subjective stuff. They then left me alone while they went to another part of their office to find the other interviewers.

At this point the HR contact that originally greeted me came and informed me that the others were quite busy and wouldn't be able to meet. This seemed odd of course. The interview was over and they would be in touch about potential next steps, showing me out. I asked if they'd like to reschedule with the other interviewers, but he said they'd discuss it. As I left I knew there wouldn't be next steps, and a few days later this was confirmed over email.

Obviously not all interviews go well and not all candidates fit. Is it however professional to end an interview abruptly midway if the first part isn't ideal? What if the later parts provided some additional info to offset the first interviewer's judgement?

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How long would you prefer to keep answering, "I don't know." before hoping the interview would end sooner rather than later? –  JeffO Aug 23 at 13:07
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@JeffO, that's a rather mean and presumptuous statement. There are two possibilities here: 1) the company did a poor job of screening interview candidates before an on-site visit 2) The candidate was good enough to come in but didn't make the cut because there were other better-qualified candidates (it doesn't mean he was clueless and didn't know anything). –  teego1967 Aug 25 at 12:50

9 Answers 9

If they know you are not a good fit, they are wasting your time and theirs by continuing. As long as they were polite and did not mislead you, there is nothing unprofessional about ending an interview process early, and by saving your time, they did you a favor.

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While I agree I will note it would have been better if they just said the interview could take up to X hours and you will probably talk to multiple people. Then when the first group left the HR person politely concluded things. It'd be better for everyone involved in that way. (IE what they did was fine, but they probably could have been more tactful about it) –  RualStorge Aug 22 at 19:32
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Specifically, they shouldn't have set things up so that their excuse to get rid of failed candidates is a lie. If they don't want to say to you in person on the day that you're unsuccessful (perhaps because they don't want candidates to get argumentative about it, which is probably a reasonable desire) then they need a better plan, and Rual's is much better than theirs. I suppose it's just about possible they were telling the truth, and if the feedback from the first group had been positive then the questioner would have seen the other groups another day, but it doesn't "feel" true. –  Steve Jessop Aug 22 at 23:16
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@SteveJessop - I get there are people who don't want to be argumentative, but they're doing a candidate and their profession a disservice if they don't give any feedback for not hiring. Of course HR is driven by legal concerns and lawyers tend to force what I feel are cowardly practices. –  JeffO Aug 23 at 13:05

Is it however professional to end an interview abruptly midway if the first part isn't idealy?

I always do a phone screen first, and in that way weed out the candidates who obviously don't fit the position. This tends to avoid the problem most of the time. Still, a few seem good on the phone, but in person clearly aren't a good match.

As the hiring manager, when I bring folks in for an interview, I always speak with them first, followed by others, then ending up with me.

If I determine that the candidate is clearly not a fit, I just end it there. I don't want to waste everyone else's valuable time - both the candidate's time and the other interviewers' time.

I thank the candidate for coming in. I tell the candidate that I don't think she/he is a good fit for the position, and give them a very high level reason as to why. If relevant, I invite them to submit their application for a different role at some point in the future. then I walk them out.

I don't do this when I need more input, when the candidate is on the borderline, or when I am not sure. I wouldn't allow others to short-circuit the process this way, just me - it's my decision to make. And I don't end up doing this often.

I feel that I'm being very honest, professional, and courteous.

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It's nice when people are straight forward and just say their thoughts. "Thank you for coming in, but I do not think you're what we're looking for. <reason>" I know people hate conflict and worry about offending people, but as an interviewee this information is extremely useful for the next interview. –  RualStorge Aug 22 at 19:35

As someone who has been involved in the technical interview for some people who obviously weren't good enough for the job, I'd say "Yes, it is professional to end the interview early"; I'm not going to cause the rest of the company's staff to waste their time interviewing a candidate who isn't going to get the job.

We'd only do this in a case when there's unanimous agreement among everyone involved in the technical interview that the candidate is well below the standard we were looking for - at that point, it doesn't matter if they make the best impression in the world with the hiring manager and/or HR and/or whoever else as they're just not going to get the job. A couple of caveats here: we always made in clear when sending out the interview request that there was the possibility we would terminate the interview early if we felt the candidate wasn't a good fit, and we'd always be clear with the candidate why we were terminating the interview early - none of this "we'll be in touch", but just a straight "sorry, we don't feel you have the skills for the role"; I do feel the former is disingenuous to say the least.

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I used to give candidates direct feedback that they didn't have the skills for the job, but it often leads to conflict. Several candidates were vehemently incredulous and frustrated. Just some feedback to posters who are wondering why they don't always get direct feedback. Some candidates do not take direct feedback very well, which causes hiring people to avoid providing to anyone. Also, for females, minorities or other protected classes, HR people often don't want to give them any reason, to reduce the chance of a discrimination claim. If you say they aren't qualified they can demand proof. –  Steve Midgley Aug 22 at 21:03

From my experience, if this happens in an interview, it's because they have a poor screening process. If halfway through the interview, it's so painfully obvious to them that they're wasting your time, that means a few phone questions or a closer examination of your resume could probably have weeded you out.

Also, when this happens, usually the experience is like you describe, where technically asking someone to leave early is not unprofessional, but the way they do it often is. Like, leaving the candidate alone in a room for a significant period of time is bad interview etiquette, or telling you "the other interviewers are too busy to meet," is bad interview etiquette, since lying to the candidate is completely unprofessional, and not making time to actually do the interview is also very unprofessional.

In other words, asking a candidate to leave early isn't inherently unprofessional, but it often is related to not knowing how to interview people, and in that sense, is indirectly a sign of lack of professionalism.

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Nothing wrong with stopping an interview process if the fit ain't there. It happened to me, and I didn't take it personally. I would have loved to have gone through the entire tech interview process, as I thought that the prospective employer had a pretty well thought out interview process, but it was apparent that they were not going to detach people from their tasks just to educate me.

Whether you think it's "professional" or not is irrelevant. This is their process, their people and their time not yours. Look at it on the bright side: by cutting you out early, they minimized the waste of your time.

Yeah, if they had allowed you to stick it out through the entire entire process, they might have learned something additional about you. Or they might not. They took a calculated risk and cut you out. They decided that if they had made a mistake about you, they could live with it. And so far, it looks like they are doing pretty well living with it. So far as they are concerned, the interview process is about them and for them. It's not about you and for you. Just because you are starring in your own life movie doesn't mean that you're starring in theirs.

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I prefer to go through the whole set of interviews, and here's why.

  1. Often, interviewers are trying to figure out what they want/don't want for someone in that position. IRL it's not always the same interviewers and the positions aren't always the same time after time. So first a phone screen, and then if they pass the screen, I bring them in and go through the whole set even if it seems to not be going well. Then afterwards there's a roundtable for everyone to sync up. This helps the entire team learn more about the role, what they and others are looking for in it, etc. Sometimes there's misunderstanding/misalignment that this discussion helps ("But he doesn't have experience in this specifically..." "That's OK, we're open to a junior person with talent to grow into the role..." "Oh, I didn't know that...")

  2. I want to leave the recruit with a good impression, and even if they're not a fit I'd prefer for them to talk to friends and colleagues as positively as possible about my company and opportunities there. Interviews are about selling the other person on your company as well. Maybe there's another role they'll fit, maybe they'll win the lottery and be looking for someone's stock to buy.

I only pulled the cord on later interviews once, which was a time that a former manager had clearly bungled the phone screen and the guy we talked to was a total serial killer. I got out of the interview, our director went in, I called the later groups and cancelled their interviews. The director emerged, panicked, a half hour later and said "We can't let any of our internal customers talk to this guy!!!" "Already took care of it, boss," I said. But that's the only time in a good number of interviews I felt compelled to do that.

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Yes, it is highly unprofessional. Each interviewer should conduct their interview independently of the others and without prior knowledge of the candidate, so as not to taint their honest opinion. It is essential that each interviewer has an open mind.

They should then write a report of their interview without discussing it with the other interviewers. They may then discuss it after reading each other's reports.

Ending an interview early means that the interviewers are not reviewing a candidate independently and with an open mind. Rather, they are relying wholesale on the opinion of the first interviewer without even meeting the candidate.

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While I would never be discourteous about it if there is no chance we are hiring some one I see no reason to waste anyones time past the point where that is determined. Some things are just deal breakers. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Aug 22 at 21:21
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Specifically, if somebody who has a veto on the hire is a definite no, it really doesn't matter whether other independent interviews are conducted or not. And generally speaking, if a solo interviewer or an interview panel doesn't have the power to issue a definite no, then the process probably isn't strong enough and is wasting a lot of people's time (interviewers and candidates). There's no point sticking a candidate in front of a group and then hiring them anyway even though the group says no. –  Steve Jessop Aug 22 at 23:23

A single interview can be a little shorter or longer depending on how it goes but it does sound unprofessional to schedule a whole day if there was a real chance that you were a really bad fit. Except if you were completely unqualified and unable to answer any of their questions (which does not appear to be the case), there is no reason for them to be in a position to rule out a candidate invited for a whole day so quickly.

If an employer is genuinely concerned about time wasted, the solution is to have a better screening process or perhaps a shorter first interview. At this point, the candidate's time is wasted anyway and invoking efficiency is just a rationalization. On top of that, it's unavoidable for such a decision to feel particularly unfair and demeaning to most people. It should be a concern, no matter how many times we try to tell ourselves that “you should not take it personally”.

Besides, recruiters should be upfront about the process (e.g. when a decision will made). So not informing you that they would filter candidates along the way and then lying to you as they show you out seems unprofessional in itself.

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I would personally shy away from this practice. Mostly it presents a bad image of the company. In addition to screening potential employees, interviews give a chance for companies to do some outreach. For example, if they'd talked to you about but mostly just tried to sell the company and make you want to work there, you wouldn't be on StackExchange asking about professionalism, you'd be telling all your friends how much you want to work for X and how much fun the interview was.

Professionalism seems to just tend to be doing things that are respectful and make sense. I don't really think ending interviews early does that.

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