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A friend of mine went on an interview recently for a software developer position at a well known company. It was a senior position, and he had very relevant business experience in the industry. I gave him the highest recommendation having worked with him in the past as a no-nonsense guy that cuts through the bull and tackles real problems directly.

He knew half way through that he wasn't going to fit in with the culture. It was an all day interview where everybody was given chances to grill him. He was criticized as being wrong for not following very dogmatic principles to the letter of the law. He was also concerned that nobody really seemed to care much about his relevant business experience and really only judged him intensely on his programming skills, which he felt was only one aspect of his software development experience. It was an open floor plan where everybody wore jeans, t-shirts and sandals. The vast majority were in their early 20's with the oldest person and lead developer being 30. They expected him to be involved in side projects and code for fun when he wasn't in the office.

At one point when he was asked to move to another conference room he decided he had enough and said that he was done with the interview and wanted to leave. The room was apparently shocked and dismayed. He politely asked where the elevator was, at which point somebody snapped the answer at him pretty harshly. He could feel sudden hostility from everybody in the room at the time.

When he went to leave the lead jumped into the elevator with him and asked him why he didn't want to continue and he had said that he felt he was inherently at odds with the culture there and that he wouldn't fit in well. The lead apparently acted completely incredulous to the concept that any developer wouldn't be happy at this environment.

I am confused by this because a while ago I had left an interview early as well when I was without a doubt certain that I wouldn't fit well and the interviewers acted in much the same way as my friend described, incredulous and hostile.

Is this behavior considered inherently rude on the interviewee's part?

If anything I would guess that you are doing them a favor by not wasting any more of their time than necessary but maybe I am wrong?

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The question you're asking is "is it rude to abort?", but your description makes it sound like that might not really have been the problem. Was your friend polite? Judgemental? Arrogant? –  Monica Cellio Aug 28 '12 at 17:36
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None of us were there, of course. Some things in your write-up that raised my eyebrows a bit: interviewers "criticizing" a candidate (rather than drilling into a subject), "dogmatic" (if he said that word he might have raised hackles), it sounds like he wanted to control the interview prematurely (they weren't asking what he thought was important...yet, anyway), and "said that he was done with the interview and wanted to leave". This might all be his compact summary of a polite exchange, of course; it just sounds a little off, enough to wonder what he actually said/did while there. –  Monica Cellio Aug 28 '12 at 17:49
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@zzzzBov, you may work, or want to work, with some of those people in the future. Gratuitious rudeness helps no one and could harm you, so the real question is why wouldn't you be polite about it? –  Monica Cellio Aug 28 '12 at 19:35
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The only other organisations who get upset when you want to leave are cults. –  Iain Holder Aug 29 '12 at 9:03
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If the lead had to ask why he was leaving the interview, then your friend may not have been as polite and professional as he should have been. Obviously, I wasn't there, but he should have thanked everyone for their time, explained that he did not think he would fit in, and let them know that he was ending it early to be considerate of everyone's time. –  Nikki9696 Aug 29 '12 at 14:55

19 Answers 19

up vote 260 down vote accepted

It's easy to forget an interview goes two ways. I suspect their reaction was mostly an ego shock, and had very little to do with how polite your friend was or wasn't. Walking out as soon as he saw the dress code and floor plan would have been rude. Once you've spent enough time to see past initial prejudices, in my opinion it is more rude to further waste someone's time.

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This++. I can't put my finger on exactly why, but I think that if someone did this to me in an interview, I would want them more. Being able to identify time-wasting activities is a big part of being an effective lead.. I mean, if they felt comfortable identifying an interview as a waste of time, imagine what they could do for your business. :) –  ajax81 Aug 28 '12 at 20:24
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A while back I was involved in an interview where the interviewee phoned 5 minutes before the meeting, and said he didn't like the area our offices were in (basically a downtown slum), and felt he shouldn't even waste our time. He wasn't telling us anything new, and we thanked him for being honest. An interview takes several hours away from both sides, so as long as the "abort" happens courteously, there's nothing wrong. –  Daniel B Aug 29 '12 at 6:56
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I was interviewing a someone for a combined UI/UX + Front End Engineer job and 10 mins in he asked what we were expecting and realized he only does UX. He said he wouldnt be suitable and I thanked him for not wasting our time. –  looneydoodle Aug 29 '12 at 14:22
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I had one that I should have walked away from as soon as I saw the part of town I was entering (was driving based on directions only and didn't recognize the street names)... Wasted a couple hours of both our lives as I really don't want to work downtown in the 'hood. Not a fan of working at a place where the neighboring houses are all falling down, crack dealers are standing on the corners, etc. I'll stick to the suburbs where there's still signs of civilization. :-) –  Brian Knoblauch Aug 29 '12 at 15:04
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Karl always has a great outlook on these things, and I agree with his assessment: he was doing them a favor so long as he handled his exit tactfully. More often than not, I find that it is the interviewees time that is wasted because the interviewer didn't do his homework on the candidate or was too "polite" to stop short and say, "you know, you have great promise for some organizations out there, but ours is not the best fit for you". –  Matthew Patrick Cashatt Sep 1 '12 at 22:47

I don't think there's anything wrong with leaving a marathon-length interview if you realize in the middle that neither party will benefit (personally, it would have to be very bad for me to leave in the middle because I always hope that the situation might turn around and something can be salvaged). HOW you make your exit is probably key and very important if you don't want such hostile reactions. It might be best to say something very polite such as:

Before we continue the next phase, I'd like to say thank-you for all of the time you've spent this morning. At this stage in the interview, I feel that it would not benefit either of us to continue the process.

Or something like that. If the interviewer reacts angrily, I think that is quite unprofessional of them. Would they prefer you to stay all day only to hear at 4 pm that you decided 5 hours ago that the whole exercise was pointless? I wouldn't like that if I were the interviewer.

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yeah there's nothing worse going into an interview to spend precious time and 5 minutes in you realize the other side has lost interest or won't succeed. –  Doug T. Aug 28 '12 at 19:04
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+1 - we actually had this happen to us yesterday. 20 minutes in, the candidate decided that he wasn't going to be a good fit into our company culture. We were all taken by surprise, but the interview ended on good terms and later we all agreed we would rather find out now than 2 weeks later when we offered him a job and he decides to tell us then –  Mark Henderson Aug 28 '12 at 20:40
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One thing to keep in mind is that schools went through a phase where maintaining the self-esteem of the students was the most important thing. I think that there is a very real difference between what workers under 30 find offensive vs. what workers over 30, whose self-esteems were not assumed to be so fragile, find offensive. This may have been at the root of what your friend was feeling, and if it is, he probably would have fallen even further afoul of it later on. –  Amy Blankenship Aug 29 '12 at 0:41
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+1 for giving an example of what to say if you do decide to go this route. –  starsplusplus Mar 10 at 12:21

In this case, yes.

Your friend's behaviour as you described it was rude, and you should expect that most interviewers will probably have a similar reaction.

What he did right:

  • Waiting for a natural break in the interview

"[...] when he was asked to move to another conference room he decided he had enough [...]"

What he did wrong:

  • Asking to leave in front of the whole group
  • Asking to leave without explanation

The interviewers had already spent time on your friend, and what your friend gained was the knowledge that the company culture was not to his taste, but he didn't offer this information up front, and had to be asked:

"[...] the lead jumped into the elevator with him and asked him why he didn't want to continue [...]"

At this point, regardless of assumptions about other people's tastes anyone would be feeling at least taken aback and might be defensive, risking that reaction in front of the whole room represents a particularly high level of disregard for the feelings of that group. Also, there may be dissappointment because information about why applicants decide they don't want to work there is valuable to the company. Employers are highly interested in attracting qualified candidates, and your input can potentially help them gain something from the situation. They might offer to adjust the culture, or decide that they should provide information about the environment during a preliminary interview, for example.

Adjustments or alternative offers might even be made in the same interview, if the interviewers were given a chance. Leaving early without explaining is effectively giving up on the company and taking away any chance for them to improve, or try to win you back.

Since you seem concerned about being rude or wasting the interviewers' time, then you must either be compassionate, and/or want to keep a good reputation. Accomplishing this requires the basic human decency to have a conversation with the interviewers as fellow human beings, and just be honest. They will be much less offended if you put in some effort to make the interview worthwhile, and let them have a chance to speak as well.

You might even learn something about their impressions of you.

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I think this is overly critical. Most companies I've seen won't tell you why they aren't interested in hiring you. That does go both ways. –  Ed Ropple Aug 29 '12 at 14:36
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@EdRopple While true, does that make it not rude? I don't think so. Don't you prefer when they do tell you why you didn't get the job so you can improve? Just because one side acts in a way that is less ideal doesn't mean you have to follow suit. Communication is underrated, and fairly easy to accomplish. Even if you're the only one trying, you benefit in the long run; companies that want you will try to suit your needs if only you would take the time to tell them what they are. –  Dani Aug 29 '12 at 14:44
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This answer is most-correct because it addresses the impact to image/reputation that a job-seeker suffers from not being mature enough to provide clear feedback. When I've stopped the interview process, the person(s) that interviewed me always knew the details of why. This always fell back on the recruiter for poorly-matching, as wasting everyone's time. Craigslist Jobs: you're on your own. –  New Alexandria Aug 29 '12 at 18:07

To answer the actual question, it is rude if you don't offer an adequate explanation, but not inherently rude. The normal course of events is that an interviewee stays until the end of the interview. If you break that expectation it is rude not to explain why. "I'm done with the interview and I want to leave" (probably not a verbatim quote, but still) isn't very explanatory.

Simply giving a reason that doesn't criticize the company or the interviewers is probably sufficient. If a frank explanation would be critical simply saying that you don't feel it would be a good fit isn't too bad.

It would be more polite to recognize that your decision has wasted their efforts, which you can do by thanking them for their time and conveying a degree of regret in your tone, or perhaps explicitly, as in "I'm so sorry it didn't work out but I don't think I would be a good fit here and I don't think it's fair to take up any more of your time."

So, it's not inherently rude but it is inherently awkward and requires special effort not to give offense.

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Offering an explanation is a trap. Companies don't offer explanations for why people leave, or why people are hired to protect their image and possible bias. Why should people? If they were treating him as an "old fart" who will need to get up to speed on "new tech" because he's over 30, then telling them won't help his job effort one bit. Sure, it might help them in subsequent interviews, but that's assuming they are emotionally grounded enough to hear the complaint (not likely considering their reaction). –  Edwin Buck Aug 29 '12 at 21:09
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@EdwinBuck - The explanation doesn't have to reveal anything - it's a formality really. It's hard for "I don't think I would be a good fit" to come back to haunt you. So it's probably safer than being the guy who suddenly mumbled something and took off for the elevator. –  psr Aug 29 '12 at 21:40
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@EdwinBuck - I don't think the explanation really does have to reveal anything. Oddly, that is not a requirement for politeness. In fact, everybody use the same "explanation", that they are not a good fit, specifically not to reveal any information, except the fact that they are providing the explanation that is socially required. Weird, right? –  psr Aug 29 '12 at 22:01
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Just to chime in, consider any other social engagement. Imagine you went out to dinner with your friends or your co-workers, and you decided you had to leave before the food came. What would you say? Things that come to mind for me are "sorry guys I'm not feeling well" or pretend to check your phone then say "oh guys I'm really sorry something came up." I honestly can't think of anything polite to say that wouldn't involve explaining my odd behavior. It's just considered disrespectful in our society to leave people unexpectedly without excusing yourself with some sort of explanation. –  John McDonnell Aug 30 '12 at 5:57

I'm probably reiterating a number of these posts, but I wanted to point out an additional perspective - that of the interview squad. Speaking as a manager, I can say that setting up a day long interview is an epic amount of effort. Not what I even consider doing for most cases, because it involves multiple man-days of set up time to review a single candidate. It's warranted in many cases - maybe even this one - but you have to feel very confident going into it that you will have a good return on investment.

I understand that a candidate won't want to waste a whole day when they know for certain they won't accept an offer from the company - and leaving the interview and giving everyone on the interview team back the second half of the day is commendable... but keep in mind that a squad of people have blocked off their calendars, and they did it because they thought considering this candidate for the team would be a good use of their time.

So, a few thoughts:

Least Effort, Most Value

I have yet to hear of a day-long interview cycle that wasn't preceded by at least 1, maybe 2-3 phone screens or shorter 1-2 hour interviews. Several of the issues that are mentioned above could have been raised if they were non-starters, and both the candidate and the interview team could have avoided the interviews. For example, any of these questions are good fodder for any time an interviewer says "any questions"?

  • Anything from the Joel Test - including the coding your own MVC framework, and the open seating area

  • Anything that seems like a cultural mismatch - for example, if the interviews have all been asking programming specifics, instead of problem domain questions - then ask the interviewer about why they don't care. I've actually done this and gotten some very helpful resposnes.

  • Culture in general - "can you describe a workday?", "what are your expectations for # of hours a week?", "what are your training expectations?" - this questions might unearth some of the other surprises that your friend encountered.

You won't hit all of them, there's always more to find out - and no one can really 100% describe the working experience - even in a full-day interview. But you should be able to rule out enough "no I'd never take this job" conditions that you can be fairly sure that a full day interview won't waste anyone's time.

At the Interview

Give feedback. It sounds like, given the shock of the interviewers, that they were totally surprised that the candidate had become progressively disenchanted with the position. It's always tempting to hide any dismay that you feel when you are going through an interview process - after all, no one wants to seem negative. But several of these cases could be a cause for a honest concerned response that could lead to a useful conversation. For example:

Candidate - "you're coding your own MVC? That sounds both expensive and risky - what are your reasons for it?"

At which point, the team may have some very good reasons. It could end up being a fantastic discussion where the candidate knows things the team doesn't know and ends up saving them from a bad decision with some good information.

But also there's the fact that along the way the candidate can and should give some level of feedback. Then, if there's a point where there's just too many negatives, the candidate can add them up and say "I'm sorry, but this just isn't want I want".

Give 'Em a Shot to Change your Mind

Any situation like this something of a two way street. Certainly they won't trap you in the building and force you to continue the interview. But just getting up and leaving without asking - "do you see any point to continuing this?" would be a more polite way to go. Perhaps there were other job opportunities in the same establishment, perhaps they are willing to concede on some points, perhaps there were misunderstandings -- there's no way to know any of this if you just give up and leave.

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This is an excellent answer; feedback is stressed, and it addresses the "result" part of intent/action/result when considering the possibility of rudeness in an action. It also adds the idea that preliminary interviews, if any, were unsuccessful, and how either party could have changed that. All in all, very helpful advice in order to save time, and save face. –  Dani Aug 29 '12 at 15:01
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The last option is a bad idea. It automatically puts them on defensive. This is not a position that you want to put them at. Politely leaving, and suggesting a later interview by phone may be better. –  monksy Aug 30 '12 at 23:08
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I disagree - it's a matter of wording... "I'm a bit concerned that based on everything you've said, I wouldn't be happy here, and likely you would not be happy with me, either... here's my concerns (insert concerns) - what are your thoughts?" then if the discussion doesn't turn the impression around, follow up with "it sounds like we agree to disagree... I don't want to waste your time, do you still a reason to continue" is a pretty gentle version of this conversation, and I think letting them stew by abruptly leaving and following up later is not likely to yeild better results. –  bethlakshmi Aug 31 '12 at 13:08

Once you know for sure that you would not accept the position if offered, it's best to (politely) thank the interviewer(s) for the time spent so far, and explain that you no longer wish to continue the process. The interviewer(s) may find it surprising or inconvenient that you don't want to continue, but should ultimately be appreciative of the fact that you aren't going to continue to let them waste their time interviewing someone who doesn't even want the job.

A reaction like you've described in this question is unprofessional.

The interviewers seem to have forgotten that this is not a one-way process. They don't have some holy grail that the candidate absolutely needs and will do anything for. They have a need - otherwise they wouldn't bother interviewing anyone. Any candidate that walks in the door may need a job, or they might just be looking for a better opportunity than their current job. The interviewers and their company are being evaluated as well, not just the candidate.

What kind of reaction do you think they would have to a potential candidate acting hostile when they declined to offer the candidate a position? I'm sure they would find it unacceptable.

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Is this behavior considered inherently rude on the interviewee's part?

Absolutely.

I can excuse it a little bit due to the length of the interview (which itself should've been a red flag), but it sounds as though your friend was a bit curt in cutting the interview short.

A simple "Look, I thank you for your time and interest, but I'm not sure that I want to work in this sort of environment. I'm sure you have other things to do, and wish you well on your search." goes a long way in preventing some of the negative reactions.

If the interview were an hour or two, just gut it out; impressions can be wrong and its not worth the reputation hit to risk the affront.

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Two hours is a lot of time to waste for both parties; maybe an hour but that seems like a lot of time to waste when you already know you're not interested. Consider 1 or two hours times the interviewer's salary (plus benefits)...you might be wasting a couple hundred dollars of their time as a business. –  Rarity Aug 28 '12 at 18:36
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@Rarity if the interview is 1-2 hours. Half way through means an hour at the outside, and I'm kinda assuming/hoping that the second half of that 2 hour interview is with different interviewers who might have a new perspective. If it's the same people for 2 hours, then yeah I'd consider interrupting things halfway. –  Telastyn Aug 28 '12 at 18:39
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It's not clear from the OP exactly what wording he used to cut the interview off. I think the lack of clarity about what "this behavior" applies to (the specific wording in the OP or the premature ending of an interview by the interviewee), that you might wish to re-word your answer to indicate early on that the wording used in ending it is the determinant of rudeness. –  David Navarre Aug 28 '12 at 19:38

Based on your description of the event, I'd say your friend handled it professionally. If it's clear that he wouldn't be a good fit for the team, why would he want to waste the rest of the team's time?

The fact that the team seemed to react hostile towards his decision seems to indicate to me that that is all the more reason why your friend was correct in that it wasn't going to be a good fit.

My hunch is that it was less of a culture thing in general and more of an age gap. I've found there's a world of difference between a 20-35-ish developer group and a 35+ developer group.

I interviewed at a place that was hiring LOTS of young people. Everyone was in hoodies, everyone had a pet, free beer on Fridays, that type of thing.

I, too, realized that wasn't the place for me anymore and they were surprised when I passed on the offer and actually came back more than once trying to lure me in. It was apparent in that all their hiring of young people, they lost sight of the fact that some people with experience actually care about things like vacation time...or being able to leave the office by 5pm. ;)

I certainly don't begrudge enthusiastic young teams who spend all day slinging code then do it at night just for fun, but that is definitely a culture that will wear you out over time.

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Nothing wrong in principle with leaving an interview halfway through if you are sure you won't fit. However you should do it at a break and discreetly. The description doesn't sound like that, but the reality may have been different.

However was he really sure that he wouldn't fit in? My personal view is that he jumped to conclusions. I can think of a number of scenarios that might have changed his mind:

  • Just because people are asking about side projects and programming doesn't mean that they are the only criteria being considered. Maybe the first couple of hours were going to be all about programming, and the next couple about other aspects.
  • Just because there is a dominant culture (jeans and sandals) doesn't mean it's the only acceptable culture. Maybe the company would have been very happy for him to come to work in a suit every day.
  • The group interview may not have been given as much weight as he thought. I once was interviewed by a company where I had an hour of silly logic puzzles and programming trivia from developers fifteen years my junior. But in reality the CEO wasn't paying them any attention - he just wanted them to have the interviewing experience and hired me anyway. (He had the decency to warn me first though).
  • There may be a hidden agenda. A senior manager may realize he has a young and inexperienced team and wants an older wiser person (like you) to bring some balance. He might even be hoping you could change the culture. He's only letting the 'crowd' interview you so they don't feel they have been shut out. He would have hired you despite their complaints about you 'not following dogmatic procedure' - but he won't hire you if you walk out.

At the very least I would recommend talking to one of the senior guys before just walking out.

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If you have a hugely negative reaction due to a company culture that quickly, it is a waste of your time to stay there all day just to tough it out when the job market is such an open market for people who can code right now. If you code (well) you have the ability to pick your job in some sense. Why waste your time with a job you don't think at all you will like. –  enderland Aug 28 '12 at 23:47
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Your third point is an interesting take on the managers possible agenda, however I don't think if he were to take the job that it would work. The team is usually limited by the quality of its slowest member, and restrained by the prejudices of its most vocal and whiny members. –  maple_shaft Aug 28 '12 at 23:52
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Re: "Maybe the company would have been very happy for him to come to work in a suit every day": I don't think that really addresses the issue. I dislike a noisy work environment, even if the company is O.K. with me sitting quietly while everyone else is loud. I imagine that people who dislike jeans and sandals would feel likewise. –  ruakh Aug 29 '12 at 20:12

Put it in perspective. Your friend applied for this job. He asked for an interview. They accepted. They made time for this apparently long process where they determine if he's a fit for them. In the middle of this, he stands up, announces the interview is over, and asks to leave. That's their line. He basically just turned the entire interview process around, and rejected them, putting them on the very uncomfortable "wrong side" of the interview desk. They're supposed to be the "in" crowd and he's the "outsider"; they should be rejecting him at their option. And there are more of them than there are of him to be thinking that way.

I'm not saying any of this is the right way for a potential employer to be thinking about the process, but I am saying this is probably how they were thinking about it.

Personally, I agree that interviews are two-way; employees should make themselves look good to employers, but the same applies in reverse. This may actually have been a contributing factor as well. The interviewers may have gone to some lengths to show your friend what they liked about working there. Devs wearing what they want to, working in a nice big open space as opposed to being buried in cubes behind file cabinets, people challenging themselves outside their job.

In short, the ideal "programming outside the cube" environment, which (in their opinion) any coder would jump to be a part of. Your friend rejected all that. If I were still a 20-something coder in a casual environment like that I would be shocked and dismayed too; it might even come across as a rejection of my lifestyle as a young coder.

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I can't really agree with this; you claim interviews are two way but clearly imply the interviewee is completely at their mercy and should act like it. That's just not the way to act with anyone. Even if they want someone who's completely submissive and never speaks their mind, if you're not going to say yes they won't care that you treated them like gods. –  Rarity Sep 14 '12 at 14:26
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@KeithS: this doesn't answer the question of whether it was rude or not. At best it explains the leads incredulity about the idea that he wouldn't be happy to work there. Which has a simpler explanation: the lead thinks it's a great place to work. –  jmoreno Oct 6 '12 at 16:15

Do not judge professionalism based on the looks

But lets start from the beginning. I've been and interviewer on the other side, working for a social networking company where someone would get a similar first impression as your friend had. Again, looks can be misleading. There were quite a few people over 30, and even some over 40. I'm 36, but your friend probably would classify me as "20-something wearing jeans and sneakers". Just because they don't dress like retirement home residents doesn't mean that they're 20. But I'm digressing...

Anyway, on a few occasions I've interviewed people with "professional backgrounds" in banking or big (non-software) corporations, which meant tons of certificates with buzzwords overload, alleged experience in enterprise environment, "profound" knowledge of J2EE and some enterprisy DB (Oracle, DB/2, Sybase). During interview it resulted that the candidates would:

  • know only one sorting algorithm — bubble sort;
  • having enterprisy certificates for Oracle DB, couldn't write simplest left join query by hand;
  • couldn't write a single line of code at all without IDE;
  • asked to name significant differences between C and Java, could only tell that you have to use different perspective in Eclipse;
  • and the list goes on and on...

In other words, very much as described by Jeff Atwood 5 years ago in "Why Can't Programmers.. Program?". (Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the case of your friend. In fact if he made it trough first round of interviews, it probably wasn't). Question is, are these people true professionals? They all wore suits to the interview.

Cultural differences

Your friend is probably right in assuming that he wouldn't fit in. There are clearly two poles in software development. On one side you have consulting companies like Accenture or IBM, with their waterfall methodologies, with development cycles counted in years, with COBOL and J2EE. And of course with dark suits, white shirts and blue ties. 80%+ of time in meetings and working on design documents, and less than 20% working with the code.

On the opposite side you have companies like Google, Facebook and gazillion startups, where general culture is that of hackers. Instead of waterfall you have various kinds of Agile; development cycles are counted in weeks, 80%+ percent of the time is spent working with actual code, etc. That's the world of dynamic languages, NoSQL, high-scalability etc. And yeah, jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers (sorry, didn't see so many dev wearing sandals). And what's important, meeting and interviews are perceived as disruption, which takes you away from coding and problem solving.

I really think it's wrong to call either of above two unprofessional.

And yes, the big corporation has a fetish for certificates, while hackers have a fetish for side projects. In neither case they are required. I've worked in the investment banking industry, having no certificate besides my M.Sc. in Computer Science. I've worked in social networking without having any significant side projects.

So ad rem, is it rude...

Generally speaking, I'd say it's not. Quite the opposite, it would be rude to waste interviewers time knowing that you're not interested. Seems more like the issue in that particular case was how it was communicated. From what you describe, it was more like a public outburst with no clear reason given (until confronted). What would be professional, would be to voice these concerns to the interviewers during the interview, perhaps at the end of first round.

Why would people be angry about it? Well, ego shock as Karl suggests might be it. But I suspect it's more anger about wasting interviewers time. Your friend probably knew that he wouldn't fit very early, yet continued. Meaning that he wasted time not only of people who interviewed him, but people who were to interview him later as well (they had to change their regular schedule, read his CV etc.)

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Is this behavior considered inherently rude on the interviewee's part?

No. Determining if the fit is going to work both ways is part of the interviewing process. I would have phrased it more along the lines of "well, this isn't going to work out for either of us, so let's stop wasting each others' time and call it a day." Time is the most valuable thing we each have. No one has more hours in a day than the next person - we all get the same 24 hours per day. Wasting another person's time isn't a polite thing to do. It is a denial of service attack on their life.

Some people are more about being in charge, and it is quite possible that they were enraged that some puny subject would reject King Manager. Upsetting someone's dominance ritual usually leads to fights on the school playground, or in the ghetto. You'll also see them played out as "you can't quit, you're fired" with "you can't fire me, I quit" being shouted around.

He was criticized as being wrong for not following very dogmatic principles to the letter of the law. He was also concerned that nobody really seemed to care much about his relevant business experience and really only judged him intensely on his programming skills, which he felt was only one aspect of his software development experience. It was an open floor plan where everybody wore jeans, t-shirts and sandals.

To me, this sounds like hazing. It happens in interviews sometimes, but usually in very high stress environments - like white shoe consulting firms and police departments.

It also sounds like a short-sighted approach I've seen by some start ups: "we've got a business guy, now all we need to do is some heads-down coding."

a no-nonsense guy that cuts through the bull

You may want to re-analyze this. This is the sort of description given to rude and insensitive people. The different result between what happened to you and to your friend may have been as simple as how the rejection is worded.

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I've done a lot of interviewing through the years and frankly, I'm happy when someone decides they aren't interested even if they do it rudely. I now know not to waste any more of my valuable time on someone who will never accept the offer. I'd far rather see that than the desperate person who clearly can't do the job or won't fit in who bugs you daily begging for the job even after being told he was not in consideration.

If the interview is all day (Which frankly is rude to start with, if you aren't Google flying people in from around the country, then don't plan interviews like this), certainly it is unacceptable to expect people to continue for hours if they have made up their minds. If the interview is an hour, it is probably easiest just to politely finish and leave. Otherwise, wait until a natural break and tell them honestly that you don't feel you fit in their workplace and are no longer interested in the job and will not further waste their time.

To my mind the real question is "Should you care if they are upset?" If they are a small place with little influence in the local market, then probably not. More than likely you aren't going to be interested in any of the jobs their friends might have either for the same cultural reasons, so it's no big deal if they diss you to their friends. However, a major local employer (or one that recruits nationally) can harm your future prospects. I believe though that those are far less likely to be offended when you leave (unless you are really nasty about it), because they have far more important things to worry about than one failed interview. Larger companies are more business oriented and understand that a poor fit is costly and that doesn't mean the person might not be a good employee somewhere else. Young companies with young managers may not have learned this lesson yet.

However, the fact that the probability that their upset is unlikely to actually cause you future harm is not license to be rude. Leaving isn't rude, leaving badly is.

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Absolutely not. Anyone who disagrees (or, worse, tries to interpolate something into your description of your friends recollection of events) is a nitwit who exemplifies why so many companies can't find qualified candidates.

As Karl Bielefeldt put it, in his top-rated response, "an interview goes two ways." Either party can, at any point in the process, decide the person is not a good fit for the organization. Conveying this information politely saves both side time.

Most employers, as soon as they lose interest in a candidate, see no reason not to bring the process to a swift (often abrupt) close. But they react violently if the candidate reaches the decision first. It's nothing more than what psychologists call a "narcissistic injury"-- they're angry to have been told they aren't wanted.

Anyone who thinks the rudeness that almost always follows has anything to do with conditions in the modern technology industry should acquaint themselves with "Mildred Pierce" (either the 1941 novel or the 2011 HBO production). As one of the characters says in the very same situation, "The interviewer ends the interview, Mildred."

There are three situations where an early departure is inappropriate (though, based on the description of events, none applies):

  1. The employer paid the candidate's transportation to the interview. If they've bought an audience (especially with dinner and a hotel), you're obligated to see the entire dog and pony show through to its completion.
  2. The interview was arranged by a recruiter. An early departure will destroy that person's relationship with the employer, so it would be very unfair to do that.
  3. The candidate has interest in a position in another division. Unless the two silos have very different cultures--and they loathe each other-- this sort of event poisons the well at the enterprise.

Should the candidate explain why? In my opinion, it is pointless. By the time anyone announces they don't want the job, they've already sent dozens of discreet (or non-verbal) signals that went ignored. Typically the interviewer has:

  • Asked one or more inappropriate questions or made offensive statements
  • Denigrated achievements or characteristics the candidate is proud of
  • Presented a work process or environment that the candidate finds distasteful
  • Made it clear that the candidate will be obligated to do tasks they dislike

An employer who has done that-- and also not realized how badly it was being received-- is unlikely to change after a few words of explanation. Typically this cluelessness is due to misplaced pride in their "unique culture" (which is all too often identical to the loutish behavior one finds in locker rooms or construction sites).

But if the interveiser(s) can control their emotions enough to ask politely, the candidate is obligated to explain as best as possible. If they hear the same thing often enough, the company might eventually identify opportunities to improve. Any rudeness, however, ends that obligation instantly.

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"It Depends". Imagine you were a member of the team sitting on the other side of that table. Now honestly say you wouldn't have found it weird or downright discourteous that someone just cut and run midway through a conversation. Something most people don't realize about interviews is that you're hardly expected to get every answer right in every situation. Sometimes, your reaction to certain stimuli IS the interview. And that, what your friend did right there is not a desired reaction.

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I must be strange because I would think highly of somebody that was so honest of me and not scared of me. I tend to think poorly of timid people who accept direction by authority and keep their opinions to themselves. I have such a member on my team now and I don't feel like he is working out. –  maple_shaft Aug 28 '12 at 19:03
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You know what they say about still waters. In many cases, you'll find that it takes restraint and strength to stop yourself from spewing every emotion and thought. Processing raw emotion into refined action? that takes maturity and strength. Try asking your teammate bluntly what he thinks. You'll be surprised what comes forth –  kolossus Aug 28 '12 at 19:09
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Ah, but it wasn't mid-conversation. The OP had been there a few hours and they were moving to a new room to continue the process, so there was a "natural break". I think any software development environment that is that tendentious and yet dogmatic is not worth the trouble (until you're desperate). –  David Navarre Aug 28 '12 at 19:50

There is a difference between walking out and telling them you're not interested (probably in private) and it would be best to stop the interview. At least you could give them a second chance and possibly address some of your concerns. Many jobs I've interviewed for mentioned existing practices that I didn't agree with, but when I asked if they were set to keep things that way, the felt things could improve and they hoped I could offer suggestions.

They may have actually felt things were going well and were genuinly shocked at the rejection. To a certain extent, many people doing interviews think they have the upper-hand and see interviews as a one-way interaction in that candidates should be trying to impress them. This may or may not apply to the two companies you mentioned.

Other than in a case of abuse, I can't imagine a professional setting where it would be appropriate to just walk out.

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If I applied for a job and the whole thing just turned sideways during the interview, I would just have a lot of questions/comments. –  JeffO Aug 28 '12 at 19:13

Even with smoothly delivered polite apologies, exiting early is most likely to be construed as rude or arrogant behavior.

Even if the interview is a total disaster - you look like an idiot, you got caught in a lie, whatever - it is an opportunity for you to face your worst job interview fears and learn how deal with them, or now not to deal with them. Try babbling on about something that you hope to God you never get asked about in a job interview: the empty two years on your resume when you were in jail; how you got fired from a past job for sexual harassment; your 13 years in college as an undergrad that didn't result in a degree, etc.

With regard to the previous paragraph, I think it is always important to enumerate your job interview fears, particularly the questions you hope they won't ask you, and write down how you'll handle each item if it comes up. Memorize the answers so you have them at a moments notice.

Other things to consider are, maybe one of the people interviewing you will resurface in a job interview or as a coworker 5 years from now, "Wait, I've seen this guy before. He chickened out and suddenly walked out of a job interview the last time I saw him"; maybe one of the people interviewing you will realize that you'd be perfect for the new, unannounced, but not yet funded, Director of Awesome Things department, coming up next fiscal quarter; maybe the interview went south because the senior or domineering person in the interview is a jerk who likes to humiliate job candidates - if you can emotionally take a step back, your chilled out grace under fire might make a lasting impression on the other people in the interview.

I hope these ideas help you, and others, be ready with a plan if and when you end up in a hopeless or excruciating interview. And good luck getting a job. Remember that, regardless of how many interviews you go on, you only need one job.

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The world of programming is a small world. Given the reactions elicited by the departures described, I'd say the wrong choice was made, or the decision was not delivered with sufficient tact. I think the best course of action if you find they are promulgating practices you know you cannot work with is to politely engage them on the topic, generally along the lines of "I see, I've always heard that practice X leads to Y, which can sometimes be a challenge. Have you found that to be true? How do you deal with it?". Either you or they may learn something from the discussion.

In any case one presumes that you have already planned to spend the time there, so if your questions don't cause them to end the interview early, suck it up, and make sure they wish you said yes to their offer. It's always good to get an offer even if you don't accept it. You might meet them in an interview for another company a year later. Alternately you might wind up interviewing them when their horrible practices catch up with them and they all need (or want) a job from you :).

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I have been in the IT field for over 20 years, I have been a contractor for the North East of the US for almost as long. At this time I probably been on over 100 interviews, I’ve held through contracting over 40 jobs. It’s not glorious, but I have seen every form of interview there seems to be.

That being said, I have read the question, and will say that there are multiple things that are not stated, but I have to say out of everything that I saw, there were mistakes on both sides, if your friend didn’t think what you wrote down but said instead. Saying Dogmatic or some form of it in a meeting is normally a game changer and not for the best.

If they said what the OP said as well, I agree, bad on them… but this may of also of been more of a between the lines thing that the interviewee saw as well. Which is useful, but if both parties don’t have it, there is an awkwuard state and one or the other is going to have to break the other’s heart or ego.

Your friend, though, in my opinion, did the right thing instead of wasting the time of the people. I have been in similar situations in the past and have done the same thing. I did it politely though. Yes, there are normally hurt feelings, but at times it depends on the situation as well.

I’ve been interviewed by hostile people, aggressive people, and people who let me control the interview. I’ve actually left an interview feeling like I was the bloody owner of the company instead of being interviewed for the lower level jobs at the time.

The one thing that bothers me is that people who are young (mid 20s and early 30s) are part of a “ME Generation”, as well as the “Why Generation”. Things have been in many cases given things to them on a silver platter. Told they can do anything, and in many cases prove they can’t… but those that do, and startup companies sometimes are of the same generation mentality. Now they feel they are in the seat of power they can run it how they feel will benefit them the best.

When you have been interviewed by people like this, you realize the environment will not work well for you if you are closer to 40 than 30 like me, you will realize that in many cases the attitude of management who wants a free roaming environment is not meant for you. Even if they are attempting to get you in, has to realize the generational gap. People of my generation, those who are between the boomers and gen-exers tend to like a more uniformed format.

We are being left behind for the instant gratification generation.

What happened to your friend is more or less not a bad interview, bad a bad pairing at the beginning. People need to take into consideration not only that there is now with older people working, going to be where the boss may be 10 to 15+ years younger than you, but your experience out strips him or her, and that is also another uncomfortable situation as well.

When do you tell the person who is interviewing that the fit isn’t there and that you can see it, even though they can’t? Sometimes you can be as gentle as you can be and they will still take offense. Sometimes learning the hard way is the best lesson.

What should have been taken into consideration before even brining in this person is their prior experience. Where did they work? Did they work for Apple, or did they work for HP? Which one did they last at longer? Did they go to a university like Harvard, or did they go to a community college and work their way to Harvard? That will tell you significantly if the person will work out.

Again, past experience tells a lot about a person. If you want everyone to be buddy-buddy at the work place, don’t pick someone who has been in the field longer than you’ve been out of diapers. Don’t pick someone who has had a corporate environment experience and expect to be ready for the Google Environment.

I probably would have done the same thing, but I probably would have asked them if they would think of hiring me as a consultant, or as a remote worker. Suggesting things like this may have allowed the job opportunity not to go awry.

Jobs are few and far in-between today. The best thing to do is not waste each other's time on an opportunity that isn’t going to be there after the interview is over.

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