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During a recent interview for a job, I got a very bad feeling about the person who would be my team leader. The job itself would have suited me, but I disliked the person (his interview style was confrontational and he made unprofessional comments about people we mutually knew). So when I was invited to a second interview, I declined with a pro-forma statement ("... on reflection not a good fit...")

I received an email from them today expressing surprise and saying that I was their top candidate. As the person lives nearby, he suggested a meeting in person to hear my reasons why I declined.

I would like to avoid meeting this person again and let the company move onto the next candidate.

Several options occur to me, none of which seem without problems:

  1. ignore the request (hence I will probably be blacklisted by the company for being totally unreliable)

  2. explain again with a generalised statement via email that it wasn't a good fit etc. (risking that he still pursues the idea of a meeting)

  3. be honest and say that I didn't find I could work with the person / personality clash (risking just looking like a jerk)

Which of these options would be the better approach, or are there alternatives that I haven't thought of?

  • How might you being direct with this interviewer effect those who you and he mutually know? – user34587 Feb 27 at 13:24
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    @alephzero They have known mutual acquaintances and the interviewer commented on them, so it's pretty much a certainty that any lie would get back to them. A lie is infinitely worse than a neutral truth (not a good fit). – user3067860 Feb 27 at 14:57
  • If a company is going to blacklist you for not answering the same question a second time, didn't you just doge several bullets? When would saying, 'Yeah no. One of your guys sucks, so no thanks.' ever be advisable? – Mazura Mar 1 at 0:30
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    @FaheemMitha I did miss a 'not' thanks! Unfortunately it's too late to edit now but I hope people realise my mistake. – Eric Nolan Mar 1 at 9:14

14 Answers 14

262

"Not a good fit" is used so often as to be a cliché, and is seen by many, if not most, to be a cop-out answer, which is likely why you're getting the follow-up.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying "I don't think we'd work well together".

I went on one interview, and when I was done, I spoke to the recruiter and told him that I just didn't make a connection on a personal level with the interviewer, and he said he got the exact same feedback from the man who interviewed me.

It's not an insult.

There are people you can work with, who you'd never want to be around outside of a professional setting, and there are people who you love to hang out with, that you'd never consider working with.

If you tell him anything, just say something to the effect of.

I don't feel we connected on a professional level where we'd be good working together. In my opinion, our work styles are just too different.

That statement is 100% true, not insulting, and a bit better than "not a good fit"

  • 9
    This is great! If we're assigned to work with people we know we wouldn't work well with, we suck it up and be professional and get along -- but if we have the option to back out, like in the context of accepting or not accepting the job, it's completely acceptable to do so. – Captain Man Feb 27 at 16:15
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    I would not say "I don't think we'd work well together". That begs the question of why, which you don't want to answer. Avoid saying anything about the interviewer. You already know the interviewer likes to make unprofessional comments about people, and I would try to avoid any of those comments being about me. – Mohair Feb 27 at 19:29
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    @Mohair that is not what I said. I said "I don't feel we connected on a professional level where we'd be good working together. In my opinion, our work styles are just too different." That is not "I don't think we'd work well together", not the same thing at all. – Retired Codger Feb 27 at 20:05
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    Richard, take another look at your second paragraph. That's exactly what you said! – Dave Tweed Feb 28 at 14:28
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    Might be good to also include a polite "Thank you for your consideration" and something to the effect of "I'm flattered that I was your top candidate". The little niceties go a long way in keeping face in these situations. – CullenJ Feb 28 at 21:43
50

The second option would seem to be the most prudent - just expand on your points but gently explain politely that you have no intention of taking the application (or discussion) further.

You certainly have no obligation to meet him and the last option would seem to be lose-lose.

Reading between the lines, I suspect they are having problems recruiting (possibly for the reasons you've outlined). You were no doubt, an excellent candidate which is why he wanted to meet up to persuade you but it has to be a good fit on both sides.

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    This is not they way to get rid of a persistent salesperson (which is what the OP is now dealing with). If you raise any specific objection, making at attempt to refute it is a legitimate reason to continue the negotiation, which is not what the OP wants. To coin a phrase, "just say no," and keep repeating it as often as necessary, if the recipient of the message seems to have suddenly gone deaf. – alephzero Feb 27 at 14:49
  • Yes, don't ignore them, because you don't want to burn bridges with the company. But just repeat 'not a good fit', in writing, with no further details so they can't see it as an opening to a negotiation (alephzero is right about that). And then if next year you're still interested in them, and the jerk's gone, you can re-apply and tell them you didn't think you could work with him, they'll know all about him by then :-). – George M Feb 27 at 21:59
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    @alephzero I don't think we can classify the recruiter as a persistent salesperson (yet). After all, they are being professional to see if there are any factors they can change in order to change the OPs mind. Where it would be unprofessional is if the OP asked to be left alone and they kept harassing. I would generally discourage any approach that limits options in the future. Just saying "No" over and over again is well within the OP's right, but it's really a childish approach in this scenario. We are talking about a professional setting here. – Gregory Currie Feb 28 at 6:24
  • @alephzero - That was my first take. The interviewer isn't interested in garnering useful feedback about the interview, they're just interested in using that information to 'sell back' to the interviewee. It's a last-ditch sales technique that you use on customers who're walking away. – Richard Mar 2 at 10:10
49

Let's reverse the roles, and say theoretically you said something in an interview that rubbed the hiring manager the wrong way. Would you expect the company to explain to you exactly what you did wrong, so you can argue it away, or do better with the next company perhaps?

That's not just a no, but a hell no. You'd get a nice impersonal "We decided to go another way. Best of luck in your future search." note, and no further official communications whatsoever from their end.

So why should you give them more consideration and help than they would give you? Are they perhaps going to pay you for your time consulting with them to improve their hiring practices?

You owe them nothing more than the same firm professional politeness that they'd give you.

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    The PAY YOU is the key here. Your time is valuable, and this is a purely business transaction. They are asking you for feedback that you don't feel comfortable giving and shouldn't be asked to provide for free. Would you feel comfortable if they paid you US$1,000? – BryanH Feb 27 at 21:27
  • And you'd be lucky to get firm professional politeness these days.. – George M Feb 27 at 22:02
  • Great answer. I was in this interviewee situation once. I interviewed well with who would be my peer, and then the manager wanted to meet me and made a bunch of puffery that turned me off. What I did was disclose to the first interviewer (they sent him after me to meet for coffee) that I could never work for his boss. I left the business to suss out how to communicate that back. – Douglas Held Feb 27 at 23:30
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    It’s not uncommon to not even get a response, constructive feedback is virtually unheard of. – Notts90 Feb 28 at 11:44
  • This should be the chosen answer. The OP already gave them feedback, if they do not like it, it is their problem – Rui F Ribeiro Feb 28 at 14:11
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Consider giving them (and yourself) another chance. Either one of you could have been having an off day.

I once interviewed a job candidate and came away with a bad impression. Everyone else thought he was great. I was the hiring manager, so was ultimately responsible for the decision. I decided to bring him back in. We talked for twenty minutes, and I came away with a completely different impression. I hired him, and he worked out great.

Sometimes you do get a second chance to make a first impression.

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    @alephzero -- "the job itself suited me" and "I was their top candidate". – Pete Becker Feb 27 at 14:53
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    @alephzero Well, not all decisions and all the time - but specifically when there is conflicting information it is worth another check. – Stian Yttervik Feb 27 at 16:06
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    don't underestimate what a personality clash can do to productivity. – Retired Codger Feb 27 at 16:40
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    It might be worth taking into account that the guy might have been role-playing during interview, and that he wasn't revealing his true self. I'm not sure how you communicate that back, but if the job itself is good, then it's worth considering giving him a second chance. – Michael Kay Feb 27 at 18:17
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    But anyone who likes to play jerk for an interview is totally wrong-headed, and I can't believe they wouldn't also be a jerk in real life.. – George M Feb 27 at 22:01
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explain again with a generalised statement via email that it wasn't a good fit etc. (risking that he still pursues the idea of a meeting).

Use this. Say that it wasn't a good fit for you that's it.

If he tries to pursue another meeting, politely decline it.

Hi x, I'm sorry but I do not want to have a meeting.

That's it

9

Alongside option 2, if they continue pushing I'd say that you don't have time for a meeting:

I'm not available for a meeting due to other commitments. I won't be continuing with my application for the role.

If they push after that, you've already let them know you're not available, so ignoring them, while it may irritate them, will be acceptable. The key is making them aware that you aren't going to spend your time on the matter any further, in a polite manner.

  • This kind of cop-out minor lie tends to just kick the can down the road. "Oh, the problem is you don't have time? That's fine, I'll just call you, or turn up at your current workplace at lunch time, or turn up at your home address at your convenience"... and then you need to invent another lie. Much better to just say something true, unequivocal, but not too specific, like in Richard U's answer – user568458 Feb 27 at 14:59
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    Hence "other commitments" - no need to be specific (in my case it would be teaching classes out of hours, or needing my lunch break as a total break from work, or taking important phone calls). In my experience it's generally accepted that if someone doesn't have time to fit you in, it's because their time is important. Someone saying "I'll turn up at your home at your convenience" would get the same answer - "No, I don't have time, and I'm not continuing with my application." The last part should draw a line under the matter. – Karl Brown Feb 27 at 15:11
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    @user568458 I don't understand how saying "I'm not available" (which isn't a lie) implies the OP can meet at some other time. They aren't saying they aren't available on a specific day, they're saying they're unavailable period. – BSMP Feb 28 at 19:52
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just reinforcing @Eigentime answer.

I would go with telling them the truth, start with explaining how the job itself seemed like a nice fit and you are confident you would be able to achieve what they expected of you, however during the interview you felt that there was a personality clash between you and the interviewer. Knowing that you would have to report to them you could envisioned this being a problem for both and could lead to you looking for a job in the near-future and because of those reasons you would like to respect both your time and theirs and allow someone else who can achieve the requirements and is also a better fit character-wise with what they need.

If you are then contacted by HR instead of the person who interviewed you, then you can disclose further if you wish.

  • Remember that HR is not your friend. HR's only function is to protect the company from liability. If you are giving something away for nothing (feedback), then you are missing the whole point of "pay for services". – BryanH Feb 27 at 21:29
  • They may well know that the interviewer is a jerk, and delude themselves that it's OK. And that other people can't tell. In any case, they should be addressing their internal problem, it's not your problem – George M Feb 27 at 22:04
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    I understand that. in my opinion we are not arguing between right and wrong choice but between good and better. I think it is a better option to help as you may come around and apply years later and that person would still be there if you hadn't said anything (or remained the same). I was always taught to leave places better than I found them so I rather help... – fireshark519 Feb 28 at 9:03
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The fact that they consider you the best candidate is both unknowable and unimportant.

If you are uncomfortable about a key aspect of the position, you have every right to terminate, or you can request more information or you can negotiate the issue.

You have no obligation to provide any more information. You have no obligation to reopen the hiring process. I would ignore the request for additional contact. I wouldn't even respond to their email.

I wouldn't fear being blacklisted. Every position I have been involved in filling has had one or more applicants/candidates drop out. The reasons have been many, and unless the dropout was after the offer letter it has not resulted in bad feelings. That being said there were times where we reached out to candidates who we really liked.

2

Although I agree with the other answers posted so far that sticking to your generalized statement would be the most prudent action, I still would advocate for telling the truth (i.e. your third option).

Mismatched personalities are a real thing and I doubt anyone would think negatively of you if you state this in a thoughtful and respectful manner. Avoid putting blame on the other person and you should be OK.

By being honest and open you show the company that you are able to work through problems maturely which may be beneficial to you in the future. In addition, this gives them a chance to find a solution that could work for everyone involved (e.g. putting you into a different department).

  • Unfortunately telling the truth can sometimes not be beneficial. People can get offended, whether intentional or not. Rejection is not easy, people don't often take it well. If OP continues communication with "the truth" he may write or say something that can come back to bite them later on. This is why companies are vague and polite in their job application denials. As they say: no good deed goes unpunished. He owes them nothing, but a "thank you for the opportunity, but no thanks." – unknownprotocol Feb 27 at 21:22
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I would suggest a fourth option. Figure out who is the manager of the person who did the interview with you (just call the switchboard and ask for NN's manager) and then forward the e-mail to this person and explain honestly why you don't want to go to this follow-up meeting. This manager will then surely tell the interviewer that you two have been in touch and that there is no point in follow up meeting and (s)he should give up the idea.

You can also, if you feel like it, ask this manager for a favor along the "pay it forward principle": "now when I have been honest to you [and done you a favor], I would ask you to do the same to someone you decline after an interview in the future".

  • I suspect that this approach could be problematic for a number of reasons a) They're unlikely to give out this sort of information [NN's manager] and even if they did b) you'd be in no position to ask for said favour given that you don't even work for the company. – Robbie Dee Feb 28 at 17:28
  • 1 Have you ever tried? Tell the switchboard you have a complaint on NN and want to write to the manager. – d-b Mar 2 at 16:41
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It depends on who the point of contact is at this company.

If your point of contact is this team leader directly, then your second option is probably the best. Just try to be non-commital and give a very general "thanks but no thanks" answer.

If your point of contact is someone with authority over this particular person (HR or someone in the chain of command above this person), I would go with the 3rd answer. For you specifically, it gets off your chest the frustration of a bad interview. For the company specifically, it tells them that if they want to hire good talent, then a) this person should not be conducting interviews, and b) perhaps this person should not be a team leader at all. For both of you, it helps to clear the air and make sure that each party understands the other.

As for "looking like a jerk", it's all about how you say it. There's a difference between:

In our interview, Jack was a complete asshole to me. He kept whining about how my solution wasn't absolutely, positively, the most perfect thing he's ever seen, and he berated me over every little mistake I made. I think Jack would be a shitty boss to work with, so I quit.

and

In our interview, I was somewhat uncomfortable with Jack's demeanour. In specific, when I answered question XYZ, he was very sarcastic about how my solution performed. Specifically, he said ABC about my solution, and I thought that was very unfair of him. Additionally, [give another example or 2]. Based on this interaction, I feel like I would not work together well with Jack if I joined the company, and I'd prefer to not waste everyone's time pursuing an opportunity that I would very likely reject in the end.

1

I was in this same situation a while back: cool company, nice sounding job, but in the interview one guy just gave me a really bad vibe. He had this mean look in his eye like he would be awful to work with. I passed that round but declined the second, explaining to the recruiter my gut feeling.

This is important, if it's fed back from the recruiter to the interviewer and his management then they may have words with him about his technique.

Don't ignore the recruiter as he may have other opportunities.

  • 2
    First impressions can be wrong. Early in my career I had an awful interview where the interviewer put me through the mangle quite frankly. Long story short, I got the job and he turned out to be one of the best managers I ever had. The interview is a very artificial environment and doesn't tell you the full story. – Robbie Dee Feb 28 at 17:38
  • @RobbieDee that's true, it's not always good to jump to conclusions, but I just couldn't ignore my gut instinct in that particular case – Pixelomo Mar 1 at 0:11
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IMHO, employers need to know that this behaviour from their end is unacceptable. You should go with option 3 in a subtle and professional way. There's a big chance that everyone in that company already know that the interviewer's approach is bad but because no one complained and they end up finding a candidate, they let it go and he keeps his bad attitude during interviews under the illusion that he is testing candidates under pressure.

The fact that you are their top candidate will send a strong message about how misplaced this approach of interviewing candidates.

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    The problem with option 3 is that there's always a subjective element to these things. I can think of plenty of people who I'd regard as complete jerks but whose behaviour seems to be acceptable, sometimes even admirable, to others. As the OP has correctly identified, calling him out directly may backfire and should be avoided. – Matthew Barber Feb 28 at 3:20
  • @MatthewBarber my whole point is to convey to the people who think the behavior is acceptable that it is not. Even if it just adds a shred of doubt to their belief that it is fine, is a good thing IMHO. Nothing will stop this behavior from spreading if interviewees don't provide feedback. The company will lose good candidates without knowing what went wrong. – Ahmed Mansour Feb 28 at 17:14
  • I think that backing out of a second interview because you're not a "good fit' will suffice for the shred of doubt. To go beyond that, you'd really need to show that the interviewer did something objectively bad, such as making a racial slur and I don't think the OP is raising something on that scale. – Matthew Barber Feb 28 at 21:23
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suggested a meeting in person to hear my reasons why I declined.

If I got such an e-mail, under the circumstances described in the question, my response would be “No, thank you. I have made my decision and do not wish to discuss it.” And as soon as I sent it, I would delete that e-mail address.

(Whenever I have to give an e-mail address to someone I don’t know, I create a new one which gets deleted as soon as I receive or even expect to receive spam or other unwanted messages.)

protected by mcknz Mar 1 at 18:29

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