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There was a recruitment process of three rounds for research executive role in a leading market research company. There were 14 post graduate students shortlisted for the first round from the college. Test was on statistics and programming.

5 out of 14 people cleared the first round. The second round was an interview round which asked simple questions like tell me something about yourself and given your specialization in finance or other field why do you want to get into a market research firm and what do you know about the role you applied for. The interview lasted for 5 minutes per candidate.

All the five candidates were good in the interview. Though the company selected only one for the final round which was to be a telephonic round interview with the head of HR. Now in the telephonic round of interview before the head of HR could ask any question the candidate started making excuses like he is sorry for wasting company's time and he made a mistake because he has take finance as specialization he would not want to work in a market research company and so wants to opt out of the process. And he also said that the interview is a two way process and hence he wants to withdraw his candidature without explaining further as to why.

Now during further investigation the panel that interviewed the candidate said that the candidate was confident and gave satisfactory answer when asked why he wants to work for a market research firm given his specialization in finance therefore they shortlisted him instead of other candidates.

This begs the question whether it is ethical on the part of the candidate to clear two rounds of interview and back out of the final round stating the interview didn't go well? Is it right to take an opportunity away from some other candidate who may be in need for a job? The process took about a week's time with ample amount of time to think between each rounds.

Note that this being a campus recruitment process the candidate knew from round 1 that if he is shortlisted and backs out then he is effectively taking chance away from any other candidate that could accept the offer. Wouldn't it be much better if he made choice in round one itself?

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An interview is a two way process, and just because someone is offered an interview, they are not obligated to take it. At the point either side decides that this is not going to work out: the hiring manager decides they definitely will not hire the applicant, or the applicant deciding they definitely are not going to take the job, it is fine to end the process.

It is perhaps nicer to say something like "I've decided that I am no longer interested in this job, and so rather than wasting any of your time, I am going to withdraw." and not go into any additional details. But people applying for jobs don't always say exactly what they want to say, and they also can change their minds about a job, either because they find more about the job, or find more about themselves.

Changing your mind is not unethical.

Changing your mind and telling the hiring committee is much better than taking a job and then changing your mind. At least right now, they still have other candidates to interview, as they are still in the process.

It is also not unethical to tell candidates that they have not gotten the job, before a final candidate has been offered the job. But it is a very poor practice. What if the company decided during the final interview that their final candidate should not be hired? They would still need to go back to some of the other candidates. In this case it was the candidate who decided to end the process, but that could happen by either side, and that is perfectly normal!

Don't blame the candidate for the defective process. Instead, learn from this and advocate for fixing the process - if your 2nd and 3rd persons in line are someone you might be willing to hire, then don't tell them they are eliminated until your 1st choice has been offered the job. And probably accepted, at least verbally. And even then, be willing to go back to your 2nd and 3rd choices is the 1st choice doesn't work out. It happens. Be flexible enough to deal with it.

Update: It sounds like the candidates are told at the beginning of the process that if they make the final interview they are obligated to take the job. That is still a broken process. Before that time they had a test and a 5-minute discussion. That's barely enough for the candidate to have any idea of what they are actually obligating themselves to, and the idea of being obligated to take a job is such a poor concept that any reasonable candidate would have second thoughts.

They may have thought at first that they were interested, especially after taking the test and doing well. But this process has no consideration for the candidates, and certainly not enough flexibility for the company hiring - getting a warm body that is qualified is not as good as getting someone who is interested, the best of the candidates, and qualified.

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    @Rohan - perhaps he wasn't lying. Perhaps he thought he was interested, and then woke up in the night before the interview and realized he really didn't want to go that direction. People don't always know what they want right away. – thursdaysgeek Dec 30 '19 at 18:09
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    @Rohan - frankly, it's not the candidate's fault that the hiring process is built the way it is. They didn't take anything from anyone. If there were more than one acceptable candidates, they should have all been advanced to the next round. – dwizum Dec 30 '19 at 18:10
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    @Rohan I still don't get how the opportunity just disappeared. Does the company not need to have the work done? And if the work needs to be done, they will need to hire someone. – Matthew Gaiser Dec 30 '19 at 18:47
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    @Rohan what you keep missing is a central truth of job interviews: It really IS two-way. Just as the hiring company can decide at any time that 13 out of 14 applicants did not make their cut, so those applicants can decide at any time that this company, job or opportunity does not make their own cut. And that isn't taking a job from anyone else, if those 13 other still need or want this job, the company can still contact them and re-invite them. If the company choose not to re-contact the other applicants then it is the company who is taking away that job from those applicants. – RBarryYoung Dec 31 '19 at 4:18
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    @Stupid_Intern At this point it looks more like you're looking for confirmation instead of an actual answer. Backing away from an interview is ethical, Period. The fact that an opportunity is "taken away" from other candidates is due to the process, not the candidates. If you feel that the current situation is unfair to the other candidates, then the solution is simple : change the process. – user3399 Dec 31 '19 at 9:29
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This begs the question whether it is ethical on the part of the candidate to clear two rounds of interview and back out of the final round stating the interview didn't go well?

Of course it's ethical.

However and whenever a candidate reached the conclusion that they no longer want to carry on, dropping out at that point is the right thing to do. It would be foolish to do anything else.

Is it right to take an opportunity away from some other candidate who may be in need for a job?

Nobody lost an opportunity based on this candidate's actions.

The hiring company can always choose to bring in the next best candidate if they so choose.

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    That "taken opportunity away from others" is some prime rat race talk. – SZCZERZO KŁY Dec 31 '19 at 10:08
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This begs the question whether it is ethical on the part of the candidate to clear two rounds of interview and back out of the final round stating the interview didn't go well?

The company has the right to reject up until they make an offer. Heck, companies reject most people they interview. Why doesn't the candidate get the same right?

Is it right to take an opportunity away from some other candidate who may be in need for a job?

How was the opportunity taken away from one of the other candidates? The company presumably still needs the work done, so they will go back to the list and choose one of them. Nobody lost out on the opportunity.

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  • Candidate doesn't get the same right because college has rules like you cannot back out of the process if you attend and it gives the college bad name if the candidate does so. – Stupid_Intern Dec 30 '19 at 18:22
  • @Rohan Does that mean the candidate has to accept any offer, even if they have decided during interviews that they don't want the job? Or just that they have to waste their time and the employer's time going through interviews even if they have decided not to accept any offer? – Patricia Shanahan Dec 30 '19 at 18:35
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    @Rohan On the other hand, the candidate has done a huge favor for the company. Hiring skilled workers is expensive. The last thing you want is for them to accept a position because they feel obligated to, then see them leave in 6 months. – pip install frisbee Dec 30 '19 at 18:37
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    @Rohan agreed upon rules beforehand can change things, but it is still absurd to force a candidate to take a job they do not want. Why is having an employee who does not want to be there desirable? – Matthew Gaiser Dec 30 '19 at 18:45
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    "The company has the right to reject up until they make an offer." They even have the right to withdraw after making an offer. Or they can fire you before you start. – Alexander Jan 2 at 9:35
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I am the candidate who backed out of the process. I was told by the officer at college that I brought bad name to the college by doing so. I am not sure what wrong did I do. That's why I am asking question as a third person. – Rohan

You took the University's commission away from them (or possibly, if bribery was involved, you nullified the University employee's kickback from the company). And now that the company hired someone else (probably from another school), the University employee is upset. But you did nothing wrong.

Their coercive process seems to be the unethical one. By pressuring you to give up your ability to walk away once you've started the interviewing process, they're trying to diminish their risks and take away your ability to negotiate.

The next time the company is in town, it will have to offer more money and more benefits to the candidate in question. And of course, it won't like doing that. The next time the company is in town, to save itself some money, and since the coercive process of the school doesn't seem to be working, it may even decide to contact the students directly through other means rather than going through the school itself.

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  • You need to clarify that this is answering the details mentioned by OP in the comments. – justhalf Dec 31 '19 at 3:57
  • @justhalf, Done. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 31 '19 at 4:15
  • My university's co-op process worked in a similar way - if you're offered an interview, you must attend (unless you've accepted another position), and you may only decline one job offer per semester (or you'll be removed from the co-op program). The justification was that employers are more likely to recruit from the school if they don't have to worry about students backing out or declining as often. An important note is that students were made aware of this policy on starting the co-op program, before they start job hunting. – Michelle Jan 2 at 14:31
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    @Michelle: That's absolutely, disgustingly, unethical. And as a company, that is just stupid. if a candidate doesn't want to work for me, I don't want them to start a job with me. Better they reject the job offer and I hire someone who wants it. – gnasher729 Jan 2 at 17:23
  • @gnasher729: in Certain Places the idea of a candidate being required to accept an offer before an offer is made is considered a huge benefit. For example, here in the US someone who is receiving unemployment benefits must attend all interviews which are scheduled, and must accept the first job offer which is made regardless of any other considerations. The idea is to get people off of unemployment even if they can't perform the job. If the person is let go for cause the unemployment office doesn't care - they got him/her off the unemployment rolls, the rest is the employees problem. – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Jan 3 at 1:22
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As this is tagged India, I don’t know if you’re from there yourself, but keep in mind cultural differences. In many less-developed countries employees have very few rights, should have great respect for the company that employs them, as well as their superiors. Differences between rich and poor are much greater and a lot of people are being exploited for their labour. All leading to scenarios where companies can genuinely think they have all the rights and applicants have none.

Of course, fully ignore this, it’s totally ethical to back out when you no longer think this is a good fit.

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  • Actually, India has a better wage equality then the USA. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – computercarguy Jan 2 at 18:00
  • @computercarguy well the US is an outlier among developed countries and it’s not something to be proud of. But note that developing countries also have a lot of hidden informal workers without contracts, especially for low wage jobs. And on the other side of the spectrum, many rich people also hide their money. – Sebastiaan van den Broek Jan 2 at 18:25
  • All of what you say is true, but "hidden informal workers" and rich people hiding their money also applies to the US. It's as if the top wage tier of the US has become the "developed country", while the low wage tier has remained a "developing country" somehow. Maybe it's too political for this site to wonder how that's been allowed to happen. I don't expect you to answer that, either, since it's too much of a discussion for Comments. – computercarguy Jan 2 at 19:21
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It's unethical to enter into an interview process when you have no intention of completing it or accepting any resulting offer. This is a deliberate waste of everyone's time, and does indeed deliberately dilute the attention available to other candidates.

Otherwise, changing your mind and deciding to withdraw at any point after you start is completely fine. The recruiting process is set by the company and must be accepted at face value by all participating candidates.

You don't set the rules, so have no responsibility for the side-consequences of your widthrawal on other candidates or the employer. To the extent they are bad, that's fully on the designer of the process: the employer. There is no ethical dilemma here for you.

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  • I don't even think it's unethical in this case. If I'm a university student or a recent graduate, I may be shopping around; trying to decide what kind of job I want. If I have absolutely no interest, then I'm not going to take an interview. But, if I want to find out more (like what this kind of company does, i.e., information that may be useful for me), then I don't see a problem. An interview involves selling by both parties - the candidate sells him/herself while the company sells itself. Maybe the candidate will be sold on the company even if he/she didn't expect it – Flydog57 Dec 31 '19 at 22:22
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    @Flydog57 I think it is unethical to go through the application process when it is known before the job will not be taken. In this case, it would equal to surreptitiously obtaining a high end practice course in job application. But as soon as there is a realistic chance the job is taken, even if small, it is perfectly fine. – Volker Siegel Jan 1 at 2:05
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The hiring process end when the negotiations are over. That means either contract is signed and employee starts working or at least one part drop.

Actually, there are no obligations during the process. If you are invited to (another) interview it may be cancelled. Same way, you are not obligated to go there either.

On the other hand it is considered polite to let the partner know when one made the decision, whatever the decision is.

I accepted a different offer.

Is acceptable answer. It's a very same answer as "We have accepted a different candidate."

I'm sorry I have to decline because my granny died...

or similarly silly excuse like your candidate didn't want to work for in market because he is focused on finances while being confident interview before when asked this question is a childish, yet still not unethical.

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  • Your first paragraph is the succinct answer. I've gone through several rounds of interviews, gotten an offer and turned it down. I've also said things like "I like the job, but the numbers you are offering are too low". Either of the parties gets to say "no" at any time - unless it's for unethical reasons (gender/race/etc.). – Flydog57 Dec 31 '19 at 22:25

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