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I was interviewing candidates for an associate role. I found that the candidates were doing very well in the interview and most of them were very well behaved compared to candidates from another college. Then at the start of the interview there was a candidate who was being too professional. To which I commented "The institute has trained them very well" in a light humor to the other panel members.

He felt I was rude, because even after getting shortlisted for the role, he said he didn't want to continue and without giving much of a reason, he left. Was I rude to say that? And how can I correct it?

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    Can you explain what 'too professional' means in this context? – Dave Gremlin Jan 12 at 17:20
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    @MrMiyagi and that is something you felt that you had to mock? Why? – Tymoteusz Paul Jan 12 at 19:36
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    "Now for some reason he felt I was rude because even after getting shortlisted for the role he said he don't want to continue" I'm not sure how you can know this is because you were rude. Maybe he decided the job wasn't for him after going through the interview, or maybe he got a better offer elsewhere, or maybe he had something come up that meant he was unable to take the offer. – Qwertie Jan 13 at 3:28
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    Why would you want to start work relationships with establishing authority over the candidate, especially by mocking him/her? – Askar Kalykov Jan 13 at 6:01
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    "...in a light humor to other panel members." In general it is rude to talk about someone rather than to someone. You could have said "They've trained you very well" and it might have been a little funny (although still inappropriate) but when you turn to your colleagues and talk about them right to their face it is very rude. That's why "I'm right here" is a thing. – John Wu Jan 13 at 19:33

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You were not rude, you don't need to apologise.

You commented on how you felt about him that: "he was very professional and that his school had helped him to get there". The interpretation can go either way but that's not something you can control.

Like @Jessica mentioned, you've established the company culture, which in my professional experience for shortlisted candidates is a deciding factor when you choose someone to work with.

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    "You commented on how you felt about him that: 'he was very professional and that his school had helped him to get there'." Right, which is a pretty condescending thing to say to somebody you don't even know. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 13 at 14:08
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    I'm a fairly formal person, but that didn't come from college. Nor did all of it come from my time in the military. Most of it came from my upbringing, my parents showing me how to be properly respectful to people I know as well as strangers. Saying it all came from college, a boarding school, or somewhere else than proper examples from parents is also disrespectful to more than just the candidate. In fact, my time in school made me less formal. Being too formal can be a distraction at work, but I'd rather people be too formal than too informal, leading to more problems. – computercarguy Jan 13 at 17:40
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    If the comment had been in private to other panelists, it would not have been rude. But in front of the candidate...that's a different story. It kind of feels like how Michael Scott's character on the Office likes to mock others when they're in the room. Not intended I'm sure, but definitely rude. – bob Jan 13 at 20:08
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    The fact that this is the accepted answer indicates that OP only wanted confirmation that his actions were acceptable, and not to learn from this. – gnasher729 Jan 15 at 9:18
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    People hear what they want to hear. – Stupid_Intern Jan 15 at 11:42
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The offense here was implying that the candidate is not acting sincerely or in good faith, but only in the way he’s been “trained.” I believe that’s really what you meant to say, so all you can do is apologize, if possible, and say your joke was ill-considered. Most likely this candidate is lost at this point, though.

In the future, you should avoid making jokes about candidates or their behavior. Jokes with and about established co-workers are one thing, but a candidate is an outsider, unfamiliar with your corporate culture, and very likely to misunderstand or take offense.

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    Also, a candidate is usually nervous. His nervousness will only amplify and replay in his mind every little remark that is said about him during the interview. – Stephan Branczyk Jan 12 at 20:52
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    @Shadowzee Do you mean interviewer? Interviewee is the person being interviewed (the candidate). – Mark Rotteveel Jan 13 at 8:24
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    Not only that, but it's "punching down". As much as an interview is a two-way process, in reality the interviewer is the person with the most power in the process. As such, the OP is being disrespectful to someone who is in a less powerful position than themselves, in the knowledge that that person is unable to answer back. This is not just rudeness, it is literally the definition of bullying, and is fundamentally based on cowardice. – Graham Jan 13 at 11:15
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    @J..., I'd say that people who make rude remarks "off the cuff" also have some growing up to do, in that they need to consider what they are saying before they say it. Sure, no one is going to be 100% accurate about this, but there's plenty of times when it should be pretty obvious remarks shouldn't be said. Blaming someone for being offended by an offensive remark is victim blaming and also not professional. – computercarguy Jan 13 at 17:26
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    @J..., "Someone who will jump to conclusions, and worse, act on that, without all the facts is a liability." which is exactly what the OP did and where most rude comments come from. This also applies to "running off half-cocked based on a misreading of an innocent comment". Not to mention, no one ever really has all the facts, so being aware of this yet still making a decision is part of being human. If you consider being human a liability, well, I'll let you ponder that. IME, I find that most "emotionally stable people" are rather formal when around people they don't know. – computercarguy Jan 13 at 18:54
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To which I commented "Institute has trained them very well" in a light humor to other panel members.

Now for some reason he felt I was rude because even after getting shortlisted for the role he said he don't want to continue and without giving much reason he left. Was I rude to say that? And how can I correct it?

Yes, of course it was rude. Your comment implied that this candidate wasn't actually a strong professional, but rather was "trained" by their college to seem professional.

Imagine if you went into the office one day and a colleague commented "Well, I see your spouse has finally decided to dress you well and make sure that you brushed your teeth." Not nice.

If it's not too late, you could apologize to the candidate.

If it is too late, you could apologize to the panel and tell them that you won't make such a comment again. That way you won't miss out on good candidates due to rudeness.

And you correct it by not saying something like that again.

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    "Your comment implied that this candidate wasn't actually a strong professional" Nothing about his description indicates that he was implying that. This is an inference you have made. – Michael Jan 13 at 12:05
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    @Michael: Nothing about his description indicates that he was implying that it doesn't really matter what he was intending to imply or not imply, what matters is the perception of the listener - who did indicate that they were offended. Many people say things that others perceive as rude, regardless of the intent. – dwizum Jan 13 at 14:04
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    Reading down this page, I didn't really grok the rudeness aspect until I got to your excellent analogy. Kudos. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 13 at 14:05
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    @Michael It does. You have to look at the subtext of the things you say. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 13 at 14:05
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    @Michael You're right, we don't know that this was the reason. The OP is asking whether this could be the reason. Yes, it could, as discussed above. You're being a bit obtuse tbh IMO – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 13 at 14:27
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Yours is a negative comment in the sense that, even if it were meant as a compliment, it is giving credit to the Institute rather than the candidate. It is not the candidate who is capable, but the Institute who made them so.

In general, I recommend avoiding doing in-jokes with the interview committee which exclude the candidate, because this creates an us vs. them atmosphere, unless you want to test their toughness or imperturbability.

This is difficult to fix. Perhaps, if you would not mind proceeding in case they change their opinion, you could write a friendly letter, thanking them for their participation and highlighting the positive aspects of their interview and thanking them for their time (do not suggest a continuation of the process). With this, you would at least send a message that you did not have hostile intentions. There is not much more that is in your power to change. If you were more acquainted, a proper apology would be in place, but in an interview context, this may have legal repercussions, so I would probably not recommend it.

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    Looks good to me. :) – V2Blast Jan 13 at 10:09
  • "[...] but in an interview context, this may have legal repercussions, so I would probably not recommend it." Very true and very sad. – Ruther Rendommeleigh Jan 13 at 10:22
  • If this had been phrased "Seems that you learned well from your institute.", would this be considered on candidates side. – paulj Jan 13 at 14:37
  • @paulj It's slightly better, as it focuses on the candidate rather than the Institute. However, it still comes across as patronising. The interview team has to evaluate the candidate, not the institution; and it is not good manners to give an evaluation while the interview is running. The candidate is nervous as it is. If you think the candidate may need encouragement or you try to get them out from the hole they dug for themselves, this can be done differently. – Captain Emacs Jan 13 at 15:32
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You mention:

Now for some reason he felt I was rude because even after getting shortlisted for the role he said he don't want to continue and without giving much reason he left.

There may very well be other reasons for him to decline your company's offer, apart from you acting unprofessional. You don't know his reasons. There are many things which you only find out during the interview, often enough there are deal-breakers among them, like clarification of the job role, salary, vacation days, company equipment..

We do know for sure that your behaviour was unprofessional – as is explained well enough in other answers – and that you should not repeat it. It may have been a deal-breaker all by itself, or the last straw.

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Something the other answers have not yet pointed out but was mentioned in a comment, this was offensive because you were mocking the candidate. It doesn't actually matter much what it was you said, or that you meant it in jest; you directed a remark about the candidate's presentation to other panel members, for your own entertainment. It might not have been obvious at the time that this is what you were doing, but I hope it is in hindsight, and sheds light on why it would offend the candidate; this is exactly the kind of behaviour schoolyard bullies engage in (although more maliciously, you were clearly not intending offence).

Although not mentioned in the question, I'm assuming the other panel members did not tell you it was inappropriate - and it is not just because of your remark that the candidate does not want to continue, but also because the other panel members allowed it. For some people this might signal a workplace environment they are not comfortable with.

In order to avoid this in the future, I'd suggest not commenting on candidates (either to the candidates themselves or to your colleagues) outside what is relevant to the interview itself. "Lightening the mood" is difficult to pull off well, and even if one candidate receives it favourably another may not, and you have no way of knowing in advance. It is better to keep it as professional as you can.

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  • @V2Blast The recommendation is similar to other answers; I was hoping to provide more insight on the why rather than the how. I've edited it to add a recommendation, although I don't know how to word it so it doesn't sound overly draconian. – Logan Pickup Jan 15 at 5:55
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    It does seem clearer now. Thanks. (In general, answers should independently answer the question, rather than merely commenting on it; if you want to reference what's stated in another answer, it's best to quote/summarize the main points of the answer you want to reference, with credit.) – V2Blast Jan 15 at 7:51
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I understand the desire to lighten the mood with humor. I do this in interviews as well. Where you went wrong is making a joke at the candidate's expense, rather than including him. That might have been an appropriate joke when you know the candidate a lot better after working together for a while, but not when you've just met.

Likewise, self-deprecating jokes make candidates uncomfortable because they don't know if laughing will offend you. Make jokes about things you've both experienced, like something funny that happened to you in school that the candidate can relate to.

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who was being too professional.

What bias does this reflect? How can a candidate be too professional?

To which I commented "Institute has trained them very well" in a light humor to other panel members.

You are either saying that their behavior is disingenuous, or that they have previous experience that they omitted from the application.

Now for some reason he felt I was rude because even after getting shortlisted for the role he said he don't want to continue and without giving much reason he left.

Presumably your company was not the only one to offer and they picked a different option. You have not presented evidence that your comment caused this, it might have been something else entirely.

Still, remember that job interviews are very serious to candidates and no place for sarcasm or snide comments. Candidates are judging your company though your personality and behavior. Consider being too professional.

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As no other answer states that, I'll do:

If it's possible to be "too professional" for an interview for you, I'm assuming you're working in a very informal environment. If the candidate doesn't like such an informality, he was the wrong candidate and it's good he's out.

In the interview for my current employer, one of my now-colleagues was present. He really had issues to call me "Sie", which is the way to formally adress people in German - which you are really obligated to do in an interview. My colleague was very very very rude not sticking to this rule!

I loved that, because I knew perfectly well from the start that people in this company would never ever behave that formal in everyday life. It was a perfect fit for me and still is, half a year on.

So you were being rude, yes, but if your company environment is very informal, that's the perfect way to sort out candidates not fitting in. I would hate someone "too professional" entering our team.

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    I tend to agree with you - certainly more than most other answers - except for this bit: "you were being rude ... that's the perfect way to sort out candidates not fitting in". Deliberately acting in a way that is likely to upset unsuitable candidates is certainly not perfect. You will get a reputation for being assholes. By all means, do not significantly alter your behaviour for the interview, since they deserve an accurate idea of what working there will be like, but this almost makes it sound like you should deliberately exaggerate things to weed out the suits – Michael Jan 13 at 12:12
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    My company's very informal. I'd still have been pissed off if they started off my interview with "y'alright mate?". So this is cultural too :) – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 13 at 14:07
  • @LightnessRaceswithMonica well, he wasn't that rude of course :D He was more like "How would you handle... oh sorry, how würden Sie handle this and that situation?" German is a bit specific here. Maybe comparable to accidentally using first names in US ;-) – Jessica Jan 14 at 7:58
  • @Jessica Yep, comparable to accidentally calling someone "mate" in the UK ;) – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 14 at 11:32
  • @LightnessRaceswithMonica Is "y'alright mate?" on the same level of informality as "sup dawg"? Or is it more formal? Or less formal? – DKNguyen Jan 14 at 18:16
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It does not matter. Just keep your funny jokes to yourself and be funny around your friends and family. If you can't stay longer than half an hour without making jokes, make jokes about yourself. How about "I was trained very well with my institute." for a good laugh?

What would you think if the candidate made a joke about you or the company? Just because you are on the other side of the table does not grant you the right to make jokes to a stranger.

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