I recently wrapped up an interview with a very young and unprepared internship candidate. He got a lot of the questions wrong, even the very easy ones, and would frequently inquire about how to solve the problems.

While I quickly realised that he was not an acceptable candidate, even in the slightest, I decided to run through the entire set of questions, as usual, that I'd prepared for someone who claimed to have the experience that he put on his résumé, which included several previous internships.

We finished just a bit over our allotted time, yet I had spent most of the interview giving him tips on how to solve the problems, and then (usually) having to explain the correct answer. I felt as though this was the right thing to do while I was conducting the interview, however, looking back, I wonder if it was worth spending so much time on a candidate who had no chance of even being considered, and didn't seem to really understand my explanations anyways.

I'm new to interviewing possible interns, and I certainly wasn't ready to screen such unprepared candidates, so I'm wondering if there exists a best way handle these situations as they arise, without being rude, or cutting the interview too short.

  • 2
    I think what you did is best. At least he learned something - and you did in the process of how to handle an interview. Did the extra time really matter to either of you when both of you gained something - even though that something was not what you or him thought of at the start
    – Ed Heal
    Jan 16, 2016 at 13:46
  • 6
    "While I quickly realised that he was not an acceptable candidate, even in the slightest, I decided to run through the entire set of questions" You really shouldn't. When faced with a candidate that is obviously unsuitable from a basic technical level there is no point in prolonging his suffering. You should have wrapped things up early with something like "I think we both realise that the technical requirements for this position do not really match your experience." I can expand this to an answer if you'd like but you'd probably have to edit the question a bit.
    – Lilienthal
    Jan 16, 2016 at 18:02
  • Potentially a duplicate of How do you handle an interview for a candidate who is performing poorly?. OP, is that the case or is your question different?
    – Lilienthal
    Jan 16, 2016 at 18:04

4 Answers 4


I'm not a recruiter, but I can relate to your candidate on some levels. When I was being interviewed for an Internship at a Fortune 500 company, there were a lot of questions that I was asked that I just had no clue how to answer (in a manner that I would feel confident and comfortable answering) and I also wanted to be very honest.

The interviewer did walk me through some responses she expected, and then she got very "real" and asked me what I thought would be an acceptable answer for some of the questions I missed, and then she walked me through my resume and how to highlight some of what was on it into formulated questions/responses. It was probably the best, most personable corporate interview experience I've ever had, and I am actually very grateful for it. We are all just people at the end of the day, and we just want to do a good job.

You don't say what questions you asked, so it's hard to say that the candidate completely blew it. Is he performing electrical work and failed some basic understandings of wiring or something? Could he not solve basic math equations and that kind of knowledge is required? Was he/she just nervous? Did you try to calm them down?

Bottom line, I think walking the candidate through some things, even if you don't plan on hiring them, really provides them with some insight. Whether it's a wake up call, or a kick in the butt, it just doesn't hurt to do. Be proud that you helped them, many people wouldn't do that.

  • I agree wholeheartedly with this. Another point that I don't think has been made: In the future if you find yourself in a situation like this and are worried about perhaps using corporate time to walk them through, you could always exit the interview and send a follow-up email thanking them for their time and listing helpful references to give insight into some of the expected answers. They may not get the job but at least they'll be more prepared in the future and you can rest easy knowing that you helped someone and if they take the initiative they'll be just fine.
    – zfrisch
    Jan 18, 2016 at 20:00
  • @zfrisch While I do agree, I think it's important to note that while in the interview, each participant has each other's full attention. I would hate to give someone a list of reading materials without knowing first-hand that I helped them as best I could in person. I would be interested in what the odds would be of that person going through and reading things you send them. (At the time I was still in college, so chances for me personally were not very high). Agree with your point to some degree though!
    – Mark C.
    Jan 18, 2016 at 20:04

I remember my very first interview for a Wall Street quant position. The interviewer was professional but somehow you could sense you were talking to a real human, with a sense of humor. He asked me several questions on programming and some tricky questions about random walks. We were short on time, and he was clearly a busy man, but he took the time to give me some tips on how to conduct interviews, e.g. you have to be confident in how you present your answer because that's a valuable skill to have on a trading floor.

I don't remember his name or what team he worked on at that company, but I will always remember him as an example of what good interviewing is supposed to be.

Perhaps this intern won't remember you at all. That's the most likely scenario. But you never know. Perhaps like me, one day he will think of you and try to be a better interviewer.

There's no reason to help a guy on the street when his packages fall from his arms to the street. You're never going to meet him again. It's a wasted interaction from one point of view. We are all human in the end though, and some of us feel like we have to live our lives in a way where we feel like we are good people. If you feel like you did a good job interviewing that intern, then that's what is the most important in the end. Don't let anyone tell you differently.


In the context of an intern or someone at least at the beginning of their career, giving feedback really helps. They may need to consider a different profession or working a little harder at the one they're currently pursuing. I don't think you should explain every answer, especially once you discover they are over their head. One or two at the most.

You should have discussed why this person thought they could do the job. If they knew they couldn't do it, but just decided to take a wild shot at getting the job, it's important they understand that they wasted your time. This is not a good career move at all. If they don't see how wrong they were, I wouldn't blame if you chose not to ever hire them for any job regardless of their qualifications.


Your time is valuable to you, and your company. Although you can certainly break from the interview to offer some mentorship, there's little benefit in dragging things out simply for the sake of completeness. The intern didn't think enough to prepare for the interview (or was shooting the moon) and is wasting your time. It's not unprofessional to cut the interview short, simply by skipping over things you already know. Once you know the job is going to someone else, the interview is over, whether you keep talking or not.

  • 3
    I think this is a very negative way to treat the situation. Does an extra half an hour really matter on the grand scheme of things. Do you think as a person conducting an interview might be able to use that time to brush up on your interviewing skills? Also it does not harm giving people a little guidance in life. I hope people are more charitable to you
    – Ed Heal
    Jan 16, 2016 at 18:04
  • @EdHeal i did leave the door open for mentorship, which is the direction I usually go myself. The OP didn't do that, though--he hammered through the interview. Knowing one is failing during an interview, in many cases the more charitable thing to do is to end things early.
    – jimm101
    Jan 16, 2016 at 18:07
  • 2
    I beg to differ as the candidate will reflect on it at a later time and will appreciate on the help given
    – Ed Heal
    Jan 16, 2016 at 18:08
  • @EdHeal "you can certainly break from the interview to offer some mentorship" ... where are we not in agreement here?
    – jimm101
    Jan 16, 2016 at 18:10
  • My understanding of an interview/mentorship are the same. A conversation with a point of learning.. i.e. an interview is not a one way street nor is being a mentor
    – Ed Heal
    Jan 16, 2016 at 18:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .