As an interviewer, I occasionally conduct interviews that become painful as time goes on because the candidate is doing so poorly. I have the impression that, in these cases, the candidate internally knows they are not getting the job, and would just like to end things as soon as possible (as would I).

In the past, I have handled phone interviews of this type by ending a little early and giving a standard closing. However, I have empathy for the candidates and would feel better if I could say something nice without being dishonest. They're not getting the job, but I may still respect them and honestly wish them well. I'm not really sure how I could tactfully express thoughts like this, though.

My question is mainly about phone-based interviews, but I'm interested in answers that also apply to in-person interviews. To be clear, this question is how, specifically, to be nice at the end of a bad interview, so I'm looking for something more specific than simply ask how to end a bad interview. (Hence I don't consider this a duplicate of questions asking how to end a bad interview.)

  • 3
    Are we assuming here that you have the power/authority to single-handedly reject candidates?
    – Kaz
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 19:21
  • Possible duplicate of How do you handle an interview for a candidate who is performing poorly?
    – gnat
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 20:53
  • @JoeStrazzere That should be an answer TBH.
    – DLS3141
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 21:16
  • 4
    I've never had the authority on the hiring side to outright reject a candidate. I HAVE rejected an employer mid-interview and just cut it short by standing up, saying, "Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, but I don't believe this is going to work out for either of us, best of luck." I left the conference room, dropped off my visitor badge with the receptionist and drove away. I will say that the interviewer would have been my direct manager and was antagonistic, almost hostile toward me from the moment we were introduced. I don't know if that was a "tactic" or if he was just that way.
    – DLS3141
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 21:26
  • @Kaz Yes, I have authority to make that decision.
    – Tyler
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 20:13

5 Answers 5


I like this one:

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me and to get to know you. Out of respect, I'm letting you know that we won't be going forward in the process.

You then have the option to elaborate if you feel so inclined and/or if the now-former candidate asks either with the literal truth or something generic like "I just don't think it's a good fit."

I actually had someone do that to me in a face-to-face and that's how they worded it. It was supposed to be 3 steps in the interview and after 20 minutes they decided I wasn't suited for them*. I was actually grateful that they chose not to waste my time going through the motions.

I've also ended interviews as a candidate on the phone myself. They asked a question that I didn't' have the answer to and I told them that I didn't know. The next 2 questions were in that same direction, with them knowing that I'd already said I wasn't particularly fluent in that area but they kept on. At that point I said, "Let's just stop here. We both know that I'm not doing well answering your questions and to be honest, that you're restating the same topic after being told that already I don't know probably means we wouldn't be a good fit." Too many people forget that it's a two-way street and they seems shocked that anyone would actually end their interview.

But to reiterate, be honest, be respectful and don't beat around the bush. Some people won't like it and will get offended, but ultimately most will be glad that you didn't leave them hanging. In fact, you can even say that. "I'd rather you know now than leave you hanging."

* I'd decided I didn't really want that job anyway when one of the people interviewing me was a pompous former coworker so I wasn't terribly motivated.

  • 7
    I would just like to say that as a guy who spent almost a year in the hiring dead zone(I was employed at minimum wage and was looking for a job in IT. I had experience and was active in pursuing jobs but to this day I don't know why I couldn't find a decent job for almost a year.) I must have done almost 100 interviews(not exaggerating) and the biggest grievances for me were the constant grey area of whether I would get a call back and the undeniable anguish and frustration that no one would tell me why they wouldn't hire me. My point is, if you have a reason, please say so.
    – zfrisch
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 16:21

Well, you probably are ending things politely so I'm leaving that part out. What I have experienced and have tried to apply since it happened to me as an applicant is offering advice. Interviews are a great experience not only for getting a job but for finding your weaknesses and knowledge gaps.

If you are not willing to move on with the interview you can openly say it, but sugar coating that hit with some advice is a nice thing to do.

When I sense that people is not going anywhere I begin asking them if they are certain on the move they're trying to do and recommend some books and places where they can keep on learning, by then I try to make it obvious that this is not moving forward so I just stop asking relevant questions for the job and close the interview, if time allows, by asking about projects and other skills that I saw in their resume but were not essential for the job.


As I see it, you have two options based on your personality:

  1. Thank you for your time, but we are looking for someone with more proven experience.
  2. Thank you for your time. We will consider you, along with the other applicants, and let you know if we will be proceeding.

Neither are a lie, but they are different in directness.

  • 3
    Alternatively, just say, "That's all the questions I have. Do you have any questions?" or whatever your standard close is. After all they don't know you ended early unless you tell them. And don't use the last part of the second one above unless you actually do contact failed candidates as most companies do not.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 19:45
  • If there's no chance that the person will be hired, you should tell them. On the other hand, if that was the first interview, the person might be awful, but turn out to be the least awful that applies :-(
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 22:11

You can ask them how they think the interview went. Let me give you some context. As Paparazzi said in his answer:

Remember you are representing your company.

I used to recruit for a company, and doing 8-10 one-to-one interviews a week let me develop some good practices (or at least I think they are good). Anyway, the popular and effortless method about bad candidates was to tell them something like

We will get back to you as soon as our decision is made

When your decision is already made, this is a waste of time for both persons involved, and you can introduce some hope where there is no hope at all. So here comes my method. I used to take notes during the interview on a specific document. When the interview was over, I simply put this document on my side and let the candidate know that the interview was over, but I wanted to do a debrief with him/her.

  • What do you think about your performance during this interview?
  • (optional) What do you think about mine? Like things you did want to know about the company but I did not tell you, etc...?

Make sure your candidate understands this exchange is informal and that it will not change the decision you will make. Only in a few cases, the bad candidate was thinking he/she was ecstatic, but generally speaking she/he already knows the job is lost. Giving them a feedback the second the interview is over if, for me, a bonus on company reputation. Plus, if the interview went very badly you can show empathy and give them some advices, wishing them good luck for future interviews. I would say at least 40% of all candidates I met thanked me for a so-fast feedback on how they performed.


Remember you are representing your company.

In college we had a company come in and state they only take the top 10% of any class and was only in the top 15%. You had to have a 3.4 just to get in my college and from there they graded on a curve.

Then it was just silent and he asked if I had any questions. They did that to everyone not in the top 10%. I said no questions - why did you not put that on the sign up sheet. He said because they won't let us. Several if not all the students complained to the recruiting center. Even students in the top 10% said they did not want to work there based on that.

The company was Exxon, it was 20 years ago, and I am still telling that story.

  • @JoeStrazzere "Remember you are representing your company"
    – paparazzo
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 21:27
  • @Paparazzi: If you have a pension fund now, say "thank you" to that recruiter. The 10%ers who got jobs there probably lost their pension fund payments.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 22:09
  • 1
    @gnasher729 Enron and Exxon are not the same.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 22:10
  • The thing is, Exxon has done very well, so I'm not sure that the lesson to take away is exactly what you think it is.
    – Jim Clay
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 14:57
  • @JimClay Lesson I take away? Rude is rude.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 15:04

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