Ending A Bad Interview - Part 1

Questions This Guidance Answers: 
  • What do I do if a candidate is clearly not right?
  • How do I 'finish' an interview?
  • Can I tell a candidate they have failed in the interview?

This guidance describes when and how to end an interview with a candidate you won't hire.

Even though many of us do plenty of work to screen candidates, there are still times where the candidate fails to meet our standards. You wouldn't be a good interviewer if you said yes to everyone. And, to be clear, there's no way to be so good at screening that the interview is just a formality. (Too many managers think this.)

But what do we do when a candidate clearly has failed in the first part of an interview? What do we do when we KNOW - not think, not are pretty sure about, but KNOW - that someone will NOT get hired?

Here's what.

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Extra Content
    Manager Tools Personal License
    Interviewing Series
    First Job Fundamentals   

Applies to dating, too

 This goes along with my philosophy on dating.  If I reach a point that I realize I am not going to marry her, then I stop dating her.  I didn't necessarily end the date prematurely, but I did not do anything to lead them any further along the path.  It's simply a matter of integrity.

Doesn't saying no elicits a response/question about why?

I liked this podcast and in theory agree with the advice to tell the candidate that they didn't make the cut.  I've only done it myself one time when it was clear that the person didn't have the technical skills for the job and I just said the job required someone with xyz experience (which incidentally was on their resume but they admitted to not knowing in the interview).

I'm concerned though that more often if you tell someone they didn't make the cut in an interview, they'll likely ask why and then want to enter into a discussion about that they did or didn't say which I would prefer to avoid.



The why question; What about phone screens

I do pretty much the same thing recommended by Mark and Mike, "You are not a good fit for this position."  I also like to provide one or two items highlighting why they are not a good fit for the position and move them to the door.  This pretty much stops them in their tracks.  They seem a little stunned and surprised at the initial feedback.  In one situation I just told the candidate he was not a fit for the job, cited two responses and escorted him to the door.  As we were walking to the door he recovered from the initial shock and sincerely thanked me for the feedback I provided following the interview.  My peer in the interview told me afterward, "You are cold blooded, just telling him like that."  I agree with Mark and Mike that this is the best thing to do for the candidate, the interviewers, and the process.

Mark and Mike, Do you recommend this guidance for screening interviews also?  I will kill the interview in mid-stream if I have made a clear choice.  What about the candidates I screened over the phone and later decided not to bring in?  This is typically about 8-10 people for a given job.

Thank you,


Helps to Set Expectations Upfront

I really enjoyed the cast and have made a commitment to end all interviews at the point where I have made a no hire decision.  What I have found helpful is to set an expectation upfront that although we have X amount of time booked for the interview I often take far less time.  When the interview does end early the candidate understands that it’s not appropriate to ask further questions.

In response to Ed’s question I have also used this to cut short phone screening interviews. Doesn’t matter if I’m in a conference room or on a phone if I’ve made the no hire decision my time is best used elsewhere.


Had to do this today

Had to do this today.  It felt a bit awkward but it was definitely worth it.  The candidate was clearly lacking the technical skills we needed, and rather than waste 90 minutes for 3 developers we cut it off after about 20.  I think it also helped the candidate save face a bit rather than continue to stumble through an interview he clearly was doing poorly on.  Thanks for the guidance!