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Aug 6, 2014
by James

How To End a Bad Interview Early

Posted in Interview Training

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Have you ever interviewed a candidate and knew right away that it’s just not going to work out?
I think we’ve all been there.
So how do you handle this? Do you let them finish the scheduled itinerary or do you cut it short?

I write a lot about finishing your interview questions before making a snap judgment but certain situations or behaviors call for an abrupt, but classy, exit.
Here are a few of those situations and some hints on how to end a bad interview without damaging your employer brand or their feelings.

The candidate doesn’t know what job they’re interviewing for.

For early career or high volume retail openings sometimes candidates apply to so many jobs that they just don’t remember which one they’re interviewing for. This typically happens on a phone interview.
If you’re calling the candidate to schedule the interview it’s okay to educate them on why you’re calling but if they still play dumb on the day of the actual interview by saying “Who is this again?”, it’s time to cut the cord and move on.    Here’s the favorite line I like to use…
“I’m really sorry; I realize you probably applied to a few jobs recently and it’s hard to keep them all straight but a few of the questions that we typically ask require you to have some knowledge of our company.  I just don’t think it would be fair to you for us to proceed, okay?   I’m really sorry and wish you the best of luck in your search.”

The candidate shows up more than 15 minutes late without an apology or call.

It’s one thing to show up late.   It’s another thing to show up late and not have an excuse or put forth the effort to call ahead and warn someone that you’re running late.
If they have a seemingly legitimate excuse, then proceed with caution.   I’ve actually had candidates get in car accidents on the way to their interview and later showed me a citation.   No lie.
But if they can’t muster a call or an apology along with some reasonable excuse, simply call or meet the candidate and let them know that when they didn’t show, the interview team made other plans and are no longer available.    You may have to die on the sword and do a brief 30 minute meeting with the person, but you shouldn’t pass them on.

The candidate is combative in the interview.

Unless you’re hiring mixed martial arts professionals for a UFC fight, your candidates should show some level of respect in an interview.   I’ve only seen this happen twice, but if your candidate doesn’t like the level of interrogation that they’re receiving and they start to get angry and combative with you, it’s time to kindly ask them to leave.   If they don’t oblige, you should always have security on speed dial.
It happened to me once at a job fair and once in a manufacturing plant environment.   Neither experience was fun, but I know the signs now and I’ve learned to back off and cut my losses when I’m sitting across from someone who appears to be a little unstable.

The candidate is condescending to a member of your interview team.

If you’re interviewing for executive roles, this can happen quite frequently.   For some reason executive candidates don’t want to be bothered with subordinates or, a lot of times, with HR interviewers.   It can also happen with candidates whose skills are in high demand.   Like programmers, for instance.
Take this as a sign of their cultural fit (or lack thereof) and end the interview early by saying:
“Listen, I really think you’re a huge talent and we’d love to have someone here with your skills, I just don’t think that your style will work here and that’s really important to us.”

The candidate is trying to pry for confidential information.

This is an obvious one but can often happen when two close competitors are poaching each other’s talent.   I have to admit something…I’ve done this before.   Every once in a while I’ll take an interview from a competitor just so I can hear how they’re organized, what technology they use, what challenges they have, etc.
If you sense that a candidate is asking too many questions, simply let them know that you can’t disclose certain information and see how they respond.   If they shut down, that typically means that they know they’re not getting anywhere and they’ll want to leave just as much as you want them to leave.   Whatever you do, do not ask them to divulge anything confidential in return for their sharing of secrets!

The candidate whom you are interviewing is not the same person that you screened on the phone.

Surprisingly I’ve had this happen a couple times.   For some reason it was all in the IT area but I’ve also heard that it happens in University Recruitment quite a bit.
This one is hard to spot but it usually involves a friend (who has better knowledge of a topic) taking the phone interview and then sending the actual candidate in for the face-to-face.
When this happens, it’s best to kindly let the person know that “Something doesn’t seem right.
I thought we covered off on these topics when we spoke on the phone but I’ve mistakenly passed you through with some gaps that would not be a good fit for either of us.  I think it’s best of we just end it early today, okay.”
They always put their head down and leave with no problem.

The candidate is clearly unqualified for the role.

This is the hardest one to handle because it usually involves genuine people who are trying really hard to get the job in an honest way but they just don’t have what it takes.  Even when you’ve done all you can to make sure unqualified candidates don’t make it to this stage, it still happens from time to time.
A lot of recruiters and hiring managers think that it’s a bad thing to let someone go in an interview, but I’ve never had this go wrong.   I’ve seen some tears – yes – but the candidates really appreciate the honesty.    All you have to do is say it like this…
“Listen, we’re pretty far along in our hiring process and I’ve seen some candidates who just had more of (this or that) and represent a better fit for our needs.   I hope you appreciate my honesty and transparency here, but I think it’s best if I just tell you now that we will not be advancing you in the process.   I really think you have some great qualities but the candidate pool for this role is just really strong.”
The examples above pertain mostly to in-person meetings but the same can be true for telephone interviews too. Don’t be afraid to cut your losses early and let the candidate down with dignity as soon as you know it’s not going to work out.
In the end, it saves you the follow-up call or email letting them down and they don’t have to sit around wondering where they stand.   Heck, 50% of companies never notify their candidates anyway so you’d be doing them a favor by just giving them a real time update!
* A small note here to say that you do need to be careful how you word things if you’re interviewing someone in a protected class.   If there’s any chance that your wording sounds discriminatory you could be in some hot water.  
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