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is it okay to turn down a job in the middle of the interview?

A reader writes:

I recently had an interview with a small company. The hiring manager brought me in and we talked for about an hour. It went very well! She followed up the very same day, saying their owner lived out of state but she would love for him to meet me and set up a second interview.

I took PTO for both of these, which I know comes with the territory, but the second interview, when I arrived, was bizarre. The owner insulted my resume, told me he wasn’t sure if they’d be hiring anyone at all, and said he might end up making the job part-time (which was a pretty big reversal — I definitely wouldn’t have come in again if I had known this director-level role could possibly become part-time). He also made a few veiled comments about my age and gender that I didn’t appreciate, interrupted me constantly starting halfway through my very first sentence in answer to questions he asked, and more. By the end of the interview, I felt very disrespected and sure I would never work there. He was so unkind that it was clear he had no interest in hiring me, but it also seemed like he was sure of that before I even arrived.

I decided not to send my usual follow-up thank-you email, but I’m still stuck on just how nasty he was. Would it have been out of line to stop the interview and say it didn’t sound like it would make sense for us to keep talking, or was the best course of action just to let it conclude and let my lack of follow-up speak for itself, as I did? Should I have sent my typical thank-you for networking reasons, even though I don’t have much occasion to need a contact in their niche area in the future? Part of me wants to say something even now, but I’ve read enough of this blog to know it’ll just come off as a disgruntled interviewee upset about not being hired (although I’ve heard no actual rejection and when I left, bizarrely, he said they’d be in touch).

You can indeed stop an interview mid-way through and say that it doesn’t sound like it would be the right fit! Interviewers can do this on their side, and candidates can do it too.

That said, in some cases it’s smart to finish the interview anyway, like if you think you might want a different job with this employer at some point in the future. And really, if your reasons for wanting to opt out aren’t egregious — if you’ve just realized that you’re not super enthused about the job or it’s not exactly what you’re looking for, in most cases I’d say to stay and finish out the interview, and then send a polite email withdrawing later. That’s because you just never know where conversations may lead — if they get to know you in the interview and you impress them, they may suggest a different position later that would be a better fit.

But if you’re being treated poorly, or you discover that the job is entirely different than what they advertised, or they ask you to do something ridiculous as part of their interview process (like cook a meal for them when you are not interviewing to be a chef), it’s perfectly reasonable to cut the interview short.

You can do that by saying something like:

* “As we’re talking, I’m realizing that this job isn’t quite what I’m looking for. I don’t want to take up any more of your time, but thanks for meeting with me and best of luck finding the right person for the role.”

* “It sounds like this job is really focused on X. I’m purposely trying to move away from X at this point in my career and want to focus on Y, so I want to be up-front with you that I’m realizing as we talk that this isn’t quite the right role for me. I’m sorry I didn’t catch that earlier, and I don’t want to take up any more of your time, but I really appreciate you meeting with me.”

That’s it! Then you get to stand up and leave.

Too often, job candidates feel like they’re at the interviewer’s mercy — that they’re there to be judged and that they have to endure whatever the interviewer chooses to subject them to. But that’s not the case. A better framework to have in your head about job interviews is that they’re similar to any other business meeting. If you were meeting with, say, a prospective vendor who was being rude to you, it would be perfectly fine for you to say, “You know, I don’t think this is something I want to pursue” and end the meeting. And yes, the power dynamics are a little different with an interview, but they’re not so different than you have to give up all agency until you leave the building.

is it okay to turn down a job in the middle of the interview? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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