Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I know people say "run, don't walk" when you find yourself in a job interview with someone you would never work with in a million years. But does that mean that you can leave right in the middle of the interview itself?
I flew to another state for a job interview with the VP of HR for an automotive parts maker. The only flight I could get was for midmorning, and the VP couldn't meet me till after 6 pm at a restaurant. So I flew to Detroit, rented a car, and poked around in a small town for hours (turned out to be her hometown--not where the facility was located), and met her at the restaurant as instructed. She arrived with a rep from the executive recruiting firm, and they largely ignored me and smirked together as I put forth my earnest answers to the few questions she asked and sat patiently listening while she spent the majority of the time telling me about what a big shot she was. It was so bad that at one point I felt tearful and had to hide it. I felt trapped and couldn't think how to end it gracefully and just waited for her to bring it to an end.
I called the recruiter I had originally talked with the next day and told him it was not going to be a fit on either side, but I still wonder how to extricate oneself from a bad interview situation that lasts for hours.
I am not a rude person, but I sometimes think the best thing to do is to just say, "Thank you for your time, but I'm sure you will agree that this is not going to be a good fit," and end the misery. Thoughts?
I'd divide bad interviews into two categories: interviews that are truly excruciating and miserable (which tend to be rare) and interviews where you realize partway through that this just isn't a job you'd take (which are more common).
In the latter case, I recommend staying and seeing it through. Even though you don't want this particular job, the company might have an opening in the future that you do want, or your interviewer might later move to a organization that you'd love to work at, or she might refer you to an acquaintance who's hiring for a job that you would be interested in. So it pays to build the relationship, and you don't want to be remembered as "the person who awkwardly short-circuited the interview." Instead, think of it as networking. (You can follow up with a note later thanking them for their time and letting them know that this isn't quite the right fit.)
The exception to this is if it's something like an all-day interview or other significant investment in you. It's far more polite not to allow them to spend that kind of time on you when you already know you're not interested, and in that case you should politely bow out with an explanation.
But let's talk about the excruciating interviews, the ones where you're truly miserable. If the interviewer is abusive or it's otherwise truly unbearable, it's certainly an option to politely say, "You know, I really appreciate your time, but as we're talking I'm realizing that this isn't quite the fit that I'm looking for." Ideally, you'd add, "I'm looking for something more ____" in order to make it less abrupt.
Of course, often the people who conduct the sort of interview that would make you want to end it early are exactly the people who are likeliest not to react to that well (because they believe they are in control, not you), so you want to factor that in. These sorts of people can be unreasonable enough that you might be burning a bridge with that company--which you might not care about, but if it's a small enough industry, it could potentially have further-reaching consequences ... so I'd discourage doing it unless you're willing to risk that trade-off.
Ultimately, I'd say your best bet is to stay and be entertained by the bad behavior, if you're able to change your perspective to "this is going to make a great story, and I'll never have to see this person again an hour from now."
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