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What is a nice way to end an interview that is clearly going badly?

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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 Answers

  1. 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.

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  2. 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.

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  3. 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.

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