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Careers: When to Cut Some Interviews Short

You’re 5 minutes into a 45 minute interview and you know the candidate just isn’t going to make the cut. What do you do? Continue as planned for the next 40 minutes, or wrap things up and move on to the next candidate? This topic came up over lunch with a small group of recruiters last week and, although they agreed that they can typically tell if a candidate has got what it takes within the first few minutes of an interview, they were split on whether to cut the interview short when it’s obvious it’s not going to work out.

You’re 5 minutes into a 45 minute interview and you know the candidate just isn’t going to make the cut. What do you do? Continue as planned for the next 40 minutes, or wrap things up and move on to the next candidate? This topic came up over lunch with a small group of recruiters last week and, although they agreed that they can typically tell if a candidate has got what it takes within the first few minutes of an interview, they were split on whether to cut the interview short when it’s obvious it’s not going to work out.

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A good reason for cutting the interview short

Scenario One: It quickly became obvious that the candidate hadn’t done his homework. He didn’t know much about the industry, and even less about the company. We’ve all been there before and we know there’s generally no excuse for a candidate showing up for an interview without doing a good bit of prep work. If they’re not interested in the job enough to take the interview seriously, there’s no point in wasting your time going through a song and dance when you know they don’t have a shot. Instead of sitting through 40 more painful minutes, the recruiter politely sent him on his way.

In this case, I think the recruiter took appropriate action. One, an early dismissal gave a clear signal of his non-offer status, (no two- to three-week wait to find out he wasn’t getting the job); two, it kept both of them from wasting any more of each other’s time; and, three, cutting it short gave the recruiter extra time to prep for his next interview (hopefully with a candidate who really wanted the job).

If you go this route, try to share feedback with the interviewee. If they weren’t prepared, let them know. That way, they can go back to the drawing board before their next interview.

When you might go the distance

Scenario Two: Unlike the previous example, this candidate did her homework, but she just wasn’t a good fit with the organization. The recruiter didn’t want to end the interview abruptly because she had put a lot of time into researching the company and industry. From his perspective, the candidate had earned her chance to interview and he was going to give her the full 45 minutes.

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The possible downside to this approach is that the candidate might think she had a legitimate chance to land a job offer, only to find out two or three weeks later (and she’s lucky if it’s that quick) that she didn’t. You don’t have to inform them during the interview that they wouldn’t be getting an offer, but definitely follow up with them within a few days of the interview.

I’m sure there are other scenarios that aren’t quite as clear cut, but for me it boils down to the following: if the candidate puts in the effort, they deserve your time.

Have you cut a bad interview short or let one go the distance? Post a comment.

Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (courtingyourcareer.wordpress.com).

About the author

Shawn Graham partners with small businesses to create, implement, and manage performance-driven marketing strategies. His knowledge base includes media relations, business development, customer engagement, web marketing, and strategic planning.

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