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The Big Q: Should I tell someone they’re not getting the job mid-interview?

Posted on 24/01/2019
by Client Server


I'm a senior software developer and I often get asked to conduct interviews for junior developers alongside my manager.

He generally gives me free rein to ask whatever questions we need to help judge a candidate's skills and personality. But he has a set of 'red line' questions that disqualify a candidate if they get them wrong.

These are questions like, "Are you planning any long trips abroad in the next few months?" or "Do you write any blogs or do programming outside of work?"

We have to continue the interview as normal and inform the candidate afterwards that we have decided not to continue with their application. It doesn't make sense to continue an interview for the sake of completion.

Would it be unprofessional to tell the candidate during the interview that we won't be continuing with their application?

Client Server’s Head of Accounts Nick Caley says:

I think being honest in your interview process is a positive thing—the more transparent you can be with candidates about their performance, good, bad or otherwise (as long as it’s communicated in the right way of course) is valuable feedback.

The first suggestion I would make to manage this situation more efficiently is to be upfront with candidates before the interview (either through a recruiter or when confirming direct interviews) about how your process works, what each stage looks like and what success and failure means. 

That doesn’t mean you give away your ‘red line’ questions, but does manage the expectations of the candidate to ensure no one wastes any time, they know the interview could be cut short if you don’t feel it’s going well and everyone is treated equally.

I think the particular ‘red line’ questions you mentioned should be asked and covered before any face to face interviews. Understanding someone’s calendar and diary, as well as their personal/hobby projects can often be seen from a CV and/or covered in a telephone interview, and therefore save this scenario from occurring at a later stage.

At Client Server, we see that the most common reason behind an unsuccessful application is technical skill/experience. Communicating that feedback to candidates (especially when negative) can be equally challenging.

What’s important is how you convey that feedback and to ensure candidates feel like they have had a fair chance to be successful in your interview process. But even if they’re not successful, you’re adding value to their overall job search by giving them constructive feedback.

But you should be careful. Sharing that feedback in real-time can actually be more damaging to the candidate. I would recommend letting candidates give it their best shot and - should you not be comfortable with their answer - give them honest and clear (real-time) feedback as to where and why they fell down.

After all most candidates know they don’t know everything and just want to be treated fairly, so communicating the non-negotiables in your interview process upfront, and then helping candidates understand the stages within that process as they progress means you won’t waste any time, they’ll get better (and more tangible) feedback, and subsequently both the company and candidate have a better chance of getting what they want.

I think more people should tell candidates as/when/if they’re doing a good job. Interviews are tough, stressful and often challenging interactions. If you like someone and they’re doing well, let them know. It’s more likely they’ll continue to impress, but more importantly, it’ll also give them a better impression of you and your business.  

After all, good people are hard to find, so when you find one you should be aiming to leave the best impression possible! 

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