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At a recent interview, a candidate couldn't write a small piece of code on a whiteboard. The answers she had given up to that point had also been weak, so rather than have her spend more time talking with other members of the team, I decided to terminate the interview early. Is this acceptable, and if so, what are the best ways of doing this?

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One of the things we do when the candidate arrives is that we lay out an agenda for the day and lay down a couple of ground rules of the day with them. The biggest of those is that by the end of the day we want to be sure whether we want to hire them or not, and we want them to be sure whether we're a good place for them or not. To go along with that, we tell them that if they realize that we're just not the place for them, that they should bring it up and we can end the interview early and save everyone time. We also say that on the flip side we'll end the day early if we realize that they just aren't a fit for us. We also will wrap things up early if we decide that they are a must hire and further discussions aren't worth the time (but they'll definitely know which category they fell into if we wrap things up early).

So yes, feel free to end the interview early. But it can help to lay the groundwork for that possibility at the start.

  • 5
    +1 for making it clear to the candidate that ending things early is an option for both sides. – Burhan Ali Apr 16 '12 at 22:09
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IMO, I don't find anything wrong with ending an unsuccessful interview early. Time is money for both the interviewer and interviewee. However, I wouldn't be so quick to do that. Interviewing is a hugely weak predictor of future performance. It is extremely unreliable and clouded with bias. It is said that an interview gives you about a 50/50 chance of getting it right...coin toss.

Therefore, if things are not going well, I may change up my interview approach to see if there is another perspective I can capture. This individual could interview poorly for no other reason than stress and anxiety--crumbling when feeling tested--but be a rock star performer. Or, the bias could have been yours, where cues she delivered triggered an expectation of her personality and future performance that were simply wrong. We never really know; all we know is interviewing is a terrible predictor.

So, I'd pull the end early card but would do so rarely.

8

In most cases people have many job interviews and when visiting your company, this is only one part of their search for a new job. When you end the interview early and there is a good reason for it, you save much time for the both of you.

But at the other hand, this should not happen that often. Ask yourself why you had to end this interview that early and why you have invited him/her. Did you express your requirements to an applicant clear enough when searching for a new employee?

However, there might also be the chance that you miss someone special. I have seen many cases where the job interview went wrong, but he/she was invited for a second time for a trip through the company and talking to some employees. It sometimes turns out that this specific applicant is not that bad at all!

So maybe you include more in your job interview: not only talking, but also walking through the company and letting the applicant getting in touch with some of your valuable employees.

5

I generally screen first on a separate day because I reject 75+% that come through HR. If I want another opinion I might get one more.

It costs a lot of time (equals money) to take an hour from 6 or 7 schedules. The moment I know someone isn't a fit I politely ask if they have any questions and have them out in 5 minutes. No need to waste anyone's time.

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    +1 for asking if they have any questions for you. This is a nice way to wrap it up even if you know it's a "no." – Scott C Wilson Apr 7 '12 at 21:28
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    I gave probably 20 interviews in 2 years and can feel it when interviewer says "Do you have any questions for us?". Its like, do you want to go out or should I kick you. LOL !!! – RG-3 Apr 12 '12 at 20:41
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    @Raj - It's a tricky thing, because not have questions is a bad sign. – MathAttack Apr 15 '12 at 13:43
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    @MathAttack: I do ask questions like: What you expect from a successful candidate? And how is the day to day work of a candidate looks like? It shows that I am interested in the job and serious about it. – RG-3 Apr 16 '12 at 3:22
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Definitely. Fortunately, I haven't had to do so. I would just stop the interview process, and politely state that the person was not a match for the current position. Conclude with any of your normal post-interview follow-up.

I have had a candidate terminate a interview early when it became obvious that his career goals and our needs were not a match. It clearly wasn't a question of skills as he clearly demonstrated that he had the desired skill set. I appreciated the fact that he did not waste our time nor his time.

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I terminate interviews early all the time but that's mainly because my HR department sucks.....

If the candidate is CLEARLY unsuitable (e.g. in house work is all based on the Microsoft stack and HR gets me a fresh graduate with no .NET knowledge and from a school that only does Java), I will just tell them politely that things probably aren't going to work out pretty early. Management doesn't believe in total training from scratch so I know its not going to work. In cases like these, there really is no reason to waste everyone's time or even worse, lead them on.

The downside to doing this is we might miss the occasional genius that just needs some help but then it's going to take a LOT for me to stick my neck out and vouch for his future progress. Every failed "project" that I let into the team results in more work for everybody with absolutely zero return. Even if my success rate is 1 in 20, modern staff turnover rates and the resources invested hardly make it a worthwhile endeavour.

  • May be a bit off topic, but I question why you would exclude a candidate with excellent Java skills from a .Net position. Unless the position is very short term, a bright Java developer should not have trouble getting up to speed in .Net – JoelFan Jul 1 '14 at 15:48
  • As you mentioned, this is probably off topic but:I might if he's really good but its more of an exception than a norm. Staff turnover in my area is very high and management is very picky on what it wants to "invest" in, so I do end up turning away more than I would like.... – Permas Jul 2 '14 at 0:52
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Two things

  1. Adding phone screening in hiring process increases the chances of getting better candidates. And may help to avoid this situation.
  2. If terminating interview early, I'll take care of not creating a wrong impression about my organization. For example, the candidate may think that I haven't asked him enough questions, and can blame me for not taking his interview seriously. Ideally, I shouldn't give any room to the candidates to talk with his friends, negative about my organization.
  • I think the candidates impression doesn't matter that much. Your goal is to find the best employee for your company and you shouldn't waste too much time on people who don't fit into your environment. If you do your first step properly, you don't have bother with the second – Zsolt Apr 8 '12 at 10:22
  • A phone screening is useless, unless maybe you are hiring for a phones sales job...and even then your choice would expose more your biases than predict his/her future performance. – David Espina Apr 8 '12 at 15:13
  • @DavidEspina: I disagree. I have been interviewed before through phone screens and companies only see how well communicative you are and you know a "Know-How" of the job. If you do, then I will get accepted and get a f2f interview. – RG-3 Apr 12 '12 at 20:44
  • This is not my opinion. These are findings from studies. Much of what people think are important for an interviewee to exhibit during an interview--phone or face to face--are too often a non sequitur to performance. You should dig into this a bit. Eye opening stuff. – David Espina Apr 12 '12 at 21:13
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Yes, it is acceptable, assuming it's done in a polite and professional fashion.

There may be few sides to the story here:

  1. Job agent (assuming there is one) didn't explain the role properly to the candidate. Candidate could have been expecting something different. On few occasions we had PHP developers, who had to sit a .NET test. They've walked out with 0%-10% for a test.

  2. Candidate is trying their luck to lie through the interview and get a job. If this is the case, then they have already insulted your business.

  3. Some interviews are arranged by agents who only care about their commission. They send anybody to the interview hoping the candidate will be lucky enough to get a job. This is of course this might be a stereotype, but I have seen this quite a lot within small companies in the UK.

One of the solutions, is to ask candidates to go through a two-three phase interview:

  • "Phase 1" would ask the candidate to complete basic programming test.
  • "Phase 2" would require candidate to interact with a senior developer, which will hopefully allow the senior developer to see what technical expertise candidate has to offer.
  • "Phase 3" would then try to establish how well the candidate might fit within the company and what hobbies, interests and ambitions they have.

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