Explain this whole "practice interview" thing to me.
August 28, 2014 10:27 PM   Subscribe

If I'm interviewing with companies just for my own benefit -- to practice interviewing, to learn more about what kinds of compensation I might command, even to see what kinds of jobs are out there that might be a good fit for me -- and know early on that I'm not interested in ACTUALLY working for the company, how far into the process can I get without being a total jerk?

I'm starting down the road of maybe trying to find a Real Job after years of freelancing (software engineeering). I'm not in a hurry as I still have freelancing income and opportunities. I found a recruiter, I'm making connections, and I've had my first interviews. I don't know what my ideal job IS just yet, but the first few places don't seem like they're what I want.

In my ideal world, I'd still keep going through the interview process even when I'm not very interested, so I could get practice at the technical interviews and try to negotiate actual job offers. And then, having (hopefully) learned something, I'd say "no thanks, this isn't the right fit" and move on. But I'm a very honest person and this approach feels like lying, or at least like I'm wasting a bunch of people's time. At the same time, being up front is clearly a good way to be shown the door when maybe I could become interested in the place, and I do want to do everything in my power to find a great fit for myself.

I know this is probably me being a bit cocky, after all I might not get ANY job offers. But I knocked an interview out of the park this morning at a place I'm very indifferent about. Anyway... How far do people generally go when interviewing for practice?
posted by StockingMarionette to Work & Money (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is pretty much standard and has been for almost thirty years in professional fields to my knowledge. It's a good strategy for you as well as being useful for prospective employers.

"And then, having (hopefully) learned something, I'd say "no thanks, this isn't the right fit" and move on."

Or, you might find a perfect fit.

As long as you are at least somewhat interested you will learn about your prospective employer and a prospective employer will also learn about what they need to offer to attract the type of talent that they want.
posted by vapidave at 10:56 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

But I'm a very honest person and this approach feels like lying, or at least like I'm wasting a bunch of people's time.

Well, you would be. Using up someone's time and resources under false pretences is, well... would you want someone doing that to you?

Speak to your recruiter about interview practice. I'm sure they'll be able to help you with that.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:58 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone who has missed out on interviews for jobs I put a lot of time and effort into applying for, this makes me sad.

I've never heard of anyone doing this, and on occasions when I've been interviewed and then later find out that the winning candiate had already been chosen and they were interviewing people with no hope of them winning the job, I was pissed.

I think this is a terrible thing to do.
posted by Youremyworld at 11:09 PM on August 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

Well, I think once you know you aren't interested, you should end it. If there's still something that is discussed later in the process that could make the job viable even if it initially doesn't look that attractive - salary, benefits - it's fine to continue.

Continuing just for practice is unethical. It is similarly unethical when companies already know 100% who they're hiring but still post and interview for the role for legal and/or appearance reasons. In both cases the unethical actor is stealing the time, energy, and often money of the people/companies involved in the other end of the process. In your case you may also take an interview spot from someone who needed it as some companies have a cap on how many people they move on from one stage to the next.

If you just want to practice, ask people in your social circle to do mock interviews with you, ask for informational interviews from people in your industry to learn more about typical salary brackets/etc, or hire a career counselor to assess and improve your skills.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:32 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can totally do this, and do it as often as you'd like. "I'm sorry, but this isn't the right fit for me at this time" is an honest answer, and it's one the recruiters have heard before. They don't take it personally. The company doesn't take it personally, either.

However, don't take it personally if you find yourself blacklisted from ever interviewing there again, and don't take it personally if anyone who interviewed you -- or anyone who worked with someone who interviewed you -- doesn't ever bother interviewing you again, even if it's a few years later and they're at a new company.

I'm in tech in Los Angeles, and you'd be pretty shocked how small the ecosystem actually is for highly skilled employees even in a large city like this. I've seen people get vetoed all the time for small reasons right out of the gate, including "I've interviewed that person before and wasted my time on him/her already.

Petty? Maybe. But people don't like wasting their time, especially when they're on the clock and have positions to fill, and you're intentionally wasting their time to suit your needs.
posted by erst at 11:40 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Editing window closed, but I'd like to add that I've been a hiring manager for many years now, and you'd have to be something really, really special to get back on my potential hire list if you acted interested enough to get to the point of discussing salary and benefits and then declined for an insubstantial reason.
posted by erst at 11:47 PM on August 28, 2014

In some sectors, you can ask about informational interviews. These (often) make it clear that you're just looking for information and will not burn any bridges. They aren't quite the same as full-on interviews, however, so the practice will be somewhat limited.
posted by wiskunde at 2:32 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

> How far do people generally go when interviewing for practice?

I've been interviewing and hiring candidates for over 20 years. This is the first I've heard of scheduling professional job interviews solely for personal practice -- so I started to say that, generally, they just don't.

But having thought about it, it sounds exactly like something that would be trending right now. Ugh.

(Reminds me of common dating advice: You're not that into him? Go on some dates anyway! Get out there and get your confidence back, this isn't til death do you part! You'll have fun and will be ready when you meet The One!)

> How far into the process can I get without being a total jerk?

I've interviewed candidates who were clearly "testing the waters" to see what the job had to offer them, or for whom the job was obviously a stepping stone to Bigger and Better Things. Fine. But to spend my time and resources on someone who was doing it solely to hone his or her interview and negotiating skills - I'm sorry, but the entire process is jerk-y.

Before I interview you, I've spent time reviewing your resume. Executives and managers from other department may also have to weigh in. Your past employment is confirmed. Reference and background checks are performed. This isn't one hour of my time that you're taking.

Last, stop to think about the actual candidate who's resume wasn't as eye-catching as yours and got reject-binned.

There are tons of resources out there about How To Ace That Interview. Avail yourself. Practice your interviews in a mirror or with a buddy who wants to cheer you on as you knock it out of the park.

* The fact that you're having qualms and asking this question tells me that you are a generally honest person. Go with your gut, and good luck in your future endeavors!
posted by falldownpaul at 5:46 AM on August 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

StockingMarionette, others have commented on the ethics of this, so I'm going to skip that and just answer the meat of your question. I've been a SW engineer, I've been a hiring manager, now manage an org with a couple of developer groups. Here is how the hiring process works in my current organization - which hires software engineers and other technical folks - and this is pretty typical in most of the shops I've been in. Post the position, get back a hundred resumes, cull through for the people who look legit. If we are lucky and get more than say, ten, down select some more. This is a combination of HR and maybe a tech lead type person. Once we get down to a smallish number, started calling for tech interviews over the phone. Senior developers take turns on this duty. In your scenario, this would be your first contact with the company. You would get a feel for the questions, but this is mostly a litmus test to see whether you should be brought in for a face to face interview, so it isn't like we are going to give you back an SAT score on how you did. I know some companies raise the tech interview to an art form; I haven't ever seen that in the wild, it has always been a gate to protect us from wasting our time. Because the next step is so time intensive, we'll want to shrink the pool to three and then bring them in for face-to-face interviews. I've seen these interviews done as a big group panel and sequentially; we do it sequentially. No one is going to discuss compensation with you at this point, we are still trying to determine fit, so no real negotiating is going to happen. We'll then discuss internally, force rank the candidates, then start making offers over the phone in that order. That would be the point to start actually negotiating. In smaller shops, or a company that is really in a hurry, you could get an offer on the spot.

Recognizing that there are all kinds of different hiring practices in the tech industry that might not fit this template, my main advice would be that you could get through the tech screen, bow out, and no one would notice. If we pull you in for face to face interviews, you would burn up (in our case) maybe six to eight hours of total staff time and you would (without us realizing it) reduce our pool size of candidates. I would be annoyed, but we lose candidates at that stage all the time for a variety of reasons, so you could get to this stage and still manage to bow out gracefully, but only if you are willing to tell a bald-faced lie. If we make you an offer, negotiated in good faith, and then you opted out, I would either mentally label you as a flake or figure you for using us as a stalking horse to extract a raise out of your current employer. In either case, you wouldn't be a fit for us, and that would be the end of that. It would certainly be a strike against you if I saw your resume again.
posted by kovacs at 6:10 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

You aren't really practicing if you don't want the job at all. What you do is pursue interviews to see if you would like that job better, and if you find out you wouldn't then you say so and stop the process.

Get comfortable being honest with interviewers about why you're applying. This will make you a better candidate when you're serious about a position.
posted by michaelh at 6:46 AM on August 29, 2014

I'm in the "this is normal" camp.

As a software engineer: my turning down job offers has generally been met with, "That's too bad, do ring us up if you're looking again in the future." The reasons I've given have been mixed: salary too low, more interesting offer elsewhere, nebulous bad fit, decided to stay at current job. These have been refusals after receiving an offer and proposed salary.

As someone who interviews software engineers: only half the point of an interview is for you to convince me to hire you; the other half is for me to convince you to work with/for me. I'd be angry if you hid an insurmountable barrier - like you're not authorized to work in the country - but if you're just not all that interested, let's talk about why you should be interested.
posted by orangejenny at 6:46 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

You definitely should not get to the point of negotiating the job offer. What happens if they accept your terms?
posted by J. Wilson at 7:08 AM on August 29, 2014

I think the right time to end the process is when you are certain you don't want to work there.

If you feel indifferent, it's still worth going in. You can look at it as mainly for "practice" as long as you have an open mind about the possibility of you working there. I think the offer stage is much too late.

I have interviewed with plenty of companies that I was curious about even though I didn't really see myself working there. Typically, after the first interview I tell them thank you, but it's not what I'm looking for at this time, and they've always been nice about it. A couple of times, that first interview made me much more interested in the company.

Also, I've noticed that the less interested I am, the harder it is to perform well at an interview, when you are trying to convince them that you really want this job. So it may not be good practice for a real interview if you're truly indifferent about the job.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:11 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

From my point of view, it's kosher to apply and interview as long as it's a job you are actually considering. Once you've hit that point of "no, I definitely wouldn't work here," it's time for you to bow out. Going as far as negotiating salary for a job you're sure you don't want is way beyond the pale.
posted by MsMolly at 7:41 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm usually a supporter of doing what's good for your best interests as an individual, because companies are of course acting in the best interests of the company.

That being said, the hiring procedure where I'm at right now is almost exactly as kovacs described above. If myself and my team had wasted 90minx3 developers talking to you, and later found out you had absolutely no interest in the job and were just wasting our time (which also included going through your resume and possibly reviewing code samples), you had better believe the next time your resume/name came through mine or any of my colleagues email we'd happily ignore it.

When you waste my time it gets personal, because I'm here until the job gets done, and I'd much rather have that time back to get other shit done. Yes, technically my employer's expectations are to blame here, but in the short term unfortunately you're the one pissing me off, and in this business it's a lot about who you know and have interacted with previously. Life ain't fair.
posted by cgg at 8:42 AM on August 29, 2014

I think it is completely fine to do this if you are pretty sure you won't take the job, but are genuinely open to seeing if it works out (i.e. maybe they offer you an amazing salary, or super flexible work hours, or once you get into the interview room you discover the working environment is really awesome, etc.) I don't think it's okay if your reason is solely for practice, and you have no intention of ever following through on taking the job. Although it's not great to waste the company's time (and could actually come back to bite you in the ass later), I think the larger concern is for others who may truly be interested in and want or need the job, and who may be excluded from getting a shot at it because of your behavior. You don't owe a LOT to these potential applicants (for example, I don't think you owe them only applying for jobs you are sure you would want to take). But I do think you owe them not making a total farce of the application process by taking up interview slots when there is a 0% chance you will take the job.

I also don't know what your industry is, but in mine, if there is a failed search after things get to the salary negotiation stage, there is some chance that the position may not be filled AT ALL (at least in the current fiscal year), meaning you not only took up interview slots, but prevented ANYONE from getting that job. Not cool, especially in this economy.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:48 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might want to investigate "mock technical interviews" in your area. A friend of mine trains new technical HR people in interviewing techniques. They are always looking for "fake" candidates. The fake candidates get the benefit of feedback from an experienced technical recruiter.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:13 AM on August 29, 2014

I always approach interviewing as a two-way street. You want to learn about me, I want to learn about you, let's talk. But, once I've determined that it's not for me, I shut it down. Mostly because I don't like my time being wasted, and I'm professional enough not to do it to someone else.

If you KNOW it's not a job you'd want, after discussing it in the inital phone screen, just say, "Wow, it sounds like a good opportunity for X, but I don't think I'd be a good fit, thanks for considering me."

If you get to the first in person interview, and you're turned off, just say, "It's been great meeting you, I don't think this is right for me at this time. I'd love to keep in touch though."

But don't go through the entire opera, from overture to finale. That's just a waste of resources on EVERYONE'S part!

Also, give feedback to your recruiter so they can calibrate and find you better interviews.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:52 AM on August 29, 2014

Several companies I've worked for had a policy of interviewing X number of candidates before hiring, even though they already knew who they were going to hire (usually an internal candidate), under the guise of being "fair." The other interviewees wasted a bunch of time and energy to apply for jobs that they were never going to get. So I don't see why you shouldn't interview for jobs you know you're not going to take, if you want - those seem to be the rules of the game these days.
posted by storminator7 at 6:11 PM on August 29, 2014

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