Gracefully bowing out in a small, small world
August 26, 2007 6:40 PM   Subscribe

It's easy to find information about acing an interview, but how to gracefully bow out if during that process you determine it isn't a great fit?

It's very easy to find references to nailing interviews on the Internet--but difficult to dig up information about how to proceed if the candidate doesn't believe the position a good fit but doesn't want to burn any bridges in the future (it's a small, small world after all).

Obviously, if you don't think you will accept the job if offered, it saves the company a lot of time (and money!) if you do not proceed in the hiring process--but how do you word such a request without offending or alienating the hiring party?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Don't worry about it until they offer you the job. Then say, "I'm sorry. I've taken a position elsewhere."

It's fairly likely that unless they're hurting for qualified people, that they'll see your lack of enthusiasm at the interview and not call you back.
posted by Netzapper at 6:50 PM on August 26, 2007

I've said something generic along the lines of my personal circumstances have changed and I wouldn't be able to adequately commit myself to the position at this time. It leaves the door open for working with them in the future and they are unlikely to ask a lot of questions.
posted by whoaali at 7:20 PM on August 26, 2007

I disagree with Netzapper; if you are 100% certain you would not take the position if offered, and you think they might give it to you, bowing out is a nice gesture- I'm on a hiring committee right now at my church, and I think we would all rather not waste our time thinking on candidates who have chosen, for whatever reason, not to work with us. I don't think you should get into the specifics; you can just say that you appreciated their time but "(insert vague phrase here about opportunities, choosing another path, blah blah blah)".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:25 PM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think most interviewers would be weirded out if you did it during an actual interview, so I wouldn't do that.

If you've gathered from interview #1 that you're not interested in a #2, wait until they call you for that, and let them know you just don't feel like the position is a great fit for you.

As you mentioned, it's a small world (and HR people talk to one another), so I would not lie and tell them you've taken another job.a

You may want to apply for another job there in 2 months, or maybe the manager over your dream job may stop by HR and ask if there are any resumes *just like yours* in the files.

If there's a specific reason why this isn't the job for you, you could maybe fit that in, "I really appreciate your time and consideration, but, as we discussed, my passion really is on the technical side, and this seems like more of a management role. I'm afraid it's not really a fit for me. But, I am really interested in your organization, and I'd love it if I could be considered if something comes along that's closer to my skill set. Do you keep resumes on file, or should I just keep an eye on your website?"

No offense to whoalli, but the "personal circumstances" response is going to make them think you are a wackjob.
posted by altcountryman at 7:28 PM on August 26, 2007

Seconding ThePinkSuperHero's advice.

As to specifics, I wouldn't spring it on them in the middle of the QA; try to do it before, after, or between the interviewing rounds. Say something like, "Thank you so much for considering me, Bob, but after some thought, I've decided to go with a different opportunity." Or, "I've appreciated your consideration, Bob, but Junior Shovel Specialist here at TurdCorp just doesn't work with my current plans."

And don't feel too bad or guilty for rejecting them; no doubt the HR people you'll be dealing with have done plenty of rejecting themselves. Be firm, be confident, be grateful; indeed, carry yourself the way you would if you were gunning for the job. That way, they'll remember you as the one that got away - and if a new, better job comes up, they may give you a call.
posted by Iridic at 7:40 PM on August 26, 2007

(In other words, what altcountryman said).
posted by Iridic at 7:42 PM on August 26, 2007

I went through this a few weeks ago - I (chickened out and) wrote an email that I enjoyed meeting with them and learning about the company and position. However, I determined that it was not the right fit for me at that time and wished them continued success with their search.

For me, it was a number of factors, but mainly that the woman I interviewed with was a crazy bitch and I was smart enough to recognize it was a bad idea (been there, done that).

It's kind of hard to be graceful in that sort of situation. I tend to think that to bow out, there has to be something really bad - enough to make you stop the process in its tracks and withdraw yourself. It's either you or them, so make them think it's you. Another way to put it is that you decided to take your search in another direction and wanted to let them know before either of you proceeded further (on preview, what altcountryman said, he puts it more eloquently). Don't tell them you got another job, particularly if you're in the same industry, since they could find out it's not true.

Be sure that it's not just because "you don't feel like it would be good" and that there's a very real reason it's not right for you. Particularly since they might ask why. No matter how hard you try to be nice, you might still upset and alienate them. If it's just a matter of general fit, I'd stay in the process a little longer. You never know what the next interview might bring or how the job itself will be.
posted by ml98tu at 7:48 PM on August 26, 2007

I don't understand why you have to be super-ultra-nice, you're not looking for a job there, yeah it's a small world, but everyone's time is money. It's business, not making nice at some friend's wedding.

If it's one of those multi-person interviews, at some interstitial point couldn't you just say, "actually, I've been realizing over time that I probably wouldn't be the best fit for this company, and I don't want to spend anyone's time unnecessarily." They will probably ask you why, sort of confusedly, and you can point some things out, or lie if you want them to feel better, and they will probably try to convince you otherwise for a bit – it could even be a productive way to (a) get a better job or (b) realize that it might be alright there.

Though, yes, if that all seems like too much weird, then you could just not say anything and e-mail later. That is the easy way.
posted by blacklite at 9:09 PM on August 26, 2007

During an interview, I try to give people as accurate a perspective as possible on what the job and my workplace is like. When candidates bow out after my schpiel, I genuinely appreciate the directness. Not only does it show honesty and self-awareness, it also shows they value my time enough to avoid wasting it. In some cases, the candidate and I have had great discussions about other opportunities in the organization. I regularly share resumes with other hiring managers. Sometimes it just works out that other jobs are more in line with their goals. I've never taken it personally.

"Gable, I'm really glad we've had this chance discuss the position. Based on what you've said, I'm not sure it would be the best fit for me." If the person followed that with "I'm really looking for a position more involving _____" I'd be glad to stay and talk with them. No bridges burned.
posted by Gable Oak at 9:26 PM on August 26, 2007

what gable oak said, being direct, i don't think that could be a bad thing. unless you rude or overly blunt, that is. when a good break in the interview comes up, or they ask you what you think or what questions you have would be good. otherwise you're wasting everyone's time and that's rude, whether they know you're wasting their time or not. why let them go through checking out references, etc? that's just being kind of chicken to what may seem awkward or possibly confrontational. it doesn't need to be specific, just saying it doesn't seem like a good fit seems perfectly reasonable.
posted by andywolf at 10:16 PM on August 26, 2007

Saying so in the interview may not be the end of the world. I walked out during an interview (yes, I shouldn't have done it, it was rude), then a year later applied for a post in the same organisation, was interviewed by the same people and offered the post. As Gable Oak says, I think it would be worth trying to have a discussion with them in the interview if you're still interested in working there - for one thing, they may have given you the wrong impression of what the post involves.
posted by paduasoy at 12:43 AM on August 27, 2007

I had a situation like this just today :) Halfway through the interview it was very clear to me that I would not want to take the position. At the end the interviewer asked me if I was still interested in the role to which I replied "to be completely honest, I don't believe I'd suit this role, and I would never want to waste your time by pretending I did. I'm sorry to have to say this because X seems like a really great company to work at."

My interviewer said he was pleased I was honest as it saves them a lot of time when choosing a candidate, and while he didn't think this particular role would suit me I was definately a good fit for the culture and he would be in touch if they had any more suitable roles or even contract work.

So in short by being completely honest with these people I will be remembered more favorably by them, and that in turn will reflect well on me in the industry.

Admittedly, this question isn't always asked at the end of an interview, and if that's the case I wouldn't bring it up as you may risk treading on toes. Instead tell your recruitment agent afterwards that you're not interested in the role. Or if you're dealing directly with the company usually a nice phonecall or email, thanking them for their time and saying you don't think you're the right fit for the role but you wish them all the best, works well.

Believe me, they'll appreciate you having enough respect for them to tell them the truth, and done in a tactful way it can in fact strengthen your reputation. People really appreciate honesty in any situation, but -especially- in business where (I'm sad to say) it appears to be rare.

I hope that helps. All the best :)
posted by katala at 2:19 AM on August 27, 2007

Similar thing happened to me as well. I was mid-interview and I realized that the job was waaaay more hands on than I wanted to be and I know my face was already giving me away anyhow. She paused in her spiel and I just was honest with her. "I don't want to waste anymore of your time. This is a wonderful service that you all provide but this position is way over my head compared to my academic background." I was fresh out of college and the lady was totally gracious about it. She thanked me so profusely for being honest she sat and chatted with about what I was looking for and she gave me her business card as a reference.
posted by CwgrlUp at 8:11 AM on August 27, 2007

I disagree that it's going to be jarring for the interviewer if you end the interview early. True, they might be a little surprised, given how many people go into a interview with a one-sided "get the job at all costs" attitude and don't take the opportunity to do their own interviewing. However if you're polite and not oddly abrupt about it there's nothing inappropriate about deciding you don't want the gig based on the information you have so far.

So if you reach a point where they're going to hand you off to someone else, or give you a tour, or any other reasonable stopping points, feel free to say "you know, at this point I feel like I know enough to know we're not a good fit for each other, so why don't we just wrap it up here?" If they ask for more detail you can say - often honestly - that there's not any one thing, it's just that you realize you're not right for each other. If they push beyond that, well, then they're just reaffirming that this is the right decision, aren't they?

I'd comment, however, that I don't think I'd personally ever cut short an interview unless it was a complete train-wreck. Everyone has an off day, and so do organizations. I recently had a phone interview that I felt like I came across as a boob during, but they still had me in for a follow-up and that went great and I was offered the job.

I wouldn't personally bother to communicate that you'd decided against the job unless there's an appropriate opportunity to do so. If they end the encounter on a generic "we'll be in touch" then I wouldn't have a unbidden conversation I found uncomfortable. If they convey more enthusiasm than that then letting them know up-front it certainly the nice thing to do, though certainly not obligatory. Without a doubt, however, you should certainly be honest if you are presented with a clear question like CwgrlUp was.
posted by phearlez at 8:44 AM on August 27, 2007

I second the advice about writing a letter, in the form of a thank you note, indicating that while you enjoyed meeting the staff and discussing the possibility of working together, you have determined that it's not the direction you're currently looking to take your career or something in that vein. Thank them for their time, let them know you'd be happy to answer any further questions they may have about your decision, and compliment them on something about the company "while the opportunity to work on the cutting edge whatchamacallit is exciting and you have an impressive product, I don't sense a match to my current goals. I do hope that we'll have the opportunity to work together in the future, as I foresee exciting things happening at company x currently and down the road" something like that. sorry for grammar and spelling mistakes here. don't include that in your letter/email. or just make the call and say it aloud.
posted by Soulbee at 7:25 AM on August 28, 2007

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