“Interviewing is similar to online dating,” says Teri Hockett, chief executive of What’s For Work?. You read a profile—or in this case, a job description; determine if you’re interested; and pursue it in hopes of securing a date—or interview. “But you don’t get a real sense for the person—or the company or role–until you have an in-person meeting or phone conversation to learn more,” she says. And sometimes, halfway through, you realize itisn’t a match made in heaven.
“Job interviews are a two-way street,” Hockett adds. “They are not only a chance for a prospective employer to learn about you, but also for you to learn about them. And people will either walk away from an interview excited, feeling like it is a great fit–or disappointed, thinking it was not what they were looking for.”
If the latter occurs—you may feel inclined to get up and walk out mid-interview, as you don’t want to waste anyone’s time. But in most cases career experts say they would advise against that.
Five O’Clock Club career and executive coach Anita Attridge says an important aspect of the interview process is building relationships. “So, even if you believe the job is not a good fit, you should at least continue that interview and do your best, you’ll also want to ask questions about the job or the organization to verify that your perceptions about the job not being a good fit are accurate. You may be surprised.”
Michael Kerr, an international business speaker, author and president of Humor at Work, has surveyed several people on this topic, and the majority (about 60%) said they would carry on with the interview and do the best possible job they could. “They didn’t want to be seen as burning any bridges; they would still want to practice their interviewing skills and stay focused on the task at hand; and finally, they felt that it would be better to lay low and leave open the possibility that if and when the job was offered then they’d be coming from a position of greater strength to discuss possible changes to the nature of the work to make it a better fit.”
Here are additional tips for what you should and shouldn’t do when you realize halfway through the interview that the job or company isn’t a good fit:
Ask questions. Attridge says, even if you think the job isn’t a good match, you should try to engage in a conversation and ask questions to verify that the reasons you think it would not be a good fit are actually valid.
Also—find out if the aspects you don’t like about the job or company can be changed. You never know: The things you don’t like might be fixable.
Be polite. Don’t become distracted or appear disinterested in what the interviewer is saying, Attridge says. Even if you know you won’t accept the job if it’s offered—always give the interviewer the respect he or she deserves.
Be honest. “It’s very important to be upfront and honest as a professional,” Hockett says. “Just as you should ask the prospective employer if you’re the right candidate for the job (assuming you’re interested); you should also be clear in explaining whether or not they are a good fit for you.” Remember: Always be respectful; you wouldn’t want to burn any bridges.
Ask about other positions. If you like the company but not the job—it’s OK to inquire about other position within the organization.
Stay positive. Avoid sarcasm or any comment that might be construed as negative, Kerr says. “Keep the perspective that the mismatch isn’t necessarily a negative reflection on the company or on you.”
Don’t make a scene. “You may be upset but you are still in a professional environment,” says Amanda Abella, a career coach, writer, speaker, and founder of the Gen Y lifestyle blog Grad Meets World. “Besides, during future interviews some hiring managers, depending on their style, may ask you where else you’ve interviewed and why it didn’t work out. You’re going to want to be able to say that it just wasn’t a good fit rather than going into how you threw a fit.”
Think of the interview as a networking opportunity. This job or company might not be right for you—but the interviewer may know other hiring managers in the field who can help you in your job search. “Build a relationship with the interviewer,” Attridge suggests. “There may be other opportunities for which you could be a good candidate.”
Never give unsolicited advice. “It’s okay to say, ‘I’m looking for a company that that allows a high level of autonomy,’” Kerr says. “But something like, ‘You really should be giving your employees more freedom that you appear to be doing,’ is inappropriate.”
Allow the meeting to end naturally. If you are certain the position and/or company are not for you, and there are no other opportunities, then allow the meeting to end naturally, Hockett says. “Thank them for their time, and ask to keep in touch in case future opportunities come up. Also consider connecting the employer with other people in your professional network that might be a good fit.”
Kerr adds that if you do speak about the mismatch, it’s important to stress the fact that you still admire and respect the company.
Don’t feel the need to apologize. “Keep the perspective that you are doing them a favor by being up front,” Kerr says. “After you thank them for their time, empathize with them by letting them know from past experience what a difficult job it is for them as well.”
Don’t post anything negative about the company online. “You don’t want a future potential employer to find that later on,” Abella says. “And yes, with this social media craze they will look you up.”