Further Questions: How and when should a candidate decline an interview?

This week’s question comes to us via Twitter.  This week I asked people who hire librarians:

What’s the best way to decline an interview without burning any bridges?  Under what circumstances should a candidate decline an interview?

Cathi AllowayI am puzzled, why would someone apply for a job and then not want to interview?

Why waste the employer’s time?
If you have found out it’s not a good place to work, or the salary or conditions are unacceptable, the best thing is a vague statement –  “I am considering an offer elsewhere” or “my plans have changed at this time” “I’m withdrawing my application at this time” with a big thank you and apology for the inconvenience.
– Catherine Alloway, Director, Schlow Centre Region Library

Marge Loch WoutersA simple  “My circumstances have changed and I would like to withdraw my name from consideration,” certainly suffices. I have always said that interviews are a delicate dance – we want you to want us as much as we may want you. If the fit isn’t right; if another job has come up; if paying your own way to an interview hundreds of miles away is cost –prohibitive;  if your saner self starts shouting “Are you nuts?!?!”, it is perfectly fine to decline an interview.  As a hiring manager, I don’t read anything more into that decision or red flag the candidate for the future.

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

I think it important for hiring committees to keep in mind that the candidates are in some state of flux if they are looking for a job. I have turned down a few interviews, I think it is understandable that things change. Particularly if the search timeline is stretched. The candidate may have turned down an interview because they had an offer somewhere else that they couldn’t refuse. Life circumstances change, too. The candidate may have had second thoughts, their significant other may have been pulled in another direction, they may have had to re-assess their plan or they may have reservations about working for your company/institution.

Whatever the situation is, I think hiring committees understand that and appreciate honesty, not necessarily telling them everything but enough to know that you are being honest and don’t want to waste their time. At the end of the day, they want to find the perfect candidate for the position. And, if you are good and they didn’t move fast enough and a better place snapped you up, that is the way it goes.

The main thing is not wasting their time and letting them know you need to bow out as soon as you know. I don’t think this burns bridges. I also think that there are legitimate reasons for someone to interview and then decide that the location isn’t a good fit or the people are not a good fit. This is reasonable, too. What would burn bridges is if you made it to the interview stage and then clearly phoned it in for whatever reason and wasted everyone’s time and the institution’s  money. That would be hard to forget.

– Anonymous

Marleah AugustineI don’t think declining an interview is ever a problem. I think the best way for a candidate to decline is to tell the interviewer that they’ve already taken another position or that they no longer believe the job to be a good fit for them. If they have to decline due to a personal conflict or a scheduling conflict, then tell the interviewer. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to interviews. 

If I really thought a particular candidate would be a good choice, then I may be disappointed but I’d rather know up front that it isn’t going to work out rather than go through the whole hiring process and then have the position turned down.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Laurie PhillipsIf, in the process of interviewing or gathering information about the position (or even the location or the university), the candidate determines that he or she would not accept the position if it were offered, he or she should immediately withdraw. Or if the candidate has accepted another position. Preferably before an in-person interview is scheduled or planned. A lot goes into setting up our on-campus interviews – logistically, financially, and involving the time of many people. We are only permitted to bring in three candidates, unless one is local, and even then we are hesitant to go beyond three because of the time and effort involved. We could offer that opportunity to another candidate. Please do not waste our time and money if you will not accept the position. If you have concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to contact the chair of the search committee before making a decision to drop out. And the best way to do it is to call the chair of the search committee and speak to her (or him) directly about the reasons for withdrawing. Email isn’t horrible, but is a little cowardly. If you are still interested in that place but just not the job in question, it’s important to say so. We notice when people apply for every job we have open. If you realize the job is not right for you, but you like the library/institution, then say so. It will help you down the line.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

Sherle Abramson-Bluhm

I would say that it never inappropriate to decline an interview – unless it is requested within a couple of days of applying.
Circumstances change, and I would understand that if a candidate declined.
I believe it is better to decline if a candidate knows they have no intention of taking the job – have another offer, or no longer need/wish to make the change. That can be a
waste of time and possibly costly for the interviewer, and unfair to other candidates.  And usually shows.
And declining should be done as quickly as possible after an invitation is rendered preferably by phone, or in the same manner as the offer was made if email or written
A polite – “Thank you, I greatly appreciate the opportunity, but my circumstances have changed and I no longer wish to be considered for the position.” – would be sufficient for me.

– Sherle Abramson-Bluhm, Head, Print Acquisitions, University of Michigan

bonnie smithIf you applied for a position but later find out that it really wouldn’t be the right fit for you or, you find something else that you would prefer, or, whatever your reason, in my opinion, it is better to let the employer know before you and they spend time and energy on the interview. Employers invest considerable time and effort selecting the best candidates for interviews, preparing interview questions, interviewing and then assessing the results of the interview. I you are certain that you are no longer interested in the position, that is the point at which you should let the employer know – except in the middle of the interview process!  When declining an interview you should portray your gratitude and the honor of being selected for an interview and gracefully let them know you are withdrawing your candidacy. Giving personal details is not helpful (for example: my sister just had a stroke and I need to move out of state). Keep it professional and positive (for example: an unforeseen family matter means that I will be moving out of state and I regret to have to decline the honor of an interview). As a human resources professional, we know that ‘life happens’ and we don’t expect people to have any allegiance to a position that is still amorphous. But we do appreciate an honest answer about what is going on.

– Bonnie Smith, Assistant Program Director for Human Resources, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries

The main goal is to be honest while remaining polite.  It’s fine to say that you have accepted another offer or decided that this position doesn’t fit into your career plans at the moment.  It’s perfectly fine to be vague and not go into details.  The institution will appreciate that you didn’t further use their time and money by coming for an interview if you really don’t want the job.  Be gracious in thanking them for considering you for the position, and wish them well in finding the best candidate for the job.  Don’t say anything bad about the institution, even if it was a factor in your decision.  You should decline if you really have no interest in the job; going for an interview just so you can get a free trip to visit a friend who lives in a far away city is not ethical.  If you are hesitant about going for an interview, you can ask questions before you accept or decline.  For example, you can ask for clarification of the possible salary range, if this is a factor.  The interview process is about the candidate interviewing the prospective employer as well as vice versa.

– Anonymous

To decline an interview without screwing future chances at said library/with said librarian, be apologetic but honest.  Hopefully if one had, say, already accepted employment elsewhere, one would think to contact those libraries one had applied to and let them know of that.  Same for changes in family circumstances or whatever.  Emailing to let the library know to remove you from the pool is much more professional.  It will save the hiring committee time, and they’ll appreciate that.

I declined an interview on one occasion: I had phone interviewed with a library far, far away.  They called me up to invite me to in-person interview, but there was no support for travel costs.  That’s not always a deal breaker but, when I asked how many candidates they were inviting, I was told that they had been aiming for about 4, but they really had 8 to 10 that they wanted to see.  I felt that odds were not in my favor, and fresh out of school I couldn’t afford gallivanting.  I thanked them profusely but was honest that, if I were competing as 1 out of 4 I’d be there but as 1 out of 10, it was an offer I couldn’t accept at this time.  (And do we really want to work at a library that can’t narrow down the pool a bit?  What does that say about the hiring committee?)

I definitely think the best way would be to avoid the whole issue by keeping the libraries informed before it comes to that.

– Sarah Morrison, Adult Services Librarian, Neill Public Library, Pullman, Washington

Terry Ann LawlerIf you accept an interview for a position, you should be prepared to take that position at the time of your interview. It is far better to decline to interview than to interview for a position you know you can’t take and then turn it down.
It is always ok to decline to interview for whatever reason you have for declining. I have declined because of family life or not being interested in the promotion at that time, etc. Just letting the person know when they call you for the interview that you are declining is usually enough but you can feel free to offer up a bit more information on why you are declining without getting too personal.
You can also ask questions regarding future positions when you are declining. For example, when you are on a list for a Librarian I position in my library system, you can decline to interview for a certain location because you have moved but remain on the list to be called for another position later when one opens. It is OK to clarify that type of thing when you are declining.
– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight. If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

Thank YOU for reading! Big wheel keeping on turning, Proud Mary keep on commenting.


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Public

3 responses to “Further Questions: How and when should a candidate decline an interview?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

  2. Anonymous

    Thank you for this article, I was called in on an interview after a few hours accepting a job offer! I had already set my mind on the company I accepted and felt the caller called at a very bad time… I politely declined the offer nonetheless, but my parents made me feel like a wreck for doing so.


  3. Pingback: Return to Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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