Why Turn Down That Interview?

The better part of my career has centered, in one way or another, around interviews. As a sales manager I was heavily involved in the interview process. As a recruiter, I did initial screening interviews, trained people on interview technique, and coached hiring managers on how to interview their candidates more effectively. I’ve directed entire recruiting departments on maximizing the effectiveness of interviews. And of course, I’ve been in plenty myself.
There’s one thing that consistently surprises me no matter how often I see it: people turning down an interview.
Why does this surprise me? Surely you should be selective, and not just take the first job that’s offered to you, right? Of course! But I didn’t say I was surprised when people turned down job offers. I was surprised when they turned down interviews.
An important distinction to make: accepting an interview is not the same as accepting a job offer. And yet, people have a bad habit of treating those two things as if there were the same. They think, “I don’t want that job, so I won’t go on that interview.” But that’s foolhardy reasoning, and I’m going to explain why.
Here are five reasons you should absolutely take that interview!

1. You Need Practice

Especially if you’re just starting your career (but even if you’re not!), interviewing is a skill that needs to be sharpened. Like any skill, if you haven’t done it often (or if you haven’t done it in a while!) you probably aren’t as good as you could be. I’ve done interview coaching and training for many years, but even the most effective coaching pales in comparison to what you learn by just getting out there and doing.
In addition to the tangible skills, just think about how confidence works. The first time you tried a new thing, were you really confident in your abilities, or were you nervous? How about the 20th time? You probably felt much more comfortable after you’d gotten some reps under your belt.
The more interviews you take, the better you’re going to get at interviewing. The better you get at interviewing, the more likely you are to land the offers you’re really excited about. As a bonus, this is a big mentality shift to help you defeat the bad feelings that can come from multiple interviews with no job offer – just remember that they aren’t failures. They’re practice for the right one.

2. You Might Not Get Your First Choice

Here is a hard truth: Sometimes you can do everything right and not get the result you want. You can have exactly the right skill set, interview perfectly, and something could still happen that prevents you from getting the job.
I once interviewed for a position that I was incredibly excited about. My reputation was already known by the company, my interviews all went wonderfully, and I had impeccable recommendations. I received informal notice that I had the job and would be getting an official offer letter in the morning, and I was thrilled. The next day a company-wide hiring freeze was announced as a merger deal had just gone through, and the company was absorbed six months later into its largest competitor. Sometimes things just happen, and if you put all your eggs in one basket, they’ll all break when it falls. Be prepared for the possibility that you will need a plan B.

3. Networking Is Good

You should always (always) be networking with professionals both in and out of your industry. Professional contact with an ever-expanding network is the best job security you will ever have, especially if your reputation is good.
Some of the best people to have in that network are the people who conduct interviews. Whether they’re recruiters, hiring managers, department heads or something else, the people that conduct interviews have many things in common. They’re established enough in their industry to be trusted with hiring decisions. They’re in tune with the needs of their (and other!) companies. They talk to lots and lots of people. Doesn’t that sound exactly like someone you want in your network? Even if you don’t want that particular job, leaving that person with a great impression of you as a professional and connecting with them can lead to tremendous opportunities in the future.

In the past 10 years, I haven’t held a single position that I got by applying blind.

They were all from communicating with a network of professionals I started building a decade before.
I once did recruitment and sales management in the financial industry. I think it’s likely that during that time, people turned down an interview with me because they didn’t want to work in the financial industry, because they were focused on only working in something else – maybe medical sales, for example. Guess what? Years later I had moved into the medical industry, still doing recruitment and sales management (this is very common – many skill sets are valuable in a variety of industries, so it’s not uncommon at all for someone to change industries while keeping to similar roles). So I would have been a valuable contact for that person that had no interest in speaking to me when I was recruiting in finance.
You never know where your contacts will go, so the more good contacts you have, the greater the likelihood that you’ll know someone valuable in your career trajectory later.

4. It Will Sharpen Your Instincts

Maybe you receive an offer to interview and something about the job feels “off.” You don’t like it, so you decide not to go on the interview. That’s the equivalent of taking milk out of the fridge and sniffing it, deciding you’re not sure if it smells good, and putting it back in the fridge. If you go on that interview you’ll discover one of two things. Either you were wrong and it’s a great role (in which case you learned not to make that mistake again), or you were right and it was a bad role – but you’ll understand why!
There’s a world of difference between the vague statement of “it didn’t sound good” and the much more detailed “their management style was very negative, there was a lot of conflict between the CEO and the rest of the staff, lots of people had quit in the last six months, and the office culture was very tense and hostile.” The latter is a good reason not to take a job; the former is not. Learning why you got a bad feeling helps you ask the right questions in the future and makes you better at evaluating opportunities.

5. You Have No Idea What You Want

Sounds blunt, doesn’t it? It’s actually a good thing! Think about a kindergarten classroom. When the teacher asks “What do you want to be when you grow up,” you don’t get more than 5-6 different answers. Everyone wants to be a teacher, a police officer, an astronaut, a doctor, or an athlete. No one wants to be a digital marketing manager or a sales coach, even though those are exciting and fulfilling careers. They only don’t want those professions because kindergarteners don’t know they exist!
To be honest, you might not know of the existence of your dream job yet either. There are so many things you can be, so many things you can do to add value to the world and bring satisfaction to yourself, that you couldn’t know even a tiny fraction of them all. Why put yourself in a narrow box when you don’t have to? When I was 18 I was certain my dream job was to own my own deli. If I’d committed to that in a way that left no room for change, I’d be deeply unsatisfied now, instead of being excited every day for the awesome job I have and the fun career that’s led me to it.

It’s a tough exercise, but try to think about everything you don’t know.

You don’t know what your dream job would really be like. You’ve never worked it; maybe the grass looks greener over there, but maybe you’re wrong. And maybe there’s a job you’ve never heard of that you would love, but you never will hear about it if you’re not open to at least listening. Job ads and listings are terrible ways to learn about roles. They’re short, often incomplete, rarely perfectly accurate.
Instead of going off of the job description, have a conversation with someone on the inside and really find out about the role. That’s the only way to learn the most important thing about it: what the people are like who would work with you. People discount how important that is, but it’s easily the most crucial component.
Think about your “dream job.” If Bernie Madoff or Martin Shkreli was hiring for that job, would you still want it? Now think about a job you’re sure you don’t want. Would you feel the same way if Elon Musk was the one hiring for it, and you’d work alongside him every day? Discovering new things and meeting new people is one of the best parts of your life, and within the confines of an interview it can also lead to amazing careers. Don’t pass that up.

“I understand your points, Johnny, but . . .”

By now some of you are saying “but I have valid reasons for not going on that interview!” Maybe you do! I’m not saying there’s never an exception to the general rule. But before you decide you have one, let’s talk about some bad reasons for skipping interviews.

Sometimes people are afraid of being rude, and “leading on” a potential employer only to refuse an offer if one is made.

They think it will be a black mark on their reputation. Don’t worry: it’s not. An employer will interview dozens (or potentially many more) candidates for a single role. That’s part of the process, and everyone knows it. The same is true for candidates: they interview for multiple roles and rarely take the first one offered. The sorting process is how the best matches are made, and that includes multiple rejections on both sides until the perfect match is found.
The only way you could mar your reputation is if you turned a potential employer down in an unprofessional way. Don’t ghost anyone; thank them for their time, politely decline the offer, and perhaps even recommend other professionals you think would be a good fit (always network, right?). Any company that would get mad at a polite, professional decline is a bullet dodged. Most will thank you and become a good contact. And even if they don’t, you’re no worse off.

Sometimes people think they’re too busy for all these interviews.

If you’re looking for a new role, going on interviews has to be a priority – so any excuse of being “too busy” is really you just saying you’re not taking the search for your next opportunity seriously. Very rarely can an interview not be scheduled with some flexibility, so even major events you can’t miss or a heavy workload at a current job are almost never excuses to skip an interview.

Sometimes people don’t like the idea of facing so much potential rejection.

But as we say in sales: “Every ‘no’ gets you closer to a ‘yes!’” You have to face a certain amount of failure and rejection in any endeavor like this. Think of the married people that you know. How many of them married the first person they ever liked? It happens once in a blue moon, but it’s certainly not what you should expect. If the potential for failure was a valid reason not to try something, no one would try anything. (For some more perspectives on facing failure, check out this article!)
Taken together, all of this should convince you that the interview process is a low-cost, high-reward activity. You have virtually nothing to lose except a little time (and with the proliferation of video interviews, you don’t even pay for gas!), and so much to gain: experience, networking, confidence and of course – potential job offers.
Good luck on your next interview!