By Joyce Lain Kennedy


A "fixed interview" is when an employer, be it a private company or government entity, has already decided who it is hiring for a real job, but places a job ad anyway and brings people into interview for it. This practice sounds unethical to the job seeker who later figures out the so-called interview was a sham. How can a job seeker protect against such a waste of time? -- J.B.

Great question. I've always heard the term "wired interview" to describe a no-chance interview because the hiring decision had already been made. You describe such interviews as "fixed." I recently queried a dozen career coaches about the terminology, and apparently there's no universal term for such misrepresented events.

How do job seekers feel about being on the losing end of this deceptive Kabuki dance? Here are several cleaned-up comments I gathered in an online review.

Bad news.

Most of the disappointed job seekers are unhappy about wasting time and money in interviews that aren't really interviews.

-- "I've been in those after-the-decision interviews -- the last time the interviewer booked me just to fill the agency's quota. It was a waste of my time and, hey, I am already suffering from an extreme reduction in income and really could use the gas money for something else!"

-- "After an hour-long interview with an 'interim' sales manager, who had just been promoted from the sales rep workforce, I found out he already had the job for which he was interviewing me! The interview was only for show. Did they legally have to interview external as well as internal candidates, or what?"

-- "A major corporation I worked for routinely did fake interviews with employees. I would often check with friends about open jobs, only to be told Joe Blow already had it and the posting was a formality. Often a department head would write a job ad that would make it easier to hire his chosen candidate."

Saving graces.

Others who engaged in the Kabuki drill without knowing the real story found something to feel better about.

-- "I went through this last month when I interviewed for a state job. While waiting to be called for the interview, I overheard a conversation about a couple of applicants who worked in another department applying for the same position I sought. After the rejection letter arrived, I realized I was there as part of the motions they had to go through to make the hiring 'legit.' I was very disappointed, but I chalked it up to just another practice job interview."

-- "I was an interview stand-in, too. I'm actually thankful because it put me in front of the hiring manager in case another position opens in the future."

Why it happens.

There are no legal requirements that external candidates must be interviewed, but some large companies have that policy in place. As another critic of useless interviews opined: "External interviewing is one of those HR policies that look good on paper -- making sure there's no nepotism, getting a feel for the market salary, keeping people from building their own little fiefdoms. But, in the end, these useless interviews waste everyone's time."

Even when there are no internal candidates with a prior claim on a job, the fix can be in: Good old 25-year employee Joe has a son who gets the nod for a job. Or a bargain is struck: You hire my daughter and I'll hire your daughter. All sorts of back-scratching goes on in filling jobs.

Being used.

I know of no certain method to identify and turn down interviews that are, in the end, all for show. After a Kabuki dance and you're rejected, try to reach the interviewer and salvage what you can: "Thanks so much for considering me for the position, and if another opening occurs for a top performer with my qualifications -- (list them) -- I hope you'll contact me."

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