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Ask an Ethicist: Can I practice interviewing during an actual interview?

Interviewing can be stressful and a common way to help become better at interviewing is practice. But what happens when someone uses actual interviews with companies they have no interest in to just practice? Is it ethical to take away these interview slots to just practice or are there better ways to handle this situation?
by Rob Peeler Nov 03, 2016

Question: I’m currently looking for my first job out of college and the interview process seems overwhelming due to the uncertainty of what occurs, what is asked, and how to best present accomplishments. I want to do well and figure practicing would be the best course of action to build my confidence. I was offered several interviews in the coming weeks from my top choice companies as well as from companies that I don’t really have an interest in working. Can I ethically schedule interviews with everyone and use the less-preferred company interviews as “practice” knowing you would not consider their offers?

Cassie RosasAn ethicist responds: It is true that students may be influenced to accept an interview when they have no interest in a position because they want to practice their interviewing skills, or they would like to increase their offers of employment.  Students may wonder, “What if no one else offers me an interview?” or “How can I practice for interviews in a real life situation without accepting every interview?”  Let’s think about this from both sides, the pros and the cons, for the student and employer.

Companies understand that students are applying to multiple positions and each company has a different timeline for interviews, application deadlines, and offers. Students would be wise to accept interviews to further explore their interest for a company.  However, if a student requests an interview and later determines that there is no interest in the organization, it would be ethical to decline the interview.  Companies will understand and appreciate the honesty. When an interview is accepted, the employer believes that the candidate has interest in the position and organization to learn more, and will use the interview to make a decision about whether or not to accept an offer, if one is made. 

An ethical dilemma arises when a student is offered an interview, but the student has no intention of learning more about the company or position.  That student could be taking an interview away from another student that really wants the position. When companies come to Penn State or any university to interview students, they are only able to meet with a limited number of students. Taking the interview with no interest could potentially be wasting the recruiter’s time and the student could be taking away a slot from another one who really wants to work at the company. However, if a student has enough interest to learn more about the opportunity, and could learn something that could increase interest in the position, it would be appropriate to accept the interview in order to determine if this is the case. Although, if a student has no interest in the interview, it would be unethical to take the interview as a practice opportunity as there are other resources available to students. The interview is not only for the company to learn more about you, but for the candidate to learn more about the position, the company, and future opportunities within the organization that you can’t find in the job description.  Students may address this ethical dilemma by asking themselves, “Is there anything I could learn during the interview that could lead me to become more interested in the organization or position such as learning more about the job responsibilities, location, or the work environment?”

Additionally, a student who feels that they need to accept an interview with little to no interest in order to build confidence and grow one’s professional network has other options.  They can practice by taking advantage of the services at Penn State Career Services. For example, students can utilize InterviewStream through Career Services’ website. InterviewStream has hundreds of pre-recorded interview questions. Students customize their own interviews by selecting the questions and recording their responses with a webcam to review. Students can also take advantage of the Mock Interview Program at Penn State Career Services.  The mock interview consists of a customized interview tailored towards the student’s career interest and feedback on one’s interview performance from the interviewer.

Overall, when encountering these situations, consider all sides of the situation.  Everyone handles situations differently because we all have different values and personalities.  If you are not sure what to do when these situations arise, stop by Career Services for some guidance and support.  Think through your level of interest in the opportunity you are interviewing for, and whether this interest could grow through the interview experience.  Ultimately, you will represent yourself and Penn State professionally by considering how strong your level of interest is in a position or company before you invest your time and the employer’s in the hiring process.

Cassie Rosas is a career counselor at Penn State Career Services. She has earned a master’s degree in Counselor Education and bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Human Development and Family Studies. Before becoming a career counselor, Cassie was a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the State of Pennsylvania for about five years.

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Note: The "Ask an Ethicist" column is a forum to promote ethical awareness and inquiry across the Penn State community. These articles represent the interests and judgments of each author as an individual scholar and are neither official positions of the Rock Ethics Institute nor Penn State University. They are designed to offer a possible approach to a subject and are not intended as definitive statements on what is or is not ethical in any given situation. Read the full disclaimer.