Our culture conditions us to see interviewers as gatekeepers who can judge our inherent human value. They can't do this. Inexperienced job seekers often feel nervous in the interview seat, as if they're under interrogation. It shouldn't be this way. Most interviewers are simply looking for a partner who can help the company make money. As an applicant, you're looking for a partner who can pay you a fair wage for your time and help you move your career forward. Together, you're a pair of equals and reasonable adults who address each other with civility, honesty, and respect. You're more equal than you realize.
So, is there ever an appropriate time to walk out of an interview? Of course. Feel free to show yourself out politely the moment you realize that this isn't the job for you. Any of these scenarios may warrant a handshake and a respectful goodbye.
A salary dealbreaker
Most interview sessions don't involve in-depth discussions of salary, but in some cases, the subject comes up early in the process. If your interviewer states a wage that falls below what was promised in the job posting, it's okay to leave before the interview ends. There's no need to fake interest for another 30 minutes if you know you can't take the job. You applied to that position under the condition that the salary fell within a certain range, and this promise was not delivered. You are in the right. State your concern. If it's not instantly resolved, thank your interviewer for their time and leave. Make it clear that your reasons are strictly financial, not personal.
Issues regarding workplace safety or conditions
If you need some accommodation or safety assurance that your employer can't provide, it's okay to leave. . Give your employer ample opportunity to change your mind, but if they can't, don't waste your time and theirs. Say something like, "Unfortunately, I won't be able to work at an office without a ramp. Because of this, I should leave now and save the afternoon for us both. Thank you for your time, it was nice to learn more about this company."
Extreme cultural differences
Listen to your interviewer describe the company. If you feel turned off by everything described, it's okay to leave. Once you realize there's no chance you'd ever take a job here, smile and say something like "I don't think we're a cultural/artistic/ideological/political match. Thank you for your time. I'll see myself out." Your interviewers will understand.
This isn't really an interview
If you suspect that the position isn't actually available, is not what the job post suggested, or it doesn't actually exist, confirm your suspicions and leave. Some companies hold interviews just to harvest free ideas, spy on their competitors, or test the candidate market. You don't need to spend your valuable time serving as an unpaid pawn. Even if this is the case, it's important to be polite as you leave.
A miserable interviewer
If your interviewer is an intolerable jerk, recognize that the company hires (and apparently promotes) people who behave this way. And recognize that this person will probably be your boss if you work here. If the prospect isn't appealing, don't expect things to change once you sign on. Nip a few years of misery in the bud and turn your attention to other opportunities. Red flag behavior can include demeaning questions, unexplained lateness, negative assumptions about you or your background, aggressive behavior (shouting or cursing), comments about your family or marital status, or cross examination (acting as if you're lying when you answer questions). These are all excellent reasons to stand up and politely show yourself out. You have nothing to gain by staying in your chair for the rest of the session.
Focus your search efforts on a company that earns your respect and deserves your hard work and dedication. If you just can't connect with your interviewer, show yourself out and get your search back on track as quickly as possible. For more help, turn to the resources at MyPerfectResume.