A reader writes:
When a recruiter/manager of a job I’ve applied to calls me back, I almost always let it go to voice mail — mostly because I work in an open space and can’t drop what I’m doing right away and take the call in front of my boss. They leave a message asking if I have some time to talk about the job. In past experience, “some time” can mean anywhere from a few minutes to a 20-minute phone interview. I can step away from my desk for a few minutes to discuss some details, no problem — but when it’s closer to the the 20-minute mark in the middle of a work day, that’s something I really need to schedule into my day, plus prepare for a bit.
Is it okay to ask at the beginning of the call how long this is going to take and what is going to be discussed? Is it unreasonable to ask to reschedule the phone call for a different time?
It’s absolutely reasonable to say something like, “I’d love to talk. I’m at work right now and only have a couple of minutes — will that be enough time or should we schedule a time for later?”
However, be aware of the following drawbacks to this plan:
1. Some people will tell you that it will only take a couple of minutes but end up taking much more. I think these are the same people who tell you that they’ll be at dinner/the movie/wherever in “just a few minutes” when in fact they haven’t left their house yet.
2. Some people will reschedule for later, but then never call you back. This is actually a widespread phenomena with these calls, where employers say they’ll get back to someone but meanwhile find other strong candidates, move forward with them, and never get back to the earlier person.
How should you as a candidate respond to this? Ideally, you’d decide that you’re going to handle these conversations the same way you would in other part of your professional life, which means that if you don’t have time to talk, you’d explain that and ask to reschedule for later, and if the employer is rude/disorganized enough not to reconnect with you later, then they’re not a desirable employer anyway. But while that’s easy to say, it’s harder to do, especially if don’t have the luxury of lots of options.
So, like many things with job-searching, this ultimately comes down to how well-positioned you are to not care if you end up screening out a rude or disorganized employer. If you don’t feel like you have a lot of options, you might calculate that it’s not worth the risk of screening them out, because you need a job. On the other hand, if you do have options, you might be quite glad to screen them out.