what is a good excuse for missing a phone interview?

What’s a good excuse for missing a phone interview? I’m not talking about needing to reschedule it; I’m talking about not bothering to reschedule it and simply not picking up the phone when I call you at the prearranged time. In general, I feel like nothing is a good excuse for this, short of a car accident or other such disaster, unless you apologize profusely and seem horrified by the oversight.

Today I called a candidate for a pre-scheduled phone interview and she didn’t answer. I left a message, and she emailed me a half and a hour later, saying this:

I’m sorry I missed your call. The department chair came in with some news and work and I couldn’t get away from my desk to take your call for the interview. How late are you in the office? If 5 pm worked for you, that would be great. Otherwise we can try again for tomorrow or early next week.

Hmmm. On one hand, things come up at work, and work should be her first priority. On the other hand, smart candidates schedule interviews for times when they know they can be available (lunch, etc.)… and if something goes awry with their plan, they are mortified and apologetic. I’m not reading “mortified” in this email.

The only potentially mitigating factor in her favor is that she’s a recent grad and therefore inexperienced.


{ 28 comments… read them below }

  1. Dan McCarthy*

    AAM �

    Hmm, my first reaction was to drop the candidate. What a total lack of common sense and professionalism! Then I read your last line. We happen to hire a lot of recent college grads, and the practical reality is, many of them have not yet developed common sense and professionalism. We have to teach that to them, and most turn out to be great employees. Perhaps this is an opportunity to teach, and see how she responds to your lesson?

  2. Reva*

    I’ve had the opposite situation, where I’ve been asked to call someone for a phone interview and they didn’t pick up OR reschedule.

  3. almostgotit*

    I’m also afraid that to a new graduate, a department chair is fairly close to a god. (moreover, some department chairs assume they are, too.) Her plans may have gone awry.

    She did say she was sorry. (This is another problem with the toneless brevity of email. HOW sorry was she?!?)

    Finally, she’s new at this. Many of us take a while to figure out that the entire world isn’t QUITE waiting at the door for our grand arrival ;)

  4. Anonymous*

    Whatever the reason may be for it, she cost you time and hassle, and she is less than mortified. If you hire her you will have more of the same.

  5. Dustin*

    The tone of the email wouldn’t raise any red flags for me, and I’d rather receive the response she gave than, “OMG!!! I’m SO SORRY I missed your call!!! Tell me how I can make it up to you!!! Again, SO SORRY, TTYL!!!”

    I say giver her another shot. You can always address it in the phone interview itself.

    And yes, I have received similar emails.

  6. Rogue-Pyro*

    My instinct would be to give her the benefit of the doubt.

    I’m not seeing “mortified” in the email either, but I am seeing a plausible excuse, an apology and an attempt to make it up to you by re-scheduling around your time-table.

    I’d think it possible that the candidate HAD chosen a time when they were available, only for their department chair to leap in and steal that gap in the schedule. It’s not unheard of for Bosses to ask employees to work through their lunch break when something comes up.

    In this situation, I’d give the candidate another interview slot. At the very least, you can discover more about the hidden concerns you may have about the candidate (Is she disorganised etc.?), perhaps even addressing the issue directly.

  7. Anonymous*

    I’ve just had the same problem as Riva. I sent an e-mail solicitation to a company… the CEO responds ONE YEAR LATER via his secretary… saying he now wants to talk with me.

    I agree, we schedule time. He misses the call. He doesn’t have an explanation (and doesn’t send one). Two days later, I e-mail the secretary back to see what happened and offer to reschedule.

    She says he wants to… two weeks later – no further contact.

    (the sound of their name hitting my internal trashcan).

  8. Anonymous*

    I would give her another chance. At least she did contact you.

    I have scheduled phone interviews where they do not answer the phone and never call me back. If you decided the job is not a good fit, why would you not just answer the phone and tell me. Then if you apply for another job, I won’t put your resume immediatedly in the delete folder.

  9. Rebecca*

    Evidence in favor of another chance:
    – Stuff (like bosses barging into your office unexpectedly) happens.
    – She actually did apologize.

    Evidence against another chance:
    – She missed the call. People lose jobs for less. It is not your fault she doesn’t know this yet.
    – She e-mailed to apologize. I think that if she’d really been upset or concerned, she’d have called. Even if she shouldn’t have called, she should have offered all the times she could possibly be available and invited you to pick one. But she e-mailed, and the tone of it implies that her convenience is a greater concern to her than yours.

    Rebecca’s verdict:
    Bump her down to your B pool of applicants. I assume she’s a good candidate on paper, since you are interviewing her, but there’s not enough “giving a shit” here for me to want to spend significant effort on her. Consider all your other candidates first.

  10. HR Godess*

    My question is, why are you scheduling a phone interview while you’re working for another company and on their time? I think this alone speaks volumes about the candidate. Do you want this person looking for another job on your time if you hire them?

    The other thing that bothers me is, she didn’t have the time to call you personally to explain what happened? Both of these are red flags for me.

  11. ethical slut*

    I glanced at the jobs up at your work (I hope that’s ok since you’re “outed”) and I would say it depends on the job. The first three, inexcusable, if I were up for the job I would call to apologize and beg profusely for a time that worked for _you_. Interns and temps, eh. Its an acceptable letter.

  12. Anonymous*

    I am always discouraged when someone misses a phone interview, and then gives their current job as the reason…but given her lack of experience, it might just be that she is green behind the ears. This has happened to me once or twice, and what I’ve done is give candidates my number and tell them to call me at X time. One minute late = fail. I had this happen about a month ago and the candidate called me five minutes late. I answered the phone and thanked her for calling, but explained that given her initial behavior, coupled with her current tardiness, we were not interested in moving forward, but wished her the best of luck. I wasn’t snarky or dismissive, just clear and to the point. She started apologizing profusely, and I thanked her again, but explained that we were not moving forward. She got the message.

  13. almostgotit*

    I *like* that last solution best!

    I was thinking today about my own inability to beg a police officer for a warning for a very minor traffic infraction, and so I got a ticket for a fairly major one instead (I have since been able prove, however, that I was innocent) The irony is that if I had EVER been pulled over before, I’d have known better how to “sound” sincere (yes, that part of this job applicant’s situation is still bothering me). I also am thinking of that movie with Meryl Streep based on the true story of the woman whose child was dragged off and killed by wild dingos. The mother was very nearly convicted (falsely) not from any factual evidence but only because she failed to act distressed enough.

    As a former supervisor (and current parent) I absolutely agree one must be tough. I’m usually tougher than most, in fact. But I also believe in being fair, and so I think striking a balance like the last one proposed sounds good. If the candidate MEANT her apology, she’ll have learned better already. If not, you’ll find out quickly enough, and won’t risk losing a wonderful candidate in the process.

  14. almostgotit*

    …I was also late myself to an interview, once (an in-person one.)

    I worried then, too, how much of a “big deal” to make over my apology, and settled for what I hoped was both sincere and professional without drifting into something that would embarrass THEM, or make ME look like a wilting drip. We still had an interview to do, after all! Did I get it exactly right? I’ll never know. But it’s a pretty hard call.

  15. Ask a Manager*

    Dan: Yeah, that’s exactly my thinking. She’s young enough that I might be willing to cut her some slack.

    Reva: I sympathize — totally unprofessional!

    almostgotit: Yeah, I think she may just not be clear on the protocol yet.

    HR Wench: Concise. I like it.

    Anonymous: And this is where my sympathy breaks down. I want to see some mortification. I will always cut people more slack if they seem mortified. Mortified says “this is not typical behavior for me.”

    Dustin: The day a candidate TTYL’s me is the day I outsource all hiring.

    Rogue-Pyro: I think that’s right — give her another shot, but probe into the red flags this may raise.

    Anonymous 2: I cannot understand what employers are thinking when they do BS like that.

    Anonymous 3: Exactly! There’s no shame in deciding the job isn’t for you. Just say it.

    Rebecca: Yeah, the email and its tone are both strikes. B pool is right.

    HR Godess: Interesting point. I’m okay with her scheduling a phone interview during the day, as long as she’s doing it on her “own” time — lunch or whatever.

    E.S.: Yeah, I tolerate a lot more from intern applicants. They are babes in the woods who we know going into it we’re going to need to train heavily in this kind of thing.

    Anonymous 4: Brilliant! I may actually start doing this.

  16. City HR*

    This happened to me on Wednesday. She didn’t call until Thursday with an excuse that should have come at the time of the interview. She is off our list.

  17. Delaware Employment Law*

    I’m with HRWench: FAIL.

    We all understand that recent grads without professional experience are destined for at least a few faux pas. I think we’re also cognizant of the general avoidance feelings that Gen Y has to the telephone.

    But to send an E-MAIL after a missed phone interview? To me, that’s not youth or inexperience–it’s just bad judgment or, maybe worse, bad manners!

    There is always a great deal of training to do when new employees start with your organization and that is especially so when the employee needs training on “how to be a professional.” It doesn’t come naturally and we can’t expect them to know it automatically.

    But we can expect employees of any age or background to be considerate . . . not to mention a little more enthusiastic about the possibility of working for your company!

    I’d definitely say not to bother rescheduling.

  18. Sandy*

    I went through something similar recently for an internship interview. It was a situation where I tried to think of and cover all possibilities. Didn’t happen.

    I moved back in with my elderly parents (including a father who had a stroke). He sometimes gets anxious when my mother leaves, so he kept the wireless phone next to him.

    Come phone interview time, I don’t get the call. The first 5 minutes, I thought a previous interview had run over time. Then, after 20, I realized something was wrong. My father had accidently had the phone line occupied, as he gets confused sometimes about off and on.

    I had just purchased a cell phone the day before for interviews (before the interview was arranged), so I called back and left a voice message explaining what happened.

    At the best, when we connected, I was pretty flustered.

    What a shame, but my father can’t help it. He was a superb worker in his day, so I tried to not let on that he had done this. Such is life.

    I found out later that the employer wasn’t as strong, and I may have been better off.

  19. Anonymous*

    Anonymous Said “This has happened to me once or twice, and what I’ve done is give candidates my number and tell them to call me at X time. One minute late = fail.”

    This seems a bit ridiculous. You will not even give someone the benefit of 1 minute, possibly caused by a difference in the clocks you use?

    What happens if someone calls one minute early? Are they penalized then too? How about 3 minutes, or 5 minutes early?


  20. Anonymous*

    Departments chairs in general are the most unreasonable people you can work for/with.

    If I were faced with the option of ticking off my current employer or a potential employer, sorry but the potential employer has to take a back seat. I’d be much better off looking for a new job employed and with an employer who’s happy with my work than to blow them off and hope to land something in the meantime.

    If a potential employer couldn’t work around something that basic I’d probably keep looking regardless.

    Besides, it’s a professional apology, and I’ve always found email is nice in that it allows you to respond on your own time, rather than interrupting what it likely an interviewer’s packed schedule. To me the email reply is a courtesy.

  21. Anonymous*

    AK –

    I would hope that the candidate learned their lesson and appreciated my giving them a second chance, where many would not. Had it been me, I would call a couple minutes minutes early. Why? To show I’m on top of things. You’re forgetting that these people have already missed an initial interview. They now have taken two steps back, and need to show their responsibility. If you’ll read through the other comments, you’ll see most people wouldn’t even give them a second chance. Also something of note: those who missed the first phone interview tend to also miss/be late for the second one.

  22. Anonymous*


    Then I apologize, because I misunderstood your first post. I thought you meant that you give job seekers a time and a number to call for the first interview instead of calling them yourself. In your scenario, you are being quite generous.

  23. Ask a Manager*

    Okay, here’s an update, and an unexpected one. I rescheduled the phone interview, and spoke with her this week. And … well, so far she’s fantastic. She’s right at the top of my list now. I’m glad I didn’t write her off!

    So either this raises questions about extrapolating so much from one incident (which you can’t help but do in interviewing, because you have such limited exposure), or I’m going to discover as the process goes on that she’s not right after all. We’ll see…

  24. Linda Sherwood*

    Phone interviews are tough because things do come up that you don’t expect. I’ve tried to arrange for them at my home and at work, and I’ve had bad experiences at both places.

    Once, when I scheduled it at home, a half hour before the interview call was scheduled, my mother-in-law called to tell me grandfather had died.

    Somehow, I managed to go through with the interview, but it wasn’t easy. When the interview was over, I did two things: I e-mailed the chair to let her know what I had found out just before the interview AND I ordered pizza; I started crying while ordering pizza.

    At work, students or other responsibilities have distracted me just before the interview.

    I’ve never tried to do a phone interview using my cell phone; I’m too worried about connection issues.

  25. Anonymous*

    I would say for you to spend so much time dwelling on this shows that you are an idiot. People like you make the workaday life hell.

  26. Nora*

    Would, say, the fact that you are in a foreign country with limited communications access be a reasonable excuse? I missed an interview for what was later my very first internship because the interviewer for some reason couldn't reach my cell phone abroad. I'm sure it helped that it was an international organization, but I often wonder if it hampered my chances. (I was very apologetic!)

  27. Joe*

    Do HR people think they are gods? The fact that they dish out jobs for a living doesn’t make them any better than job seekers, nor should those job seekers feel that they are. Life happens sometimes and I put forward that “the company” needs those potential employees more than they need snotty HR personnel.

Comments are closed.