how flexible should you be when scheduling an interview?

A reader writes:

This has been nagging me for a while now and I just wanted an expert opinion on the situation or how I could have handled it better. So, I applied for a summer internship at a very small up-and-coming magazine and got called back for an interview. At the interview, I was told I was being seriously considered and to look out for a follow-up. Well, I did and got nothing for over a month.

So I emailed, inquiring about how the selection process was coming along. The person in charge apologized for not getting back, said they were very busy, and said on Saturday to come in on the following Tuesday. I agreed. She said she would get back to me soon to give me directions, as it was a new location. Well, she didn’t give me the directions until THURSDAY and asked me to come in on that Friday. I told her I unfortunately had plans that day (I did, I had a dentist appointment) and asked to reschedule. She never replied.

This person is kind of a” who’s who” in the industry I want to work in. Should I have pushed harder? Was I too inflexible? Was I wrong for not cancelling my plans and going to the office on that Friday? I just felt like I was being stringed along and not really wanted.

Hell, no, you weren’t wrong. It’s not unreasonable to be unavailable on a day’s notice, and it’s not unreasonable to expect a reply when you ask about other open time slots. And it’s certainly not unreasonable not to cancel an prior appointment, especially when your interviewer had already shown she was willing to renege on scheduled meetings (without even bothering to tell you).

However, what’s reasonable doesn’t always mesh well with how employers operate during hiring.

There are an awful lot of employers that operate the way this one did — alluding to dates that they’ll get in touch with you by and then not doing it, setting tentative interview times and then not following up with until long afterwards (while you’re meanwhile holding that time open and wondering what’s going on), stalling for weeks and then asking you to come in the next day, never responding to your replies to their scheduling emails, and so forth.

It’s rude — and incredibly so when you’re holding time on your calendar for them, and possibly even arranging to take off work.

But despite how rude it is, a lot of employers operate like this. Including even some that you might like to work for. And that means that you need to make your decisions with that in mind.

If you have options and you’re willing to risk that this is a rude/disorganized employer who won’t bother getting back to you when you ask for an alternate interview time, then I strongly urge you to continue to operate like a normal, reasonable person — saying “no, I have a conflict at that time, but could you do it Tuesday instead?” and assuming you will receive a reply back. (And figuring that if you don’t, you’ll be glad to have screened out a rude, disorganized employer.)

But if you don’t have options and aren’t willing to take that risk, well … the less flexible you are, the higher your risk of ending up in a situation like this one. Should you have to cancel a dentist appointment for an interview on a day’s notice? Absolutely not. But might you choose to anyway, knowing that some employers behave like this? You’ve got to make that call yourself, based on your own situation.

In job searching, how much you should put up with and how much you should bend to accommodate an employer comes down to how many options you have. So I’d start by being realistic about that, and then deciding what you are and aren’t willing to do from there.

{ 49 comments… read them below }

  1. AG*

    Alison I love your pragmatic answers to questions like this.

    And I hate how interviewers expect candidates to drop everything. Just because we’re unemployed doesn’t mean we have nothing on our calendars! They also forget how much time it takes to prepare for an interview, both the research and rehearsing and the actual getting ready and getting there. Especially if you’re a woman and you are expected to have your hair and makeup perfect, which for me takes forever combined with ironing a suit and trying not to rip my stockings!

  2. Keri*

    As someone who is unemployed, I feel like this happens all the time! I have twice cancelled doctor’s appointments to go on a job interview with less than 24 hours notice. Never again. I feel that after the initial pre-screen, I still need some time to let it all sink in and to do additional prep work for an on-site interview. After the pre-screen, I have a clearer picture of the corp culture and expectations, and want to align my thoughts closer to what I learned from a pre-screen. That, and yes – i do have an interview ritual which entails a good night of sleep, breakfast, and making my extremely thick hair look professional. HELLO PEOPLE!

    1. Sascha*

      As someone with extremely thick hair, too, I empathize. That stuff takes a LONG time to make nice! :)

  3. OP*

    This is the OP here.

    Thanks so much for your analysis! Really helped me put things in perspective. I was honestly put off by the lack of consideration I was being shown. To make matters worse she tweeted a picture of another girl with the caption, “Our a brand new intern”. That was mere hours after she emailed me: “Sorry for not getting back sooner, I’m just so busy”. Apparently she wasn’t too busy to contact other people?

    I don’t know, that made me feel super awkward about the whole thing. On top of the delayed responses and whatnot. If she didn’t want me, she could have just politely said so and saved me the back and forth. Anyway, thankfully I do have options. And now I know that if we do cross paths again, I handled the situation to the best of my ability in a professional manner. Thanks again!

    1. Dan*

      These people seem to think that blowing you off is a clear indication of their intentions, and you should figure it out.

      What they don’t realize is that when you’re unemployed, you aren’t letting solid leads slip by without a “fight.”

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Sounds like your situation was one where the other candidate came in after you & they were keeping you on the line while working out the details with her.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be fair, it’s possible that someone else was handling the hiring of that intern (unless that’s the same position you were applying for), or that it had been finished up much earlier (since internships are often scheduled far in advance).

      I wouldn’t conclude that she “didn’t want” you. She did try to schedule an interview — she just moved on once you weren’t able to meet at the precise time she wanted, probably because she had other candidates she was talking to and was satisfied with, and because she was too rude to fill you in. It’s not unreasonable to say, “I’m sorry, but this is the only slot we can offer, but I understand if it doesn’t work with your schedule.” But it IS rude not to say anything at all and just never get back to you.

      1. OP*

        Well the intern I saw in the picture was one of the girls I met there on the day of the interview and it was her first time too, so I don’t think it was a matter of her just finishing up earlier.

        But yes, you’re right. She probably just moved on when I couldn’t fit into the time slot she wanted since she was already satisfied with the other girl. And yeah I would have appreciated ANY response rather than just silence.

  4. Chocolate Teapot*

    Urgh. I would be cheesed off in that position as well.

    I have, on 2 occasions, gone for interviews and received an indication that they would like a second, follow-up interview with me. So when would I be available?

    At the time I had some holidays booked, meaning I would be travelling, not just off work and at home. I explained this in both cases, watched the interviewers write it down in their notes, was informed that it wouldn’t be a problem, and Lo and Behold, “Are you able to come in on Wednesday at 11.00?”

    Erm no. And then in one case, I got a load of hurumphing noises about how they had managed to reschedule for me. That interview was one where the HR Manager liked to make people feel uncomfortable. She didn’t hold the interview in a conference room as has been the case with most other interviews I have attended but in her office and there was nowhere to rest my interview file to easily make notes.

    And the other, I was given an interview time, then told that there would be no interview as they had found somebody with better experience (faffing around to ensure they had the new candidate on board perhaps?). I comfort myself with the fact it was probably not a good job anyway.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For whatever it’s worth, I’ve always conducted interviews in my office rather than a conference room and never considered that a candidate might be less comfortable there. So I wouldn’t assume that she wanted to make you uncomfortable just because of that!

      I’d also argue that it’s polite of them not to waste your time just going through the motions with an interview if they’d realized that they wanted to hire someone else. I think a lot of people would rather not go through the stress (and possible inconvenience) of an interview if it wasn’t a genuine one!

      1. K*

        I always do too; it’s never occurred to me that that might be a problem. I wonder if this is a common feeling.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I think it depends on the office. I still remember an interview from 12 yrs ago when the manager had one of those screensavers that built a design going on his computer, and how distracting it was to be able to see it out of the corner of my eye. My office with bare walls, plenty of space, and no window probably wouldn’t distract anyone.

    2. Jamie*

      I like those leather or faux leather portfolio things for holding a legal pad. They are great for taking notes when you don’t know if you’ll have a solid surface and need to be dressier than a clipboard.

      Most interviews I’ve been involved with have been in offices and not conference rooms – so I definitely wouldn’t read anything into that.

      1. Esra*

        I think everyone should have one of those portfolio deals for interviews, you can get ones that will hold note paper, pens, extra business cards and resumes, so you never got caught off guard.

        I’ve had a few interviews where extra interviewers come in and all want copies of my resume so now I show up with at least five in my leather binder.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      I’m used to conference room interviews as well, but I always figured that was because there were multiple interviewers.

    4. Claire*

      The only time I was ever interviewed in a conference room, it was for a temp position where my supervisor (and then me!) worked on a secured floor and the unsecured floor was where reception/conference rooms were. Other than that, it’s always been offices. Just another data point!

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I do have a kind of zip-up portfolio with space for a notepad, pens, those plastic pockets for business cards and sleeves for useful printouts (maps, email confirming the appointment time), but in the case of my office interview above, it was trying to sit elegantly, balance the file on my knee and be interviewed!

        The other thing I remember was that it was an early 70s concrete building and very stuffy, so whilst trying to sit elegantly, balance the file on my knee and be interviewed, I was hoping I wasn’t getting a headache as well.

        Perhaps the interviewing in conference rooms is just the normal habit where I work?

  5. Dan*

    I actually got into a bit of a tiff with my wife over this. She was having trouble finding *anything*. She did have two temp positions that were sort of “hire on the spot” types of deals, and they didn’t last long.

    Finally, a few months later, she gets this call on a Friday that we were heading out of town. No sweat, I thought. The call went to voicemail, and when she took it, it was a “hurry up and get in here ASAP we want to fill the position by the end of the week!” Um, you’re rushing candidates through and think you’re going to fill a position on one day’s notice? I told my wife to forget it, we have plans, they can work around them. She got really mad at me. The funny thing is, when she tried calling back, nobody would take or return her calls. “I told you so” didn’t go over too well with her ;)

    She now has a real job, that she actually had to apply for and pass a background check.

  6. Mike C.*

    It’s not just rude, it’s unprofessional. These employers aren’t professionals and shouldn’t be treated as such.

  7. Zee*

    Also, some doctors do not take kindly to last minute cancellations, and they will send a bill for it. That is what crossed my mind when the OP wrote that the next day she had a dentist appointment, and the interviewer wanted her to come in then.

    1. Sascha*

      I was just thinking that. I might be willing to cancel plans with a friend, but not a doctor’s appointment, because I would have to pay out of pocket for the cost of the visit if I canceled in less than 24 hours before the appointment.

  8. Anon*

    I don’t get this mad rush. Most companies move at a glacial speed when it comes to reviewing resumes, interviewing, selecting a candidate. The decision can be really hard sometimes! So I don’t understand rushing to get candidates in for interviews like this.

    If you call me on a Tuesday, I can do Thursday or Friday. But I’m going to push back on coming in for a next day interview. I might do it if it were a second interview – maybe someone came into town unexpectedly and the employer wanted me to meet them, etc. And the preparation for a second discussion (at least for me) isn’t as intensive as the first.

    I need time to prepare and get my mind right. I’m not going to apologize for that or compromise myself, setting myself up for failure.

    1. JM in England*

      Agreed Anon, it does seem that there is a double standard re Employers vs Candidates paces.

      When invited for interviews, I make it clear that a minimum of 48 hours notice is required for me to both research/prepare & get my interview outfit ready. If the venue rquires travel and an overnight stay, I require longer to make travel arrangements etc.

      So where exactly do employers get the impression that unemployed candidates have so much time on their hands?

    2. fishy*

      I’ve found a difference between HR and hiring manager pace. HR (at big companies, anyway) seems to make unrealistic promises about how fast the process will actually occur.

      When I was in my final semester of grad school I did a pre-screen with HR and, on the phone, the interviewer said they were looking for someone who could start within the next month (March). I was a bit hesitant, but thought that I could somehow make it work if I was offered the position, so I told them that I wanted to continue in the interview process. There were two in-person interviews over the next couple of months and by the time I graduated (May) they had a hiring freeze on the position. They re-opened the position around the time I accepted another offer (July). It was a glacial process!

  9. tangoecho5*

    And some of us have deadline driven jobs. In accounting, we close our month by certain times and dates. There’s no getting around it. Every payment must be reconciled or put in a holding account. So if you call me one afternoon wanting me to come in early the next morning for an interview during one of these crush periods, I’m going to have to tell you no. I am not comfortable with screwing over my co-workers who have to do my closing work for me if I’m not there. And a possible employer should be happy that I want proper notice so to arrange personal time or vacation off so I don’t take advantage of my CURRENT employer. If I’m fair and considerate of my current employer and co-workers then it shows I probably will be the same to any new employer who chooses to hire me.

  10. Lanya*

    What’s worse than an interviewer who is flaky about scheduling an interview, is an interviewer who cancels on you three hours before your interview, after you have already taken the day off from work, spent the whole night before preparing with practice questions, and were already getting ready for the one-hour ride to their workplace. I might have been more forgiving about this, if it was not the third time they needed to reschedule my second interview with their company around their very busy CEO’s schedule (she had a last-minute “golf event” that afternoon and could not meet with me). I took my name out of the running for that job and didn’t look back. It was the right decision.

    1. Anon*

      I’m surprised they told you it was a golf event. That was silly on their part – it might make people think she was out having a grand old time, when that may not have been the case. Sheesh.

      1. Lanya*

        I agree. Although, I think that was actually the hiring manager’s veiled attempt at emphasizing that the CEO was the person who kept wanting to reschedule my second interview around other meetings/events…not the hiring manager herself. She sounded embarrassed but also not totally surprised about the CEO’s sudden change of schedule. That interaction was extremely helpful to me. It gave me great insight as to the CEO’s respect of other people’s time – or the lack thereof – and since I would have been working closely with the CEO in that position, I saw the red flag and I chose to walk away.

        So, for the OP’s benefit, sometimes you can learn a lot about a company by the way they schedule or reschedule your interview!

        1. Anon*

          I think in your case it was good looking out – the flaky CEO and the hiring manager that didn’t mind hanging someone else out to dry. Lots of signs something isn’t right.

  11. Joey*

    I think most hiring managers have done this at least once- called a candidate and asked them to interview on short notice. We hate it as much as you do because we don’t want to miss out on a great person. Really, we understand if you’re not available, but at the same time its a little unreasonable to get pissed if we can’t reschedule to a time that’s more convenient for you. Sometimes for tons of reasonable reasons short notice is the only option. Now, I’m not defending the repeat offenders because that probably is indicative of further disorganization. All I’m saying is that when it occasionally happens reasonable employers won’t think less of you, they wish they could give more notice.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree. I think a reasonable employer knows when they’re doing this and acknowledges it (“I know this is short notice, but…”), and even if they can’t meet your request for an alternate time, they respond to you to explain that (unlike the employer in the post). If those conditions are met, it’s unreasonable for a candidate to be pissed.

    2. Nancie*

      I don’t get the impression that the OP was pissed that the interview couldn’t be rescheduled, or even that it was short notice.

      I think she was annoyed that the previously scheduled Tuesday interview vanished into the ether with the lack of directions to the workplace, and the complete lack of a response to her request to reschedule.

      As it stands, nobody knows if the interview couldn’t be rescheduled, or if the interviewer was simply too disorganized to do so!

      1. Jamie*

        That’s how I read it. And if someone were currently employed and took that Tuesday (some of us need to put in for PTO in advance) and then it just passed without a word they’d have burned a day for nothing. That’s really beyond inconsiderate.

  12. K*

    A side issue: if you haven’t received promised directions for a scheduled interview, surely the proper thing to do is to call and ask for them (or at least e-mail), right? OP, I can’t tell from the letter whether you just let the date pass without saying anything. If so, that seems like something that might legitimately annoy employers. Failing to provide the directions could be disorganization (and apparently was here) but also could just be an e-mail gone astray or a misunderstanding.

    1. OP*

      Yeah, in hindsight I thought about how things would have turned out if I had called when I saw that I wasn’t getting the directions on time. That’s what I meant by “pushing harder”. In the future, to err on the side of caution and be proactive, I think I’ll do that.

  13. C*

    This question really comes at the perfect time for me. I interviewed last week for a company I really liked, and they emailed me this past Friday morning saying they want to bring me in Monday or Tuesday for a second interview. My uncle is currently in the ICU and is very ill, and I had already committed to helping my aunt with meals/around the house for Monday-Wednesday of this week. I told them I was very interested, but briefly explained the situation and asked if later in the week would work. I haven’t heard anything from them. While I know that it has only been two and a half business days, the HR rep had been responding to me within hours in our previous conversations. I would love to work for this company, but I worry that my scheduling constraints has annoyed them. OP, I can relate!

  14. Anonymous*

    One of the reasons why I quit being an actor (among many) was the increasingly short window given for auditions. Rule of thumb used to be if you didn’t hear the night before by 8 pm you were free the next day. Then it was the morning of. Then it was ‘can they get over here in the next 2 hours’? Online submissions probably facilitated the speeding up of this process, and this is mostly describing commercial auditions versus features or pilots, which take much longer. But still – no, I cannot drive to West Los Angeles on 2 hours notice without any time to prepare and look camera-ready. I’m not suspended in amber waiting for a call to spring me into action. As the rest of the ‘real world’ has become more like the entertainment world – hundreds of applicants for every job, no matter how inconsequential, I think some other industries have adopted these methods. Also, media/PR/fashion and other flashy industries that are related to show business have this mentality as well. Too many people want a foot in the door in these ‘glamour’ industries so it allows them to be cavalier with job seekers’ time.

    1. Jamie*

      Even with the unglamorous world of corporate temping there was the expectation of short notice.

      When I first started temping I would get up each morning and get ready as if I was going to work, with the exception of business dress. So if I invariably got a call and could I be somewhere in an hour all I had to do was change and jump in the car.

      On the positive side, the last minute jobs almost always paid a lot more money because they are paying for your inconvenience. Because I was able to get there in under an hour I made $22 an hour once just sitting at the reception desk of a retirement complex. At the time I couldn’t believe my luck – that seemed like crazy money. But when they have a tight deadline they are calling down a list and if you can’t jump they move to the next name.

      I know that’s different than last minute for an audition or interview since it’s guaranteed money, but my point being in some lines of work being ready to head out the door with no notice is par for the course.

      1. Anonymous*

        I used to be a same day temp as well and would work on short hours’ notice. But when you sign up for temp work that is the expectation. In some fields the expectation has changed considerably from what used to be the norm, and then it’s up to you to figure out whether the field is the right fit or not.

  15. Anonymous*

    OP, I had a similar situation when I interviewed for internships in college. I got in touch with a record label I wanted to work for (I majored in communications with a specialization in media studies) and it was a nightmare. Getting in touch with the intern coordinator was a hassle–emails were never returned, calls were returned a week after I called her, etc. Apparently she was incredibly busy and even after giving her my schedule (twice, actually) I was rejected because I wasn’t able to work Wednesdays until 6 pm. I had a class at 6:30 and there was no way I was able to make it to class by then.

    I ended up getting a much better internship at another label that had me start a week after I interviewed with them and it was a blast. :)

  16. Decimus*

    I had an experience like this recently. I applied for a job I thought would be really good – it was one of those rare jobs where I genuinely fit everything they wanted. So I wait. Then just after 9am on a Friday I received an email saying “we want to set up phone interviews for Monday and Tuesday. Please let us know which of these times you are NOT available” – and the times were in 1-hour increments from 9am-11am, 2pm-4pm. I was just not available Tuesday at all (I had made prior arrangements to travel) and emailed back (approximately at 12:30pm on that Friday) to say I wasn’t available Tuesday. The email said to “reply all” – I did and got a “out of office, be back Monday” response from the “all” person.

    I got up early on Monday just in case they called at 9am, since I hadn’t heard anything over the weekend (nor did I expect to) and wanted to be awake, alert, etc. At 8:30am on that Monday I got an email (from the “out of office” person) thanking me for my interest, but they were still reviewing resumes and had decided not to conduct phone interviews at this time.

    I was annoyed but not surprised. I couldn’t figure out at all how they’d planned to get things organized. And this was at a Fortune 100 company!

  17. Mike K*

    Honestly, I’d love to be given 24 hours notice before an interview.

    If an employer actually gives me the time of day, I’ll often get a phone call by the employer wanting me to come in to interview THAT DAY.

    That’s right, the very same day. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get four hours of notice, but usually it’s two or three, at best.

    Despite coming in for those interviews (which means having to cancel previous appointments or put off visiting family), I have yet to actually get one.

    The worst was one manager who, after giving me a whopping two hours of notice, spoke to me for maybe five minutes and then told me he wasn’t interested in hiring anyone at that point.

    Unfortunately, the job market is so bad that we — job hunters — have to fight over scraps and hope we get something.

    I suppose the only benefit to this is if I’m ever an employer myself (which isn’t likely), I’ll make sure to give people more notice than they ever gave me.

  18. a ninny mouse*

    This has happened to me so many times!

    One time I got an email late in the evening for an interview the next day. I had already made plans in advance like a week in advance.

    This other time I had also made plans in advance. I asked to reschedule, but the guy on the phone was very snippy with me.

    Once I got rejected because I didn’t go to the interview because I legitimately went to a close relative’s funeral. The people at the store sounded annoyed.

    1. Brian*

      As an employer I have to say it is best the candidate cancels previous plans even though getting hired is not a guarantied. My experience is the employer is obiligated to meet the damand of the customers if he/she wants to stay in business. In turn that means the potential employee is obiligated to meet the demand of the employer if he/she wants to get a job and keep the job. Keep in mind first impression is everything.

  19. Fluff*

    So I was interviewing for a job in a different continent and time zone. For the first interview they emailed me in the morning to interview in the evening. It was stressful but I made it. A few weeks later I was asked to fly to another city for a psychometric assessment. That took a while to get properly scheduled, but I went and did it; it was hectic to say the least. Ten days later they called me in the morning (I was at work) asking me to interview again by phone with 3 new people late at 11 PM that night. I said I couldn’t, not that late (being that I had to get up early for my long commute to work the next morning) and with that short notice. I asked if we could talk later because it wasn’t the best time (I work in an open area, sitting right behind my boss). The HR person emailed me emphasizing how important it would be that I interviewed that night. I replied I perfectly would as long as they started the 1-hour call no later than 9 PM (to finish by 10 PM). She calls at 8:30 to say they will call to interview me at 11 PM (until about midnight). I tried to reason with her that it would be very difficult for me and offered to make myself available on another day or very early in the morning instead). Apparently some director is going on vacation for a month and they need to rush all additional interview steps within a week (including having me fly there) or it would all get delayed by a month. In the first interview they said they were in no rush. I decided then the job wasn’t for me.

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