employer scheduled an interview with me — but just assigned me a date and time without asking about my schedule

A reader writes:

I had applied for a job with a state government about 2-3 months ago online and hadn’t heard any response back from them since then. In fact, I had forgotten that I had applied. However, I heard back this morning with an email stating that an interview has been scheduled for next week and providing me with a time, location, and direction. I’m a little shocked. I do want this job since it pays well, is secure, and is in line with my career objectives; however, I can’t make the time because I will be at an out-of state conference all next week and have pre-arranged time off for vacation the week following.

Have you ever heard of an interviewer setting up a time with no prior feedback/input from an applicant?

How should I respond, considering I cannot make the time? I’m thinking of proposing a broad range of dates and times the week following my return from vacation, but should I do more?

This is ridiculous, but it’s also totally in keeping with many government hiring practices, which are rigid and very, very robotic, as if there aren’t actual people involved. (For example, also common in government hiring are interviewers who have a list of questions they must ask all candidates and aren’t permitted to deviate from it, even for follow-up questions about your answers.)

In any case, ideally you’d write back with something like, “Thanks so much for the interview invitation. I’m very excited to meet with you, but I’m not available during the time you proposed. However, I’m available to meet (fill in options here).”

However, your case is a little trickier because it’s not just a matter of their proposed time not working; you’re not able to meet for that whole two-week period. And that could legitimately be prohibitive on their end. Many employers have some constraints on when they need to complete their interviews by, and asking them to push it back may or may not be doable. (In theory, they should be willing to be flexible to hire the right candidate, but in practice that doesn’t always happen. It’s also true that unless you’re a particularly senior or particularly desirable candidate, they might be perfectly confident that they’ll hire someone great whether you’re in their interview pool or not.)

So you might think about whether you want the job enough to change your travel plans. If not, though, then you could say something like, “Thanks so much for the interview invitation. I’m very excited to meet with you, but I’ll be out of town during the next two weeks. However, I’m available to meet any time convenient for you on the week of ___.” But if you do that, be prepared for to hear “we’re only conducting interviews during this particular week.”

{ 128 comments… read them below }

  1. Christy*

    I applied for a government job, and the same thing happened to me. I was also kind of put off by it. However, the email I received did give instructions about how to arrange a different date if I couldn’t make the assigned time. I went to the interview, and like AAM says, they had a list of questions they asked everyone.

  2. Gene*

    I’ve worked in government since high school (US Navy, city, city, county, and city), and this is fairly normal for state jobs. Every time I’ve interviewed for a state position (3 different states), it’s come with an assigned interview time.

    And the Civil Service Rules mandate that everyone gets the same questions in the initial interview. The followup interviews are where you see what happens in initial ones in private employment.

    1. kristoff*

      I work in state government too. It’s ussually not a choice of the people hiring. In my office we are told by HR “You will be conducting all interviews for this posistion on this day.” We don’t have any more say in that than the applicant does.

      1. doreen*

        The last time I interviewed people,I got handed a list and told ” These are the 38 people you’re interviewing next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday” . In my experience, government agencies will reschedule interviews within certain parameters – if interviews are Mon- Wed you can probably reschedule within those dates or maybe Thursday. Rescheduling for two weeks later is only likely to happen with mass interviewing- if 1500 people are being hired as police officers those interviews are going to take longer than 2 weeks.

  3. CanadianWriter*

    I had the same experience when I applied for a government job. I think its rude to not offer at least one alternate day. I couldn’t go to my interview, which was sad.

  4. Chuchundra*

    Back when I worked for NY State, I took a civil service exam for “Junior Programmer” or some such thing. For years afterward I’d get letters from random state agencies with interview appointments and such.

    I got one once from the Department of Corrections. I was living at home with my Mom at the time and it freaked her out. I got home from work that day and she handed me the letter and said, “I saw that this letter was from the Department of Corrections, so I opened it.”

    1. Bryan*

      Is it considered irony to open a letter from Department of Corrections since that’s illegal?

      1. Jamie*

        Ha – but they’d have to turn in their own mom and…I’d rather have faced the department of corrections myself than do that. :)

    2. Bureaucracy*

      I’ve heard the hiring for NYC is completely weird. All the city departments interview random candidates and then the departments swap with each other to get candidates hired at the department they really fit in. I know someone who works for the buildings department but had to interview with the fire department originally even though there was no way he could work for the fire department. I’ll never understand bureaucracy!

  5. Alex*

    Let me add my 2 cents here. I work for the government in Canada and one of my job is to schedule interviews. We will typically have 7 or 8 candidates that will need to be evaluated objectively over 3 different methods.

    So a typical interview might have a written assignment on site for an hour or an hour and a half and then a panel interview of 3 managers (minimum being 2 but if one has to bow out the interview needs to be cancelled ). The interview must always be performed by the same panel and cannot have substitutes.

    The candidate will have to answer about 5 pre written questions and the comments will be written down as they speak. It’s not that the members cannot ask additional question but more that the interview needs to be performed in the allotted time. Going over will probably impact the managers schedule and the candidate will not be able to answer all questions. Since the questions are allocated a certain amount of points that gets tallied at the end; it is important to hit all of them.

    As I schedule those interview; I have to manage the schedule of those three managers and find time that allows them all to meet. As such, space is at a premium. Often, I will email the candidates with a pre-set date but I always allow them to give me a call if they can’t make it. A 2 weeks delay though would probably lead to the candidate need to withdraw.

    1. Sarah*

      This is what I came here to say- we (state gov’t) have interview panels so scheduling can be a pain so I always give the candidate a date and time when I reach out to schedule an interview. But I try to phrase it as a question, like:

      Hi applicant,

      Thanks for you application. Would you be available on Specific Date at Specific Time to come in for an interview? If not, let me know and we can reschedule.


      Would people really be thrown off by this? It’s certainly not regulation or anything so I can always offer a number of times, but since I am trying to schedule several applicants at once I have just found this easier. But if the collective AMM peeps think is is obnoxious – I think can change how it do it??

      1. Karowen*

        Based on the wording of the OP’s email to Alison, I think the email may have been more along the lines of “You’re scheduled for an interview for Specific Date at Specific Time.” (not “would you be available?”)
        I think what you’re doing is very different because, even though you do have a time in mind and most of the applicants are going to agree to it, you’re still technically asking if they’re free – not assuming that they’ll drop everything they might be doing to come in.

      2. Xay*

        When I worked in state government, we did the same thing for similar reasons. We did panel interviewing so it was hard to get on everyone’s calendar for two full days in the first place. In addition, we were often under strict deadlines to complete hiring (usually related to funding and personnel guidelines). I hope the OP can reschedule, but in my past experience with state government hiring (and even with some federal contracting positions), two weeks is probably too long for the agency to wait.

        1. Dan*

          I’m chuckle very loudly… they will take three months or more to call you (happened to me) and then “two weeks is probably too long too long for the agency to wait.” Cracks me up.

      3. T*

        My two-cents’ worth is that telling a candidate (even with your polite, questioning wording) would be a bit off-putting. I recently went through the interview process for a state job that had your same limitations – a panel of three interviewers for each interview. How they approached it was to offer a list of available interview times and I got to pick the one that worked best for me.

      4. Geegee*

        That sounds perfectly reasonable. It offers a specific date and an option to meet on an alternate date.

      5. LAI*

        Hi Sarah, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your language and I wouldn’t be put off by it at all. I understand that interview committees usually consist of multiple people with busy schedules and sometimes this is what you have to do. I think the difference between your message and the one the OP received was the question mark, and the “let me know”, which makes your version completely fine and non-obnoxious.

    2. periwinkle*

      It’s not just a government thing. My first interview for CurrentJob (at a really, really big private-sector company) was a panel interview with 5 pre-set questions. Each candidate was asked the same questions and was scored on the answers. The three panelists were allowed to drill down a little on those answers, but not much because there was a set amount of time for the total interview. I had a second panel interview with a slightly longer time limit, but again each candidate was asked the same questions.

      At least I had a little flexibility in the interview time, but not much because it’s so hard to coordinate interviewer schedules.

      From what I understand, the company adopted this method as a way to maintain consistency across the interviews and thus give all the candidates a level start.

  6. Persephone Mulberry*

    I ran into the same issue when I applied to work at a school. For the first interview I was offered a choice of two dates, but no choice of time slot (10 a.m. on Tuesday or noon on Thursday?). Then for the second round interview, I was given a choice of two time slots on one date. Unfortunately for me, I came down with a killer flu the morning of my second interview, and they weren’t able to reschedule. The first interview was both a panel interview with half the department and a group interview with four other candidates. I don’t know the format of the second, but I assume it was another subset of the department staff.

    And yes, the rigidity extended to the interview itself. All the candidates were actually emailed the first interview question in advance, and then we were given a list of all the questions that would be asked when we arrived for the interview and were given time to study them before the interview started. They then asked each candidate each question in turn (i.e. Question 1 to candidate 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, then question 2 down the line, and so on) – although they did also ask follow up questions as appropriate. It was pretty sweet being in seat 4 so that I could hear most of the other candidates’ answers before giving mine. ;)

    I still kind of wish I had gotten that job.

    1. Vee*

      Wow, that’s crazy to think of interviewing literally alongside the other candidates! It would seem to me that that would make wrongful discrimination claims (valid or not) a lot easier for rejected candidates.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        It was definitely an experience, and as a natural people-watcher, it was fascinating to be able to hear how my “competition” handled the questions. One of the other women got a mental eye-roll/sympathy cringe from me: when the panel asked if she had any questions, her response was, “since you asked me five questions, I have five questions for you.” And then proceed to ask. all. five. questions. Despite clear (to me) body language from the panel that she was overstepping.

        It was definitely beneficial to have the time to study the questions in advance, though – I made notes re: my own answers, so I was able to actually listen to the other responses rather than trying to tune them out while formulating what I wanted to say, and it enabled me to tweak my planned answers a bit so I didn’t say exactly the same thing as another candidate.

      2. LBK*

        I’ve got one better – I did a group interview where they asked us all the same questions at once, but instead of just going down the line we had to raise our hands to answer and then they would address us in the order of who raised their hand first to respond. Like buzzing in on a game show. It was super weird.

  7. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    I once applied with a school district and got a call back on a Monday telling me I could come in for an interview on Tuesday. As in, tomorrow. When I told them that I was currently in the woods on an outdoor ed trip until Wednesday and asked if I could interview later in the week, they said, “We’ll get back to you.”

    Then they didn’t.

  8. The Real Ash*

    I’ve worked with state government for the better part of a decade and every interview I had did not have a pre-selected date and time for me. I was given a range of dates and times and was able to select the one I was most comfortable with. Let’s not pretend that all government everywhere do this as an excuse to whinge about how terrible government jobs are and how backwards everything is.

    I do agree though that the practice is unacceptable for anyone to do, regardless of the type of agency involved. The OP should definitely push back on this, but politely.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not saying that all government jobs everywhere do this, or using it as an excuse to slam government jobs (!). I’m saying that many do, and it’s a common thing in government; you’re far more likely to see it there than anywhere else.

      1. The Real Ash*

        By no means am I getting down on you, I’m talking about the commenters. You’re awesome. ;)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No, no, I didn’t mean that as a defensive response to a perceived slam — I just wanted to clarify what I meant in the post! (But thank you!)

    2. some1*

      I’ve been reading this blog for awhile and I’ve never seen Alison slam govt jobs or workers or put up with commenters doing it

  9. Mike C.*

    I’m not sure why you’re making this out to be a “government” thing when many large private companies operate in the very same fashion.

    1. Except in California*

      Yes. Government and many for-profit employers would be more accurate.

      OP, you may or may not get it rescheduled. Two weeks is a long time to delay for any employer. Typically, the first interview (which is a panel where they can only ask a list of questions) happens, then the following week is the second interview, then the week after that the final three are brought in for AAM’s preferred interview style, and the final choice is made that day. So, two weeks out, you will have been ruled out by then.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      While you can find awful interview practices everywhere, I get far, far more inquiries about ridiculously rigid practices in government and academia than anywhere else. While many places hire poorly, it’s the insane rigidity in particular that shows up there with such frequency.

      1. Mike C.*

        I’m willing to bet that it’s an issue of your particular readership, which skews heavily towards the non-profit world.

        It’s not about “there are bad practices everywhere”, it’s about the fact that large organizations are run in a particular way because of their sheer size, and these practices lend themselves to the one size fits all type of rules.

        Maybe I’m reading too much into your post, but it makes it seem like these practices are unique (as opposed to simply common, which I would agree with) to government positions when they ca be found at many, many large organizations.

        But hey, at least they’re not being asked to make dinner for 40, right?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hmmm, I actually don’t think we skew heavily nonprofit here — at least certainly not the majority of readers/question-askers. I remember someone asking about this once before, and what I said then was that I think people remember when you see “nonprofit” in a question a lot, but that’s a whole sector … whereas when people write in from for-profit jobs, they tend not to say “I work for a for-profit organization.” They say “I’m a teapot maker”or “I’m an engineer” or whatever, and it’s a more diffused impact than if they wrote “for-profit” every time. All of which is a long, windbaggy way of saying, I don’t think we skew nonprofit; it just stands out more.

          1. Bryan*

            My theory is your readership has heavier concentrations of certain industries than people usually encounter, so it feels like that’s the majority. I work at a non-profit and I don’t know that many non-profit in real life; but I feel a lot readers on here work at non-profits.

          2. Jamie*

            Per the Linkedin group – which is admittedly a small control sample of readers (about 1500 members at the moment) 4% are from the non-profit sector.

            6% HR
            6% IT
            5% Marketing and Advertising
            5% Higher Ed.
            4% Writing/Editing
            4% Non Profit

            Those are the top 6. But that still leaves 70% of people in fields other than the above.

            Interesting also (not that anyone asked – I love stats) that it’s a pretty even split across organizational levels.

            34% Entry Level
            28% Senior
            14% Manager
            6% Director
            3% Owner
            2% VP

            If that’s even somewhat indicative of the split amongst wider readership it’s pretty interesting how heterogeneous this group is on a lot of different levels.

            And location – NY is still leading the charge.

            10% Greater NY
            5% Wash DC
            5% Greater Boston
            5% Greater Chicago
            4% San Fransciso
            3% Greater LA

            1. Bryan*

              Ooh I love that you did this. How does it pull these? I’m not a member of the LinkdIn group but I know I didn’t select my field when I created my profile.

              1. Jamie*

                Come to think of it, I don’t know. Now I’m desperately curious about the algorithm they are using to aggregate this.

                That’s my project for tonight – to see if I can find the answer and I’ll post in Open Thread tomorrow regarding my findings.

                1. Bryan*

                  After 10 seconds I have a hunch, when you click edit your profile there’s an option to pick industry at the top (same link as editing your location) so I imagine it’s pulling from that. I’m not sure if this is a mandatory field when you create a profile so not everybody may have this marked. Also the categories might be too small. For example, I have mine marked as fundraising, but would this pull into nonprofit?

                  And I hope this doesn’t come off as raining on your parade because I hate when people do that. It’s just a hunch at how it pulls data.

                2. Jamie*

                  Not at all, it’s not raining when it’s collaboration – I haven’t had a chance but that would have been the first place I’d looked because I don’t remember what they ask in the profile – best place to start. :)

            2. Dan*

              I’m gonna pick a nit here: They’re interchanging organizational classification with job function. Add to that that “higher ed” is highly likely to be non-profit, what is an IT guy who works at a university supposed to answer?

              I do math/analytical work for a non-profit. When asked about my occupation, I lead out with the math-geek stuff, not the non-profit classifier.

          3. Dan*

            Yeah, I’ve actually asked in the comments about the specific wording you’ve pointed out.

            I’ve never seen someone write “I work for a for profit.” Now that I think about it, I do see people write “I work for a Fortune X00 company.”

            Alison, here’s a question for ask the readers day, I’ve started asking it in social circles just to hear the responses: “When you tell me you work for a non profit, what is it that you are trying to convey?” The follow up statement is, “People who work for a for-profit don’t say that, instead, they talk about their job description. Since non-profits hire accountants, lawyers, IT peeps, and finance folk, why did you choose the response you did?”

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think sometimes people say it if their job title is one that won’t make immediate sense to someone unfamiliar with nonprofits. Or if not, then they’re trying to convey “I don’t just do accounting; I do it for a cause that I’m passionate about.”

              1. De Minimis*

                I think with accountants a lot of the time we will specify where we work because otherwise people will start asking tax questions. I always say where I work partially for that reason.

                1. Agile Phalanges*

                  Yes. When I was in accounting, I would say “I do accounting for a ____ company,” with that blank being filled in with something the other person could relate to–candy company, CPG manufacturer, manufacturing company, etc.

            2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

              On the flip side, I work for a nonprofit organization, a private school, but I’d never say it as “I work for a nonprofit” when asked about my work. But I think that’s because people generally know what teachers are, and what private schools are, so just saying those words is enough for people to get the gist of what I do.

              I don’t think I’ve ever heard people just say “I work at a nonprofit” – normally it’s something like “I work at a nonprofit that helps homeless people find jobs” or some other succinct mission statement. I think it parallels responses like “I work at a start-up that makes software for kids” or “I work at a company that sells construction equipment.” To me, nonprofit is a small section of the business world. For-profit gets broken down more, like “start-up” or “small business” or your “Fortune X00” example, but nonprofit is small enough that it doesn’t get subdivided as often. To just say “I work for a for-profit” doesn’t sound any more specific than “I work for a company.”

              How has your question been received when you’ve asked it in person? To me (at least without tone of voice) it sounds a bit antagonistic, which may or may not be what you intend.

        2. Bryan*

          I think you might be reading into it to much. Maybe think of it as if it was family feud and the question was what employer is known for having rigid hiring process. Government is going to be number 1 although large corporations will definitely be on the board as well.

      2. Joey*

        I’m not so sure its insane. When anyone has the ability to request records from the government and government corruption stories get a lot of traction its no wonder that they’re rigid and bureaucratic in their practices. It’s very easy to sit on the sideline and say bureaucratic hiring don’t make sense, but it’s a different story when your words or actions can be twisted by someone in the media. Not to mention that you rarely hear good stories about public workers. No wonder why they do everything possible to prevent even the slightest appearance that something looks shady. In my experience the people who come up with bureaucratic processes know they’re not being efficient, but preventing any appearance of impropriety is far more important in government work than efficiency.

        1. myswtghst*

          Not to mention that you rarely hear good stories about public workers.

          While I don’t disagree with you in terms of how careful gov’t hiring / recruiting needs to be, I do have to wonder sometimes if the by-the-book hiring isn’t just a result of this, but also the cause. If your hiring process is incredibly rigid, you’re not likely to hire the right people, just the ones who are able to spit out the “right” answer at the right time.

          1. Joey*

            Eh, at least where I worked we had some of the best and brightest people I’ve ever met and they were hired in a very formal drawn out process. In fact a lot of them could command much higher salaries, but came to the govt because of the stability, to work on some of the largest projects in their fields, and to increase their long term options.

            To put it in perspective where I worked the workforce was over 10k. Of course were going to hire bad apples every now and then. Its hard not to with a workforce that large. Every company that large or larger is going to have a small percentage of people that are bad. The difference is no one for the most part sees or really cares about the bad apples at private companies. But where I worked we had reporters trolling every week for “govt waste and corruption”. When you see the handful of stories a year on the handful of bad govt workers its misleads you into thinking that’s what a lot of govt workers are like when that’s usually far from reality.

        2. Dan*

          But I do think one causes the other. I’ve applied to various government jobs over the years, and because they move so slowly, I’ve started work at other companies before the government bothers to call.

          Alison always says that good workers have options, and she’s right. It’s taken 2-3 months for the feds to get back to me (two separate jobs) when they were actually interested in interviewing me. By that time, I was either far down the process with other companies or actually employed.

          So, I do think the bureaucracy costs them candidates. They may think they can get solid candidates anyway, but I’d like to see some real scientific studies done.

          1. Chrissi*

            I work for the federal government and that can definitely be the experience that people have. I know that from the time I submitted my application until the time I got an interview was like 4 months. However, I also know that there have been times when we’ve been much quicker than that. It just depends on how quickly you need someone, if you have hiring authority (i.e. NOT on a continuing resolution for the budget), and at what point in the process they applied. It is definitely unwieldy and I think they could improve, but I don’t think it will ever be as quick as private companies.

          2. Joey*

            Do they lose people? Absolutely. But if the person is soured by the bureaucracy they wouldn’t have worked out anyway. And it’s not just govt. all orgs with thousands of employees are bureaucratic.

        3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Not to mention that you rarely hear good stories about public workers.

          This might also be biased reporting, though – you’re more likely to hear bad stories about any profession than to hear good ones. I wouldn’t bother telling the story about the time a plumber came and fixed my sink quickly and efficiently, but I have told the story about the time a plumber flooded my kitchen with sludge because he wandered away while snaking the drain. Disasters just make better stories.

          1. Joey*

            Let me give you an example. If you see someone who works for a private company in a company vehicle asleep you probably wouldn’t look twice. But if you see the same worker in a govt uniform sleeping in his vehicle if you’re like a lot of citizens its going to piss you off that your tax money is paying for this jerkoff to sleep on the job (even if he’s on his lunch). And if you’re pissed enough to video him or take a picture that’s a story the media love. Different expectations same behavior.

            1. Jamie*

              The expectations aren’t different, just the reaction. Which is a result of the how much what you assume to be the proximate cause of the action impacts you personally.

              Iow if someone sees someone sleeping in a truck and they assume they are slacking (not taking into account it could be break/lunch etc.) they just don’t care if it’s a private company – as they have no financial relationship with the company why care.

              If they assume the same of the government worker it triggers the anger we all have when we think our taxes are being wasted.

              It’s the difference between someone setting fire to their own pile of money and setting fire to yours – one will provoke a much bigger reaction.

              (Of course people overreact and make assumptions about gov workers all the time and that’s wrong – and the anger is out of proportion to the small amount, if any, your taxes went into paying that particular workers salary…so the reaction is to a symbol of government waste rather than proportionate to the dollar amount of your taxes being wasted if he is indeed slacking.)

              1. Joey*

                But it’s more than the financial relationship. Otherwise you’d see people policing the workers of the companies they invest in. It’s that people have different , frequently unrealistic expectations of govt workers.

                1. Sasha LeTour*

                  I agree with that as my dad worked for the government and people would say all kinds of untrue things, e.g. he must be lazy or not very smart.

                  Of course, working in advertising has its own set of biases, ranging from the (hilarious) Bill Hicks bit about marketing arsenic baby food to general comments like “That’s a bull-s**t/charlatan/horrible profession” too.

                  Lately, I’ve been noticing the biggest public outcry aimed at those working in the financial sector. I assume that is related to the recession and subsequent bail-outs.

        4. LQ*

          But taxpayers also get up in arms extremely fast about many of the things that are fine at for profits where they will get paid significantly better. And governments are often also very tied but significant amounts of additional regulation meant to keep things more public (which isn’t always the result) because again the demands of the tax payers. People are so incredibly quick to put a problem on tv and rage about it for 5 minutes and then move on to the next thing to rage about. But that can have an impact on the governmental agency for decades. When it was really just one jerk.

          And you rarely hear good stories about private workers either for the record. It’s just not a story people tell. Everyone talks about the crummy dmv or the barista who can’t spell their name right. (Though I just got in and out with a new drivers license in about 10 minutes, and got my coffee with a smile and my name correct so go public and private company employees!)

          1. Sasha LeTour*

            As a New Yorker, I live within one of the most diverse markets in the world, so I have heard ridiculous and untrue assumptions about every profession. Complaints about Wall Street are a biggie, with complaints about city government and MTA workers often competing for first place, depending on the season, overall mood, etc.

            But people will complain about any profession here. Most recently, I heard some hurtful comments about the guys who run the coffee trucks around Times Square. People claimed that anyone who bought coffee from them (and I do) is supporting an underground terrorist network. (!) And those coffee truck guys, in turn, complain about the (perceived lack of) work ethic among pandhandlers, some of whom are legitimately homeless through no fault of their own.

            And on and on, ad infinitum. Welcome to New York – complaining is our most treasured sport!

        5. Chrissi*

          Yup, definitely agree. I work for the federal government and I just took my annual ethics training and in the ethics guidelines (which are quite strict), there is specific rules that you also need to avoid the “appearance of impropriety”. I imagine that’s similar to private corporation’s ethics policies too. And in practice as well, much of what we do, what we buy, what and how much training we do, etc. is looked at through the lens of “how will this look to the public”? And in asking that question, we’re not assuming “the public” to be rational, frankly. What we really mean by “public”, in my opinion, is “the media and people that already hate us or have an axe to grind”.

      3. Beebs*

        So I’m going to stand up a little for rigid hiring practices . . . I work in higher ed, and we commit all the hiring crimes this thread mentions. We have set interview dates that can’t be changed (we have to get beteween 5-7 people together, faculty have to cancel classes) and then we ask the exact same questions of everyone (which candidates have 30 minutes to review before the interview). But I’ve been hiring this way for 15+ years, and honestly, we get really good people for the most part. Do we sometimes make mistakes? Sure. But in academia, we’re expecting to work with these people for literally the rest of our careers so the stakes are very high and it works for us. The good side? As soon as a candidate is out of the running at the application stage they get an email. Because we conduct interviews over just a couple of days, I can call each candidate personally with 24 hours to let them know if they have made it to the final round. And then the offer is typically made within a week after the last interview. So our systems probably seem really weird from the outside, but they are genuinely intended to be fair and to give the candidates an opportunity to show us their best. For the most part, it works for us. And I consistantly have even unsuccessful candidates tell me that our process is very humane.

        Okay, defense of rigid hiring practices over!

        1. Persephone Mulberry*

          I posted above about my experience interviewing for a k-12 school district, and except for the rigid interview times (which I totally get with the panel situation), it was one of my favorite interview experiences ever.

        2. the gold digger*

          Beebs, do you think part of the reason you end up with really good people might not be because of your process but because there is a big oversupply of PhDs seeking employment? That is, you are not competing for a scarce resource but picking the best of a great labor supply? Not that your process might be good – but would it work so well if you were competing with other schools for the talent?

      4. LQ*

        I think different types of businesses have different types of issues. Huge places with high levels of regulation are going to have different problems from mom and pop shops where you’ll be one of 5 employees which will have different problems from high turn over places with a couple hundred staff, etc.

        I do think that this specific issue (extreme rigidity) is found a lot more at governmental places, union shops, and some very large employers.

    3. Jubilance*

      IDK about that. I’ve worked for 4 Fortune 100 companies and interviewed with several others & I’ve never been dictated a date/time for an interview. I’ve always been asked when I’m available, or offered a choice of several dates/times and able to select what works best for me. Of course YMMV but I wouldn’t go as far as saying this the norm in most companies.

  10. WorkingAsDesigned*

    OP, would it be possible to request that the interview be a phone interview during the week that you’re on vacation (if you’re willing, and able)? Truly wondering – have never applied to a position that had this type of response from the prospective employer.

    1. T*

      OP, this was going to be my suggestion, too. When you let them know you are unavailable to meet at the time appointed, maybe you can suggest some times during the same week for a telephone interview (including evenings, if necessary).

  11. Anon - 345*

    Could you use skype? I have never worked for the government so I don’t know if that is acceptable but can you suggest it?

    1. Chrissi*

      Almost definitely not. You have to go through a long process (at least in the federal government) to get even free software approved for your computer. And a program like Skype would likely not be seen as necessary.

      However, I’m fairly confident that if you call them up and ask for another time, they can accommodate you normally. Once you get on the phone w/ a person, they (we?) are usually pretty nice. The fact that you aren’t available for 2 weeks could be difficult, but you never know.

  12. A non*

    Since you aren’t available in person for two weeks, can you find some times during your conference that you could do a phone/skype interview? When you respond letting them know your availability in person, I recommend you also say that you can be available for a phone or skype interview next week (at x,y,z times). I have done this before when someone wanted to interview me when I was out of the country for 2 weeks on business. They appreciated the opportunity to have an initial interview on their timeframe. We did a skype interview (at 4:30 am in my timezone), and they decided they liked me enough to slow down their interview process to do an in person interview with me when I returned.

  13. Anon for This*

    Ugh, at least they didn’t schedule you on a holiday.

    This reminds me of my experience applying to the Presidential Mgmt Fellowship (prestigious federal gov’t 2-yr program). After passing the online assessment, I received a robo-email notifying me to report to an out-of-state interview in 10 days time. Well, the suggested date was on Thanksgiving Day. After multiple calls and emails, I finally was able to contact a real person to reschedule. And of course they laughed and said that their building was closed on Thanksgiving and no one would have showed up to interview me.

      1. Anon for This*

        That’s what I thought too… but no one with familiarity of the program seemed surprised at all. Which made me even more wary about the program….

        At the time, I wondered if the interviewer also got a robo-email telling them to report to work on Thanksgiving.

  14. Alex*

    In response to the Skype/telephone interview. ..

    This is often not possible for interviews scheduled in a impartial matter. If one candidate gets a phone interview then ALL candidates need to have an phone interview.

    Otherwise it would be argued that one candidate had a disadvantage or an advantage over an other. They could argue that their answer did not come across appropriately due to the lack of visual presence or the other candidates could argue that they were at a disadvantage because some did not have to come in. Being in a familiar setting like your living room might help you calm your nerves during an interview.

    Interviews need to be transparent as the result can be audited by the rejected candidates.

    1. Us, Too*

      What laws are you referring to that require all that you state here? Or are you just saying that your organization functions this way out of some overabundance of caution in the event of a lawsuit? (*confused*)

      1. Alex*

        Firstly, I did not refer to any laws. But we do have a charter of conduct (OPS) that we need to adhere to, Human Resources Association (CAN) code of conduct , union contract and general fair practices and, yes, labour and human rights regulations.

        It’s about perceived fairness. If you evaluate a candidate on one level, you must evaluate all candidates on the same level.

        This also dictates the questions that are being asked, hence the facts that all of our questions are pre-printed. You must evaluate a candidate on what the job requires directly. That’s why questions like “what kind of tree would you be” or even drug testing is illegal in Canada.

        I’m not saying that those questions don’t occur but that would be grounds for complaints to the labour board.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s crazy though, you know. It’s one thing to evaluate candidate all on the same elements — that makes sense. But it shouldn’t follow that you have to ask them all the exact same list of questions. Different people have different things in their backgrounds that will be helpful to probe in to. Plus, follow-up questions are where some of the best information comes from.

          1. Alex*

            Follow up is OK but the core questions need to be ask. This removes bias.

            You could argue that a man was asked questions about his management skills because you perceived him as being management material and unconsciously you did not ask the same question to a woman candidate.

            One of my professor in HR use to say that she would have great fun going into interviews she was not interested in just to evaluate the interviewers. She would pick up on the photos on their desk or the key chain they add and start talking about hockey games and rotary club. This had nothing to do with the interview but the panel would love her.

            Pre-writting the questions avoid the panel to get off topic and ask the same questions to everyone.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But the core questions might be different. What if I want to say to Bob, “Wow, you achieved XYZ in your last role. Tell me about how you did that”? What if one person has relevant experience X and another has relevant experience Y, and I have different questions about both?

              What if I have a particular concern that Bob is weak in X and so I want to probe more there? What if Jane’s resume is unclear about her experience in Y and so I need to ask different things to get a better sense?

        2. Dan*

          I hate this “perceived fairness” crap. Which is difficult, because I work in an industry where a lot of people come in without domain knowledge. So the interview processes are written to compare “average” candidates who know nothing about the business. Then there’s me, who knows a lot about your business, but your “rigid” hiring process won’t allow me to express that during an interview.

          FWIW, I get really good offers from companies without rigid processes, so I end up for the better.

      2. De Minimis*

        I know in some cases preference candidates can request some kind of Freedom of Information act-type documents to find out who was hired and if the agency complied with the law in doing so [that is, if they passed over a preference candidate did they follow correct procedure in doing so…] Agencies generally can pass over preference candidates if they follow the right procedure and can justify it—although the lower the job level, the harder it is to justify.

        I’ve applied and interviewed for numerous federal jobs, and have never heard of the “all or nothing ” approach regarding phone interviews…I know we don’t practice it where I work and I have not seen it at other agencies where I’ve interviewed.

        1. Alex*

          The Freedom of Information Act requires that you disclose pretty much any documents for the low sum of 5$ plus the cost of paper printing.

          Some documents are not available like Treasury Board documents, direct personal information, and prison plans (the most requested one BTW)

          1. fposte*

            You’re talking Canada’s FOIA, I suspect, while De Minimis is talking the US. US FOIA requests aren’t always that hard to beat back. They take some paperwork, but they’re not magical Open Sesame tools.

    2. A non*

      ok, it is possible that the place the OP applied to will not do a phone/skype interview because they have policies about the type of thing you describe. But for the OP, I still think it makes sense for them to offer that they are available for that if the company/hiring manager wants to do so. That way they have done more than simply say they aren’t available for 2 weeks and have offered a possible other option.

  15. RyanQ*

    I worked for the state of Texas- this is how it’s done, period. You can try and ask for a different time, but with at least a few dozen interviewees, they typically schedule everyone in 10 minute increments :)

    1. Jen*

      It depends on the agency/branch. I also work for the State of Texas, and our organization does not do this .

  16. Julie*

    In response to your statement: “For example, also common in government hiring are interviewers who have a list of questions they must ask all candidates and aren’t permitted to deviate from it, even for follow-up questions about your answers.”, you may not be aware the Civil Service rules and regulations often require that candidates be asked exactly the same question to ensure the integrity of the hiring process by ensuring that everyone had exactly the same opportunities during the interviewing process. Please realize that this isn’t our choice and we would prefer to ask follow up questions, but are restricted by State law, Civil Service rules and regulations, and the decisions of the Courts.

    1. Joey*

      Oh come on, I heard that when I worked in government and when I asked to see the verbiage of the actual law, civil service rule or atty generals opinion it was never worded the way it was being conveyed. It was more people who’d been there forever who kept leaning towards interpreting it in the most conservative way possible to the point of being a little ridiculous. I would imagine that’s the case here . A rule that actually says something like ” job candidates should be treated consistently” slowly turns into “we have to ask everyone the exact same questions”.

        1. Chrissi*

          Yes, highly flawed, because it’s not applied so rigidly by everyone. I’m fairly certain that all our entry-level employees get asked the same general set of questions, but when I’ve interviewed for various positions in the federal government (including the one I got), it was definitely a conversation and follow-up questions to probe about an answer were perfectly fine.

  17. Brynn*

    I had a situation similar to this happen not too long ago.

    The employer emailed and asked if I could come in for an interview the very next day. This would have been very short notice in any scenario, but mind you, I am an out of town candidate. I told them that was a bit short notice for me, and gave them other options. They told me they were going on break for two weeks and they would email me to reschedule. When they emailed, again they only offered me one date, the very same week. I accepted, and I’m interviewing tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

  18. Anonymous1973*

    I believe this is SOP for government jobs, as is treating all candidates the same and asking a set of questions with no deviation. I agree with Allison that it’s not ideal, but it’s how the government protects itself from allegations of discrimination.

    1. Jamie*

      Agree. And some of the take or leave it nature of assigning interviews is because they can.

      In my area every government job has so many applicants they don’t have to worry about accommodating any one individual, they just pull the next name on the list.

  19. RubyJackson*

    I once applied for a job in local government. There were over 600 applicants that they screened and tested. I passed the test, and TWO YEARS LATER they sent an invitation to participate in a first-round group interview. By that time I had already found another job.

    1. some1*

      It was probably a requirement that they did so, I doubt they expected you to still be available.

      1. Dan*

        I know the government employees posting in this thread want to pass the blame up the ladder, and it’s a fair point. But on the outside, these bizarre practices just give the organization a bad name.

        I did apply somewhere in the private sector last November, and two weeks ago they called me for an interview. I figured what the heck. When they found out I started a job two months ago, they asked why I was even bothering to interview. I asked them why they bothered to even call me, because my application was five months ago.

        1. LQ*

          I don’t want to pass the blame up I want to pass it to the citizens. Citizens and politicians are the ones who demand this. Government exists because you want it to.

          1. Dan*

            That’s not really fair. What we want and what the politicians give us are quite often very different.

            1. fposte*

              Exactly. There are a lot of things I deal with as a minor university state functionary that are the result of a possibly reasonable concern about *somebody*, but the enactment makes no sense for me, and no citizen demanded that I should do it.

  20. Anonylicious*

    I’ve didn’t have a preassigned interview time for the one govvie job I interviewed for (with DHS), or for any of my (DoD) contractor jobs. I say there’s no harm in asking to reschedule. There’s a human being on the other side, I promise. That human being *may* be unreasonably rigid or bound by regulation, but I bet you dollars to donuts they they can and will work with you at least to some extent.

  21. red tape*

    Boyfriend just got a robo-response saying: You have been scheduled for an interview. Log into our terrible applicant tracking system to see your time. There was one time, and instructions on how to enter the building, find a phone, and call a mystery person to find the interview location. No info on who he’s meeting with or even what to do if he has questions. I’m not sure if it’s a job interview or an invitation to join a secret society.

  22. Anonsie*

    I read the title and was surprised. Read the first line, saw “state government,” immediately understood.

  23. Brett*

    I work for a very large county that often functions like state government.

    We do have to interview all candidates in a small window, normally 2-3 days. But, for the initial interview, we do not have to interview in person. Particularly since we get out of state candidates and cannot pay for their travel, we routinely do first round phone interviews mixed with first round in-person interviews.

    Second or later round interviews are a different issue altogether. We might take several weeks to do them all (especially to accommodate out of state candidates) and the structure of the interview is much more flexible. But we have to do it in person at that point (because of the wonderful fun when the person who shows up for the in-person interview is not the person who did the phone interview).

  24. Kelly L.*

    For the job I currently have, I got a call one day wanting to know why I’d missed my scheduled interview. I was pretty baffled because (a) I hadn’t received any message about any interview in the first place, and (b) apparently the time slot had, like this OP’s, been scheduled for a set day and time without any input from me. I apologized and was able to reschedule, and did get the job, but to this day i still don’t know what number they actually called to schedule that first interview. :D This is a civil service job at a state university.

  25. LV*

    In my experience with the (Canadian) federal government, this is just how things are done. All the email invitations I’ve ever gotten for interviews and pre-interview tests had an assigned date and time as well as a statement that the date and time in question was the only possible time slot and that I would only be able to reschedule because of travel, a death in the family or illness.

    It’s frustrating, especially since there’s often very little notice. I got an email on a Wednesday inviting me to an interview that Friday. I was lucky that my boss knew I was looking and was okay with it, but for a lot of other people it could lead to awkward times at their current job.

  26. Erik*

    I’ve had this experience many times over the years. It’s not that hard to ask me “are you available at 3:30 on Tuesday?” instead of setting up a time and telling me to show up. Common courtesy.

    I think for government jobs this is normal practice.

  27. Rose*

    I’ve worked in Federal and now Municipal government and this is usually the practice. With the Feds they would send a letter stating the interview times. Sometimes I could choose between two dates, but had no other options. These were the testing dates and they were always set in stone. Testing was always first, then face to face interview if you passed the test. It happened exactly this way every time I applied for a new job within the Federal Government (in Canada).
    Municipal government is a lot better, they were more flexible and the testing took place at the same face to face interview whereas with the Feds, everything happened separately, and slowly.

    1. De Minimis*

      With the feds it totally depends on the individual office. Where I work, if we have something we need to fill ASAP, we can move just as quickly as a large private sector company [admittedly not fast, but we can hire and fill a position in a month.]

      What tend to be slow are the nationwide hirings for multiple positions, like when the IRS is hiring new agents. But for individual jobs it can be pretty quick.

      The places I’ve interviewed have been like anywhere else as far as interview scheduling….usually they would give a range of days and times. It might be limited to two days instead of a whole week, but I’ve rarely had a case where it’s been more limited than that.

      1. Dan*

        Whenever I see some mention of “if the job is really important, we can break rules” types of things, it does make me think, “if the other jobs aren’t important, why do we fill them?”

        1. De Minimis*

          I didn’t say any rules were broken, just that like anywhere else, the fewer people/offices involved [and generally the lower level the position] the faster things can go.

          If we’re filling an unexpected vacancy for a key position, things move fairly quickly since it’s a position that already exists and there’s only a few hoops to jump through with our regional headquarters. We already have the funds for the position so it’s not really much different than a private sector job as far as hiring and timeframe.

          But…we’re a small facility.

        2. Nerdling*

          It’s because it’s not a matter of a position being “important” so much as a matter of the position is a specific one rather than a general hiring round. For example, if a supervisory position opens up in an office, that gets posted within a certain time frame to the internal and external application sites, specific (fairly short) deadlines are applied, and a candidate is hired (or not, depending on applicants) within a pretty short timeframe.

          For general positions, such as a wide sweep hiring a large number of entry-level employees that have to go through specific training, that frequently can take longer and is where you start running into the ridiculous delays. Those are posted by the batch and can, depending on the agency, result in thousands of applications for a hundred or fewer spots, which is part of why it takes so long.

  28. Lee*

    I work as a teacher in Australia and in my state this is completely normal. My experience is similar to those who spoke of higher ed- the need to get colleagues together, replacement teachers (which are expensive) etc. I’ve never thought it was strange. I think it interesting how shocked people are by this, because essentially, to me, it’s the common practice in some industries. I’m almost always surprised by different working practices between the US and here. In a recent post by Alison on ‘Advice for college graduates’ she mentioned that you shouldn’t expect time off between Christmas and New Year. Unless you worked in retail, were a police officer, nurse etc you’d definitely expect that time off in Australia. Different practices for different working cultures. I don’t think this one is strange at all.

    1. ZoeUK*

      I agree. I’m based in the UK and it’s completely normal to be given a date and time for an interview. This isn’t odd at all and I’m surprised by how shocking this seems to be.

      It must be a nightmare for HR departments arranging interviews if you do it by candidate availability!

      I do love reading about different working cultures on here.

  29. Lee*

    Just to clarify, I’m saying that to me, this situation is just a difference between different hiring practices/cultures, just as there are many different experiences between countries.

    And for what it’s worth, I’ve also worked in non-profit here and again, I was given an interview time. I changed one by a day, as I was flying from interstate.

  30. Anna*

    This happened to me with a radio station. They had me fill out a form that told them I was employed full time currently.

    A month and a half later on a Monday I get an email saying that I have an interview scheduled on Thursday at 2:00 PM. Uh….thanks?

    I was so put off by it.

  31. Cassie*

    My sister, who works for our county, sometimes gets pulled into an interview because one of the scheduled interviewers calls in sick or is off on that day – that boggles my mind, though. Someone in the office scheduled an interview (two interviewers for each interview) but didn’t bother to check if both of the interviewers would be available?

    For what it’s worth, they give candidates a few options for interviews – I think they give a couple of days (say, in the next two weeks) and times. They don’t just assign times/dates.

  32. Anon2*

    Government agencies do this because they can get away with it. If a private employer did this it would raise questions about their legitimacy, but the government is the government, so you aren’t going to worry about their long-term stability, etc., no matter what they do. I bet a lot of employers wish they could treat people like that without consequence.

  33. OP*

    Hi, I’m the original poster. Thankfully I was able to re-schedule my plans to make the original appointment. However, I’m pretty sure that they were about to offer me an opportunity to reschedule it as well. AAM was absolutely right about the format of the interview too, it was a read off of a list of questions with no amount of follow-up.


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