how do people take phone interviews during the work day?

A reader writes:

I work in New York City. I do not drive to work. Every time I start interviewing, I run into an issue with the dreaded phone interview. Even if I ever worked in an office that was large enough for me to commandeer an office or a conference room for a private call, I personally don’t think it’s appropriate (nor prudent) to conduct a phone interview in my office.

I always try to set them up for the morning and go in late, or afternoon and have a “doctor’s appointment,” but often I do not have that option and they want to speak in the middle of the day.

My solution to this has been to head to a Starbucks, a pocket park when it’s warm enough, or a hotel lobby (when I worked in midtown). I always begin the phone call by brightly and positively stating, “I am in a coffee shop, so if you hear any background noise, that’s why.” Sometimes this goes well; sometimes it does not, and people complain about background noise, even when they say they can hear me just fine. I always use headphones with my mobile phone so there is less chance of noise bleed.

Recruiters and HR people don’t understand why I can’t just pick up their calls in the middle of the office, why I need notice to set up a phoner, or why there is background noise when the only time a hiring manager can speak to me is at 1:30pm.

My question to you is – what do other people do?? Is there some magic to this that I am just not thinking of? I understand and appreciate the need for the phone interview, but I can’t always afford to take a day off work for a 20-30-minute call, especially since it’s pretty much de rigeur these days. I work in a very tiny office right now (which is showing signs of financial instability) and I know this is going to start happening again. Maybe your readers have some ideas?

Nope, that’s pretty much what people do. Some people will take the calls in their office with the door closed or in a empty conference room, but you’re right that it can feel a little awkward to do that, and you risk work-related interruptions. Some people will even take the calls in a stairwell or parking garage, where of course you risk being overheard.

If you drive to work (which you don’t), taking the call in your car can work well.

Beyond that though, coffee shops and parks are pretty much your options.

Reasonable interviewers will understand that you have a job and limited options for where you take these calls. You might try altering your start-of-the-call explanation though, to emphasize that you’re not just randomly in a coffee shop but went there intentionally, by saying something like, “I stepped out of my office and into a coffee shop to take this call. I hope there won’t be much background noise, but you may hear a little of it.”

{ 214 comments… read them below }

  1. AVP*

    I have the same issue (live in NYC, open office, no car) and try to duck into the stairwell in my office building. I’m lucky in that it’s not locked off and it gets cell service, but you run the risk of people walking by, making noise, etc.

    When my assistant did it, she commandeered an empty office, I overheard, and that’s how I knew I needed to start looking for a replacement. It was fine in our case, but for jobs with less turnover that’s probably not ideal.

    1. AVP*

      Also, I hate using my cell phone for interviews – I wish there was an option that would allow for a land line!

        1. AVP*

          I might try google voice, but my AT&T coverage is just shitty in my office building so I’m always afraid it’s going to drop or sound like I’m underwater.

      1. the gold digger*

        At my last job, there were little meeting/work rooms for just one or two people. I did my phone interviews from one of those rooms and I used the land line. I was really miserable at that job and didn’t care about the proprieties by that point.

    2. I'm a Little Teapot*

      I hope you didn’t fire your assistant for looking. Because, considering that you were taking phone interviews during the workday yourself, that would be pretty hypocritical.

      1. sstabeler*

        that’s not the vibe I got, I think it has more to do with trying to ensure you have a new assistant ready to start when the outgoing assistant has served out her notice.

  2. Sunflower*

    Maybe try a Barnes and Noble or bookshop? Might be more quiet than a coffee shop. Have you checked out other coffee shops around your office? Starbucks are always packed but maybe a smaller one will not be as crowded or has a back area where it’s more quiet.

    1. Suzers*

      Please please please don’t go to a bookshop. Overhearing one half of a cell phone conversation, *especially* something quite long and animated like an interview, is unbelievably obnoxious for people in a very quiet space who are trying to read or work silently. Barnes & Noble café areas may have people chatting, but phone conversations are demonstrably more distracting than in-person discussions when both sides can be heard, and it’s rude to take advantage of the inherent quiet nature of the space. Plus, you’re likely to get shushed by staff members.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I generally agree, but if it disturbs people who sit in bookstores and read entire books without buying anything, I’m totally fine with that.

        1. Three Thousand*

          Barnes and Noble and its competitors encourage this since they want to create a college library atmosphere. It was a deliberate business strategy to build attached coffee shops, set up comfortable couches, and allow people to read for hours. Obviously that idea didn’t work well for most chain bookstores, but it was definitely their idea.

          1. Audiophile*

            See Borders.

            B&N isn’t likely to survive much longer. I’d say them, Radioshack, Sears, and a few other stores will be gone in the next few years.

      2. Elsajeni*

        This is a problem with a lot of the “find a quieter space”-type advice — other than my office or my house, most of the quiet spaces I have access to are being kept quiet on purpose, and coming in and having an animated cell-phone conversation will be disruptive and is likely to get me at least a couple of dirty looks, if not outright asked to leave. I’m sure there are options, if I have the luxury of time to put some thought into it and maybe make special arrangements, but so many phone interviews are arranged on short notice that I think the real answer is just: if you’re the interviewee, do what you can to minimize noise, and if you’re the interviewer, do what you can to be forgiving and not hold a little background noise against them.

    2. Development professional*

      I have done this, and contrary to the other commenter here, the Barnes and Noble near Lincoln Center (which is now a Century21) was in no way a library-like quiet atmosphere that I was rudely disrupting. It’s a store, and people talk. A lot, when it’s busy. It was not a big deal, and there was SO much less background noise than the sounds of a coffee shop. I also once took a phone interview from the deserted back aisles of a Duane Reade. A hotel lobby seems like a good idea too, though. A smaller hotel would probably have a quieter lobby, depending on where you are.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I used to work at that B&N! I loved it. Miss that place. And yes, it wasn’t quiet. I recall passing by more than one interviewee during my time there.

        1. Development professional*

          Haha! The windows on the second floor in the fiction section were my spot for two successive phone interviews for the same job, which I ultimately got. You could lean a notebook on the window sill. I was so sad when that store closed, although by then I had left New York to take that job. It had a great travel and maps section.

        2. sam*

          OMG – I spent a good chunk of my unemployed period at that B&N. I was so sad when they closed, that I went and took a picture of them dismantling the signage.


          And on topic – I’m lucky to have my own office (which isn’t soundproof, but it’s better than nothing), but for really confidential stuff, i like the “public spaces” that are scattered around midtown – if you’ve never seen these, these are the indoor public spaces that are usually in the lobbies of corporate office towers that were created in exchange for air rights or some other right to build a building larger than would otherwise be allowed. Anyone can use them, and they usually have some tables scattered about, but they’re often devoid of life.

          1. Jesse*

            Yes — this is exactly what I was going to suggest. The best way to find them is to look for the tallest building in an area.

            Although one time I did a phone screen from the lobby of Goldman Sachs on South Street (?), and it was super echo-y with maybe also a fountain, and overall not the best! I was hidden from my coworkers and inside, though…

      2. Turanga Leela*

        Hotel lobbies are my go-to for lots of things, including bathrooms and quiet, air-conditioned places to kill time when I’m early for a meeting/dinner/etc. in a downtown area. If you walk in assertively and don’t cause trouble, no one will bother you. Hotel employees have occasionally asked if I need any help, and I just say “No, I’m waiting for someone.”

        1. Sunflower*

          Now many hotel lobbies are actually constructed and set-up for the purpose of trying to attract people off the street to hang out or hold meetings there. Many will welcome you so do not shy away!

    3. Carly*

      I would not be able to succeed in a phone interview if I knew a bunch of strangers were overhearing my conversation. I would feel like a doof putting on a big smile and selling myself with people casually listening to me.

      1. Development professional*

        Personally, I found it much less nerve wracking than taking a call in my office with the door closed, where I was constantly worried that someone could hear me through the thin walls. People really did just ignore me in the book store. I think it helps to be in a place that has enough people moving around that you’re not the only person speaking (and thus everyone who can hear you is focusing on just your voice by default) but not so busy that it’s noisy. Tricky balance.

    4. Anna*

      I have no idea if this is a thing in NYC, but some libraries have sort of very small offices/booths that you can reserve for a half hour to an hour, and I’ve used those for interviews. It might be worth seeing if there is a library near your office and whether it has that service.

      1. Melissa*

        There are some libraries in NYC that have this too – the Midtown Manhattan branch and the main Schwartzman building (the one with the lions) both have some small rooms that you can reserve for that purpose. I used to reserve them when I was doing freelance tutoring. I’m sure a lot of other branches in the city have them, too. Th

  3. hamster*

    @AVP – Forward the cell to a landline?
    And also, if possible work from home that day !

    1. HigherEd Admin*

      I think AVP’s issue isn’t access to a landline, but rather that a landline tethers her to her desk, which is not a private space for a phone interview.

      I don’t have a landline at home, and am always incredibly worried about finicky cell reception just prior to a phone interview!

      1. AVP*

        yep, thats the problem – it’s hard enough o find a good space option, so finding one with a landline is even harder! Scheduling calls for first-thing in the morning or end of day and being at home is probably the best option if one can swing it when needed.

  4. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

    I always used to try to offer people before/after work phone interview options. But by the point I was talking to them, they had been through an HR screen and portfolio review, so I was talking to 3-5 candidates tops.

    My favorite was a call where the candidate prefaced the call with, “I live in a fraternity house, so there may be occasional yelling in the background.

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      LOL! That poor candidate. At least he had the foresight to mention it up front rather than allow you to wonder what you were hearing.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        He ended up being one of my favorite hires :)

        But honestly, I just kept picturing him hiding in a closet taking interview calls while Animal House-style shenanigans went on around him.

    2. Christian Troy*

      That is pretty funny. Ive had a few interviews where my dog has decided to start howling but I being at a frat is worse.

      1. Melissa*

        My fear is always that my normally very quiet dog will start barking or whining in the middle of a phone interview. (She’s done it once, but it was during a Skype interview with a consulting client, and the client was amused :D)

  5. YandO*

    So, people who conduct phone interviews in their office behind close doors, are they stealing their company’s time?

    The employer who is setting up phone calls at 1:30pm and expects the future employee to conduct it at their office, do they want their current employees to do the same to them? I always wonder about that.

    I had to take a day off today because I need to give an online presentation to a group of people at 2pm. That’s after having 5 phone call conversations with them in the last two weeks. If my employer wasn’t suspicious before, he sure is now.

    I know that’s the price of looking for a job, but I do wish the overall culture would shift. Looking for a job should be an after hours type of activity and that should mean that looking for an employee should be an after hours activity too. I know that would really suck for hiring managers, but I think it sucks more when your employee has to sneak around and take up working hours for an activity that, ultimately, is going to hurt your business.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Meh – if it’s just 20 minutes or so, I don’t think that’s “stealing” time. If your employer tracks time really closely, then decrease the amount of time you take for lunch or other breaks that day. As long as it’s not a daily thing, I don’t ask questions about someone disappearing for 20 minutes – whether they are talking to their doctor, their child’s teacher, picking something up at the store, etc. It doesn’t really matter – people occasionally have to pop out of work to take care of life. I realize not every job is like that, but a solid number of professional roles are.

    2. CAA*

      The employer who is setting up phone calls at 1:30pm and expects the future employee to conduct it at their office, do they want their current employees to do the same to them?

      I expect my employees to accurately record the time worked on their timecards (they are all exempt, but we bill for our time.) Time spent on personal phone calls, such as phone interviews, is not time worked. Beyond that, as long as they don’t interfere with anyone else’s need to get real work done, they can take personal calls on our premises during business hours if they wish.

      Do I want people searching for new jobs? No, of course not. But people do move on for a variety of reasons, and that’s just part of being a manager. At least if they’re looking while in the office, I’m more likely to know about it sooner.

    3. Nobody Here By That Name*

      It’s ironic when you consider that it’s a system that’s easier to navigate if you don’t have a job, yet employers are biased towards candidates who are currently working.

  6. Retail Lifer*

    Did *I* write this? I run into this ALL THE TIME, too. I spend half of my week in an open area working with customers and the other half in a shared office space. I can’t do a phone interview in either place. I take public transportation so I can’t go take the call in my car. There’s absolutely no quiet, private place except for Panera (after the lunch rush). I’ve taken a few phone interviews there.

    The recruiters I’ve spoken to didn’t seem to be bothered by the background noise, but some of them seemed put off when I needed to reschedule the time that they selected (without asking me first) for the interview.

    1. kristinyc*

      Yes – the upstairs area of the Panera on 86th and Lex is remarkably quiet most of the time.

      1. Retail Lifer*

        Some Panera locations have free meeting rooms, although I doubt the ones in downtown areas do. The one closest to me doesn’t have one, but I forgot about that option. It’s not like they grill you about what you’re using it for.

    2. BostonKate*

      Panera is the idea I’ve been looking for! My coworkers frequent the coffee shops near our office, but I’m the only one that ever ventures to Panera.

    3. TheAssistant*

      I live in DC and once worked near one of those traffic circles. Taking phone interviews at the office wasn’t feasible, so I sat two blocks from the circle. It worked really well most of the time, until once a fire truck, sirens blaring, got stuck in traffic in the circle and it seemed like 100 years passed before the thing got through.

      I took phone interviews inside after that.

  7. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    I don’t live in a large city (ie, you can’t get around here without a car), so maybe i’m out of touch here, but I would be annoyed at background noise in a phone interview and I think you really have to find a quiet place. Any chance a friend has an apartment nearby that’s empty during the day? Or you could pop into a study room at the library? Is your building large enough that you’d be safe going to a quiet corner on a different floor?

    1. Retail Lifer*

      In my case (not the OP), none of those options would work. There’s no completely quiet place in the building and there isn’t anything within walking distance, either. The way public transportation runs around here there would be no way to get on a bus, do your interview, and take the bus back in under an hour.

    2. BRR*

      I think with a phone interview, they’re usually short enough you don’t need to use PTO. I think the interview in these situations should be a little forgiving, in what way does background noise affect the strength of the candidate unless it’s super unprofessional or really loud?

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        My concern is that you might not be able to control whether it’s super loud.

          1. Sunshine Brite*

            I had someone hang up on me for a part time job once because of this and refuse to take my calls in an attempt to reschedule.

    3. anonanonanon*

      Finding quiet places in a city is difficult. Most of the libraries in my city don’t allow cell phone use, especially in the study rooms. Those are quiet rooms. And it’s such a hassle to get to someone else’s apartment during the day because you need to get their key and not everyone is okay with someone else being in their apartment when they’re not there.

      To be honest, I’d be really hesitant to work for a company if the person interviewing me downgraded me as a candidate because they found background noise annoying. There’s always going to be some sort of background noise. Even taking a phone call in an empty apartment doesn’t guarantee there won’t be noise in the apartment hallway or outside the building. I can understand being annoyed if you have background noise that’s people screaming or construction going on, but it’s pretty unreasonable to get annoyed over normal, lowkey background noise, especially if the phone interview is scheduled during the middle of the work day.

      1. Erin*

        Agreed. This is the nature of doing a phone interview in the first place – you run these risks. Reasonable employers understand this. And if they don’t, maybe you don’t want to work with them.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I agree with this. I used to live in NYC and I would take phone interviews outside– I’d find a bench and park there (until I had an office with a door that could close, that is). I never ran into anyone who found this annoying or even surprising– most were incredibly understanding and flexible and kept things short. I was once talking to a recruiter and a tourist asked me to move so he could take a picture of something (the Wall Street Journal sign on 6th Ave? It was something really strange to photograph) and the recruiter and I had a good laugh over it. I was moved on to the next round.

        When I had to do a more extensive interview, especially via Skype, I would make up a doctor’s appointment and go home early.

        1. anonanonanon*

          Agreed. I’m in Boston and most employers I’ve talked with understand that you’re bound to get background noise during a phone interview, even when you’re by yourself in a conference room.

      3. Sunflower*

        I agree! Esp being in NYC, I would hope interviewers would be understanding considering sometimes no matter where you go, it’s just plain loud

      4. Melissa*

        Agreed, especially since the presence of background noise has nothing to do with me as a candidate or my ability to solve the problem your business is facing.

    4. Felicia*

      At public libraries, you’re not supposed to be talking, even in study rooms, it’s super unlikely that anyone has friends with an empty apartment nearby in a big city (the city is just so big in general, makes it unlikely). I think since you don’t live in a large city, and have a car maybe you’re not understanding what it would be like? I usually tried to go to a quiet corner on a different floor of my building, but I was always unlucky enough that people would always walk by/make noise.

      1. Quiet in the library?*

        What? No. Most public libraries now allow for conversational level noise and instead, set aside “quiet rooms” where it is limited. The available small study rooms usually allow for conversation or phone calls so they are good options for phone interviews. Of course ymmv so check with your local library.

    5. Melissa*

      I don’t live in a large city either, but I’m currently job hunting, and unless you have the kind of job where you can work from home a lot then it’s just not feasible to find a place that’s completely silent all of the time. My office used to have a few empty offices that you could go into for private phone meetings; while they were usable, it’s still awkward to have a phone interview in an office where the person next door might overhear you. We just moved into a new building where there are far fewer places to take a private phone call and I work in an open-plan office space. I could have an interview in my car, but that’s uncomfortable for me (which makes me less effective on the call) and still offers the peril of background noise because I park in a parking garage – there are always people and cars driving away.

      I work at a university so I could potentially reserve a study room at the library. But a lot of university libraries don’t have study rooms that can be used by single individuals (and they’d kick you out if they found you in there by yourself, and they’re made of glass). And if you don’t have access to a university library, you’d have to hope that your local public library has study rooms. I’ve been to a few in Manhattan that do, but most of the ones I’ve been to do not.

      Even in the event that a friend has a nearby apartment (which has not been the case wherever I’ve lived), that means that your friend has to arrange to get their key to you or leave their door open in the middle of the day so you can use their place, and then you have to get the key back to them. That seems like a lot of hassle just to avoid the momentary annoyance of a hiring manager that is probably sitting in their own office. That’s not to mention that all of these options add additional scheduling/logistics/traveling time that the interviewee then has to take out of their schedule.

      Personally, I think that hiring managers that would be annoyed by background noise should entertain the option of doing phone interviews before or after work hours, when a person could go home and take the call.

  8. A Nonnus Mousus*

    OP, I am also located in NYC and when I was actively looking for a new job and had to do phone interviews, the best places I found to take those calls were hotels. I’d go and check it out ahead of time (if that was an option) and would explain the situation to the person at the front desk. Most were very understanding and they could give me an idea of how loud the bar area/lobby would be at certain times during the day. This is a good solution if you are able to schedule the interview call in advance and have flexible time to go out during the day.

  9. some1*

    Just make sure the place has cell phone reception! My office building has a lobby with a bunch of comfy chairs that have the desk you can pull over the handle, and a lot of people go there to conduct business or take callls, but for some reason it’s hit or miss when I am there if someone calls me whether it will go through.

  10. Leigh*

    I’ve been dealing with this exact thing myself! Open office, no car to sit in. So far, I’ve only had two phone interviews to deal with, and I’ve been able to take PTO for appointments for them, but I’m annoyed because I may have a networking call coming up and I don’t necessarily want to burn PTO for that. I guess I’m going to try to find a quiet spot outside, but I’m still really anxious about being overheard.

    (This is tangential, but I have the same annoyance with apartment-hunting! Landlords always want to schedule showings for the middle of a weekday afternoon. None of them seem to understand I work during the day so I can afford to pay rent.)

    1. the gold digger*

      Related point: The Henry Ford Health System in Detroit had a problem with patients returning for follow-up visits with specialists.

      They discovered that offering physician appointments in the evenings improved compliance dramatically.

      Who would have thought that providing an option so people paid by the hour did not have to lose a day of pay to see the doctor would make a difference?

      (No, I do not have a citation for this – I read this a few years ago in the description of their Baldrige award and it has stuck with me.)

  11. Delyssia*

    My current job has a large patio/balcony area. We’re above street level, so there’s less noise than actually going out on the sidewalk (though I would typically warn interviewers about potential wind noise). It’s open to others to walk out, but there’s enough space (it runs along two sides of the building) that it’s not hard to get far enough away if someone else comes out. And while it’s pretty visible, in that people can see that you’re on the phone out on the patio, it’s also not unusual for people to take a variety of personal calls out there. I realize that most people don’t have this sort of option, but it’s really pretty great.

  12. T3k*

    Is there a library near you? I’ve popped into my college’s time to time for phone interviews while I was in college, especially if I didn’t know if my roommate would be popping into the dorm room.

    1. Alma*

      I have depended on the Library, too. The little rooms are soundproof, there is WiFi access if your cell signal is crappy, and it is a neutral albeit boring backdrop if you must do a Skype interview.

  13. some1*

    Even empty houses/apartments and parked cars aren’t going to necessarily be quiet – street and construction noise can still be heard with the windows closed sometimes.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I found out about the parked car the hard way. I never realized that the traffic noises inside a parked car on a relatively quiet side street could be so loud! I took a phone interview by driving to said quiet side street and parking in a fairly empty parking lot. It was two to three blocks off the “busy” downtown square area, and the noise level was okay when regular cars and trucks would drive by. However, while I was parked there, two or three huge, loud dump trucks / other construction vehicles drove by, and they were LOUD! So even the parked car is not as ideal as one might think.

    2. Natalie*

      Ugh, that happened to me the last time I had a phone interview. I never noticed how loud the trucks that go through my alley were until a herd of garbage trucks rumbled by, backed up (beep… beep… beep), emptied some trash containers, backed up again, yelled at each other, backed up a few more times for funsies, and then rumbled away. (Dramatization! May not have happened)

    3. Chickaletta*

      Exactly. Had a phone interview a couple weeks ago at my house. Cue dump truck slowly roaring down the street and me franticly leaping to my feet to shut the door and huddle in a corner where the noise might be muffled.

    4. MsChanandlerBong*

      I just had to end a call with one of my professional contacts because a huge truck pulled up and then a bunch of workers started digging up the street right in front of my house! I couldn’t hear a thing, even though all my windows were closed.

  14. BRR*

    I was going to suggest a cab but they’re usually loud. What about booking an uber and having it drive around?

    Interestingly enough (at least to me), my phone interview this week had the interviewer in a parking lot off of a highway and she apologized for the noise (we used to work together and her job requires her to travel so I didn’t think of it as unprofessional).

    1. BRR*

      Also in NYC, some stores might be quiet. It’s risky but just trying to throw out more options.

      1. Sunflower*

        Second the store. Stay away form H&M where they’ll blast your ears out but a dept store(men’s dept would be quiet and might have a place to sit down) could work

        1. BRR*

          Yeah it’s hard to explain but I’ve definitely been at stores that have not been busy and either don’t play music or keep it quiet. Once again, it’s a gamble but I think the more options the better for the OP and other NYCers.

      2. Carly*

        Yes, wandering around a Macy’s isn’t a bad idea! Decently quiet. I like to pace and walk when I do phone interviews anyway.

        1. Melissa*

          A 30 minute drive in an Uber could easily cost $30-40. When I’m in Manhattan I have a friend that lives in Queens about 30 minutes from me, and it usually costs about $30-35 (so $35-40 with tip) to get from her apartment to mine in an Uber. (I usually take the bus there and an Uber on the way back.)

    2. Melissa*

      Booking an Über and driving around for 30 minutes could get really expensive. And annoying for the Uber driver.

  15. Erin*

    (This may be an obvious answer you already thought of) Why not just step outside and walk as far away from your work building as possible? Of course you’re in the city so there will be noise, but outside must be better than a crowded coffee shop.

    Barring this it sounds like you’re already doing everything you can – using a headset, stating where you are upfront, etc. Reasonable employers must understand this. There’s only so much you can do here.

    1. ScaredyCat*

      This! I would generally step outside when I wanted to take such a call. I’d either walk a bit away from the company, or if they had a large enough courtyard, I’d choose a more secluded corner.

      Once, a recruiter tried to schedule a phone interview between a given time frame, and I asked how long it would last, as I could only spare 10 minutes. She accepted my alternate timeline, so I could arrange for a more quieter place. :)

      I heard of someone who bragged that they were repeatedly using the company’s conference rooms to interview with a very famous company. I think, he was hoping to get a raise, by having the higher ups hear about this, through the rumour mill. Everyone (i.e. the colleagues he bragged to) was positively appalled by this attitude.

    2. Intrepid Intern*

      One of the advantages of a phone interview is being able to have notes, though, which would be impossible to reference while walking. (And I tend to sound like a lost child on the phone, so I’ll take all the counter-advantages I can get!)

    3. Sunflower*

      Ehh it would really depend on where in the city OP works. Some parts of NYC are reasonably quiet outside but others I’ve had to step inside of stores to actually be able to hear someone on the phone. There’s usually honking, sirens, construction going on everywhere that really creates the noise.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        In summer my city produces regular afternoon thundershowers (noisy, plus you get drenched), and cicadas when it’s not raining that are so loud it’s difficult to have a face to face conversation sometimes.

    4. Not Today Satan*

      In the two cities I’ve worked in–nope. There are always trucks rumbling by, babies crying, etc. I can’t tell you how many phone interviews I’ve bombed trying to do it on the sidewalk. So distracting.

    5. Retail Lifer*

      I’ve had to do this a few times when there was a huge crowd at Panera (my preferred phone interview place). It’s not ideal but sometimes it’s all you can do.

  16. My 2 Cents*

    I had a phone interview once and got in my car and drove it across town and parked it but didn’t want to open the windows or sun roof because of possible noise, but it was too hot to go without air so I turned the AC on. I didn’t want to waste gas so I did it all on battery power and by the time the interview was over I killed the battery and had to wait for AAA to come and jump start my car. Slightly embarrassing but definitely highlights the annoyance of phone interviews!

    1. Erin*

      Holy crap! I often use my lunch break to make necessary calls to doctors offices and whatnot and I usually do sit in my car hot as hell without the air on. Now I know to continue to do so.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Ha! I had forgotten the other inconvenience of the parked-car phone interview! I commented above about driving a few blocks from work to take a phone interview in my parked car. Well, my battery died while I was on the call and I ended up having to walk back to work (which wasn’t far enough for walking to be a problem). After work, though, I had to have a coworker come give my car a boost with jumper cables, and I had to make up a lie about why my car was parked there.

  17. NickelandDime*

    I try to work from home to “wait for a plumber,” or I have a “doctor or dentist appointment.”

    The last time I did this, the recruiter or hiring manager never called at the specified time and I haven’t heard from them since. It’s annoying, and I was mad I took time off from work at a very busy time, but it’s part of the game.

    1. Erin*

      Again, wow. I can’t believe some of these horror stories!

      I freelance for a local newspaper in addition to two admin jobs during the day. Both jobs know I multitask sometimes and are good about it, so I try to be respectful. I try to let them know I’m stepping away from the desk for ten minutes to interview a source. It’s very annoying if the person doesn’t pick up at the designated time.

      Clearly your story is worse. Ugh, I do not like interviews.

  18. Anonaconda*

    Just writing in with utter sympathy, as I live in NYC without a car as well, and find this situation nearly impossible. I’ve tried everything and found the only thing that really ensures that I won’t be interrupted with noise is taking time off and doing the interview from my apartment (although, ask me about the time that I had to do a phone interview while they were renovating the apartment above me! Fun!). Coffee shops are actually quite noisy with espresso machines and music, and if you take the call outside, there’s always the chance of a truck going by on the street and completely drowning out the person on the other end. And I would feel very awkward taking that kind of call in a library, which is meant to be a quiet space where people aren’t really on their phones. I don’t think people understand how hard this is. Solidarity!

    1. Helen of What*

      Yep, NYC is not a quiet place! Employers should be sympathetic, especialy if they’re also located in the city. I have heard about a company that lets you pay for access to quiet spaces (Breather) but that’s not much of an option for me at this point in my career. I’ve been taking phone interviews in a quiet hall, which works except for when a bunch of people are heading out to lunch, talking loudly. Or when the elevator opens up, it makes a very loud DING. But I’ve gotten invited to in-person interviews after these calls so it must not be too bad.

      1. AmyNYC*

        Yep, I’ve never used it, but I was going to recommend Breather. I just looked it up, and for midday during the week it ranges from $15 to $35/hour. Helpful, but pricey!

  19. Suzanne*

    I can attest that this is a problem for job seekers. One would expect that employers, who generally won’t give a nod to a job seeker not currently employed, would be very understanding of the applicant’s potential inability to get away for a phone interview during the workday. Some are, some aren’t. A relative of mine just went through this (finally got a better job!) & remarked that she felt terrible faking sick or having fake appointments to accomodate interviews, but felt she had little other choice. “I mean,” she said, “would you want to hire someone who lies to their employer?” But what else can you do if it’s a job that you really want & the prospective employer simply can’t or won’t work around your current job requirements?

    1. Melissa*

      I feel that way now! I work a position where I can work from home whenever I want without warning so I can always say I was working from home, but this week I had an interview – in a city nearly 3,000 miles away, so it took two full days to travel plus the interview days, and the interview day happened to fall on a day that I had a meeting. Normally I’d just say I was going on a trip, but my coworkers are friendly/nosy and would ask me where I was going and who I was visiting and all that stuff, and I’m a terrible liar. So I just I made up something about “an appointment” and sent an email timed like an hour before the meeting. (It worked out well.)

      As more interviews are rolling in I feel great that I am hireable, but terrible sneaking around stretching the truth about where I am! And none of them are in Current Town, so most likely I’d have to at least drive if not fly out for in persons.

  20. Jubilance*

    I work downtown and I’ve used the same tactics you do – going to a coffeeshop or some type of space where it won’t be weird for me to take a call. I also take my headphones that have a mic – I find the call quality is better and it doesn’t pick up so much of the background noise. I also try to schedule over the lunch period so that I won’t have to decline meetings or my team won’t be looking for me.

    I often have to do work in the field and will spend the rest of the day working from home, so there are times that I schedule calls during those periods as well.

    Previously I’ve also done phone interviews in my car.

  21. MJS1985*

    Is it possible for you to work from home? That’s been my most successful tactic in the past. But hotel lobbies, book stores, and coffee shops are second, third, and fourth best options. Good luck!

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I’ve also had somewhat good luck taking calls in the lobby of other office (non-hotel) buildings that were not my own, but I don’t live in NYC, so I don’t know if the building lobbies there are typically accessed only be people who work there or have a building fob? I live in a smallish town of about 70,000, so it’s pretty easy, in the downtown part at least, to find a quite place in the lobby of another office building. The risk I run is that I will see someone who knows me and will want to come over and talk and want to know what I’m doing there (even if I’m on the phone, they will stand there and wait for the conversation to end). That’s small town life. Which is why during the one call, I was hiding in my car down a side street.

      1. Melissa*

        In NYC you can do hotel lobbies without a key fob, and some office buildings do have open lobby areas. But others require keys, and some have doormen at the lobby who will give you a questioning look after 5 minutes.

  22. ACA*

    I also have this issue – I work in a cubicle, so there’s no chance of privacy there. I try to schedule them on my lunch hour and take the call in a park or in another building on campus, but I have left work 1-2 hours early to go meet the plumber/electrician/contractor on the rare occasions when I can’t.

    At my old job, I actually did a phone interview at my desk, on my work phone. It was pretty ballsy, and definitely not something I would recommend doing…but my entire department was being laid off at the end of the month so it didn’t feel like there was much to lose if I got in trouble for it. (I didn’t. My coworkers thought it was hilarious.)

  23. Diddly*

    Sorry to potentially hijack the thread ( I have nothing to offer OP but sympathy).
    Just working myself up about potentially nothing would appreciate any perspective (and wish Alison had a forum :) ) Have looked this up but it was discussing receiving multiple job offers at the same time, whereas this is a bit different.
    I just got a job interview for a job that may have all the hallmarks of my last job (bad stuff) but potentially could be interesting. But I’ve got two job applications that I have yet to make (need to clarify things and answer lengthy qs) and another pending, all which I would much prefer. They all will most likely interview late July/August and two of them definitely start in September. I know I have no guarantee of a interview or job offer from the other applications – but these are the jobs I’d prefer. The location of the job I’m interviewing for isn’t really where I want to be, I sort of got strong armed into applying when I was very reluctant.
    I don’t want to be stupid and give up on a job offer because of potential job offers, but what would other people do/think I should do?

    1. Diddly*

      To clarify – if I got a job offer from the interview, I would feel dumb to turn it down for potential jobs that I’d prefer but I have no definite idea I’d get.

      1. random person*

        I feel like I’m in the same position, waiting to hear back post-interview and reference checks, and having had time to think about it, I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s OK to turn down a job you have serious reservations about if it doesn’t fit into the life you want. (In my case, the job I’m waiting to hear about would require a couple of years of long-distance marriage with a small child, which sounds terrible, even for a career-making move.) The key here being to judge the first job on its own merits, and not just on the comparison to two other specific jobs – I’ve applied for a bunch of others that I’d rather get but it’s dumb to plan your future around those!

        OTOH, I say that, but if I did get an offer I’m not sure I’d have the courage to turn it down. It would be a really really hard decision.

    2. BRR*

      I’m sorry but the comments try to stay on topic here, if not it would be chaos. I would suggest asking this question tomorrow in the open thread post at 11 am EST.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hi Diddly, I actually try to keep the threads on-topic here, but you could try posting this in tomorrow’s open thread, where any topic is welcomed!

  24. Lucy*

    I was in NYC until recently and ran into a lot of the same problems – I never mentioned any background noise off the bat and would only explain if the interviewer made a comment. If it was nice I stuck to parks (as long as it wasn’t lunch time you could usually find room to spread out). If it was rainy or cold I had a lot of luck in places like Zarro’s or ‘Wichcraft (casual eateries with a second seat yourself level) – I would try to schedule interviews for around 10am because then you missed the breakfast crowd but it was still too early for lunch. I’m interested to see what other New Yorkers say!

    1. Lucy*

      Also, not sure where you are in the city, but are you near the High Line at all? I’ve done interviews there and you could usually find an alcove or secluded corner to camp out in (again, as long as it wasn’t around lunch).

  25. JC*

    Are you allowed to telework occasionally? When I’ve had a phone interview, I’ve arranged to work from home that day. Otherwise, I certainly sympathize.

  26. Ash (the other one)*

    DC here, rather than NYC, but same issues. I did have my own office at last job, but with big glass windows so that people could look in and see what I was doing, so I almost always left to take calls unless I got called out of the blue (which did happen every so often). Starbucks was my friend. I had one experience where the only time that could mutually work for an interviewer and me was when I needed to walk to a lawyer’s office to sign some paperwork and that was a bit of a nightmare as I was trying to navigate and be present for my interview (I did get the job, though!). I think employers just need to be a little forgiving, especially for more junior or mid-level folks who likely don’t have private spaces to do interviews.

  27. SCW*

    Try your local library–many have small conference rooms or meeting rooms you can reserve for short periods of time. We get folks doing all kinds of meetings at our library, including on the phone, and are happy to have people use our meeting rooms if they aren’t in use. Some branches have many rooms, some smaller, and some larger. If you phone them, they may be able to reserve a spot ahead of time so you know it will be ready for your interview!

    1. Nonny*

      A lot of libraries in large metro areas won’t permit this, unfortunately. I’ve tried in the NY area, DC area, and a few others for various work-related calls and they all had rules against reserving a room for one person and/or phone use. Sometimes you’ll get someone nice who’s willing to bend the rules for you, but you have to make sure you can get phone service, too! A lot of them have terrible reception.

  28. Diddly*

    Does a friend work nearby and have an office – with a door you could borrow?
    Or a conference room you could book?
    Wonder if you could use a similar headset that you might use for Skype – with a microphone, so that you minimise the noise they hear. Is there a gym or exercise studio nearby that you could ask to use a quiet room for half an hour?
    But you must have friends who have jobs all over town who’d be more accommodating. I think if I was in the same city as a friend – and my old work – they’d let me use a quiet room to take a quick phone interview call.

    1. Sunflower*

      Second seeing if a friend works nearby. Their building might have a lobby that would work. Even if she doesn’t have an office/lobby, you can use a stairwell or hallway in the building and you don’t run the risk of being overheard by a coworker/boss

      1. Retail Lifer*

        The stairwell/hallway in an adjacent building seems like a pretty good idea. Even if someone overhears, they have no idea who you are. It’s likely to be more quiet than a coffee shop, too. Just try not to look too suspicious!

    2. Amber Rose*

      This advice seems a bit silly to me. If OP has time to bus/train all over town to random offices, OP probably has time to just go home.

      And personally, as a girl working office jobs in a big city, I know nobody who works in offices anywhere near me, and in fact have very few friends. The “must” in your post seems rather narrow minded. Not everyone is a social butterfly.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Okay, okay, let’s not jump on the “must” here. People are speaking casually here and not every word choice will be perfectly precise.

      2. Colette*

        And a lot of businesses don’t allow unescorted visitors, so even if the friend wants to help, they may not be able to leave you alone in a conference room (which are presumably intended for use by the business, anyway.)

      3. some1*

        Not only that, but it’s not usually up to a random employee to allow their friends to use a conference room if they don’t work there or aren’t doing business there.

    3. anonanonanon*

      A lot of city offices require you to check in with security if you don’t work there and it’s SUCH a hassle for everyone involved. In my current office, it would be frowned upon to let a non-employee into the building and through security just to use a conference room or an office to take a personal phone call. It’s a little….unusual?

      1. Diddly*

        Hmm it’s my old work, and I’d also have to go through security but don’t think they’d see it as a huge deal seeing as I know everyone there. But I have yet to do this so who knows. But as per the person who mentioned speaking to the hotel lobby receptionist, explained predicament and was given best times to speak there, lots of ppl might be surprising accomodating.

        1. anonanonanon*

          I mean, it obviously depends on the company. I know my last company would take issue with it since non-employees had to sign in to security, have an employee with an ID badge come get them and bring them around (since doors and conference rooms need badges to get into), and employees had to state why that person was in the building & were accountable for them. We usually only got people in for interviews, clients, or immediate family. The log of who visited got sent to HR just in case anything happened when the non-employee was in the building.

          Also, it’s a little unorthodox to allow a non-employee to use a conference room for non-business related purposes. My current company has a similar policy as my last company where non-employees have to be escorted by an employee and I can definitely see getting talked to for letting a friend use a conference room for an interview.

        2. some1*

          Hotel lobbies are open to the public for all intents and purposes, many offices are not unless you are doing business there.

          1. Diddly*

            Well the key is to ask. If OP doesn’t ask, they won’t know. And lots of different office places have different rules/regulations. If you have a friend there you’re more likely be able to have an ‘in’ – these were suggestions/ideas not necessarily going to work for everyone/everywhere.

        3. Colette*

          Since you don’t work there anymore, you don’t have a non-disclosure agreement in effect. That changes things – with security, if not with former coworkers.

          The issue with asking for this kind of thing is that you’re putting your friends in a tough position. If they say no, they risk your friendship and if they agree it can negatively affect their job.

    4. Mints*

      I think an easier version of this would be to go to your friends’ building and take the call in THEIR lobby. Security would probably let you wait, since you’re waiting for a friend. The friend won’t have to get you a guest pass or anything, then you can go for a quick lunch (or even just lap around the block if time is short). Although what I’m picturing here is the building lobby, where nobody is actually working, because it might still be awkward if it’s right in front of a cubicle area.

  29. Nonny*

    Ugh, I so sympathize with this. The last time I was interviewing, I lived in the DC area and was temping a 50-minute bus ride from my home. I couldn’t go home and come back (2 hours commute just for a 30-minute phone call?) and didn’t know anyone who lived or worked in the area to borrow their apartment or office. I kept getting requests for last-minute phone interviews, which also made it difficult at my hourly temp job. The area I worked in also didn’t have a park or hotel within close walking distance and all the coffee shops were in loud complexes, so I ended up taking calls standing next to dumpsters behind buildings a few times. I tried the library and was only successful once in begging them to let me use one of their many empty study rooms (which technically didn’t allow phones and were supposed to be for two or more people).

  30. cv*

    Having lived in cities most of my adult life and worked in open offices, I really hear you on this one, OP. The problem for me recently hasn’t been job interviews, though, it’s been not having anywhere private to handle calls about medical and financial stuff. I’m a grad student who has either had no designated space of my own or shared office space or the last few years, and I end up wandering the halls to take private phone calls and figuring that if someone in an entirely unrelated department of my very large school overhears then it won’t be a big deal. But I’m pretty sure there were molecular biologists who were the only people outside of my spouse and doctors who knew I was trying to get pregnant, nuclear physicists who knew the details of my pregnancy complications, and mechanical engineers who could tell you all about the argument I’m having with my health insurance company.

    Interviewers at least generally set up a time to talk or understand if you have to call them back. For some reason doctors and nurses think it’s bizarre when you can’t take a call at any time they happen to be between patients, even if you’re in class (and god forbid you work in a restaurant or retail or somewhere else it’s impossible to take calls). I get that it can be hard for two busy people to connect by phone, but the level of confusion and surprise I got from one medical practice in particular when I indicated that I wasn’t always immediately available by phone was really weird given how many people have these issues.

    1. Jennifer*

      I wish we could bring phone booths back. I’d love to make some private calls but hoo boy, I cannot anywhere. I wander through the back far ends of the work area and there’s STILL noisy construction or groups of people no matter how far back I am.

  31. Stephanie*

    I used to take public transit to work and ran j to the same issue. I usually did a coffee shop (but not the one next to my office) or a park (if the weather was nice). Are you near a public library? Perhaps you could reserve a study room in advance and make that your “lunch”?

  32. Nicole*

    I’ve had decent luck using to book conference rooms in office suites for an hour or so to use for phone interviews. The pickings are likely slim outside of big cities, but if you’re in a metro area it’s worth a look.

    1. Development professional*

      Yeah, I haven’t done this, but I was thinking that booking an hour of time at a co-working space and using one of the “phone booths” or other spaces intended for phone calls there would work really well. In DC, Cove would be good for this.

      1. Person of Interest*

        I was going to also suggest booking an hour of a shared coworking space like Cove.

    2. Helen of What*

      I’d love to be able to use these! I’m not sure I can justify the expense, given that places near my temp job are minimum $20/hour. Definitely good to know, though!

    3. zora*

      Ha, I was scrolling down to see if anyone had mentioned co-working spaces. There are some in my big city, and might be worth it to have a membership for a few months when job hunting so that you can book a meeting room. Some even let you book a meeting room for a one time fee even if you aren’t a member. Depending on the level of jobs you are looking for, might be worth the cost.

  33. Jamie*

    Libraries. Occasionally I have to meet clients outside of my office, and we’re usually discussing potentially sensitive information. I’ve learned to avoid Starbucks if at all possible because the espresso machine is absurdly loud. The libraries I’ve been to have private meeting rooms you can reserve for short periods of time, and you don’t need to be quiet like you do in the rest of the library. I’d call around to a few branches and see if they have the same option.

  34. Marcy Marketer*

    UGH! I had something similar happen to me when I worked in the city. I really wanted to work for this company, so I took the day off work to take their call. However, they rescheduled at the last minute to the following day. I ended up having to take their call on the UES while in-between first and second avenue. I was so distracted and I think I did horribly on the interview. I did not get a call back.

    If I were you, I’d insist they take your call at the end or beginning of the day unless you’re really and truly interested in the position. You don’t want to work at an inflexible company, regardless.

  35. KP*

    Esp. if you’re in the city, the new app Breather might be a good solution? They let you rent “quiet spaces” for short amounts of time.

    I struggled with this, too–in a small office there’s no easy answer. Best of luck with your search!

    1. The Actual OP*

      I booked a Breather on Monday for an interview call, believe it or not. The space only had curtains and there was a loud group in the next room. But Breathers cost $35-50 AN HOUR! I had a free coupon so it was worth a try, but that’s just not scalable.

      1. Sara*

        I would recommend complaining to Breather. I once used a Breather for a phone interview, and there was NO reception in the room – completely defeating the purpose of renting the room. They were very responsive and gave me credit for a free Breather in the future.

  36. mess*

    I just went through this – had a total of I think SIX phone / Skype interviews with members of a remote team, plus multiple calls about the offer. Luckily they are in Chicago and I am on the west coast so I could schedule a 7am call with them (my time) and still make it into work in time. I also had to “take my husband to the dentist,” took calls in the “mother’s room” (aka storage closet) when our one breastfeeding mom was out of town, used my office’s phone room with a glass door that was not soundproof (that was nerve wracking), and went to a hotel (I went up to the second floor where there was a bunch of ballrooms so there wasn’t as much foot traffic). The best spot I found was in a medical office building nearby where I had a lot of appointments. I happened to know that had a little atrium on the third floor. Quiet and no chance of running into peeps.

    All this juggling was insanely stressful but I got the job!

    1. mess*

      Oh, I forgot I also took at least one call in my CEO’s office while he was out of town. LOL.

  37. hayling*

    I can’t understand why interviewers are not accommodating about doing phone screens after hours. I have phone screened candidates early in the morning or in the evening (usually from home myself) because I understand their constraints. It’s a little harder to schedule an actual interview during off-hours, but I can be flexible with a candidate about a 15-30 min phone screen.

  38. Molly*

    I usually go for a walk and try to stand/pace somewhere with little wind noise. Not ideal, but it works. For awhile I was applying to jobs in a time zone 3 hours earlier than me and it was great because I could take calls in the evening, from the comfort of my quiet home, and it was still late afternoon there!

  39. Anon for this post*

    Do you volunteer anywhere? Are you on any boards? I use the conference room of the health facility where I am a board member. I could also use the conference room of the non-profit where I volunteer. It also makes getting out of working easier. “I have a meeting at (location).” Which is true. They just don’t know I’m actually borrowing an office for a phone interview.

    I also second asking a friend. I have several friends at firms in this city and I could use their room and they could use mine if needed.

    Also, get creative with calling in favors. Do you have an in-town chiropractor, doctor or dentist? See if they would let you borrow an empty exam room for a half hour. Also, many hospitals and hotels have private phone booths for taking cell phone calls. Some trade organizations provide free or low cost meeting space too. Oh! Court houses too. Not all of them allow cell phones inside though so know your court but most have open conference space that is first come first serve.

    1. The Actual OP*

      Thanks, everyone. I’m glad to know I’m not alone, that people are being unreasonable when they complain, and that no one has a great solution that I hadn’t already thought of.

      No one I know in the city has an office where they have enough rank to let a visitor use a conference room for a personal task, or would have the time in their day to get me through their building security and escort me through their office. If I had those kinds of friends I would likely be high enough up myself that none of this would be a problem. Nor am I a board member of a non-profit.

      Every doctor in NYC is seeing patients back to back. That is not a viable option.

      The court house requires so much security to go through, and is in an inconvenient part of town. And to use the spaces you have to be someone doing business with the court.

      Anyway, thanks everyone.

      1. Retail Lifer*

        Your best bet might be the least noisy diner or coffee shop within walking distance then. I’ve apologized for the noise and not had any pushback yet. Most people can sympathize. Clearly most of us here do!

      2. Diddly*

        So funny my option was literally the courthouse, but from a very small town, and would be an entirely different department to normal court proceedings (very small), and I’d worked with everyone before, I can’t imagine they’d care as long as I wasn’t disturbing anyone.
        They have a tiny room which is empty most of the day, so potentially that’s where I’d go.

        Annoying that we couldn’t come up with anything for you. Feels like there must be some solution, randomly a coffee shop I used to go to, had a conference like room they let writer’s groups etc use, you could book it for free, similarly smaller town than NYC so probably not an option. Has anyone mentioned a parking garage? Potentially quieter than a coffee shop, if you walk in acting like you’re getting your car I don’t think anyone would question it, also if it’s the middle of the day you’d think it would be pretty quiet. But yeah depends on it being close by/seeming safe.
        Another option, for freelancers there are these sort of group areas you can go work – hiring an office space for the day, that might also have a conference room as well. If there’s one nearby might be worth querying if they’d let you pop in for a short period. The one’s I looked at where surprisingly cheap – in comparison to breather you mentioned. But once again not NYC.

        1. Lucy*

          Yeah, the problem with NYC is that everything is literally on a block by block basis – if OP was comfortable sharing the neighborhood she was in I’m sure the NY’ers in the thread would have some specific suggestions!

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This brings to mind something which The Actual OP addressed, but I wanted to reply separately– while these are indeed creative suggestions, one thing you didn’t consider is security. Almost all buildings in NYC with any kind of viable space have security blocks in place, and they can be a bitch to go through. They’re also unpredictable– one never knows how long the line will be. Not worth it for a short interview, especially if you only have time to pop out of work, interview, and come back.

  40. kristinyc*

    I’m in NYC too. When I had phone interviews, I tried to duck out and go to a nearby park, or book a “meeting” in a conference room (and even add a friend coworker’s calendar to the meeting so it looked real). Also, my office had a lactation room and the one person in the company would could potentially need it was on maternity leave still, so I (and I suspect many others) used it for phone interviews until they cracked down on it when she came back.

    Alison >> my screen keeps jumping up to where the ads are when I’m trying to scroll through comments. Kind of annoying – is that something new with the ad servers?

  41. Tris Prior*

    Ugh, this has been on my mind a lot since Partner and I are both job hunting.

    We have AWFUL cell phone service in our apartment, so staying home doesn’t work. In our whole immediate neighborhood, actually, so even walking down the street to a coffee house won’t work. I live in a big city too with loud traffic and loud public transportation. No car. No place to talk at my work (which is also a problem when needing to call, say, the doctor’s office or deal with banking or money stuff). Outdoors near work is probably the best bet for me….. assuming we’re not having a violent storm like we have been getting often lately….

    Also, neither of us are allowed to have our phones on us at work – Partner isn’t supposed to have it turned on in the building anywhere due to working w/sensitive financial information that I guess the higher-ups think employees will photograph with their phones? So I have no idea how either of us are even going to be able to pick up calls from employers who just move on to the next person if you don’t answer. Nothing we can do about that part, though. It is what it is. :/

    1. Judy*

      We had bad reception at our house, and found a “network extender” was useful. I think most carriers have them. It’s basically a mini cell phone tower that you plug in to your internet connection, and it routes call to your carrier that way. It’s been great.

  42. baseballfan*

    I’ve had to deal with this recently (phone interviews, no private space to take them in the office, not to mention no access to a land line with any privacy). Only difference is I do drive to work, so I did them in my car. The parking lot I use is on a fairly quiet street, so I didn’t have any issues. Only thing is that there’s a fire station next to it, so I had a small fear that they would get a call and have to go out sirens blaring – but I suppose that wouldn’t have been a huge disruption since presumbly they would have been out of earshot within 20-30 seconds.

    I think the hotel lobby suggestion is a good one, if it’s a small hotel and fairly quiet. Or an uncrowded park.

    1. Elsajeni*

      When I was student teaching, I scheduled a phone interview several weeks in advance to take place during my free period in the afternoon, planned everything out, got confirmation that it would be fine to use the teacher lunchroom… and then that turned out to be the day of our scheduled fire drill for the month. Luckily the alarm didn’t go off until right after I’d hung up, but I felt fairly silly explaining to a nice principal in another state, “I’m speaking to you from my school and we’re supposed to have a fire drill sometime today, and it’s getting pretty close to 3:00, so…”

  43. ElCee*

    I’ve done a couple things at my current office. We have a private rooftop deck, which I found out the hard way has bad reception and VERY amplified city sounds! Even 9 floors up! Then, I tried the cafeteria. I don’t know what I was thinking there. I share an office, so another time I was able to shut the door while my officemate was out; of course that is not a solution I can always count on.
    But then I discovered that my building has phone booths–we host a lot of public meetings, so there are a handful of soundproof boxes you can use for cell conversations on a first-come, first-serve basis. That’s my go-to spot now.

  44. The Other Dawn*

    I’ve only done one phone interview, which was for my current job.

    I was in a panic about it, because I was in a cubicle and my boss was going to be in the office that day (I sat within 10 feet of her office). It would be very hard to grab a conference room because it was an office of only 18 people so I would be noticed. I also couldn’t really sit in the lobby because it was a busy office building, plus my boss could walk down. The parking lot was two blocks down. Not a big deal, but I was worried about losing cell service.

    Lucky for me, though, the stars aligned that day and my boss had an unexpected meeting in another location. Also, I found out that the building lobby had a conference room, which any tenant could use. It was all glass walls, but it worked. I had some privacy and quiet, and my boss didn’t know I had the call.

  45. anonanonanon*

    I’m kind of surprised by some of the comments about using public libraries or a friend’s apartment/office. Most major cities I’ve been in don’t allow cell phone use in public libraries and a lot of apartment buildings/offices require security checks or the resident/employee to be available to show someone inside the building. Maybe this is just a city/suburb difference? Or an East Coast thing? They’re creative suggestions, but really not feasible for most people living in a city, especially if it takes you longer to get to that place or get inside than the 15 or 20 minute interview.

    1. zora*

      eh, I think people are throwing out ideas. But I’ve worked in big cities for smaller nonprofits that have small offices where there is not really any lobby security. I can definitely think of times I’ve worked somewhere that I could have offered an extra office space to a friend who needed a place to do a phone interview. Or know of an open but semi-private area in my building I could recommend to someone.

      Like right now I’m at a small university in a major city, we have student lounge areas that you don’t need to go through security to access, but are quiet. If I had a friend I knew was having this problem I would definitely tell them to come to my building!

    2. Melissa*

      I lived in NYC and only the really fancy apartment buildings have security checks. Most of my friends did not live in those kinds of buildings, so IF I had a friend that lived nearby it would be a matter of getting their key to get into the building. But the problem would be getting that key (and then getting it back to them later); more importantly, the issue is that none of my friends lived close enough to where I worked to make this a good solution.

  46. L*

    In DC a lot of the parking garages have little waiting rooms for when it’s cold out. Maybe you could talk to the local garage attendant and see if you could pop in for a bit during the middle of the day. I’d imagine if you tipped them, they wouldn’t have any problems with it.

  47. AmyNYC*

    Another suggestion – if you have friends who work in the neighborhood, see if you can borrow their conference room for a bit. It might be a little awkward, but your boss won’t barge in!

    1. Melissa*

      I’ve used this room before for tutoring. It’s really quite perfect and most people don’t realize that it’s there, so it’s usually free. The downside is that you’re supposed to use it for group meetings, and I don’t think you’re supposed to be having cell conversations in there. But there’s only a small window on the door, and nobody would know unless a librarian came to check on you, which never happened in all the times I’ve used it.

    1. Retail Lifer*

      Most people I work with don’t know I’m job hunting, but a couple of people do. This is a great idea! Hoping the OP might be able to take advantage of this one, too.

    2. voluptuousfire*

      Yeah, the majority of NYC commuters take public transport. Driving into Manhattan is a nightmare. The chances of having a colleague who drove into work is slim at the very best.

  48. Jillociraptor*

    One thing that I appreciate so much about my current company is how transparent you can be when you’re looking for a new job. It’s common to share months in advance that you’re planning a search, and totally acceptable to take interviews during the workday. I honestly hadn’t thought about how rare that is until this thread!

  49. M*

    My goodness. I live in NYC too and know exactly what you mean! Fortunately, I have work-from-home privileges at my current job, so my next job search (or at least the phone screens) will be a lot less stressful, but previously, this was one of my biggest headaches whenever I was job hunting. I have done phone screens in basements/janitorial spaces, hallways, coffee shops, and… wait for it…. my Executive Director’s office once when she was out to lunch. Whatever it takes to get some peace and quiet! :)

  50. Thomas W*

    I once did a first round interview while I was on vacation at the beach, with a towel over my head to block out most of the noise. I did the second round interview at a rest stop on the way home from the same vacation. Got the job and still have it. :-) I think there’s only so much you can do to be in a private place for an interview — you’re doing your best and a reasonable employer will understand that!

  51. A Jane*

    I would schedule my phone interview between 10:00 to 11:30 AM & 2:30 – 4:00 PM and have them at fast food joints like Subway or the upstairs of a two-floor deli. Because it was off hours, background noise was significantly reduced. Also, there was a reduced chance of running into a coworker. The only thing to watch for is deliveries or cleaning time.

  52. AdAgencyChick*

    I’m also in NYC, and it seems like every agency in the business is going to more and more open office spaces to save dough, er, “increase collaboration.” Fortunately most recruiters are aware of this trend and at least they understand when you tell them, “I can’t take this call now, can we schedule a time to speak so I can arrange to be in a safe space?” But sometimes old habits die hard. They call you unannounced even after you’ve asked them to please give you a heads up if they need to speak with you, they do sometimes get irritated about the noise. (At which point I want to scream, “HR and recruiting are the only teams that still have offices left! Have some empathy!”)

    I usually deal with it by asking right from the get-go to please schedule calls or at least provide a heads-up, and then going to a different floor of my building and calling from the hallway. I’m fortunate that the hallways are quite large, so I can find a little hiding spot without annoying people who work on that floor. If this option were not available, I’d go outside and take the call on the sidewalk — the neighborhood my office is in is sorely lacking in coffee shops, and even if there were one that were easy to get to, it would probably be too risky since a coworker could stop in for a drink any time.

    It’s frickin’ annoying, I’m with you OP!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I never thought about this, but I can see the problems!
      Where I live, people usually drive to work, so if I wanted privacy, I would call people back on my lunch break from my car. Although, I clearly remember a few times the scheduling was difficult (not like you can just walk out to your car at 2:30 for no particular reason). I’ve also used stairwells, or gone to a different floor. Heck, one time I walked into an office that was being renovated while the workers were at lunch!

      I think for NYC you’re going to have to get creative… retail dressing rooms, coffee shops, hotel lobbies or business rooms, bars (maybe it’s quiet mid-day), churches, etc. I’d be curious to hear of other creative interview spaces!

  53. nicolefromqueens*

    Oh, NYC Problems!

    NYC has background noise pretty much everywhere. Unless you’re in the far reaches of the outer boros. And you can forget about using anyone else’s private quiet space unless you want to pay up. Space is expensive!

    Really the best you can do is explain the entire situation before you schedule the phone interview, and see if they can be a little more flexible time wise. If not, don’t get your hopes up.

  54. VictoriaHR*

    I do phone interviews all day, every day, and it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest for someone to say that they’re in a public place so sorry about the noise. I wouldn’t hold it against someone.

    I also never expect someone to take an unscheduled call in the middle of their workday. I always reach out to candidates via email first, to schedule a call for later on.

  55. Anonymousterical*

    My viewpoint is if the scheduler doesn’t work with you on a time that works best for you and doesn’t interrupt the work you’re currently doing, then you don’t want to work for them, because they already don’t respect you. If a potential employer ever expects me to jump through hoops and bend over backwards and, I don’t know, magically stop the world and all of its noises for a 20 minute phone call, they can call the next person on their list and stop wasting their time with me. Because I don’t want to work for them.

    FWIW, I worked with an associate attorney who suddenly started closing his office door a lot, right around the time his phone line busy light would come on. The light went off, and the door would open. After about two weeks of this, everyone except the two partners knew what he was doing. And then he quit. About a year later, the other associate attorney started closing his office door a lot, right when his phone light went on. We all knew exactly what it meant. And then he quit. People notice, especially in a small office.

    I’m trying to think of what I would have done at my office job, if I didn’t have a car, besides the library and coffee shops. Any chance of calling up a nearby church and seeing if they have anything that would work for you? Failing that, I probably would have walked over to the nearby park or even the huge Courthouse courtyard–and, I don’t know, hoped for good weather. Good luck. :)

  56. voluptuousfire*

    Yep. I live in NYC and took a few phone interviews while at my temp job and people just accepted there would be noise. Luckily my temp gig had a large cafeteria and I would try to schedule the call for before or after the lunch rush. It was usually decently quiet.

    The NYPL probably wouldn’t have a place to take the call, unless they have some sort of job seeker conference thing and if they do, it would probably be at the big library on 5th avenue.

    1. Melissa*

      They do have a conference room, but it is indeed at the Schwarzman building on Fifth, and it’s designed for group meetings. They may or may not kick you out – but honestly they probably wouldn’t ever find out.

  57. trilby*

    When I lived in NYC, I had a memorable phone interview in my building’s back stairway. I just walked down a couple flights to be sure nobody from my floor would hear or walk in, but that was so unlikely to begin with. I have a feeling you can find an appropriate place somewhere in your building where you are very unlikely to be interrupted, although I don’t have advice about your squeamishness to do it at the office in the first place.

  58. LizNYC*

    I did the same thing on my last job hunt. Parks and streets that had alcoves farther away from traffic were my friend, as was the deli around the corner that had seating upstairs (which was always abandoned). I also never told people where I was. I figured, you’re calling me on my cell phone, I get to choose the location. However, when an ambulance went by, the person on the other end was usually understanding (and those you can hear inside buildings!).

    Also, while you’re job hunting, you might want to start making a daily coffee/snack run at random times each day so that when you do have to step out for an interview call, your colleagues think you’re just stepping out for a coffee or snack.

  59. NewBooks*

    I’m in DC. I’ve used the courtyard between the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery before. It’s super quiet and peaceful. People go there to read, use their computers, eat lunch, and occasionally take calls. Because of the noise muffling system, talking on the phone isn’t disturbing to others and it’s right near a major metro station.
    I work at a library, so I’ve also used a quiet study room (in the middle of the summer, so no one else is around). Other option is, as other people have mentioned, come in late or leave early if you have the flextime.

  60. De Minimis*

    The phone interview during the workday thing was what tipped my former employer off that I was leaving…

    I had scheduled one for noon, which normally wouldn’t have caused a problem since it was during my lunch break…but the day before my boss announced they were providing lunch the next day. I had to beg off [no one ever turns down free food where I work] and that was basically the equivalent of putting a sign on my head saying “I’M LEAVING.”

  61. Student*

    Can you afford to spend a little money on it for the sake of some quite in a convenient location?

    If so, you might try renting a cab for the duration of the call. Ask the driver nicely to be quiet and drive in a circle until you’re done with your call (or just park somewhere). As long as he’s getting a fair fare out of it, he probably won’t care.

  62. Jennifer*

    Check with your local library. Many libraries are community centers and have meeting rooms and small study rooms that you can book for an interview.

    1. Greg*

      Agree that this is a good idea. But if we’re talking New York specifically, I have been in a number of libraries in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, and never found a single one that offered private rooms.

  63. ECH*

    Not sure if it has been suggested as I have not read all the comments, but that might be a great business opportunity to set up “interview shacks” where people could go for things like this. Assuming they were far enough away from your workplace and the rooms didn’t have windows …

  64. Greg*

    Over the past few years, I spent a lot of time either freelancing or looking for a job, so I became very familiar with the wifi cafe options in New York. One thing I had never really appreciated until recently was just how many coffee shops play really loud music. Starbucks is by far the worst offender, but they pretty much all do it. I guess it has something to do with setting a mood so customers buy more, or maybe to keep the baristas sane. Either way, it can seriously complicate the ability to schedule a phone call. And don’t even get me started on people who want to do Skype interviews. For those, I pretty much had to arrange to be at home.

    That said, I always used headphones, and I generally found the loud background music bothered me much more than it bothered the interviewers.

  65. Susan*

    Sorry, this is somewhat unrelated, but hearing some of your phone interview horror stories, I wanted to share mine. One time, my cell phone was low on battery before a phone interview (completely my fault, had never happened again). I just attached it to my computer with the cord and talked without problem for about 5 minutes before I realized the phone wasn’t actually charging. I played with the cord a bit, and realized if I held it firm in a certain way, the phone would charge, so I did that for a while, but my hand was starting to cramp. After a while, that wasn’t working either, so I pressed it harder, and the thing actually caught fire! Like, I think it wasn’t charging because there was some sort of short and I literally burnt my hand in the middle of the interview (not a bad burn just like a prick), and just kept talking like it was normal. Fortunately, it ended within a minute or two of that. Multiple lessons learned from that. Throw away your old cords as soon as they start causing a problem–don’t be cheap! Charge your phone in advance!

    1. Susan*

      Oh, and I guess I can mention, the phone interview was a success. I was invited in for an out-of-state interview. She had no idea I was setting things on fire, haha.

  66. Melissa*

    I’ve worked in offices where I couldnt find anywhere really private. My solution is – I book a conference room, and I talk to an admin and mention I have to make a DR’s appointment and if there are any offices I can use for 20 minutes.

  67. MapleHill*

    Agree with Alison that a reasonable interviewer is going to understand. I conduct a lot of phone interviews and I always check to see if the person is currently working and try to coordinate a screen around lunch time or early/late in the day knowing they can’t just do an interview in the middle of the office. I expect to hear background noise and actually would appreciate if someone just said upfront “hey, sorry if there’s noise, I’m at XYZ”. If I really can’t hear someone or the call keeps dropping, I’ll just reschedule or ask them to go somewhere else.

    This is always why I call at the exact time I say I’m going to call. If someone walks away from the office expecting a call, they usually have a limited amount of time to be gone. So it’s inconsiderate of their time if I’m late.

    Knowing friends and family who job hunt and having gone through that myself, I’m appalled at some of the practices employed by interviewers and try to be considerate in my position. The worst is calling people randomly and wanting to do a phone interview right then and there. What are they thinking?

  68. Newbie*

    This…so much…

    After a very long time at my company, I have just started to test the waters and job search – and to my luck – I have had several contacts. But, I had not realized just how tricky the pre-screening processes would be and how hard that is to work around. I work very far from home (reason # 1 for the search) and do not feel comfortable closing the door to my office. I am positively chained to my desk during the day, so it looks strange for me to leave for a little bit – much less to run out for lunch (problem #2). So, I am running to my car in the parking garage for the only real quiet and privacy I can manage – just to take calls and conduct phone interviews. It feels very strange to be doing that – on my cell phone, shuffling papers around trying to not get distracted if my co-workers are coming and going seeing me sitting there. It is a very challenging thing – but I am hopeful it will get at little easier. Good luck OP!!

  69. EW*

    Yes – I’ve had this same problem! My suggestion is – wherever you choose to go (hotel lobby, coffee shop, etc), go there a day or two ahead, around the same time of day, to scope it out. See how it feels, how loud it is, make sure you have good cell reception, etc. And make a test call to a friend or relative to test how the connection and background noise sound. Think of it as an extension of the general advice to prepare thoroughly ahead of an interview — that goes for the content as well as these kinds of space issues!

    Also, schedule the call close enough to lunchtime that you can bill it as ‘just going out for a late lunch, see you in half an hour.’ I guess if it’s a full interview that might take longer, you might have to call it a doctors appt or something instead.

  70. Kyle*

    Anytime I do s phone interview, I’ve found a quiet spot to sit in my car for it. Most cars these days have Bluetooth for added comfort and there’s no outside noise to distract you or the interviewer.

    It’s a simple way to prepare yourself and add that professional touch of silence in the background.

  71. Kari*

    I am a consultant, and I’ve been looking for a FT position for several months. But, same issue. It’s difficult for me to take calls or schedule time away from the client site during the day, and as a consultant I feel that there is additional scrutiny on how I spend my time. I recently ran into a recruiter who called and emailed *relentlessly*, even though she knew I was on client site and on a deadline, to the point where I declined any further interviews or contact with her. I need to be discreet and can’t afford to lose the work I do have while I am looking for a FT job.

  72. Anemone*

    Here in London (UK) today I did phone interview in one of the class studios at my gym! Front desk informed me that it would be empty for a couple of hours and they weren’t playing any music so I just set my iPad up on various bits of The Zuu training equipment and got on with it. I told my interviewer where I was in case anyone came barging in and he (luckily) didn’t mind at all.

  73. Kitty Butler*

    No one mentioned this one: bank entrances (where the ATMs are). You get people walking in and out occassionally, and the odd beeping from the machine, but for the most part it’s quiet and empty. Not ideal because there’s no seating, but if you really need relative solitude and quiet and don’t have time to plan it, this will do in a pinch.

    I’ve also interviewed in stairwells and cafes/lunch spots. Cafes and lunch spots are the worst becase they play music and you get kitchen noise.

Comments are closed.