what’s up with surprise phone interviews?

A reader writes:

I’ve been job searching for a few months now. I just got a call from HR at an organization I applied to a few weeks ago asking me if they had a few minutes to chat — they wanted to go through the position with me and let me know the salary so they could see if I still wanted to be considered (they said they just restructured the department so there were some updates to the position). I told them of course (this seemed positive!) but I only had 15 minutes before a meeting. They said that was fine.

Cut to: they’re asking me about my background, my current role, my strengths and weaknesses, what I’m looking for in a new role, and why I’m excited about their mission. It became a 25-minute first round interview. Luckily, I was at a computer so I could quickly google their mission (I’d applied long ago and have applied to many places since then, I almost couldn’t remember their exact mission!).

Two questions: (1) Is this normal? I’ve never had a spur-of-the-moment interview before. (2) Would there have been a polite way to ask her if we could reschedule the call? If I had known this was an interview, I would’ve rescheduled so I could’ve been more prepared, but she really made it seem like it would be just five minutes on the phone.

This is indeed a thing that sometimes happens, and it’s a terrible practice.

Employer do it because it’s convenient for them — they can just pick up the phone and call when they feel like it, without having to worry about doing the advance work of scheduling a call and sticking to appointments.

But it’s incredibly thoughtless! They could be catching you at work, or in a grocery store, or taking care of a crying child, or about to walk into a meeting. And there’s a lot of pressure on candidates to say yes when a prospective employer asks if they have a few minutes to talk (since sometimes they won’t call back if you say no), and it’s reasonable for them to believe the caller if they say it’ll just take a few minutes.

It’s also in an employer’s best interests to interview candidates who are actually expecting the interview — and have had time to look over the job description, get themselves into a quiet place where they won’t be interrupted, and so forth. It’s not to their advantage to try to interview a candidate who’s unprepared or distracted.

And this was particularly poorly executed in that they told you they wanted to give you some quick updates on the role (easy to say yes to without having prepared) when in reality they ended up interviewing you.

All that said, you absolutely can say it’s a bad time and ask to reschedule. When they first called, you could have said, “I’d love to talk with you but I’m heading into a meeting. Is there a time later today or tomorrow I could call you back?”

Or, once it became clear that this wasn’t what they’d originally said, you could have said, “Ah, I’m sorry! I hadn’t realized this was the nature of the call. I’d love to talk more with you, but I’m not somewhere where I can do that right now. Is there a time later today or tomorrow I could call you back?”

Or, since you’d told them you had 15 minutes, once it passed that mark you could have said, “I’m actually at that hard stop I mentioned — I have a meeting I need to be in. I hadn’t realized we’d need more time than that. Is there a time later today or tomorrow I could call you back?”

Full disclosure though: Some employers then won’t follow through on part two of the call. Sometimes that’s because you’ll have talked enough that they’ll have realized you’re not as strongly matched with the job as they need. Sometimes it’s because they’re disorganized and suck at sticking to scheduled calls (and don’t prioritize job candidates). Sometimes it’s because they get focused on other candidates and forget you or don’t bother to circle back. To be clear, good interviewers don’t do this — but some crappy ones do.

And of course, that fact puts even more pressure on candidates to accept surprise phone interviews.

Interviewers who do this need to stop. It’s truly in no one’s interests.

{ 211 comments… read them below }

  1. WhyTho

    I’m about 6 months in at a new workplace, and this is apparently a common practice among managers who hire. They’re all baffled that I email folks first to schedule a time. It’s a win-win for everyone — people are prepped and I can do it when I want to. Why just cold call?

    1. WorkIsADarkComedy

      But is it also a common practice to lie about it? These folks told the OP that the call was to provide an update on the job and see if the OP was still interested, but it was actually an interview.

      I would consider that a red flag and look harder to see whether the employer is dishonest in other ways.

      1. PleaseEmailMeFirst (Original Poster)

        OP here! After speaking with some friends about it later that night, I had the same feeling of this being a red flag. They actually called me again about 5 days later (again, why all the calls? They have my email!) wanting to bring me in for a second round, and I politely declined. I’m lucky enough to have a few other interviews happening and this didn’t seem worth my time when I was already so put off by the whole first conversation.

        1. Devil Fish

          “(again, why all the calls? They have my email!)”

          I can’t tell you why, but calling is usually the default method of contact for employment-focused communications, even when the phone call is to schedule a phone interview. It’s weird and borderline inconvenient but the part where you get phone calls at all is normal and not a red flag.

          1. PleaseEmailMeFirst (Original Poster)

            Fair enough. I was more so referring to the way they misled me (either accidentally or on purpose) in the first phone call that felt off to me.

          2. km

            Why is calling someone to schedule a phone interview “weird and borderline inconvenient”? It can be quick and easy, and to me feels like a personal touch whether I’m the one making or receiving the call. Also, emails can easily land in someone’s spam folder – and this is especially a problem with emails sent by an ATS.

            1. Tau

              Because it can be really difficult for people to receive calls at work, especially job-searching calls that it’s important none of their coworkers overhear. For me, there is literally nowhere I can go to during work that’s reasonably nearby, where I won’t be overheard by colleagues, and also quiet. I took one recruiter call on the end of the metro platform after work, trying desperately to wrap up the call before the next train got in and made conversation impossible, because I’d tried to have it in the entrance to the station but then realised my CEO was standing right there. Most of the time, I end up asking if the recruiter can call in the evening and leave work early so I can be home to take the call. All because they want “just a five minute call to touch base on the next steps”.

              Long story short: please, please, please consider using e-mail.

            2. tinyhipsterboy

              Tau covered a lot of it, but there’s also that calls are, quite frankly, a lot more disruptive than emails. I can quietly respond to an email when I’m with friends, don’t have to worry about answering yet another spam call in the hopes that it’s a job interview, or tap away a response a lot faster than having to stop and talk on the phone in the middle of something and then forget what I was doing.

              My anxiety flares when I have to talk on the phone, too, and it’s a lot easier to check my schedule and ensure I don’t accidentally make conflicting plans when I’m not sitting there with someone waiting specifically for my response.

              (I do think it a good practice to check your spam folder regularly in general, but if you’re applying for jobs, anything with an online component could be sent to spam, so it’s crucial to check it when applying in general.)

              1. JM60

                Bingo. A call is an interruption which pushes someone to respond to right away. An email allows the recipient to decide when to respond.

            3. LovecraftInDC

              I definitely think there are times when a call is important, but as was explained above, there are a lot of advantages to using an email. Even when offering the job, it gives people a chance to think about salary. I once accepted a job without discussing salary because it happened over the phone and I was so excited that I didn’t have time to think.

              Additionally, for people like myself, who like to talk everything over with their spouse, email gives the time needed to do that, particularly if child care needs to be coordinated for scheduling.

      2. Drax

        This is way way too common. I’m in the process of looking for a job and it’s about 90% of the time they say “just want to go through a couple details about the position, should take 5-15 minutes only” and it turns into a 30 minute phone interview they expect me to be able to just do right then and there

        It’s not really a red flag, more like a yellow one. It’s common enough I’m starting to feel like it’s one of those bad job practices that become normal practise because “everyone else does it”

    2. Catsaber

      I rarely cold-call for anything at work – I pretty much always email or message first asking if we can set up a time to talk. The nature of my organization is that people get pulled away from their phones all the time, so cold calling just results in playing phone tag for days.

    3. Legal Beagle

      I don’t answer calls from numbers I don’t recognize (especially while I’m at work!). So those managers would never talk to me, if this is their only way of reaching candidates. It’s a terrible hiring practice for both sides.

      1. EH

        Same! Gotta set a time or you’re going to voicemail. My phone is usually set so only calls from my priority contacts even ring for me. If I’m expecting a call at a particular time, I’ll answer regardless, but if I’m not, nope.

        1. Tin Cormorant

          Same. My family members mainly text, so 99% of phone calls for me are from robots that often aren’t even speaking in a language I can understand. If you’re not on my contact list or warn me ahead of time, get used to hearing my voicemail message.

      2. SusanIvanova

        I especially don’t answer unexpected calls with my area code – 99% of the time they’re spam.

        1. Elizabeth West

          I use my Google Voice number for job applications; all job-related calls come through that. Transcriptions of voicemail go to my email. Legitimate employers will leave a message. I haven’t yet run into one who doesn’t. Scammers and spammers usually don’t bother.

          Unfortunately, I have to answer the local calls because I’m trying to sell this crap pile and many of them are realtors. :P

    4. Maaahjorie

      “It’s also in an employer’s best interests to interview candidates who are actually expecting the interview”

      I don’t know that I agree with this in all situations. Businesses encounter unstructured situations all the time, and it can be useful to know how a candidate deals with an unscripted situation. Also, entrepreneurs are supposed to have an “elevator pitch” ready in case they end up sharing an elevator ride with a big venture capitalist. This is basically a 15 second marketing pitch for their company. It is good advice for someone in the job market to have a personal elevator pitch.

      1. Kathleen_A

        Yeah, but…an interview is not just about an elevator pitch! You’re supposed to find out a lot more about them than can be said in an elevator ride. I’m sorry, but it’s just silly. Unless being able to talk extemporaneously about yourself for 30 minutes, what difference does it make how good someone is at talking extemporaneously about himself for 30 minutes. That’s just silly, and a waste of time.

        1. asuka

          I agree. Unless the position you’re applying for requires persuasive communication/presentation abilities, I don’t think judging whether an applicant has a good elevator pitch at the drop of a hat is a fair assessment of their compatibility for the job. Not everyone who is looking for a job is an entrepreneur or work in industries that have unscripted business encounters. There are many jobs out there that don’t need presentation skills and have regularly scheduled duties and deadlines, which the employee knows and can prepare for in advance.

          1. Kathleen_A

            I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most jobs don’t require the ability to speak extemporaneously about yourself like this. Some, sure, but not most. I mean, I’m a writer and editor. Having me write something extemporaneously about myself wouldn’t be the best test in the world, but it would be much better than having me give some sort of elevator speech.

            1. NoLongerYoung

              I will go further out on this limb. I will say that in my experience, those who are glib and can fill 30 minutes with smooth talk – in some cases – are not the ones I want on my team (I don’t directly manage, but have to deliver a lot of heads down work across a couple teams). Smooth talking rules out the quiet ones (three of the people I love working with), in some cases, goes against diversity (one of my team members is very hard to understand on the phone, but amazingly great at her JOB), and – in the case of one of my co-workers – is against his abilities (he stutters under stress, but is a near genius with finance).
              Judging anyone by being able to smoothly extemporaneously speak, is a bad idea on many fronts.

              My three smoothest talking co-workers do the LEAST work of anyone in the building, and are mostly working on getting promoted, not being helpful to anyone but the boss. But they spend a lot of time talking. Talking. and… talking.

              It’s not something I’d use as a hiring criteria, anecdotally. At least not in my “I need good workers not talkers” world.

              1. Quill

                I recently interviewed for (and got!) a situtation where my ability to speak on the phone in my second language was important, but even there, being glib and small talking was less important than asking for clarity and being able to read my second language…

                1. RUKiddingMe

                  “…being glib and small talking was less important than asking for clarity and being able to read my second language…”

                  Yup. It was all about your language skills not about your ‘elevator pitch’ in said language.

              2. GMN

                That applies to your business, but I work in large project sales – handling unscripted phone conversations well is a very useful skill for us. Not all jobs are the same, but I think being charismatic and a quick thinker is good in most.

        2. Amethystmoon

          Many people can’t talk extemporaneously about themselves for more than a couple of minutes, especially to someone they have never met or even spoken to on the phone before. That is probably a good reason why Toastmasters limits the table topics time.

      2. The Tin Man

        I agree with Kathleen – by definition an elevator pitch is not a 25 minute back-and-forth like the letter writer described.

      3. pamela voorhees

        This assumes that everything is business as normal for the candidate — what if the candidate is in the middle of visiting their mom with dementia in assisted care, or home sick vomiting their brains out? Why is the expectation that they have to be ready to work at literally every second of the day? And just like Kathleen_A said, it’s not just fifteen seconds, they usually need a fair chunk of your time to really get into the interview. It’s a super bad idea.

        1. gbca

          Exactly. The candidates aren’t on a level playing field when one of them might be well-positioned to take an impromptu phone call and others might have major distractions. Personally this is why I almost never answer calls from unknown numbers!

        2. RUKiddingMe

          “Why is the expectation that they have to be ready to work at literally every second of the day?”

          This is something we need to ask ourselves as a society…not just in this particular context.

        3. Blue

          Yeah, I really dislike that a significant part of this test (or “unscripted situation,” if you will) is your willingness and ability to drop your responsibilities for 30 minutes with no warning and at the employer’s whim. I’d also be really surprised if they’re cool with their own employees doing that on their company’s time, so they shouldn’t be expecting it of others.

      4. fposte

        There might be jobs where this makes sense, sure. But most of those unstructured situations are within structured times–it’s while you’re at work, or at a conference, not while you’re at a family funeral or, you know, your current paid job.

        1. Legal Beagle

          Agreed. And it’s a poor replacement for developing an effective, professional interview process that actually tells you what you need to know about the candidate. IMO, these type of “gumption” tests are often useless in practice and just end up abusing the power imbalance between employers and candidates.

        2. OlympiasEpiriot

          Exactly. I really think that John Wick didn’t get his job through a cold call interview. And I can’t think of any other job at the moment where I literally would have to be thinking about the job All The Time, 24-7, with no end in sight. Even if one is a firefighter, EMT or a deployed soldier, there are boundaries to the job.

          1. Devil Fish

            I don’t know how John Wick originally got the job, but he definitely kept it based on his elevator pitch (and by “elevator pitch” I mean “he murdered everyone else in the elevator”).

          2. Le Sigh

            I’m having fun imaging John Wick’s cold call interview. Like, his phone rings, and someone says, “Hi, are you still interested in this position within the High Table?” and if he says yes, an army of assassins come at him for a skills test.

      5. Nephron

        My elevator pitch would be my cover letter and/or resume. I can probably repeat a summary at the drop of a hat, but you already have it if I applied to the job. The LW mentioned the mission of the organization, I do not memorize the specific mission of every organization I apply to. I know what they do, but mission statements are very specific and given the number of jobs it is normal to apply to it is weird to expect people to memorize all of that information for every job.

      6. Nanani

        Most of us aren’t entrepreneurs,we’re looking for a job.
        It’s actually a horrible idea to pretend everyone’s career can be summed up into a superficial presentation like that.

      7. NotAnotherManager!

        These are not analagous situations. It’s not a bad idea to have a pitch speech, but these impromptu interview calls could be coming in while people are at work (and may not want to give their “elevator pitch” for the job in their cube farm in front of the coworkers they don’t want to know they’re interviewing), running errands (pardon the screaming kids in the pediatric waiting room!), or some other place that is not conducive to a conversation.

        I’ll also say that pitch speeches are not a good fit for the way we interview. HR is typically calling to weed out the people that are totally unqualified, and then you have to talk to a hiring manager who likely has their own questions and is less interested in a self-promotion spiel than what they specifically want to ask about.

      8. Dweali

        An unstructured situation for me would be someone yelling and screaming about their medical billing being messed up, if that call were to happen on my personal cell phone I would respond either with choice words or automatically disconnect. This why situational questions are asked during interviews

      9. Tinker

        My new elevator pitch is now “Hi, the person you’re calling is using a screening service from Google and will get a copy of this conversation. Go ahead and say your name, and why you’re calling.”

        I imagine it will be particularly effective in the actual elevator scenario.

    5. Leela

      I think a lot of recruiters try to look for new, innovative ways to learn about candidates and frankly I think a lot of it is dumb posturing that really gets them nothing (think asking how many golf balls fit inside of an airplane unless that was somehow relevant). Remember Alison’s post about a colleague who thought she could figure out a ton about a candidate about how they reacted when she offered them water? It’s like that. They think they’re going to uncover cool, secret things about candidates like how they react when they’re caught off guard, but being caught off guard at work when you’re already in work space and caught off guard when you might have three kids with you, have just dropped a carton of milk, your dog just ran out the front door, etc, isn’t going to tell you anything useful and if I was a strong candidate somewhere they’d lose me for pulling this!

  2. Naomi

    Remember the letter “My boyfriend thinks only bad candidates prepare for interviews”? I wonder if we’re seeing the same fallacy here from the employer side.

    1. banzo_bean

      That was my first inclination as well. I think they’re trying to find which candidates “really want the job” by testing them on the spot with no warning.

      1. Matilda Jefferies

        Eh, I think it’s more benign than that – it’s probably just a lack of planning on the interviewer’s part, rather than a deliberate attempt to trick the candidates. They’re thinking about what they themselves want to know, and just start talking without considering it from the other person’s point of view.

        I mean, it’s still a terrible practice, and interviewers should absolutely stop doing it. But for the most part, I think it’s more likely due to thoughtlessness than to trickery.

        1. Kylroy

          ¿Porque no los dos? The kind of place that’s too disorganized to make and keep an appointment is likely to be the kind of place that wants the interviewee off-balance.

        2. Jennifer

          I think it’s a sense of entitlement too. “We are the ones offering the job, everyone must bend to our will.” Interviewers like this don’t look at the process as a two-way street. They never stop to think that the person may not even accept the job if it’s offered to them eventually, that they might be interviewing elsewhere, and that they have other things going on in life besides job hunting.

          1. smoke tree

            In the back of their minds, they’re probably thinking, “Well, if this candidate is REALLY interested in the job, she should be prepared to talk about it whenever is convenient for us!” Really, like other bad interviewing strategies, it just screens out the candidates who have other options.

            1. smoke tree

              It’s probably not usually nefarious, though. Just a bad habit you can get into when you’re much more used to seeing interviews from the employer’s side, coupled with social norms that enable it.

        3. Kathleen_A

          I agree, Matilda – it’s probably just thoughtlessness, not some sort of “gotcha!” test. The person may have even meant “just a few minutes” when they said that, but then once they had the OP on the phone, they just continued asking questions thoughtlessly and cluelessly.

        4. banzo_bean

          I don’t know, I have definitely worked alongside hiring managers that have those expectations.
          “If Jane really wants the job, she’d remember the job posting and our business.”

        5. Tallulah in the Sky

          Usually, I would agree with you (“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”), but I wouldn’t be so sure here. They started by lying to the OP about the subject of this phone call (give an update on the job -> full interview). This gives it a “Gotcha” vibe to me and would be a red flag.

      1. S-Mart

        I couldn’t tell you the mission of my current employer, nevermind one of the many I’d be looking at if I were job hunting. In vague terms I could, but the actual official mission statement – not a chance.

        1. Kelsi

          Seriously! I’ve been at the same place for 15 years and I can tell you generally what we’re about, but definitely not the specific mission statement.

      2. Jennifer

        And the names of all of our former CEOs. I remember a letter where an interviewer got mad because the person didn’t remember the last CEO, not the current one.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Yeah or the “They’re only applying to this one job, they’re of course not applying to multiple places! Of course they know Who We Are and our Very Important Mission.”

  3. Quake Johnson

    One time when I was walking my dog in the middle of the park when I got the call. When I answered the person on the other end explained who they were and then immediately launched into their questions. Not even a cursory “Do you have a minute to chat?” or anything. I decided after question #2 I didn’t want to work there, but went through with the rest just to be polite. I’m sure they thought the noise of children playing, dogs barking and birds chirping was “unprofessional.” *shrug*

    Such a terrible practice.

    1. PleaseEmailMeFirst (Original Poster)

      Thanks for your help, Alison! As I commented elsewhere, I was called a few days later for a second interview and ended up politely declining. I just felt like it was a red flag, and I’ve worked in a toxic environment before and I’m trying to be more selective of where I go next.

      For people talking about not answering unknown numbers: Fair! The longer version of this story is that this organization had called me in the morning (when I was in a meeting) and left a voicemail saying they wanted to go over the new structure and salary to see if I’m interested. I was planning to call them back at my lunch break, but then they called about 2 hours later, and that’s when this whole phone call took place. I figured if they were calling me twice within 2 hours, it must be important and so I should answer? Of course now looking back, it makes the whole story sound even stranger.

      Thanks for all the context and responses to say next time!

      1. Legal Beagle

        I don’t think anyone was critizing you for answering an unknown number! I pointed it out in the top thread just to emphasize that this is a bad practice, even beyond the rudeness to candidates.

        Anyways, good for you for seeing the red flags and acting on it! Definitely not cool that they called twice in two hours and then disregarded your time limit. Sounds like a place that would not respect your time as an employee, either.

      2. Amethystmoon

        I never answer unknown members. They are almost always solicitors. If it’s not important enough to leave a voice mail about, it’s not important enough to pick up the call.

      3. Devil Fish

        There is nothing weird about answering unknown numbers when you’re trying to get a job! I’ve been contacted by so many employers who don’t leave a voicemail or don’t give the right contact number of the person who’s going to call to do the phone interview, etc. It’s pretty much the only time I’ll answer an unknown number.

  4. President Porpoise

    I once had a surprise phone interview – for a job I had never applied for. Someone had seen my resume on one of those big job sites, and thought I might be interested in the low level role they needed to fill. I went in for a real interview later, and took the not-super great low level job. Seven years and four promotions later, I make three times as much, I’ve found a career I love, and my job has fantastic benefits.

    So, sometimes it works out. But it was a super weird experience and it would have been nice to know about the job and company before I ended up on the phone with my future boss and grand boss.

  5. rageismycaffeine

    I had just about put out of my mind that this happened to me once. It was HR who called me, and the very nice HR rep clearly didn’t understand anything about my field generally or the job I was applying for specifically. It was awkward all around.

    Inexplicably, I ended up getting an in-person interview and then the job.

  6. The Original K.

    I had one of these on a Saturday morning. So annoying. And at the end she said the hiring manager would reach out to me and I asked when, and the HR person was basically like “Whenever, I dunno,” and balked when I asked if we could schedule a specific time. I never heard from them after that.

  7. Donkey Hotey

    I received what I considered a surprise second phone interview. I handled the call well, got off the phone, checked my email, and there was an apology email from HR claiming the email asking for a second interview had somehow bounced.

    Didn’t get the job and (for this and a few other reasons) am glad for it.

  8. 123456789101112 do do do

    This happened to me! I was so desperate for a job that I played along, and it was probably one of the best phone interviews I’ve ever done because I had no time to stress out or psych myself out about it first. But it was so inconsiderate, and I was so drained afterwards but I had to go right back to work (because it was the middle of the workday!). I wish I had gotten that job rather than the one I took about a week later, though – with no interview (RED FLAG), they called and offered me the job right out of the blue. No surprises, it was the worst job I’ve ever had.

            1. Camellia

              They tried jump rope but the rope it broke, so they just sat around telling knock-knock jokes, lady-bugs 12, at the lady-bugs picnic!

              OMG, my daughter is 34 years old and I still remember the words to this song…and now I have it in my head for the rest of the day.

            2. Slartibartfast

              I must be a little older, because I remember it as the animated pinball machine, very 70s, and the only words were “123 4 5 678910 11 12” and jazzy “do doo do do doo”.

              I’m the original PBS generation :)

    1. Jennifer

      That happened to my husband. He thought he was showing up for an interview after a vague phone call from the company but he had been hired. That could be an entirely new topic.

      1. President Porpoise

        Wait, what? Wow. That’s bananacrackers. Did he stay with the job or not? And did he discuss salary, benefits, etc. with them at all, or did they just assume he’d be ok with whatever they offered?

      2. Devil Fish

        What kind of job was it? That’s happened to me a couple times for shitty customer service/food service/retail work and I’m curious where else this is any kind of normal.

        Usual scenario: I fill out an app, they call and ask if I can come in and talk to a manger that Wednesday at 2, I get there at 2 on Wednesday and the manager hands me a stack of paperwork and a name tag and says my shift ends at 8. It is terrible every time since no one has ever told me to clear the whole day for them.

  9. (Former) HR Expat

    I was unemployed/job searching for about 5 months when I moved back to the US, and it shocked me how common this was. I would say it happened with about 4 of every 5 jobs! When I’m trying to do phone interviews, I email to schedule a potential time slot with them first, like Alison suggests. I think I was even more shocked because it definitely wasn’t normal to do the previous time I was job searching. And what was baffling was that they were calling at weird hours, like 7:30am or 5:30pm, even though it was clear that I wasn’t working.

    1. rageismycaffeine

      Mine was not a weird time, but on a weird day – it was either the day before or immediately after July 4th, when a large enough number of people would have been on vacation to make it especially strange timing (I was surprised the office that was calling me was open, even). I wonder if there’s some unofficial rule of doing these surprise interviews that says not to do it during work time…

      1. (Former) HR Expat

        No unofficial rule that I’m aware of…. I mean, I want to work my 8-5 as much as the next person, so when I’m requesting to schedule screens with candidates, I always start with something during the normal work day. But we (HR) need to be flexible with candidates who can’t make it during normal work hours, so I will rearrange my schedule and work out of my hours if the candidate is only available at 7pm.

        It also doesn’t help with different time zones and people recruiting for the entire country out of one area. I always hated recruiting for Hawaii because they were 7 hours behind me. Although I did keep hoping that I would get to do some in-person interviewing for those roles. Alas, it never happened :(

        1. Professional Merchandiser

          HR Expat; this has nothing to do with the thread, but talking about doing an in-person interview in Hawaii reminded me of a story our manager told us at a conference. (This was when I was with P&G.) In those days they sent us emails every week with our job assignments for the week. Usually there were the same, but occasionally we were assigned extra things. Well, one merchandiser had an assignment located in HI (Is that the right abb. for Hawaii?) She lived somewhere like Oregon so she was naturally skeptical. She called her manager and was trying to ask him about it, when he rudely cut her off and told her if it was in her list of assignments, she must do it and not question him. So, she booked her flight, motel, ect. went to Hawaii to do a one hour project and got a nice little mini-vacation in the process. When she sent in her expense report, the roof blew off. When questioned, she told them what her manager said. They reimbursed her, but guess who got fired? Hint: it wasn’t the merchandiser.

  10. SheLooksFamiliar

    Recruiting Rule: Set up an appointment to talk. Email or text, just do it.
    Another Recruiting Rule: When you call, ask if it’s convenient to talk. Schedules change.
    Yet Another Recruiting Rule: Let the applicant know how long you plan to keep them on the phone, and ask if they have a hard stop.

    Sure, this is extra work but I rarely miss a candidate.

    1. Scaramouche

      I, too, thought this was common sense, but what the LW describes happened to me – and I ranted to my partner about these 3 golden rules! I screened the call so I called back thinking MAYBE it would be an interview, and took an hour to prep, and sure enough, she said “let me just grab your resume and an empty conference room” and then launched into what turned out to be a half hour interview. So inconsiderate on so many levels.

    2. Detective Right-All-The-Time

      Yes, this is how I always did it when I was recruiting. And how our entire recruiting team continues to do it. It’s just good manners, let alone gets better responses from candidates and signals to them that you are a company that gives a hoot about their employees.

      I always think that the interview process is when both employer and employee are on their best behavior. If a company is willing to be inconsiderate of you and your time during this process, they will be doubly so once you’re hired on.

  11. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

    I worked for a guy who did that to me. It ended up being a red flag for that particular business, unfortunately. He called while I was at work, thankfully alone! It ended up being a symptom of his belief that his time was much more valuable and important than anyone else’s. After working there for several years I received the same treatment despite him easily scheduling times for things he really cared about.

    1. asuka

      “It ended up being a symptom of his belief that his time was much more valuable and important than anyone else’s.”

      This was my experience as well. Whenever an employer calls me up for an impromptu interview, I always watch out for other red flags.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I agree that it’s often a symptom of something worse. In my experience it’s a symptom that they’re impatient and self absorbed “me me me I need this, you need to make it happen because I’m the Great and Powerful”, like text you while you’re out having surgery kind of absurdity in my personal experience.

  12. Jennifer

    Yes, I’ve had this happen to me. I was working as a temp and had applied for a permanent role in the company. The lady from HR called while I was on the way home in the middle of traffic. She seemed to kind of have an attitude when I mentioned that. I think she sensed that I was kind of politely trying to get off the phone, so I continued with the interview. I was really desperate for a job at the time because I was afraid my temp assignment was going to end soon and I had some big expenses to take care of.

    I ended up getting the job but only because my boss at the time really vouched for me. I don’t think the HR lady liked me and did the interview that way to throw me off. Can’t ever prove that of course.

    1. Jerk Store

      When I went temp to perm at a previous job, I just had to have a phone interview with my grandboss located in another state. (which he did for everyone at my level). I think it’s ridiculous to have someone who’s already a known quantity have to do a phone screen at all, unless it’s just to talk about salary and benefits.

      1. Jennifer

        I agree. It was for the job I was basically already doing. What exactly were they screening me for?

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          Standards of operations issues, some HR teams will be sticklers for this kind of thing because they have to show that everyone is vetted the same way and nepotism isn’t in play. You can’t just rubber stamp someone through because you know them, they still need to jump through all the hoops as they’re set up, no exceptions.

          I agree it’s obnoxious and I wouldn’t ever last anywhere that did things this way, it goes against my general life policy of always going with the spirit of the law verses the letter of the law.

          1. Anon for this one.

            Letter of the law is helpful when defending against large charges related to hiring or when dealing with various compliance and regulatory bodies. But yeah, not every policy or practice needs to have the by-the-book approach.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch

              True but you can still write in that you can bypass steps when it’s an internal candidate.

              Though I see this may be difficult in the public sector since changing policies is practically impossible without 96 signatures and a blood sacrifice.

              Charges rarely stick if you can show consistency in the end. If you consistently bypass the phone screen from HR, then it’s no big deal. Many places show favoritism to internal candidates and are pretty transparent about it, there’s a reasonable explanation about it. They have more experience within the company and gives them an edge.

              1. MrsCHX

                This is a common argument however, being right doesn’t prevent the hassle and expense in time and money if having to deal with these claims.

                We had someone call in to work about 12 times in the first 60 days after bringing her on permanently. She’d worked as a temp for a few months prior. Claimed it was due to drug addiction and she was benefits eligible immediately so we asked for certification to start her STD claim. Didn’t hear from her for WEEKS, we still didn’t fire her. Tried multiple times and methods of contact. Finally, after she reached out but still didn’t return the paperwork, we terminated her. She filed a wrongful termination claim.

                Did we win? Of course we did!

                But it only took HOURS on the part of me, the HR Manager and my boss, the VP and about $6000 in attorneys fees.

                And this why it ends up being much, much simpler to avoid deviating from the plan, ever. :/

          2. Beaker

            I had to formally apply and do an in-person interview with 5 managers (my boss, my boss’s boss, and a few from other departments) to go permanent in my job. It was a small employer and there were no other applicants. The whole process was deeply obnoxious but the HR person was obsessed with making up complicated policies and then saying her hands were tied because “that’s policy.” I got the perm role but didn’t stay long – that inanity was reflective of many deeper issues.

              1. Devil Fish

                And those by the book types who actually wrote the book they’re blaming for their inefficiency are the absolute worst.

          3. Samwise

            You’d be surprised, though, how often the inside candidate does not do that well at the interview — if you’re asking the right sort of questions, you may discover that the inside candidate is not in fact the best person for the job, or even an ok person for the job.

            1. Jennifer

              If they have already been performing the duties of that job well, I don’t see how that applies. If it’s a promotion, that would make sense.

              I guess an external candidate could come along and blow everyone out of the water but it seems like a waste of time to bring in all these other applicants when there’s already a known quantity there who you know not only does the job well but fits in well with everyone at the office.

            2. Devil Fish

              You can’t know that. You don’t have a way to compare the work product of someone you hired with the work product of someone you didn’t, and then correlate that with how they answered the questions in the interview, so your conclusion is all confirmation bias.

              The only things you can tell from an interview are which candidates are good at interviews and which candidates are good at conversation.

      2. alienor

        I applied for an internal role at my current employer a few years ago and had to go through the HR phone screen. It was weird both because I knew more about the role than the HR person did (I had done it before) and because she couldn’t use most of her pre-scripted info about the company. I don’t think she enjoyed it any more than I did, but she had to check that box, so we went through the motions.

      3. Sandy

        I worked at a place where all qualified internal candidates were required to be interviewed for positions they applied for. It was written into the union contract, so that’s what we followed. Even in situations where we knew there was a more qualified internal candidate, we had to interview every internal candidate who met the basic qualifications.

  13. Brandy

    I got the surprise phone interview for my current job. I did not get the job then, on my next phone interview i was invited in for the in person one. The first surprise interview, no one ever calls me or comes by. I had 6 dogs at the time (now 4) and when he called, all the sudden someone knocks on the door (setting the dogs off) and call my cell phone (which i set out of the room) and shut myself in the office. Then my home phone starts beeping. Repeatedly. It was so embarrassing. I apologized multiple times but still they passed.

  14. TrekMyStars

    I got so many of these and they are always bad. I have had them get mad that I didn’t have time right at that moment. But the worst thing that ever happened was being called about a marketing postilion at a lingerie company and the man on the phone asked questions so inappropriate I hung up on him. They also sold adult toys and he asked my experience using them and when I said I did not feel comfortable answering that question he kept pressing and that’s when I hung up.

    1. Jennifer

      Had you actually applied for that job or did they claim to have found your resume on a website like monster.com?

      That sounds like some kind of creepy scam.

      1. TrekMyStars

        I had applied but I’m still not convinced it wasn’t a scam. I can’t believe that a company would do interviews like that.

        1. Jennifer

          I wonder if some creepster that had nothing to do with hiring got access to the names of all the applicants somehow.

          Sorry that happened.

      1. TrekMyStars

        Thanks. It was such a weird thing I was a little in shock I could not believe what he was asking.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      You were much kinder than I would have been. What’s he going to do? Not hire you? Oh for shame, fricking perv.

      1. TrekMyStars

        Now I would be a lot more harsh. I was 2 weeks from graduating university and was a bit naive still.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          I completely understand! And often when we’re caught so far off guard, we go into that shocked stage where we don’t necessarily have the ability to speak either.

          I’m a rare person who has to actively keep myself in “civilized” mode, I’m pretty grouchy otherwise so sneaking up on me with this kind of absurdly inappropriate stuff results in my barrier being caught down alright…it’s not pretty for the person who takes pleasure in abusing women like that!

          1. Gazebo Slayer

            Oh, I’m not sure you’re RARE… or, if you are a rare sort, I’m the same rare sort right along with you!

  15. asuka

    I worked at a company that used this method of interviewing. They desperately needed a new person to start ASAP, and the hiring manager felt so anxious that she just started calling candidates for 30-minute phone interviews whenever it was convenient for her. The hiring manger was genuinely surprised and irked when candidates asked to re-schedule the call.

    The result was that none of the impromptu interviews went well, and good candidates who had rescheduled their interviews went onto the final stages of the interview process, though the candidate they ultimately hired left the company after 9 months because they saw just how dysfunctional the office was.

    1. MissDisplaced

      That is really the attitude of “You’re looking for a job so you must do anything to prove you want it” mentality. As if your time as a job seeker isn’t just as valuable. And heck, most people are still at their current jobs, you know, working!

  16. Catsaber

    I’ve seen some recruiters do this as like a hard-sales tactic. They’ll call me and ask for a few minutes to chat, and when I say that it’s not a good time, they’ll pressure me to hear them out. If I tell them I can only talk a few minutes and it becomes clear they want a full interview, I’ll say so, and then they’ll try to pressure again to hang on longer and get me to commit to an in-person interview with their company. It’s worse than buying a car! And for some reason they talk SUPER FAST.

    I have worked with some really good recruiters who don’t use pressure tactics and respect my time and answers. And talk at a normal speed.

    1. Quinalla

      Yes, I’ve had recruiters try to do this to me too and it is weird and something that immediately turns me off! Most recruiters thankfully are respectful of my time and need for discretion and ask up front if it is a good time to talk, etc. and then if you pause during a conversation, they will ask if you can’t talk about X right now typically.

      I’ve never had an employer try to set up a surprise phone interview, that is weird! They rarely even call, they use email only for discretion to set everything up. Recruiters are more likely to call because they can get you on the phone easier and I think they figure that is more discreet to call you at work than email you at work, though I’ve had recruiters do that too.

  17. That Girl From Quinn's House

    I had this happen to me, but slightly different.

    I was in a job whose status was being changed, and I had to reapply for my own job to get the status change approval. When it was granted, they called me to offer me my job, and put me on the spot about pay. Except I was in a shared office, with several coworkers who could hear both sides of the call. I ended up accepting a lower pay rate than I should have out of shock while trying to keep the contents of the call discrete.

    Thankfully it wasn’t a job I was at for long.

  18. goducks

    Ugh, the unexpected phone screen! I hate that people do this.
    Recently, my CEO sent me an email at 2pm the day before my vacation asking me to run a quick phone screen on two candidates for a position before I headed out for the day (and vacation). I refuse to do them unscheduled, as a policy. He didn’t understand that just cold-calling candidates and demanding a half hour of their time wasn’t a good idea.

    1. irene adler

      Isn’t every job seeker riveted to their phone (land line, no less) 24/7, with nothing else on their minds, simply awaiting their chance to shine?

      1. goducks

        I think this is a case of a CEO being used to being at work where if he wants to talk to you, of course he gets your attention right then. He’s not internalized the idea that he’s not the boss to the rest of the world, and they’re not at his beck and call.

  19. The Man, Becky Lynch

    Yuck! So many people screen their calls, so it’s a waste of time to try cold calling in my experience. I rarely get anyone to pick up and it takes me less time to email them, then I have a chain to rely on as well so we’re all on the same page.

    1. (Former) HR Expat

      Yes, this! Screening calls is definitely a thing. I also find that people won’t pick up my calls when we’ve scheduled something because the number that pops up for them is different than the number in my email signature. Same general area, but the stupid switchboard changes it to a generic number with a different area code.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        That’s unacceptable to not pick up the phone if you have a scheduled call, I don’t get that thinking! Of course they may be calling from some random number, jeez. I’ve had people call from their cell phones before for various reasons. If by some chance it is a robocall at that time, oh well, you got me but at least I was expecting a call to begin with.

        Screening calls isn’t even new! We did it with answering machines all the time back “in the day”.

        1. Tableau Wizard

          I think the thinking is that you’re expecting (Former) HR Expat to call from 888-555-1234 so when you see a call coming in from 999-222-4321 you don’t answer because you want to be available for the scheduled call with (Former) HR Expat.

          In reality, my phone does not ring very often – so if it’s 3:01 and my phone rings and I have a call scheduled for 3:00, it’s VERY LIKELY to be the person I was scheduled to talk to, even if it’s not the number I expected.

      2. smoke tree

        Can you give them a heads up about that through email? I can see why someone might be hesitant to pick up a call with a totally different area code than they’re expecting. I’d probably just assume it was spam.

  20. MissDisplaced

    I don’t like this either! I mean, it’s fine if they call unscheduled to ARRANGE a time for a phone interview, or maybe just a check-in to see if you’re still interested in the position, but the call should be in the 5 minute range.

  21. Tigger

    I had one of these once. The interviewer was looking at the wrong resume the whole time. When I pointed this out she got all embarrassed and offered me a job on the spot. It was weird

    1. cmcinnyc

      Oh that happened to me! (Minus the job offer, alas.) It was a group interviewing me, too, and one of them had the wrong res. She said she wanted to follow up on something particularly interesting in my background, and mentioned something I’d never heard of. I agreed it sounded fascinating but was she quite sure that was *my* resume because either it was someone else’s or I was having some kind of episode. We laughed but I felt strongly that my chances were seriously dinged by the fact that she’d been talking to Candidate X the whole time.

  22. Annastasia von Beaverhausen

    This happened to me a few years ago – it was crappy for all the stated reasons, and then after keeping me on the phone for 45 minutes the interview told me the salary range, the top end of which was $15k less than I was currently making. Huge waste of time.

  23. Anonymous Educator

    I had this happen to me many years ago. A future employer of mine called me about a position I’d applied to months earlier. No email trying to schedule the call—just the call. I was on the road, so I had to pull into a parking lot to take the call, and when I did, I immediately thought “Who is this? Did I even apply for this job?” I mean, in the end, they offered me the job, and I took it, but the random unscheduled call was definitely random and not convenient at all!

  24. Sometimes Anonymous

    We just tried to do a surprise lunch. We called a prospective candidate, for the first time, at 11 am to invite them to a lunch that day. They want to catch them as they are. Turned out, they were on vacation 1/2 way across the country, so no go. It seemed a pretty weird idea, and not something we’ve tried before, not sure we will again, lol.

    1. Matilda Jefferies

      I’m curious, what did you (or your manager) see as the benefit to that? I get wanting to get to know the candidate in a more “natural” setting than an interview, and I can see a planned lunch being one way to do it. But what’s the benefit in the surprise?

      For me, that would make me even less “as I am” than in an interview setting. I would probably have had to scramble to make arrangements to get there, and I would *definitely* be stressed about what I was wearing and what you were expecting and could I remember all the things I wanted to ask and how long would this go and would I be back to work before anyone noticed I was gone and what about that meeting I had this afternoon and so on.

      If you’re testing to see how I manage stress…maybe? But is this a key part of the job, being called for surprise lunches with strangers who have more power than you, and no time to prepare? If not, you’re just testing my ability (and willingness) to scramble, which doesn’t tell you anything about how I would handle the actual stresses of the job.

      1. Matilda Jefferies

        *I say “you,” but I don’t mean to imply that this was your decision alone, Sometimes Anon! But since you brought it up, I’m curious to hear about this from the employer’s perspective. Assuming you know, of course, and you’re willing to share…no worries if not!

      2. Sometimes Anonymous

        Lol, not my idea. This person will be my direct report, and I did request to my boss and big boss that we try to set up at least one less formal time to get together, as fitting into the team and culture of our workplace isn’t a given, so best to give everyone an heads up on that front. The surprise bit was a twist the big boss tossed at my boss literally 5 minutes before 11, so we were as surprised as the candidate would be (this is usually a very old school manager). We hadn’t even heard about the candidate before that, lol. We’d have been just an unprepared.

        His stated thinking was that we are not about fluff here, but about substance. We also change directions on a hair, so there always last minute priority things popping up all over (expanding manufacturing start-up). We need someone who can jump right in and go with the flow. It could be considered high stress I guess, if you aren’t the right person for the job. I love it, but maybe I’m nut.

        1. hbc

          Ask your big boss what he thinks about hiring someone who would run off at a moments notice to interview with another company, no matter what kind of issues were going on that day.. That’s what he’s screening for–the exact opposite of the personality he wants.

          1. Sacred Ground

            Exactly. You always have last minute priority things popping up all over, so you’re going to select someone for their willingness to drop everything work-related to go take a personal meeting?

    2. Joielle

      That’s… not a good idea. Only a desperate candidate would go for something like that. What benefit could there possibly be to “catching them as they are”?

      1. fposte

        And you’re not catching them “as they are” any more than you are in an interview–it’s not like people need days to form an interview identity.

    3. E

      A surprise lunch seems truly bizarre to me. For so many reasons. If I were a candidate I would be pretty weirded out unless I knew for a fact that I was a top candidate and it was several stages (i.e. the end of) into a long interview process and I already knew the interviewers pretty well. But still I would think it’s strange.

    4. cmcinnyc

      Oh man… a company trying to “catch me as I am” with a surprise lunch would seriously piss me off. I would not be inclined to go forward with your company.

    5. Jennifer

      Omg! I would have a heart attack if that happened to me. I wonder if the applicant was even on vacation at all.

      1. Sometimes Anonymous

        Yeah. I said I didn’t think it was a good idea when he suggested it, but it was over my head. Trust me, if I was the candidate, I would have definitely had something going on. They were willing to meet next week, which makes a lot more sense, honestly.

        We interview weirdly, and have a very spotty track record for getting good employees. Like we have no middles, only excellent and weak. I’m reading all I can to try and make this go better, but if no one listens to me….

    6. hbc

      So, if you called me for this surprise lunch while I’m working, I have to make this weird excuse about why I’m going out for lunch (which I rarely do) and didn’t put it on the calendar, nevermind potentially being late with something I pretty reasonably expected to be able to do that morning. I will probably be low-level ticked at you and a bit harried.

      If you called me while I was out of work, you might get me all sweaty and gross coming from a run at the park, from a volunteer shift at my kid’s school, or dragging in the groceries that I don’t want to leave in the hot car.

      You are catching me “as I am,” but none of these really gives you a good picture of who I will be as an employee. Please consider your logistical snafu as a win and convince the relevant people not to do this.

    7. Tinker

      As I am, at 11AM: not answering the phone, because I’m in a meeting for my current job.

      It’s not a good idea.

    8. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      That is THE worst idea I’ve ever heard. Unless someone is not working (and even then it’s no guarantee), there’s very little chance that someone can drop what they’re doing and meet you for an interview lunch on an hour’s notice.

  25. AngryOwl

    This happened to me for my first job out of college. I ended up staying there a number of years, but the HR woman who did it turned out to be heavily toxic in many ways.

  26. Evil HR Person

    Recruiters do this to me all the time… there’s a company in the area that’s trying to hire someone bilingual – which I am – and I just don’t like them. I’ve interviewed with them before and we’re simply not a good fit. So they’ve engaged a bunch of outside recruiting companies and all these recruiters find me and call me out of the blue. I try to be polite, but as soon as I hear that they’re hiring for “a company that makes teapots,” the only one that does this in my area, I stop their phone call. It’s happened 3 times in the past month! All that to say that me, in my Evil-HR-Person role, don’t spring phone interviews on anyone, and I’ve instructed my hiring managers not to do it either – but it’s the outside recruiters that I’ve encountered who have no shame and will conduct a full 30-minute interview on the fly!

    1. Pam

      in my Evil-HR-Person role, don’t spring phone interviews on anyone, and I’ve instructed my hiring managers not to do it either

      But think of how much more evil you could be if you did!

  27. CatCat

    Ugh, I had this happen to me once. I was at a gas station in a rural area with only okay-ish phone reception. This is a reason I don’t answer calls when I don’t know the caller anymore.

  28. Tableau Wizard

    Ugh! My boss does this and thinks its just no big deal. It makes me so angry to sit listening to the candidates – whom she grills! – knowing that they had no idea that this call was coming. It just feels so invasive and such an imbalance of power.

    I also know that I wouldn’t be my best on the other end of those types of calls. I do much better with some preparation. I’m going to keep this post in mind for the next time we are looking for candidates.

  29. irene adler

    I had the hiring manager cold call me and dive right into lab questions like “name the four ways to separate molecules via column” and then explain how ELISA microtiter plates work. And other stuff I cannot recall just now. No preface like asking whether this was a good time for me to talk.

    Gave me those flashbacks of high school pop quizzes.

  30. Mop

    I know Alison dislikes video screening, but this is one of the nice things about it—people can complete it at their own convenience. I recently applied for a position with video screening link along with a message from the recruiter to call her with any questions. It was nice to be able to gather my thought and do the video screen on my own timeframe and not when I was rushed with kids, etc.

  31. Contracts Killer

    I just had this happen to me! But it was chatting through LinkedIn. The HR person messaged me and I thought it would be a quick discussion of whether the position was telework, but it turned into a 45 minute online chat/interview. Thankfully it was at the end of the workday and I had time to do it.

    1. Fibchopkin

      Yuck, that sucks. Although I wouldn’t hate a surprise interview via linkedin chat as much as the dreaded phone call. The online chat feels lower stakes and would at least give me the option of googling company relevant things in the background.

  32. Edianter

    Maybe this is super “Millennial” of me, but this is Reason Number 3927159 that I always let every unscheduled call go to voicemail. That gives me time to figure out what the caller wants from me during a call (in terms of both information and time commitment), and I can call them back when I’m in a location and state of mind that will be conducive to a good and productive conversation.

    1. Jennifer

      I usually do the same. The only reason I answered the one time this happened to me is that I could tell by the phone number that it was coming from the company where I was already working and had applied for a permanent role. I wondered if there was some work-related reason they were calling. Never thought it would be a phone screen.

  33. Is it Friday yet?

    This happened to me recently. I was able to answer, and we chatted for about 20 minutes. She ended the call saying she was going to reach out after speaking to the supervisor. A week later, I receive a missed call from them while I am in a meeting… no message, no email, nothing. Part of me thinks they just went to the next person on their list since I didn’t answer their random, unscheduled call.

    1. Elizabeth West

      I don’t think I’d want to work for someone who can’t leave a damn voice mail if their call misses me.
      I mean, with caller ID, you can tell if someone in your contacts called you, and if say, your mom doesn’t want to leave a message because she knows you’ll see that she called, it’s fine but a workplace doesn’t have that luxury. Just leave a message like a fricking professional.

  34. AndersonDarling

    The one time this happened to me I thought I could handle the spontaneous interview. It.went.so.poorly. Thank goodness there was an open conference room so I could at least talk at a normal volume instead of whispering at my desk. I wasn’t in the right mindset to answer all the questions the way I would have if I just and a few minutes to prepare and switch gears.
    Since then, I’ve been prepared to say, “Sorry, this isn’t a good time. Let’s schedule a time that is good for both of us. When are you available this week?” Then you can nail them down to a scheduled time and not another random call.

  35. goducks

    Besides it being better for the candidate, as an interviewer I vastly prefer calling people who are expecting my call. It’s awkward and awful to get the person on the phone only to have them be in some inconvenient place “Hang on, I’m at the grocery store, let me find a quiet corner!” or unfamiliar with my company, “What company did you say you’re calling from again??? Acne Automation… Ohhhhhh ACME Automation, yeah, yeah…”

    It’s light years better when both of us are able to focus on the conversation instead of spending half of it juggling public spaces, misunderstandings and poor cell service.

    1. Drax

      I once did a phone interview in a car wash. I was invited in for an in-person interview the same day (Sunday) which in hindsight should have been the biggest of red flags.

  36. Fikly

    I would take this as a huge red flag of how they will treat you as an employee. You don’t matter, they matter, and they will make your life terrible.

    My current employer, on the other hand, yes, took 3 months to go from initial (very scheduled) phone screen to first in person interview. But they kept me in the loop, apologized for the delay (the end of year holidays were involved, I was not surprised), and turned out to be the best, kindest employer I have ever had.

    I recently got injured and am unable to work (short term), and they are doing things for me that they are not only not legally required to do, but they are not benefits that they had ever put into place before (I think it’s going to become policy for the future – it’s a start up with under 100 employees, so they’re still figuring these things out). In return? They have my loyalty and best efforts and a massive amount of dedication. And that is how treating your employees well is in your company’s best interest.

  37. Lily

    Had this happen to me too about 2 years ago and I’m still sore over it! I was sleeping when they called (unemployment will do that to you) and like OPs situation they framed it as “a few minutes to chat about the role”. Next thing I know I’m doing a full phone interview while trying to shake myself awake and putting my extremely disruptive kitten in a different room. Obviously did not get the job. Can happily say I’m now working for a great company…but I still think about this surprise interview from time to time and get steamed. Although funny enough, where I’m working now we get a lot of newcomers who come from this org I interviewed with (small sector). So sounds like it’s indeed just one red flag of a company!

  38. Orange You Glad

    My boss is always on me to cold call candidates as a sort of pre-screening to see if we want to bring them in. He’d rather weed out everyone through phone calls and only bring in for an “interview” the top candidate we are seriously considering. It makes me uncomfortable for many reasons.

    I am not good on the phone, never have been, never will be. I’d rather have something scheduled so both the candidate and myself can prepare and we can have a more effective conversation.

  39. Alli525

    This happened to me recently! I had been under the impression that it was just a quick read-through of the job (incl salary, responsibilities, etc.) and the generic “does the candidate seem normal?” screen. Instead, I bombed an interview for a job I really wanted. Bummer.

  40. Anon for This

    My supervisor does this. She claims the reason is that she wants to see people’s real personality and interest in the job, whether they are good at thinking on their feet, and whether they are socially awkward. Those of us who have been hired more recently have tried to tell her this is not a great practice for a large number of reasons, to no avail. When people say they need to schedule a time to call back at a later time and can’t talk right at that time, she’ll mention that endlessly when evaluating the candidate and keep bring it up as in “Well, John SEEMED nice, but he did have me call back later so he was a lot more prepared and we can’t really know!” I otherwise love working here but this approach to hiring really kills me. On the one hand I think the new people we’ve brought on since I got hired are really excellent people — but also who are we missing out on for these totally random and unfair reasons???

    1. CatCat

      I would definitely be socially awkward from the socially awkward situation this strategy creates!

      1. Anon for This

        SERIOUSLY. I was lucky to be hired under a previous superviser (who has since been promoted) who didn’t use this strategy…I have no idea how I would have done!

    2. Mia

      There are also a ton of people who would fit the “socially awkward” descriptor in scenarios like a surprise interview but would be totally fine in standard office situations. It kinda sounds like your boss is deliberately weeding out anyone who isn’t great at being “on” 24/7.

    3. cmcinnyc

      So this is the second reply that seems to have a company (or at least one hiring manager) who has committed to the idea that they want to see/hire your Surprised Self vs. your Prepared Self. Somewhere, someone must be teaching this or it’s in a hot new book (but not hot enough for us all to have heard of it).

  41. NJ Anon

    This happened at current job. I was at a restaurant (late lunch). I just went with it and ended up getting called in for a face-to-face. Seemed weird but it worked out. At the time, I couldn’t even remember the company because I had applied to so many. I never do that to people when I am hiring. I was frankly surprised I got the face-to-face thinking I botched the surprise call.

  42. No Name Yet

    Ha, had something similar! Surprise 45-minute phone interview for a graduate school application. On a Sunday night. During the Super Bowl halftime show. I did get an in-person interview, was unsurprised to learn from current students that this professor had basically no sense of boundaries. Was not at all displeased to not be accepted by that school.

  43. DaniCalifornia

    Ugh I’ve been getting this non stop. Have applied to about 80+ jobs in the last 6 weeks. Several times in the past 3 weeks I get voicemails (I don’t answer my phone at work or random #s) saying “Hi this is so and so from XYZ, do you have a minute to chat?” and many times it’s been the same as OP.

    Yesterday I was going to an in person interview and I got a voicemail saying “Hi this is Jane from XYZ about the admin position and I wanted to see if you’re available for a phone interview right now. I’ll email you as well.” Checked my email and it’s 2:15pm CST and her email indicates that she’d be available for the interview until 4pm EST and she’s wanting me to call her before then. Both email and VM were very short and brisque. Like what?!? That’s 45 minutes. Still haven’t decided if I even want to email her back yet. Thankfully in person interview yesterday went so well!

  44. Extemporaneous complainious

    Aw, man, if only this had been posted last week! This very thing happened to me for the first time ever YESTERDAY.

    I don’t normally answer unknown numbers either, but I was actually at home and had just ordered lunch through an app. Based on the location, I thought the restaurant was calling me to say they were out of something. Nope.

    The caller was clearly just a random HR person who didn’t know anything about the role. When she asked me what software I was proficient in, I had to repeat myself multiple times and, in one case, spell out the name of a well-known app in our industry and explain what it does. She asked me to describe my day-to-day responsibilities, but clearly had no idea what I was talking about or what parts of my description would interest someone who knows this role. Then she asked me my salary requirements, point blank. For a job that I applied for weeks ago. How am I supposed to answer that off the cuff with no information about benefits or work conditions? Completely ridiculous.

    Red flags everywhere. I would never have expected this from this company – a large, well-known regional institution.

  45. E. Giddy

    I had this same thing happen to me a couple years ago by a nonprofit organization I was interested in. Their recruiter had contacted me via email after applying about scheduling a time to do a phone interview. He asked me to pick out three days and three different times and he would email me back to confirm. I did just that. A week went by and *crickets.* I then contacted him about the dates and once again, no response. I decided to forget about it and move on. Two weeks later I’m shopping at Nordstrom and I get a call from an unknown number, I usually don’t answer unknown numbers unless I’m expecting a phone call, but I did this time. Low and behold, it was the nonprofit company and the recruiter that had initially contacted me. He posed the phone call as “wanting to take a few minutes to discuss the role and see if I’m still interested.” I agreed, but ten minutes later and him asking questions such as “what is your greatest weakness” and “tell me about your proficiency in Google Suites” I interrupted and asked, “I’m sorry is this an interview? I didn’t realize it was until now and no one confirmed any dates with me when you initially reached out.” He seemed surprised and apologized. I got a rejection letter a week later. Why do people do this??? I also went back and checked my email to see if he actually called during one of the times I had suggested, he didn’t..

  46. Lydia

    I worked in HR/recruiting about 10 years ago and my boss taught me to use this method for phone screens. I was really inexperienced and didn’t understand why (nor did I think to ask why), but I HATED it. It felt like cold calling, which I hate. As I recall I had to complete 10 “30 minute” phone screens a day. People, as a general rule, were unprepared. Some were annoyed. I had to compile a short list after doing 20 calls for each position, but the calls were always so shitty that even my “best of” list was mediocre at best. I honestly don’t think this process contributed to one single good hire.

    I quit that job after 3 years and vowed never to work in recruiting again.

  47. Blue Horizon

    I find them to be a useful screening mechanism. (Anybody who tries them gets screened out).

  48. E.

    While I agree that expecting a potential candidate to be prepared to speak off the cuff is rude and unrealistic, calling to simply schedule time to do a proper interview has been very helpful as an employer.

    One time I called unexpectedly to schedule time to do an interview with someone who looked fantastic on paper. He had written articles about his field, highly qualified, etc. He answered the phone and was clearly very, very drunk. This was in the middle of the day. He wasn’t tipsy. He could barely form coherent sentences (and many times didn’t). Said vaguely racist things, etc. It became clear why this over-qualified person was applying for a job that would normally be considered beneath his skills & experience.

    You never know.

  49. Kate H

    When I was fresh out of college, I applied for a job at a very prominent phone and internet provider. After a few months of radio silence, I assumed that they weren’t interested in hiring me and wrote it off. Then, I received a cold call from someone in corporate asking if I had a few minutes for a phone screening.

    Long story short, it went horribly. One particularly memorable moment involved the interviewer asking, “Do you know about services we provide other than phone and internet?” and me saying, “No.” I also have severe phone anxiety, much worse then than it is now, to the point where I won’t call members of my own family if I can avoid it. It’s helpful for me to jot down a few notes so that I can’t panic and blank out–something that’s very difficult with cold calls.

  50. Lil_Pea

    This happened to me when I finished college (UK) and was trying to get full-time work instead of the 2-3 part-time jobs I had at the time.

    I got a random missed call on a bank holiday and ignored it, got another call the next day, turned out it was from a company I applied for a month ago was just getting back to me to arrange a phone interview.
    I asked them to call me at 2pm (it was 10am) as I was just leaving my partners place to head home and didn’t have anything with me and the area had really bad signal. They agreed but then called back 20 mins later as I was walking home next to roaring traffic!

    The guy interviewing said it was ‘just a quick chat to see if you are what we are looking for’ I told him I was walking home but he just ignored me and it then turned into a full interview. The thing is that when I’m stressed/panic I chatter (I’m normally quite quiet)
    So I just end up answering everything, make the guy laugh and it seems to be going OK, he seemed to not hear the traffic or the noise from the school I passed, until he said he wanted to do a face to face interview and I had to ask him ‘give me a second to find my pen and paper and wall to lean on’
    He paused and said, ‘are you really outside?! I thought you were joking! Really?’

    He apparently noted this on my file and when I had the face to face interview my future manager stated it was a plus as it meant I could be calm under pressure!
    I was in that job for over 5 years until they moved it overseas turned out it was a bit of a toxic workplace, (people were great = management & culture sucked)

    In my current job they called to arrange a time to do a face to face interview, had actually read my CV, (I had met a lot of the staff before at a social event)
    and said the only reason they needed to do a 2nd interview is that another member of staff wanted to meet me!
    They handled everything better than a pushy recruiter I was also dealing with at time (but that’s another story)

  51. Art3mis

    I had a previous employer do this. I had moved to a new city without a job and was getting desperate. They called as I was in the car on the way to another interview and didn’t ask if it was a good time or anything. There were a lot of red flags in that interviewing process and while I saw them, I didn’t have any other options. It was a terrible job.
    A friend of mine had this happen to her too. They called around 9 AM on a Saturday and she was hungover (she was in her mid 20s at the time). She didn’t get that job but said she didn’t really want it after that.

  52. J

    It NEVER occurred to me to do this as a hiring manager, or that anyone else would think it was a normal thing to do, until a co-worker (higher up than me but not my manager) BRAGGED to me that she does this, and on top of everything else, only calls ONE time. “If they don’t pick up, they don’t want the job enough,” was her logic.

    I was quite literally speechless – especially since it was in response to be excitedly sharing that I’d figured out how to use “appointment slots” in Google calendar to streamline scheduling phone interviews in advance.

    And, yes, it was a sign of other issues with the management culture in our department at the time. Fortunately, she departed, and we’ve been trying to repair the culture here.

    1. Rosy Glasses

      I remember this type of behavior (if they want to have the job they’ll answer the phone) about 15 years ago when I was first getting into professional positions – but it flummoxed me then and really surprises me now!

  53. BananaPants

    An internal recruiter did something similar recently. In Outlook she scheduled a 10 minute phone call “to discuss potential opportunities within Company”, so I assumed it was a general discussion about my experience and what kinds of roles I’d be interested in. It turned out that she had a specific role in mind, which was no longer posted on our internal careers site – so I had to talk for 20+ minutes about how my experience is relevant to a role that I knew nothing about.

  54. S

    Happened this to me last summer for an internship – I can’t even remember if it was paid. Was in a totally different time zone and got the call as I was falling asleep. Needless to say I did not get the gig…

  55. Happy Pineapple

    I went through this so many times in the last few years while I was hunting for a new job opportunity. Even the job I eventually accepted (which is for a fantastic, international company) did this to me. I ended up doing the first and second round interviews while at work and hiding in a conference room, hoping my current boss wouldn’t hear me! It turned out the recruiter was very inexperienced, but at least it worked out in the end.

  56. Aisling

    I had this happen from a well-known public library system in Houston that should really have known better. Surprise call while I’m at work, I rescheduled to later that afternoon and the person rescheduled but was put out, because “it will mess up my afternoon schedule.” I call back and have the weirdest phone screen ever, with questions like “How many days a year is it acceptable to be out sick?” and “How many days is it acceptable to be late to work during a week?” Questions that had nothing to do with the job and were off-putting. I was not called in for an in-person interview and honestly consider it a bullet dodged.

  57. Kelibath

    Something the original answer doesn’t address is the very ableist bias of an impromptu telephone interview. An arranged interview of this type involves advanced notice and preparation time; people with processing, hearing, or other sensory issues, or attention and retention problems, or stressors or triggers around phone use, can try to arrange alternative accommodations or at least may be able to practice and prepare as best as possible. Doing this impromptu as your general hiring practice effectively blocks all of the above (and more!) from progressing further through the hiring process. Given the already high level of discrimination and difficulty involved in finding work as a disabled person this is tantamount to total refusal of application by a protected class.

  58. Who Plays Backgammon?

    This is why I screen calls and let them go to voicemail when I’m job hunting. If they really want to talk to me, they’ll leave a message. After I listen to the message, I check my computer file of their job posting and the resume/cover letter I sent. I call them back when I’m prepared. I’ve never had a problem with calling back after a few minutes.

  59. Rosy Glasses

    Oh my! This seems extremely poor handling of employer branding as well. Even for our phone interviews; I always email the candidate with two times to choose from and lay out the expectations. It’s only fair to help them prepare for the conversation and give us the best representation of themselves. It serves no one to “catch them off guard”.

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