is it possible to be TOO responsive to an interview invitation?

A reader writes:

Is it possible to be too responsive and available to an interview invitation? Twice over the past year, I’ve responded quickly to interview requests. I have a lot of flexibility in my current job with a few days’ notice so I can make myself available very quickly for a phone screen or onsite interview. Both cases didn’t work out to my advantage though.

The background:

Job #1: Last summer, I applied on a Monday night to a job that had been posted for about one week on Craigslist. While I had transferable skills, I had only some background in the field, so there would have been a learning curve. By Tuesday afternoon, I was contacted to schedule a phone screen. The screen happened Thursday. The following Tuesday, I had an on-site interview, which went well. So, one week from application to on-site interview. However, towards the end of the on-site, they mentioned that my application was the first one they had received that was even in the ballpark for what they were looking for, which is why they pounced on me and moved so quickly. However, by then, a few other applications had come through with relevant industry experience. It eventually turned out that one of those folks got the job. So, I’m thinking that if I had not been so available and had slowed down the timeline, my application would have been viewed more realistically in context with the others, and so much of my time wouldn’t have been taken up.

Job #2: This past January, I applied to a job on a Tuesday night that had been posted a few days before. By Wednesday afternoon, I was contacted for a phone screen. I again said I was available over the next few days. The HR person thanked me for responding so quickly. The phone screen happened the following Tuesday. A few days later, they wanted to schedule a second level phone screen with the hiring manager. Again, I responded quickly with availability, which seemed to surprise them. That screen happened Thursday of the next week, and there was mention (just like last time) of other candidates they were considering. And then, nothing. I sent a polite short email a few weeks later inquiring if there were any updates to share. Nothing. This finished up in early February, which was six weeks before COVID-19 impacted anything. The entire HR process had been carefully scheduled and handled up to that point, so their ghosting was inexplicable. The job has disappeared from company site.

So, I have to wonder if responding quickly to a request but saying I’m only available the following week is a better way to handle this. Or was it just bad luck?

Nah, this wasn’t about you responding too quickly or being too available.

I mean, yes, it’s possible that if you had waited to respond, they would have received other strong applications by then and thus wouldn’t have invited you to interview at all. And so that could have saved you some time. But generally it’s a good thing to get to interview, even if other candidates are stronger. You could end up being a better fit than those other candidates in ways they wouldn’t have anticipated (especially around soft skills), or those other candidates could end up not accepting an offer, or once the employer knows you they might think of you for other roles. So for those reasons, you generally don’t want your strategy to be “only get asked to interview if they’re very, very sure about me and the rest of the candidate pool.”

Plus, waiting to respond or being less available than you really are (i.e., playing games to try to boost your chances) is likely to backfire! If you wait to respond, you risk being shut out of consideration altogether, since many employers (especially employers advertising on Craigslist, for what that’s worth) will interview the first X number of qualified candidates they get and ignore everyone else.

And making yourself easy to schedule with is a good thing! It’s not like that awful 90s book The Rules, which advised women to be difficult for suitors to get ahold of. Employers aren’t judging you for having an open schedule; if they’re thinking about it at all, they’re just thinking, “Good, this is easy to coordinate.”

The ghosting with job #2 is just normal, run-of-the-mill interview ghosting. It’s really common, even with companies that have been responsive up until then, and it’s not about how available you were. It’s about them having crappy, rude hiring practices where they don’t get back to people who invested time in interviewing with them. It sucks, but it’s not anything you did — and you wouldn’t have avoided it by changing how you interacted with them.

{ 35 comments… read them below }

  1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

    A few months ago, in a department meeting about finding more candidates, they asked how we had found the company. I said craiglist and everyone literally thought I was joking. I found the company in 2008 but didn’t join until 2015.

  2. AngryAngryAlice*

    It seems so obvious to me as a reader that this has nothing to do with how responsive LW was, but then I remember that job searches are hell on earth and can often warp your perception of what’s reasonable/realistic. Companies can be so frustrating and/or rude to applicants (especially when they ghost), and we’re left grasping at straws trying to figure out why it all went south. It’s an awful process (that I’m about to begin—ugh), and this letter will honestly help me keep things in perspective and remind me to move on without over-analyzing things (I hope).

    Good luck, LW. I feel for you!

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      This is why hiring is like the dating game. The people who keep getting rejected end up overanalyzing irrelevant factors and believing that they need to wear their lucky red socks when applying to a job or sending an OkCupid message, wait precisely X hours before responding, always write an even number of words in an email, etc.

  3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Always be as responsive as possible. As a hiring manager, being not available isn’t going to do you any favors. It’s going to look like you’re over-booked and that job searching isn’t one of your priorities at the time. Or that you’re simply uninterested or found something in the meantime and therefore, no longer available. Don’t play games, be authentic as possible.

    I’ve always been quick to respond and I haven’t noticed it being poorly received. Most places who are hiring are looking for someone somewhat in a timely fashion. Sure there are places that hem and haw and take forever or there’s government jobs that have a ton of hoops and take forever. But those places are even less picky about when you apply!

    Being easy going, approachable and easy to schedule will do you far more favors than being cagey ever will.

  4. Fikly*

    If you’re seeing a pattern in two things, it’s because you want to, not because there is one.

    1. Rachel in NYC*

      I agree. I would think you would be more likely to be unsuccessful because you aren’t available then the opposite.

      I can still remember interview for my first office job after college- back when I was both working retail and babysitting a few days a week. I didn’t get a job because it them it was reasonable that I wasn’t available to come in the next day for an interview. I had other available but the time and date they wanted just wasn’t possible.

      In all fairness, they were all not that interested in the fact that I wanted to give 2 weeks notice at my current jobs so it was probably best for everyone.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Seriously, if a company gets weird with you needing to give 2 weeks notice, run run run run run.

        The only places I’ve known to operate like that are dumpster fires, you won’t last there long, they have no respect for anyone else.

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        Yup – I once lost out on an internship because I wasn’t able to take the phone call. As in, they actually said that in the voicemail. It was a college internship. I was in class, and was able to check the voicemail about 45 minutes later.

        Much better to be available than be unavailable. 2 similar events do not make a pattern. There are so many other options than being available somehow hurt your chances, OP.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      Yeah, two is a really small sample size.

      And even if there is a pattern, correlation does not imply causation.

      Hiring is a complicated process.

    3. Lavender Menace*

      I wouldn’t say that’s universally true, but I do think it’s true here.

      1. Fikly*

        There may be a pattern, but you cannot, statistically speaking, conclude that there is one, from a sample size of two.

  5. Bella*

    everyone wastes everyone’s time in the job search process. there’s no way to avoid it

  6. I'm the OP*

    Thanks Alison for answering my question. I figured this would be the answer but I was prompted to ask this because just recently, it happened again. Was contacted a few weeks ago on a Tues morning for a phone screen and screen was had 2 days later on Thursday. I wonder whether history would repeat itself. Today I was informed that the job has gone to someone else. At least this time, they didn’t ghost.

    The biggest issue with the first incident last summer is that I actually rescheduled an elective medical procedure to accomodate the onsite interview. They seemed so interested and it would have been a really interesting job – and I figured it gave me the perfect excuse to be out for the day since I had already scheduled to take it off! So imagine my immense frustration when they brought up those other candidates. At best, I should have been given a phone screen and then if those other more-industry-experienced applicants failed to hit it out of the park, then be brought in for the onsite. There was so much of my time and emotional energy wasted during that week. At least now I know to never reschedule *anything* important for an interview.

    Thanks for the kind words, everyone. This is a frustrating time for many in so many ways…All the best to you all!

    1. Suzy Q*

      It’s not you. I’ve been ghosted multiple times, the most recent a few weeks ago for a scheduled phone interview. These employers are treating job applicants as disposable, and it really irks me.

    2. Aquawoman*

      Good luck with your search! It may be helpful to your frustration level to assume there are always other candidates, because that’s usually true. Companies don’t interview the one “best” person, decide and then the “next” best person, etc. They interview the top [however many that might be–for my last round, it was 15 for 4 spots].

    3. sacados*

      That situation with your medical procedure and the on-site is definitely frustrating! I get that. But I also think the legitimate irritation with that waste of your time is probably coloring these other experiences and making them feel more egregious than they would otherwise.
      Especially this last one you mentioned, just seems like a normal interview process to me. You applied, got a phone screen, and then they declined to move you further along in the process. There’s nothing wrong with that, or that’s a waste of anyone’s time.
      If anything, it’s possible that the pattern here is –you might be applying to companies that aren’t very good at hiring. In the sense that they don’t bother to critically look through their applicants and just go ahead and phone screen everyone.
      But again, that might not be the case — it might just be that your application materials are consistently good enough to at least get you that initial phone screen, even if it doesn’t go further. Which is not a bad thing!

    4. Bella*

      I think everyone else has touched on it, but I think it’s worth re-adjusting how you view the interview process, and see it from their perspective.

      Some companies will try to screen by phone first, but even then, they will invite a variety of people to interview. When I’ve been in on observing this process, they seemed to have a mix of “highly qualified” and “qualified, but we’re not sure if they’d be right.”

      From their perspective though, the interview can go a lot of ways. We had someone come in who was great on paper AND on the phone but in person seemed really lost – couldn’t answer questions and seemed like she thought the job was something different than what it was, so she kept referencing skills she wouldn’t need.

      Alternatively, we had an applicant that a lot of people thought was TOO qualified (as in, no matter what she said, it was super unlikely she’d be happy in her role for more than a few months).

      And on top of that, the employer needs to fill the seat – and sometimes people decline because they’re interviewing for multiple jobs. From their perspective, it’s good to have a backup.

      And you can be any one of these, depending on what type of position you apply for!

      TL;DR: don’t take the process too personally, sometimes it’s a numbers game!

    5. Lavender Menace*

      At best, I should have been given a phone screen and then if those other more-industry-experienced applicants failed to hit it out of the park, then be brought in for the onsite. There was so much of my time and emotional energy wasted during that week.

      I wouldn’t think of this as a waste at all.

      In my company, along with many others, the longer the ‘head’ stays open the higher your chances of losing the head become (budget cuts, directional changes, leadership saying “well it’s been six months and you’ve done just fine without it). Plus, we have to operate all of that time while missing what might be a crucial role on our team. Holding off on a candidate that might be good until you’ve interviewed more experienced candidates isn’t necessarily a good idea – you may never get those more experienced candidates you think are coming along in the pool; or the head may get cut while you spend time looking; or those candidates who look better on paper may end up not being great fits for the role, OR they may get offers from other companies while they’re in process with you. Meanwhile, a great candidate who may have fit the role well is getting scooped up by another team or company.

      However, I can think of several cases on my team alone in which we interviewed someone for a role and didn’t hire them, but then reached out to them later when we had a new role open on the team and hired them then. They maybe weren’t the best fit for the role we originally had open – but we do open new roles all the time! You’ve also made some connections with folks and you never know when they’re going to turn back up.

    6. Jennifer Thneed*

      Okay, I’m confused. In your original question, you said that job #1 gave you a phone screen on Thursday, and you were on-site on Tuesday. But here you say that you *should* have been given a phone screen?

      1. I'm the OP*

        Yes I did have a phone screen and an onsite. What I meant in my comment above is that I should have *only* been given the phone screen and they should have held off on the onsite until they had a better sense of the candidate pool.

        Thanks for the comment!

  7. CM*

    I’ve been in that situation — on both sides — of having an early interview with someone who turns out to be not as well suited as candidates who come in later. While frustrating, it’s ultimately better to have an interview than not. It doesn’t really make sense to look back and wish they hadn’t interviewed you because it was a waste of your time. The whole point of applying is to get the interview.

  8. Mel_05*

    This is super common stuff, that’s why it keeps happening to you.

    Even when companies are super relieved to have you apply because there are only 4 qualified candidates out of 50 applicants, well, there are 4 qualified candidates.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      So true! Very common!
      In the last year, I’ve been trying to subtly push for more phone interviews before I go in-person. Frankly, I don’t have the ability to take off work unless the job is s good fit and we’re aligned on the salary before I come in and/or start doing employment tests.

  9. gsa*

    I think the company hiring was too quick to call back and interview. The OP will never know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the person hired finds the job they were hired to do is nothing like the job they are doing…

    Op, don’t lose any sleep over this.

    gsa out

  10. Tiny Orchid*

    You might, for your own edification, see if you can find out who ultimately got the job and look at their LinkedIn or bio on the company website–that can tell you a lot about what skills they are valuing for that role. I remember thinking I was really well-qualified for a job, then not getting it, then seeing that the person who got it had 25 years of experience on me!

  11. MissDisplaced*

    My feeling is that the first interview speed & timeline may have put you at a disadvantage because you were the first. I also don’t like being told I’m the first person they’ve interviewed because… IDK just a hunch that sometimes other candidates come in and as you said, they didn’t really fully compare before inviting you in.

    The second example I think was just bad luck!
    I also had a few phone interviews lined up in March, and they all got canceled when COVID hit.

  12. Jennifer Juniper*

    I was thinking about that crappy book The Rules as well before I read Alison’s mention of it!

  13. Gruntilda*

    Both the Rules and this question extrapolate the wrong lesson from the common observation that high-quality, skilled and attractive candidates (for working or dating) are often unavailable. But this is because they are “in demand” and have lots of things going on in their lives! Someone who is uniquely talented in their field, or someone who is fun and interesting, is likely to have lots of people trying to invite them out, as well as friends and family and hobbies and things that make a well-rounded, interesting, responsible person.

    That doesn’t mean that by pretending to be unavailable, you can fake the unique talents/charisma/fulfilling life that is what makes you unavailable. It’s a correlation, not a causation that always happens. Even uniquely talented/attractive people happen to be unemployed/single sometimes.

    1. Benevolent Socrates*

      Bingo! Someone once told me: if you want to be an interesting person, do interesting things. I think this applies to jobs too.

      A former coworker who was on my hiring committee told me months after I started working that the fact that I played roller derby at the time was one of the things that helped me stand out (in addition to being qualified for the job of course). It didn’t come up in my interview, but when she was helping me get some stuff out of my trunk, I told her “not that bag, that’s my roller derby gear”.

  14. Lusara*

    I don’t think there’s anything to it. I applied for my job on a Wednesday, they called me on Friday and asked if I could come for an interview the next morning, which I did, and they offered me the job on the spot. Sometimes moving quickly is a very good thing.

  15. Laura*

    The only thing I could note about a quick response – I wouldn’t respond to emails until lunchtime or after work that day. You don’t want it to look like you are spending all day on the phone checking your personal email. I had a recruiter that told me differently. However, we had gone to high school and elementary together. He was a jerk then. He said he didn’t remember me but kept calling me by a nickname he wouldn’t have known if he didn’t remember me.

  16. narya*

    I feel like we need to talk about The Rules now, because Oh My God what. That book was written before there was a word for ghosting, and now the whole argument for the book falls apart. These days “persistence” means you can’t take a hint that you’re being ghosted (and possibly couldn’t back then either, which =mega creepy) both romantically AND professionally. Like when people were told to call back a thousand times if they didn’t hear from an employer after applying. Weeeeird.

  17. Shortstuff*

    For any job there are usually many more people interviewing than there are positions, especially at the phone screen stage. For the kind of work I do, we tend to interview 3-10 people depending on the strength of the pool. When I was job searching recently, I had a bit less than a 50:50 rate at getting interviews, and it took interviews for 5 or 6 jobs before I got an offer.

    If you really are jumping in early and getting phone screens and interviews for jobs you won’t get, then at least you are getting interview practice.

  18. Confused*

    As a counterpoint – I got an email for a phone screen about five minutes after I applied for my current job. And I applied in the evening. There is no point in trying to create patterns or make sense of the hiring process.

  19. sometimes people stink*

    Definitely not you… I’ve run into all kinds of madness before. You really just don’t know. I had a seasonal job demand at the application stage that I postpone my partner’s party I’d been planning for months… went to the cattle call anyway, bc desperate, and it was a hot mess. Early in my career I was literally in the bathroom when a well-known women’s nonprofit left a message on my machine. I called right back, and suddenly, they decided to go in a different direction. Interviewed once at a local museum, everything seemed to go well- “Be sure to contact us if you don’t hear back”. Ghosted. Now that I’m further along in my career, I will not even consider these employers or patronize their establishments. The choosing goes both ways.

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