How to Decline or Reschedule an Interview with Tact

Jolene Pilgrim
4 Oct 2017

In a perfect world, you’d show up to your interview with 15-20 minutes to spare.  You’d be cool, calm and collected, having given yourself plenty of extra time to make the morning commute.  Maybe you’d even have managed to stop for a morning cup of coffee and a quick, hearty and brain powering breakfast.  In short, things had gone exactly as planned.

In the real world, however, stuff happens.  Kids get sick, trains and buses are delayed, cars refuse to start and the flu, cold or other health problems certainly aren’t capable of checking in on your Google calendar.  If you’ve been on the job market for any length of time, you know that at some point and time you will inevitably be forced to cancel or reschedule a much-needed and wanted job interview.  In an effort to prepare you for this much-dreaded scenario, we’ve compiled a list of do’s, don’ts and suggestions to help you make the best of one of the most unfortunate scenarios a job seeker can potentially face.

Communicate Early and Often

First and foremost, if you have any chance of scoring another interview or, ultimately, job offer after declining the first attempt, communication is going to be key.  As soon as you have your first inkling that things may go south, send an initial communication to the recruiter or hiring contact.  Sure, there may still be some annoyance over interrupted schedules, but it will be much less than if you’re simply a no-show or call or email at the last minute on the big day.

On the topic of communication, be sure to provide plenty of accurate details about the circumstances giving rise to the need to cancel.  It’s important that you stick to the facts here and not make up some elaborate story about your great aunt Edna’s recent bout of pneumonia.  Reasonable people, which your prospective employer should be, understand issues such as train delays, major traffic snafus sick children or family members and more.  Provide a reasonable reason for the need to reschedule and you should have plenty of leeway without hurting your chances at landing the final job offer.

Suggest TIme and Date for New Interview

If you need to cancel your original interview, suggesting or asking for a rescheduled time to meet will be important to ensuring the recruiter or hiring manager knows you remain committed and interested.  While rescheduling for a valid reason doesn’t in and of itself raise red flags with a candidate, the lack of foresight and eagerness to then continue in the employment process may shed a negative light on your candidacy.  

Whenever possible, try to make your new time and date within a few days of the original appointment.  Be sure you give yourself enough time to recover from whatever incident or condition caused the original reschedule and show up promptly in order to avoid coming off as flakey or less than dependable.

Be Prepared to Explain During the Interview

On the day of the interview, it’s almost guaranteed that the topic of your cancellation and rescheduling will be brought up.  Savvy candidates will get ahead of the issue, opening the interview with an apology and appreciation for flexibility.  If you’re feeling relaxed and comfortable, this is an excellent opportunity to interject a little humor or self-deprecation.  “That’s the last time I ride the red line during construction” or “sometimes I swear school is just an excuse for kids to be exposed to germs” are solid examples of lighthearted ways to address the scenario and may even provide openings for a little ice-breaking personal small talk before you get down to the meat of your interview.

The Bottom Line on Cancelling

Cancelling a job interview is far from the end of the world.  It’s important for candidates to communicate the need for a new interview date and time, including providing as much notice to your prospective employer as possible along with an abbreviated but genuine reason for asking to reschedule.  Ask for a new date and time that works with your situation and, whatever you do, don’t simply fail to show up on the day of the interview without notice.  Not only does this hurt your prospects for the current position, your industry is likely much smaller than you realize and word of wasting time, being unreliable or otherwise being a poor candidate can get around quickly, impacting your ability to get your foot in the door for future positions.

Jolene Pilgrim