Sometimes you need to cancel or reschedule a job interview at the very last minute. Even though everybody understands that such things happen from time to time, it’s still a nerve-racking process. Moreover, how you cancel can determine whether the hiring manager opts to reschedule; if you create a bad impression, there’s a higher likelihood you’ll never hear back, especially for a competitive position.
Understand the Big Picture
Hiring managers (and recruiters) are insanely busy people, with their whole workday usually booked solid. If their company is in the midst of a hiring push, chances are good you’re not the manager’s only interview that day—or even that morning. Although a sudden cancelation might free them up long enough to grab a cup of coffee or take care of an unexpected issue, it’s just as likely they’ll view the sudden opening in their schedule as “dead time” they’ll have to scramble to fill.
The pressure only increases if outside recruiters are involved, because at that point, schedules become a complicated waltz between hiring managers, HR staffers, recruiters, and (last but certainly not least) the job candidate.
So if you have to cancel less than 24 hours in advance, keep in mind that you’re probably causing some scheduling mayhem. That should dictate the tone of your response; you don’t want to inadvertently boost the manager’s stress levels even higher.
Keep It Simple
Yes, you’re nervous about canceling—maybe even a little bit emotional. No matter how you feel, though, don’t succumb to providing an overly lengthy excuse; it won’t alter the dynamics of the situation. Instead, move as quickly as possible to the “active” part of the conversation: rescheduling.
For example, you might say something like: “Unfortunately, due to an unexpected family emergency, I can’t attend at the time we previously agreed upon. I apologize profusely. Can we reschedule for a later date?”
(If you have no intention of rescheduling, say something brief and polite, such as: “Thank you for considering me for this role, but I’ve decided to remove myself from consideration. My apologies for informing you at this late date.”)
An apology—even if brief—is a crucial component here. You want to make a good impression, and contrition is key to that. Hiring managers and recruiters have long memories, and there’s always a chance you’ll interact with them again during your career.
Call, Don’t Write
In addition to canceling your interview as soon as possible (don’t wait until an hour or two before), make sure that you call rather than send a text or email. Sure, it’s scarier to pick up a phone and talk to the recruiter or hiring manager one-on-one, but doing so is an important sign that you’re taking this process seriously.
After you conclude the call, you can send a short email to reconfirm the discussion and reschedule the interview for a better time. But calling first is key.
Prepare for Interview Questions
If the hiring manager decides to reschedule your interview, prepare for questions about what happened. Frame out (and rehearse) a few sentences that break down the situation and why it prevented you from attending the interview; while there’s always the chance that you won’t be asked, better safe than sorry.
Your explanation should also justify canceling. Illness or a major family crisis are good reasons; skipping the interview because you couldn’t decide on the right suit is not.