how flexible should you be when scheduling an interview?

A reader writes:

This has been nagging me for a while now and I just wanted an expert opinion on the situation or how I could have handled it better. So, I applied for a summer internship at a very small up-and-coming magazine and got called back for an interview. At the interview, I was told I was being seriously considered and to look out for a follow-up. Well, I did and got nothing for over a month.

So I emailed, inquiring about how the selection process was coming along. The person in charge apologized for not getting back, said they were very busy, and said on Saturday to come in on the following Tuesday. I agreed. She said she would get back to me soon to give me directions, as it was a new location. Well, she didn’t give me the directions until THURSDAY and asked me to come in on that Friday. I told her I unfortunately had plans that day (I did, I had a dentist appointment) and asked to reschedule. She never replied.

This person is kind of a” who’s who” in the industry I want to work in. Should I have pushed harder? Was I too inflexible? Was I wrong for not cancelling my plans and going to the office on that Friday? I just felt like I was being stringed along and not really wanted.

Hell, no, you weren’t wrong. It’s not unreasonable to be unavailable on a day’s notice, and it’s not unreasonable to expect a reply when you ask about other open time slots. And it’s certainly not unreasonable not to cancel an prior appointment, especially when your interviewer had already shown she was willing to renege on scheduled meetings (without even bothering to tell you).

However, what’s reasonable doesn’t always mesh well with how employers operate during hiring.

There are an awful lot of employers that operate the way this one did — alluding to dates that they’ll get in touch with you by and then not doing it, setting tentative interview times and then not following up with until long afterwards (while you’re meanwhile holding that time open and wondering what’s going on), stalling for weeks and then asking you to come in the next day, never responding to your replies to their scheduling emails, and so forth.

It’s rude — and incredibly so when you’re holding time on your calendar for them, and possibly even arranging to take off work.

But despite how rude it is, a lot of employers operate like this. Including even some that you might like to work for. And that means that you need to make your decisions with that in mind.

If you have options and you’re willing to risk that this is a rude/disorganized employer who won’t bother getting back to you when you ask for an alternate interview time, then I strongly urge you to continue to operate like a normal, reasonable person — saying “no, I have a conflict at that time, but could you do it Tuesday instead?” and assuming you will receive a reply back. (And figuring that if you don’t, you’ll be glad to have screened out a rude, disorganized employer.)

But if you don’t have options and aren’t willing to take that risk, well … the less flexible you are, the higher your risk of ending up in a situation like this one. Should you have to cancel a dentist appointment for an interview on a day’s notice? Absolutely not. But might you choose to anyway, knowing that some employers behave like this? You’ve got to make that call yourself, based on your own situation.

In job searching, how much you should put up with and how much you should bend to accommodate an employer comes down to how many options you have. So I’d start by being realistic about that, and then deciding what you are and aren’t willing to do from there.

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