The person who really wants to do something finds a way; the other person finds an excuse.
My informal study of car trouble, family crises, gridlock traffic, unexpected child-related obligations and flu viruses has led me to conclude that these emergencies are infinitely more likely to occur on the day a candidate is scheduled to interview. As a hiring manager, I’ve heard nearly every excuse in the book, and it no longer surprises me when I receive the eleventh hour postponement request.
It’s also made me somewhat cynical about the validity of the excuse. I suspect that the lion’s share of these candidates are underprepared for the interview and are trying to buy some more time. If after asking a few clarifying questions the situation still sounds fishy, I’ll often tell the candidate to make their best effort to get to the interview, and wish them luck with their other interviews if they can’t.
That said, there are exceptions.
A couple months ago, we were preparing to interview a very promising candidate. Just before the interview, I got the “the call” from him: his car had broken down on the Beltway and he didn’t think he’d be able to make it.
He’d already survived the first several steps of the interview process. After one phone interview, two sales assessments, and two face-to-face interviews, he was about to take on the most challenging part. The final step in our interview is the audition call, where he’d be asked to execute a mock prospecting call to my business partner. It’s not unheard of to have someone try to stall on this difficult—but critical—part of the interview process. I was suspicious of the timing of the Beltway breakdown, and started to tell him that perhaps we weren’t the right fit for him. He shocked me by pushing back and asked if he could call me back in five minutes. Wanting to see where this was going, I agreed.
When he called me back a few minutes later, he told me a tow truck was en route. He apologized that he would be late, but insisted he’d make it. Sure enough, he arrived at our office riding shotgun in the tow truck, his broken-down car hissing on the back of the truck. He walked in, out of breath and sweating through his dress shirt, and politely asked if he could have five minutes to freshen up.
You had me at tow truck.
I tried my best to cover up the fact that given his determination and resourcefulness getting to the interview, this guy would be getting a job offer from us barring him bombing the audition call. As you can probably guess, he nailed the call, accepted our offer, and is now one of our top performers. Rather than making an excuse for missing the interview, he fought for it and proved to me that he’d be willing to go the extra mile for the job. That’s someone I want to hire.
But don’t push it.
As with most situations, there is another side to this coin. I want someone who is willing to go above and beyond, but not someone overly desperate for a job. A few years ago, I read about a company that scheduled their job interviews at 3 or 4 in the morning—they wanted to see who had the determination to agree to such an inconvenient time.
The strategy backfired.
Instead of getting the cream of the crop, the people who agreed to come in were unqualified, underemployed, desperate candidates who didn’t have any other opportunities worth mentioning. The best talent will always have options, and if you give them the runaround in order to test their mettle, they’ll likely end up parking at your competitor’s office.
For the employers: Make sure your candidates will go the extra mile, but don’t put them through the ringer just to prove it. If you do, you’ll filter out some of your best candidates, and be left with the most desperate.
For the candidates: Make sure you’re fully prepared for the interview, and if you have a legitimate excuse for postponing, make it believable because the hiring manager has most likely “heard this one before.”