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When is and isn't it OK to cancel a scheduled job interview

Is it OK to cancel a job interview? My gut response is no! The thought of candidates cancelling interviews that they and I have worked hard to secure is frustrating, and for those who’ve watched Sex and the City it reminds me of the episode when Carrie gets dumped on a Post-it note: a bit lame.

Acceptable circumstances

Of course, there are legitimate reasons to cancel an interview. If you’re in bed with the flu, you ’ve suffered a family bereavement, or you’re battling with other personal issues that prevent you from attending on the given day, then it’s completely understandable and the answer is a categorical yes (to cancel)!

The thing to note in this situation is the way the cancellation is handled: by you and your recruiter (if you’re working with one). Give as much notice as possible, providing a full explanation of the situation. This will have little to no impact on the interview process – the interview will be rearranged.

Unacceptable circumstances

On the other hand, there are times when it’s unacceptable to cancel an interview. The consequence can be a damaged reputation and you could miss out on future job prospects as it creates a negative impression with the law firm in question, which can often leave you blacklisted.

Real-life examples

These vary!

Over text message

Once a lawyer texted me in the middle of the night to tell me they were withdrawing from an interview the following morning. They didn’t provide an explanation and they failed to return my calls or respond to my emails. This approach lacks any level of professionalism.  

A common scenario

But the most common scenario is when lawyers book an interview only to re-arrange or cancel it at very short notice due to a heavy workload/stressful week at work – ultimate reason being: lack of preparation. Whilst I completely understand the demands of legal practice – and I know work can take over at times – this ‘reason’ paired with notification at the very last hour, isn’t acceptable either.  Unfortunately, when lawyers find themselves in this scenario, they’re usually not thinking straight; they’ve gone into panic mode and are unable to see the bigger picture.

If you find yourself in the above situation, this is what you need to do

Think about things rationally. In order to get to the interview stage, you’ve already invested a substantial amount of time and effort. (And the initial decision to look for a new role can be a big step for some people – not to mention the emotional investment.) 

Consider the fact you’ve:

  • Worked out what you’re looking for in your next role
  • Searched for (and sourced) a good legal recruitment agency
  • Spoken to your recruiter at length (about your current situation)
  • Updated your CV
  • Attended calls to discuss specific roles in detail
  • Agreed for your CV to be sent to law firms for roles of interest
  • Discussed interview preparation
  • On some occasions, completed pre-interview assessments
For a busy individual, the time to undertake all of the above as part of the job hunting process cannot be reclaimed. So why go through this entire process only to turn away at the end of it? Feeling under pressure is something you can easily overcome. You’ll regret it otherwise. It’s a case of pushing yourself.

My advice in this situation is to never panic! The fact you’ve been invited for an interview means the firm has a keen interest in your CV. In addition, the fact you’ve agreed to attend the interview means you’re interested in exploring the role further. So where you go from here is a no-brainer: an hour out of your day will be worth it.  You’ve got to think of the long term.

Are you worried about an upcoming interview? Read Gishan Abeyratne's blog: 'Take the stress out of your interview... and your first date?' where he draws parallels between 'that interview' and 'that date.'

For general interview tips, click here.

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