The telltale signs are all there–the scratchy throat, the runny nose, the fatigue. You tell yourself that it’s just allergies, a temporary hiccup in your otherwise healthy state, but as time wears on and your condition worsens, there’s no more denying it–you’re sick!
Getting sick is bad enough on its own, but it’s especially frustrating when you’re heading into a high-stakes event like a job interview (or, god forbid, when you’re about to head out on vacation–that’s just the worst!).
When you’re sick heading into a job interview, you have a huge decision to make: do you suck it up and go to the interview anyway, or do you reschedule it for a time when you’re feeling better?
Like most things, the answer depends on the circumstances. Here are some tips and best practices for how to approach being sick when you have an upcoming job interview.
The Dilemma: Suck it Up or Sit it Out?
Typically, calling in sick to work is a no-brainer without many downsides. You prevent giving your illness to coworkers, take time to rest and recover, and get to veg out on Netflix for a day or two. After which, you return to your responsibilities and pick right back up where you left off.
No harm, no foul.
That’s not the case when you call in sick for a job interview, however. Interviewing for a job is a race against the clock, and time usually isn’t on your side. The company is likely interviewing several candidates for a role that they’re hoping to fill ASAP, so anything that slows your momentum in the interview process can put you at a disadvantage–and that includes things outside of your control like being sick.
If you’re in the later stages of the interview process, there’s a very real chance that the company will extend an offer to another candidate before you even have a chance to complete the final interview. It might not be fair, but it’s a reality you’ll have to face when weighing your decision.
So the decision to sit an interview out isn’t as clear cut as simply calling in sick to work. There are very real consequences that you have to consider, and only you can decide what the right move is for you.
Factors to Consider When Deciding to Call in Sick for a job interview
There are several factors you should consider when deciding whether or not to postpone an interview due to illness.
First, how far along are you in the interview process?
The farther along you are, the more you have to potentially lose. Of course, this also depends on how many candidates are competing with you for the role, which you’ll rarely know going into the interview process. The danger of postponing an interview in the later stages is that the company will end up going with another candidate, in which case you’ll have gone through the earlier stages for nothing.
Knowing how much leverage you have in the process can make this decision much easier, so it’s helpful to know the answer to this next question, which is:
How much do they like you?
Do you get the sense that you’re the top candidate in contention? Do you mesh really well with your interviewers and have you built a great rapport? If you’ve done a solid job building a relationship with your interviewers up to this point, then you’ll probably be fine leveraging that into a later interview date to give you time to get better.
But if you’re not sure, and if your interactions so far have been just so-so, then you may want to think twice before you take a chance on rescheduling.
The next factor you should consider is how sick are you, actually?
A few sniffles and a tickle in your throat are things you can easily power through, but if you’re having to summon every ounce of energy just to get out of bed, then there’s no way you’ll be able to muster the energy to perform well in an interview.
There are two areas you’ll need to worry about your illness affecting, and they’re both equally important: the preparation for the interview and the interview itself. If your illness prevents you from performing at a level of 75% or more of your best in either of these areas, then it’s probably best to reschedule. Your interviewers are expecting to evaluate you at your best, and if you can’t give them that, then it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
The format and length of the interview should also factor into your decision. You may be able to suck it up for a thirty minute phone interview, but a three-hour panel interview might be too much. Again, think about how sick you truly are and how long you’re capable of delivering the level of performance that your interviewers will be expecting. No interviewer will want to see you sitting in misery and blowing your nose every two minutes–let alone shake your hand when the interview is over!
Which leads us to a rule of thumb I’m calling the Handshake Test: At the end of the interview, will your interviewer be grossed out at the thought of shaking your hand due to the symptoms you exhibited throughout the interview (sneezing, blowing your nose, coughing, etc.)?
If the answer is yes, then it’s best to reschedule the interview.
If no, then you should push on and power through.
This gives you a little more leeway when it comes to a phone interview given that you won’t be shaking hands with anyone in person–in those cases, use your best judgement based on how you feel and how well you expect to perform.
How to Communicate Your Illness to Your Interviewer
So you’ve assessed all the factors above and decided that it’s best to reschedule the interview for a later date. How should you communicate this to your interviewer?
As soon as you decide that it’s best to reschedule the interview, you should let the interviewer know. This could be after you’ve tried your best to prepare the day before the interview but you just couldn’t muster the energy. Or, it could be the morning of the interview itself–you thought you were fine the night before, but you woke up feeling much worse.
When you arrive at the final go/no-go decision, reach out to the person coordinating the interview (which could be the recruiter, interviewer, or someone else depending on your specific situation) in the following order:
- Call first
- If they don’t pick up, leave a voicemail
- If you leave a voicemail, follow up with an email
When you call, be sure to express your disappointment at having to reschedule the interview and reiterate your excitement for the opportunity. Also, let them know that you don’t want to get anyone at the company sick either–this will demonstrate a keen sense of judgement on your part.
There are a couple reasons why it’s best to call first rather than email. First, because you’re rescheduling on very short notice, it’s imperative that you get in touch with whoever is coordinating your interview ASAP so they can let your interviewers know and free up that time on their calendars. This will demonstrate a respect for everyone’s time that your interviewers will appreciate.
The second reason why it’s important to call first is that it gives you an opportunity to connect with your interview coordinator on a human level and prove that yes, you really are sick enough to warrant rescheduling the interview. It’s important to get the point across that you aren’t just requesting this on a whim; you understand how difficult it is to coordinate calendars and you’re doing this out of concern for everyone’s health and out of respect for the process.
And while it’s true that you can communicate the same thing over email, written words just don’t carry nearly the same range of human emotion as spoken ones do. You want the person on the other end to feel your disappointment, to empathize with your suffering and want to help you in any way they can.
What to Say in Your Voicemail and Email
Because you’ll be sending an email after you leave a voicemail, there’s no reason to leave a long, rambling message. Keep it short and sweet. Here’s an example of what you might say:
“Hi Jane, this is Dan Clay, hope you’re doing well. I’m calling to let you know that unfortunately, I’ve come down with a really bad cold and will need to reschedule my interview with Mark this afternoon at 3 pm. I was hoping I’d be able to push through it but it’s only gotten worse, and I don’t want to get anyone sick. I’m really bummed about this but I’m still very excited about the opportunity and would love to see if we can reschedule for next week. I’ll send you an email to coordinate, thanks Jane.”
Then, follow up with an email worded something like this (feel free to alter to make it your own):
Subject: Rescheduling today’s interview with Mark
I hope this note finds you well. Just left you a voicemail–unfortunately, I’ve come down with a really bad cold and will need to reschedule my interview with Mark this afternoon at 3 pm. I thought I could power though it but it’s only gotten worse, and I don’t want to get anyone sick. I’m really bummed (talk about bad timing!) but am still super excited about the opportunity and would love to see if we can reschedule for next week when I’m (hopefully) feeling better.
Please let me know if Mark is available next week along with some days/times that work best for him.
Thanks so much for understanding Jane! Look forward to hearing from you soon.
When you coordinate a new interview time, make sure to give yourself enough time to ensure you’re feeling better going into the interview.
Most interviewers will be okay with rescheduling the interview once, but if you have to reschedule a second time, you might not get a second chance. This could mean pushing the interview out just a couple days, or a week or more depending on how sick you are. Don’t forget that the clock is ticking however, and time is not on your side!
Once you’re sitting down for the actual interview, be sure to thank your interviewer for their flexibility but don’t dwell on it–acknowledge it and move on.
And, see my previous post for tips and best practices for how to answer behavioral questions in a job interview.
Handling an illness with tact and professionalism will go a long way towards demonstrating to your interviewers that you’re the type of candidate they’re looking for. By approaching these situations the right way, you can give yourself a leg up in the interview process and turn a potential disaster into a mere speedbump on the road to success.
Hope you feel better soon!