How to interview for a new job when life gets in the way

It can be difficult to schedule a job interview. You want to meet with the employer when they are in the best possible mood, your own energy is at its peak, and at a time when you have their full attention. A hint: end of day Friday isn’t a great interview slot for this reason. Sometimes, though, you don’t have a choice. Employers often suggest a time, and the onus is on you to make it work.

This can cause a dilemma when you have other commitments or plans that can’t be changed, or in the case of an unexpected illness. How can you manage conflicting priorities and still impress potential employers with your professionalism?

Here are three common scenarios that confound jobseekers:

  • Interviewing for a new job when they have a full-time job already.
  • Starting a new job when they have a vacation already booked.
  • Coming down with an illness right before an important job interview.

Interviewing for a job when you’re working full time

The best time to find a job is when you already have a job. It’s well documented that employers have a bias towards currently employed candidates over the unemployed. The fact that someone is paying you for your work at the moment serves as an unspoken recommendation that you are a worthy candidate. While many people find themselves out of work through no fault of their own, employers sometimes worry that the reason an applicant is unemployed is that there is something wrong with their work ethic or abilities.

So, while it is easier to impress potential employers when you already have a job, being employed can make the job search more complicated. You don’t want to apply for jobs using your work email or take calls on your work phone, and how can you attend in-person job interviews?

Schedule the interview around your working hours. Even if you have the flexibility to take a call or duck out for a meeting at any time during the day, interviewing for a job with a new employer on your current employer’s time sends the wrong message.

If you would disrespect your commitment to your boss by sneaking off to pursue other opportunities when you’re supposed to be on the job, what’s to say you would treat future employers any differently? For this same reason, you don’t use your work phone or email address on your job applications. It’s unprofessional to use your company’s resources to look for other work.

Apply for jobs with your personal contact information and schedule your job interviews on your own time. If you have a nine-to-five schedule, and your potential employer can only meet with you during these working hours, then book the time off from your job.

Take a personal day, a vacation day, or even a sick day. You likely won’t even need the whole day. If you can book your interview for first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, you can probably arrange to come in late that day or leave early. You may even be able to make it a lunch meeting. The important thing is to be above board with your current employer and for the company that you want to work for to see that you are careful to behave ethically on the job.

Obviously, you don’t have to tell your boss that you need the morning off to go to a job interview, as that could torpedo your current employment before you’ve lined up the new one. You just don’t want to be “stealing” time either.

Catching an illness before a big interview

It happens. Even the most robust of us come down with something once in a while. Of course, the most unfortunate timing can be getting sick while in the middle of a job search. You won’t look, feel, or perform your best when you’re under the weather. This can make it extra challenging to impress potential employers in job interviews. They are looking for positive, enthusiastic, confident candidates, and while you might be all of those things on a good day, you’re meeting them at a time when you just want to crawl back under the covers and curl up for a few days.

Assess the situation. Can you fake wellness for an hour? For a phone or video interview, this is your best strategy. If you can take whatever medications you have that suppress or mask the symptoms for a period of time, see if you can maintain your energy levels and get through that first meeting without even mentioning being sick.

No one is going to hold it against you for coming down with an illness. That happens to everyone. Still, when trying to decide between two similar candidates, employers are more likely to lean toward the more put-together, confident candidate. So, power through it if you can.

If you are going to be coughing, sneezing, or in some other way visibly ill, then be upfront about it. Make a remark about the awkward timing of interviewing for a job while you are sick. Point out that this is an unusual situation, as you want to reassure the employer that you won’t be constantly taking sick days off or bringing germs into the office.

If the employer schedules an in-person job interview while you are ill, you will have to let them know that you are sick. In the post-COVID era, people will not take kindly to someone displaying symptoms coming into the workplace. Suggest that you have a virtual meeting first, to buy yourself some recovery time.

You can also offer to meet in person while keeping your distance, refrain from shaking hands, and wear a mask in order to avoid spreading the illness. It is unlikely that an employer would take you up on such an offer, but at least it demonstrates that you are flexible, solution-oriented, and considerate of other people’s concerns.

Of course, if you’re very sick and you can’t power through the interview, you can always postpone. This may cost you the job, as employers will likely move on to the next candidate, only circling back to you if none of the other applicants work out. But your health is more important than a job. You have to take care of yourself first. There will always be the next opportunity.

Negotiating a new job when already have vacation plans

This has happened to many of us. You make your travel plans months in advance, the flights are booked, the hotel is reserved, and your family is excited about the big trip. But then sometime between making the arrangements and actually taking the vacation, you are presented with the opportunity to advance your career with a change of jobs.  That creates the dilemma of when to let your potential new employer know that if they offer you the job, you are going to have to take some time off fairly soon after starting with the company.

Don’t do it right away. Discussions of vacation time and accommodations for personal needs are part of the negotiations that you have with an employer after they have made you the job offer. All of your interactions with the company before this step should be aimed at getting the offer.

Talk about your enthusiasm for the role, and highlight what you can do for the employer so that they are convinced that you are the right candidate for the job. Once they have decided that you are the one they want to hire, and they make you a written job offer, then you can make your requests.

Explain that the vacation was pre-booked and couldn’t be moved, so you will need that time off.  Employers are familiar with this dilemma; it’s not an uncommon situation for candidates to find themselves in. If you are the one they want to hire, they will accommodate you. Just be polite, professional, and upfront about the situation.

The same can be said for most dilemmas during your job search. Life often gets in the way of the plans we try to make. The key is to stay positive and effectively communicate any issues with potential employers. You are going to face setbacks and dilemmas on the job as well. So, demonstrating that you can solve problems and find workarounds during the hiring process can be an asset rather than a liability.

Original published on Talent.com.

 

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