What To Say When An Interviewer Calls You At A Bad Time

Man gets a call from a recruiter at a bad time

It finally happens! The phone rings and, being in active job search mode, you eagerly answer every unrecognized number because it could be your next employer. But at the particular moment, you're at the gym, in line at the grocery store, or picking up your kids from after-school sports.

When the phone rings in these situations, it can be mentally jarring, and therefore difficult to focus. Not to mention you're unlikely to have your resume or other notes in front of you about the particular company. (You did take notes on your company research, right?) So, resist the urge to proceed with the phone interview anyway, out of fear that you won't get another chance. You will, as long as you set the proper tone of this initial conversation with the recruiter.

Here's what to say when an interviewer calls at a bad time:

Answer The Phone Correctly

Woman gets a call from a recruiter at a bad time


Since most jobs are going to require that you speak to some other human being inside or outside the company, it's important to demonstrate how you would answer the phone in professional circumstances.

The first impression you give the interviewer should be an indication of the first impression you would give to that company's vendors or customers. Eliminate the awkward five seconds when the recruiter, probably thinking it's you, is required to ask for you, only for you to respond with, “Who's calling?" (or the more defensive version, “Who's this?"). The wrong inflection can make you seem like you're avoiding bill collectors, and the entire exchange slows the flow of conversation. Instead, smile—yes, smile through the phone (people can tell!)—then announce your name.

A simple, “Hello. This is Joe," will immediately confirm to the recruiter they've reached the right person and set the stage for a pleasant exchange.

Express Gratitude And Enthusiasm

Woman talks to an interviewer on the phone


Over the phone, your voice, tone, and attitude are the sole criteria available to the recruiter in these initial moments. This is the opportunity you were waiting for, so be happy about it. Regardless of the busy scenario you're caught up in, if you had a second to answer the phone, then you have a second to ensure your tone is positive.

Continue to build on your pleasant-sounding foundation. Say, “Thanks so much for calling. I was hoping I'd hear from you. I've been really excited about this opportunity since I first came across it."

Speak The Truth (Or Something Like It)

Man talks to an interviewer on the phone


Clarify that you can't talk right now, but don't overshare. When you call someone at work who can't speak right now, their administrative assistant says, “She's in a meeting at the present moment," regardless of what the case actually is because it really doesn't matter. Maintain the same level of professionalism—no need to say you're two minutes from completing your 10-minute mile on the treadmill. Your objective is to politely and firmly end the current call.

Demonstrate your professionalism and initiative by setting up the next call. It's like a date. When you ask someone out, if the response is, “No, I can't," then you have to wonder if that means no forever or just no to that particular day. Either way, not a good feeling. But if the response is, “I can't on Tuesday. How about Thursday?" then you have something definite to go on. Apply the same concept to the conversation with the recruiter. Say, “I need to be in a quieter place in order to focus. May I return your call in one hour?"

Phone interviews can be nerve-wracking, especially when you're caught off guard. The next time an interviewer calls you at a bad time, remember these three things. You'll be sure to leave a great first impression and successfully avoid an awkward phone call.

Need more help with your job search?

We'd love it if you signed up for Work It Daily's Power Hour Event Subscription! Get your career questions answered in our next live event!

This article was originally published at an earlier date.

Man on laptop enjoys summer while working full time

There you are: sitting on the beach, covered in sunscreen, reading your favorite book, drinking your favorite drink under the cool shade of an umbrella. Life doesn't get any better than this. Suddenly, a door slams, a phone rings, a printer turns on. You jolt back into consciousness. You're at work, sitting in your cubicle, without even a hint of sunshine streaming in from outside.

Read moreShow less