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Why do candidates miss interviews and then go deep underground?

We wrote a blog recently about why people miss interviews. But sometimes it can’t be easily explained. The following instance happened to us recently, and we know it happens to other recruiters too.

Let’s look at the psychology of someone who:

  • has approached us for new work opportunities

  • is willing to have a lengthy conversation about job roles

  • sends their CV for consideration

  • agrees to have their CV forwarded for a role

  • confirms acceptance for an interview

  • spends considerable time being prepped for their interview the day before the interview

And then:

  • doesn’t turn up for the interview

  • is non-responsive by phone or email for days

  • decides to hang up on the recruiter when they finally answer the phone (called from a previously unused number)

It doesn’t make sense, why would someone go through all that time and trouble in readiness for an interview only to backtrack in a big way, arriving at a point where they are not even willing to speak or communicate with the recruiter?

There was a definite time when they decided not to go to the interview.

And there was a definite time when they decided against phoning up to say “I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want to do the interview.”

What we think when candidates miss interviews

Every time this happens we ask the same question, has there been an accident or some emergency? Because that’s a natural reaction to someone missing an appointment. Something had to have happened.

Our first thoughts when the client rings us up to confirm a missed interview is always, ‘I wonder if they are all right, I hope they haven’t been involved in an accident or something.’ Because most people on stretchers don’t answer their phones.

It is human nature to assume circumstances were out of control. Not that they were wilful and complicit.

As such we always phrase our initial email to the candidate in the same way, “I hope you didn’t miss your interview because of an emergency,” secretly hoping that it was and our candidate’s reputation is maintained.

It nearly always turns out otherwise. They have decided to miss the interview and then gone to ground. Only once has it ever happened that a candidate had actually been involved in an accident.

Once, in fifteen years of recruitment experience.


How much time and effort was wasted:

  • client’s waiting time (the client will have cleared time in their schedule especially for this and there may have been more than one interviewer)

  • client phoning the recruiter

  • recruiter phoning candidate

  • recruiter phoning candidate

  • recruiter texting candidate

  • recruiter emailing candidate

  • recruiter phoning client

  • recruiter phoning candidate

  • recruiter raising issue with colleagues

  • recruiter’s colleague phoning candidate

  • recruiter explaining to client

  • me writing this (although it is more time-spent-in-catharsis than wasted)!

What does it say about the candidate?

  • they are unreliable (they have let people down)

  • their communication skills are limited (they have none)

  • they cannot be trusted (ever again?)

  • it demonstrates how they might react when things get tough and they crawl silently into their shell (this wasn’t even tough!)

  • they have a dispassionate relationship with responsibility (they disappear rather than explain)

What’s the psychology?

There are a few legitimate explanations:

1.) They had a very good reason for missing the interview, but because of inexperience, they haven’t learnt an appropriate way to convey their predicament. They think their excuse won’t be believed and seek to avoid explanation entirely.

2.) Some sort of terrible anxiety, which means they are unable to provide an excuse, whether real or not, to explain their non attendance. They automatically assume that this means they will not be asked back for another interview and hence the entire negotiation is off.

3.) They just don’t care. They have no sense of how their actions have impacted upon others and seek to avoid further, unnecessary communication.

The candidate should always be honest!

There is a bottom line here and it’s entirely appropriate and reasonable to cancel an interview, or to realise that the job offer just isn’t right. It is entirely reasonable to have some conflict with an existing role and back out, at any time. It is the candidates right to do so. People have good reasons and bad reasons and these personal choices are usually respected by the recruiter.

However, it seems wholly irrational to suddenly go black-ops and disappear, without offering any explanation or excuse. There’s a palpable ignorance in being unresponsive to both phone calls and emails from recruiters, after the candidate had authorised them to represent him/her at multiple stages in the process.

For a recruiter this is one of the more frustrating and unnecessary aspects of the job. It becomes worse when that same candidate applies to the same agency again often for the same job.

The recruiter will remember them.

If the candidates CV ends up with the hiring company again, the client will remember them.

The candidate, sadly, doesn’t remember.

So the issue continues – How do you deal with these candidates?


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