One reader writes:

I recently lost my job when the small company I worked for went under. I have a small savings buffer, but of course I am actively looking for a job. I usually write two to three applications a day and spend hours writing thoughtful and personalized cover letters, so I research the companies I apply to.

I recently received a call back from a position for which I applied more than two weeks ago (so many applications now). The manager asked if I could have a short chat and wanted to know what interests me about his mission / vision for the job and why I think I would be a good fit. I gave some vague answers, but she pushed for more details and referred to the job posting.

To be honest, I couldn’t remember exactly what this company did. I work in a general area that many very different companies hire (think HR or accounting). I finally admitted that I couldn’t remember the product of her specific company, but when she said it it all came back and I was able to give some specific examples from my research, like her commitment to ecology, which I found appealing.

However, it was clear from her tone of voice and the follow-up questions that I had completely sunk my chances. I never heard from again. If I hear from them, is the expectation that I will memorize every job posting / mission statement for an indefinite period of time? Could I have asked for a scheduled phone call later to refresh my memory? I am just so overwhelmed by this whole process.

Agggh, this is so irritating.

It is totally unrealistic to expect that during an active job search and a number of other jobs since then, you will immediately remember details about a position that you applied for weeks before.

It is also perfectly reasonable that an interviewer should want to know what interests you about the job.

But the way to balance these two things is to schedule phone interviews in advance so that you have time to prepare, rather than calling you without warning, bombarding you with questions and assessing you when you may not once again remember exactly which job it is.

Calling people for impromptu phone interviews without warning is a bad habit for a variety of other reasons – they could catch you while you are working on your current job, looking after a child, at the grocery store or napping, or at a noisy family party or otherwise distracted and not at his best.

And the only reason to do it this way, rather than planning the call ahead of time, is so that interviewers like yours believe it will be easier for them. That way, they don’t have to contact you to schedule an appointment, wait for feedback, reserve spaces on their calendar in the meantime, and then wait for the scheduled time. You can skip all of this and just give them a call. I would argue that it is Not Really easier for them in the long run – because whoever does not find people who are not prepared means that they cannot get an exact picture of many of their candidates. But they don’t want to worry about scheduling.

When you get one of these unscheduled telephone interviews, you have the opportunity to say something like, “I’m not in an easy place to speak right now. Could I call you back in 20 minutes or could we make another appointment? ”The risk is that the later call may never come – because some interviewers who work like this just don’t care; You stop screening people once they have spoken to X reasonably qualified candidates, and not going back to others who thought they were still in the mix. And of course the fear of it creates exactly this situation in which interviewers are not pushed back, but continue and thus annoy everyone else. (Which doesn’t mean you can’t! I recommend it. Just be aware of this potential risk.)

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