By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 11/11/2007 4:59:45 PM ET 2007-11-11T21:59:45

The first step to acing the interview: Show up!

I know this sounds obvious, but apparently not to everyone. Recently I had lunch with a recruiter who shared one of his latest pet peeves: Job candidates who never show up for the first interview.

“It happens all the time lately,” says Emmanuel Conde, director of recruitment for Alliant Technologies, an information-technology staffing firm that estimates about 50 percent of entry-level IT professionals they try to place don’t show up for interviews. Among senior level folks, about 20 percent skip it.

Turns out, Conde is not alone.

The no-show phenomenon is a growing problem for many recruiters and hiring managers, and it’s pervasive in a host of industries from high tech to health care.

Career experts believe an increasingly tight labor market and the deterioration of common courtesy is contributing to the trend, but it may also be that job applicants are being treated as commodities today thanks to the proliferation of online job boards and the cost-cutting frenzy among businesses.

"The Internet has turned job hunting and dating into similar endeavors," says Seth Godin, author of "The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)."

"Companies get thousands of resumes, and no human being can read them all. So everyone is a cog in a wheel, a commodity," he explains. "Most hiring managers aren’t asked by CEOs, ‘How can we get the most amazing people?’ They are asked, ‘How can I get enough cheap people to get the work done?’”

In many cases, it’s the lower-level job applicants that are apt to be no-shows.

Take frozen food company Contessa Premium Foods. Rosslyn Banayat, the human resources manager, says candidates fail to make the first interview nearly 10 percent of the time.

"We’ve found that candidates who fail to show up are generally seeking entry-level positions, and they’re typically responding to an ad we’ve placed on a large posting site like monster.com," she says. "These candidates have probably submitted their resumes to multiple companies and really have no obligation, loyalty or focus as to which company or position is best suited for them. In other words, they may not have much invested in the interview process."

At 1-800-Got-Junk?, about 50 percent of candidates didn’t show up for interviews during a recent five-month period when the company conducted group interviews for sales agents.

"People want to work here," maintains recruiting manager Jamie Hoobanoff.  "However, with the job market the way that it is and unemployment at a 30 year low at below 4 percent, it means that we have to be more resourceful and work harder to get the volume and caliber of candidates to fill these roles."

(The U.S. unemployment rate was 4.7 percent as of November 2007.)

Since there are so many applicants, thanks to online job boards, sometimes recruiters don’t do a great job matching the job to the candidate, making it more likely that the person won’t show up for the first interview, says Matt Johnston, CEO of Workway, a staffing agency.

And it’s not just about Gen Y workers slacking off. While there are a lot of younger candidates skipping out of interviews, older workers, who should know better, are also getting in on the no-show act.

A 40-year-old candidate for a job as an accounting manager didn’t show up for an interview with a pharmaceutical company, claiming his dog bit his face, says Jack Manning, president of executive recruiting firm Manning Associates.

"Of course we assume it’s the truth," says Manning. But it turned out someone from Manning’s office saw the applicant at a bar that same weekend and his face looked fine.

On another occasion, a female applicant for a marketing position called to say she couldn’t make the interview with a technology company, saying her boyfriend had walked out with her wallet after the couple had fought.

Manning called her bluff and offered to send a cab to pick her up. "She took the cab and ended up getting the job," he says. "You never know."

One of Alliant Technologies’ Conde’s strangest no-show stories involved a young man trying to get into an IT support position in a hospital.

The applicant didn’t show up for the first interview because he said his grandmother was admitted to the hospital, so Conde rescheduled the meeting.

"When the day of the interview arrived I received an e-mail from the candidate. His e-mail informed me that he had actually lied about his grandmother’s illness and had in fact gone to a party with some friends, making him too hung-over to make the original interview."

He wanted to reschedule again, but not surprisingly, Conde passed.

That’s the chance job seekers take when they find they have better things to do than show up for an interview. Some hiring managers say they keep a blacklist of applicants who failed to show.

But at a time where everyone is predicting a shortage of workers in the coming years as baby boomers retire, it may be hard for companies and staffing firms to be setting aside any names. And with all the turnover these days, there’s a good chance someone you diss today may have moved on by next year.

So why show up?

  1. First and foremost, it’s the polite thing to do. Were we all raised by wolves? (Something my mother would ask right about now.)
  2. Even though it’s a tight labor market, and people do move on, not showing up can come back to haunt you. You’ll risk being labeled unreliable, and word could get out that you flake out.
  3. You might actually like the company and the job.
  4. You can learn to become a better interviewee. The more interviews you go on the less nervous you’ll be when that big job opportunity comes a knockin.
  5. Connections, connections, connections. You never know who you’ll meet during the interview process. It could be a manager who ends up mentoring you, or an employee who goes on to another firm you ultimately end up interested in. Getting a great job is all about networking and what better way than meeting people face-to-face.

If you get a better offer, however, Godin says a job applicant would be nuts not to blow off a previous interview commitment that conflicts.

"Get as many job interviews as you can on Monday, and then take the best ones," he explains. But, remember to call to cancel the ones you can't attend.

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