A reader writes:

I have a question about an interview experience that I was hoping you could share your thoughts on. I recently was given the chance to interview at an organization. The interview was scheduled about two weeks in advance. A few days beforehand, I started feeling a bit under the weather and ended up having a cold.

By the day of the interview I was feeling much better but still had some mild congestion. I went into the interview with my own water, tissues, and cough drops. When I arrived, I declined handshakes and told them I was recovering from a cold and even apologized if my voice was a bit off and if I coughed. I thought the interview went well. I had to cough and drink water a few times, but I didn’t think it was distracting. Nothing felt off about the interview.

When I arrived home, I was surprised to see a rejection email already sent to me, which was time-stamped for about 10 minutes after I had left the interview. It was a generic form letter, but at the very end was this note:

“A note to you for your future job searching. If you are sick, do not show up for an interview. You are demonstrating that you don’t care about the well-being of your potential coworkers. Did you consider if someone was recovering from cancer or had a compromised immune system? You demonstrated to us that you would not show careful thought or consideration for your coworkers and that is a quality you should consider addressing.”

I didn’t respond, since I wasn’t sure if an apology would be warranted here. Should I have rescheduled? I feel like if I looked horrible, could barely talk, or had something very contagious, rescheduling seemed like the best bet. I thought if I could go to work with this cold (which I did the day before and after), then I was okay to attend the interview. Is there a general protocol for this type of thing?

Well, I wouldn’t be thrilled if a candidate showed up with an active cold, even though I understand that people of course go to work with colds all the time.

But I wouldn’t send an obnoxious note about it either.

I do wonder if you inadvertently made the cold seem more full-blown than it actually was. You said you were just mildly congested at that point, but the tissues and the cough drops may have made it seem like more.

In general, you shouldn’t interview with something contagious — both for altruistic reasons (you shouldn’t knowingly expose people to the illness) and for self-interested ones (a lot of interviewers are going to be irked that you exposed them, and won’t think well of you for it — and plus you’re not likely to perform at your best if you’re sick).

It’s not clear to me if you felt you were still contagious or not, but if you were only a few days into the cold, you probably were. Ideally you would have contacted them ahead of time, explained you were sick, and asked to reschedule. I get that can feel risky — what if they say can’t reschedule, or if they say they’ll get back to and never do? But there are enough interviewers who will strongly prefer that, and be put off if you don’t, that’s the right thing to do.

In any case, though, their note was over-the-top. I’m quite sure that they have employees come into work with colds, because colds can last weeks and people aren’t taking weeks off for colds. Their snooty lecture was misplaced.

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