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I got an interview call from a company after a friend referred me for a vacancy in his team. The call was from a team manager and not any HR personnel.

One interview for this week, Monday, was scheduled.

Since my current employer does not support WFH (work from home), I scheduled the interview for the morning and informed my manager that I would be running late. After waiting for a good half an hour I came to know through my friend that the person who called me was on emergency leave.

Three days later (yesterday) without any warning they sent me a coding test to complete within 24 hours.

This was on Thursday: yesterday.

I had a release the next day (i.e., today) and unknown to me I had to work overtime yesterday.

I didn't get any time to complete the test, and the link expired.

(I feel the company should have asked me about my availability before sending a test like this especially on a weekday.)

How should I reply to them now?

106

Yes, it was unexpected and should have happened in a better way.

However, you did one mistake here, you should have immediately responded to them declining to take the test (exactly the reasons what you've said in the question). However, if you still did not communicate anything after receiving the email, it's still not too late, take action as soon as possible.

Reply to them in a way which:

  • Lists the previous incidents happened (uninformed cancellation, no heads up etc)
  • Still shows a positive attitude to resolve the issue and get going forward
  • Sounding confident and not desperate for the job.

Something along the lines of:

"Hello, I'm sorry to inform that I could not complete the coding test you sent me.

However, at the risk of sounding like an excuse, let me also add that the previous interview which was scheduled did not take place, without any prior information. The follow up test, also showed up without any prior notice, thereby I could not take proper actions.

I sincerely expect to have the interview / test re-conducted and the timings to be confirmed well in advance this time so that I can plan my work accordingly. Please let me know when is a good time to discuss about the availability and put something in the calendar so it works smoothly for all of us.

Regards, Somya"

In case they comply, you can go ahead. However, if they do not seem to receive the response well, it's a red flag about the company culture they maintain, where time is not valued. I'd think twice then before making progress on associating with them.

  • 70
    I think this is the right approach but the language is probably even too indirect. Rather than 'at the risk of sounding like an excuse' (which does nothing but make it sound like an excuse, and that you know it's just an excuse) I'd just say something more like 'I had cleared time on my schedule for Monday morning and unfortunately we were not able to spend time together then. Due to time constraints I was not able to devote time to the project on short notice on Thursday/Friday'. OP doesn't owe them an excuse/reason any more than he should demand same from them.... – Alex M Apr 12 at 16:44
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    ...all that's happened so far is a minor scheduling conflict has prevented two parties from getting together for a mutually beneficial goal. It only remains to try to reschedule at a time that works for both. – Alex M Apr 12 at 16:44
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    never use the phrase "at the risk of sounding like an excuse" in business, for any reason! – Fattie Apr 12 at 18:28
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    @Fattie: My reading of this, is that the language here is adapted for Indian approach to business communication. Which is a different style to your suggestion. However, that piece of background information is not in the question or answer. Ideally it would be in both. – Neil Slater Apr 12 at 19:07
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    @NeilSlater i'm in mumbai – Fattie Apr 12 at 19:56
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The more time that passes, the worse this looks.

The ideal case would have been to respond immediately to their test request:

I am very sorry, but I was not aware from my previous contact with your company that I would be required to take a test today. Due to my work situation (give more details if there are urgent deadlines, etc...), I will not be able to take a test until the weekend. I would be glad to take a different test if you feel that that would be more fair to the other candidates.

If you have had no contact with the company since receiving their test request, then the above is still a valid response. You could basically pretend that you did not see their email.

If you acknowledged that you received the test request, and simply did not do it, then you are in a very bad situation. Anything you say at this point will come across as an excuse. If you are an average candidate for them, then I think your chances of getting the job have dropped to 0. If you are an above average candidate, then they might grant you forgiveness.

FWIW: I am in charge of hiring for several positions in our company. We also give a prescreening test to candidates (although we typically give 1 week to complete). I am glad to delay the test if a candidate tells me that they are busy over the next few days. However, if we agree on a timeline for the test, and you simply can't be bothered to do it, then I simply can't be bothered to give you a job. There are deadlines in industry. If we agree on a reasonable deadline, and you do not meet that deadline, then what does it say about how you will perform in my company.

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    I agree very much with the first sentence, however, i don't agree with the "If you acknowledged that you received the test request, and simply did not do it, then you are in a very bad situation.". All has their times allocated, no one is up for a on the spot coding test without a heads up. – Sourav Ghosh Apr 12 at 12:18
  • If he did not indicate that it would be a problem upon receiving the test, and instead said something like, "Thanks, I received the test." Then the implicit assumption is that it will not be a problem for him. I agree that the company SHOULD have given him a heads up. They bear some of the fault for this siutation. But by not indicating that taking the test will be an issue, the candidate is complicit in everything that transpires after that point. – bremen_matt Apr 12 at 12:33
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    However, if we agree on a timeline for the test, and you simply can't be bothered to do it, - not very relevant here, is not it? This indicates there has been some communication and agreed upon time or timeline, not some out of blue request. – Sourav Ghosh Apr 12 at 12:44
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    We are all arguing about the appropriate response. I think this all hinges on whether the candidate acknowledged that he received the test, and indicated whether or not he would complete it. If he indicated that he would complete the test, but did not, then he is in a very bad position. If he never indicated that he received the test, then the company has no reason to believe that he received the email in the first place. – bremen_matt Apr 12 at 13:00
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    @bremen_matt - there's no need to "pretend" not to have seen it - accomplishing one's current responsibilities before digging into new possibilities is entirely appropriate and those obligations are sufficient explanation by themselves. As long as the candidate didn't respond to the request with an agreement to complete it in 24 hours, not having time is legitimate; especially if it can be truthfully stated that they did not have time to even initially look at or attempt to begin. – Chris Stratton Apr 13 at 17:01
4

Off course it is common courtesy for them to ask if you could spare some time for the exercise especially that it was not indicated you've have to do one earlier in the process. It would raise some eyebrows with me and definitely count as a negative when evaluating options (for the reasons others have mentioned).

Looking past that though, it depends on how much you want the job. I've had this happen to me a couple of times and I replied right away indicating I'd not be able to make the deadline but offered a new time instead.

If the task is vague or you aren't sure how long you'll need - do ask if there's a timeframe in which they expect the exercise to be done (reasoning below).

Hi so-and-so,

Thank you for the exercise. I look forward to the challenge. I reckon I will need 3 hours to complete it however I am caught up with some blah-blah-blah today and will not find good time in which to work on it. Do you mind if I completed it and came back to you on Friday instead?

I notice there isn't a mention of how much time should be spent on the exercise - please could you give me an indication?

This is kind of important to do and in itself shows them how you can manage expectations amongst a busy schedule, be open in your communications, etc. Usually they understand and appreciate the pragmatism. If they find this unacceptable, then yes you really ought to reconsider working for them.

For the reason behind deadlines like this - It's often the case with homework exercises they don't want you to spend more than an allocated time and hence the short notice. i.e. If you took the weekend to complete what should be a 2 hour exercise, sure you're going to come up with something quite polished that does not accurately represent your skills and abilities - especially against other candidates do only take 2 hours and Hiring managers need to make decisions with this constraint as a factor. This is even more reason to indicate upfront that you need a block of time. Here I would make use of Github or similar that shows the timeline of all the your work on the exercise (as well as how you branch, commit, test, refactor, etc, etc). You could point this out to the interviewer.

It sounds as though you've missed the deadline now so perhaps do something similar in retrospect?

I really do apologize. I thought I would have had some quality time to focus on the exercise but due to unforeseen blah-blah-blah I found I couldn't complete it on time. I've included a link to the github project showing the approach and how much time I took, etc - I hope this suffices in this form. I look forward to your feedback.

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    It doesn't sound like the exercise was even begun (link expired) and that is a good thing - it is much better to not have started than to have begun but failed to complete in the allowed time. If the testing system shows that they link was never even opened before expiry, then they can be re-invited to the same exercise, while if it appears they began, a different exercise would be required. Of course the merits of automated time-limited tests are limited enough that they are hopefully being used for nothing more than "does this person have half an idea what they are doing" filtering. – Chris Stratton Apr 13 at 17:03
0

You have dodged a bullet. It's not normal to issue a test with such a short time-frame for completion, unless both parties have agreed to the time-frame in advance. I usually can't complete a moderate length task from my current employer in such a short time-frame due to the amount of work sitting in my stack, let alone a potential employer who cancelled an interview during the same week.

Responding quickly would be the most professional thing to do, but if they aren't able to conduct themselves professionally (like setting up a time in advance for which to complete such a test), then you should consider yourself lucky that you got filtered out of their hiring process.

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