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I have recently scheduled telephone interviews but I am experiencing a noise problem.

I currently work from my home which is in a dense neighborhood of a large, urban area. At any coffee shop, park, book store, etc., anywhere within walking distance, the ambient noise from traffic, customers, employees, and/or music is very loud and certainly unprofessional-sounding (curse words, yelling, honking, etc.).

However, my apartment building is undergoing significant construction for an extended period of time and there is very loud hammering (among many other loud noises) essentially all day from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. The work crew consists of at least 20 construction workers, in teams of 6 or 7 working on 3 different areas (siding, roof, and roof leaks into the basement). Other than the basement (which is also a busy laundry room) there are no common spaces or quiet rooms in the building nor in my apartment.

I asked one of the construction workers when they take their lunch break and he replied that it depends on the team. Apparently the basement team, the siding team, and the roof team figure out their lunch breaks apart from each other, and for the siding and roof teams, they try to coordinate specifically so that both teams do not stop working at the same time.

I don't have any friends or colleagues who live within a close enough distance to ask about using their apartments for receiving the call.

There are some co-working spaces in town, but they are expensive and the level of membership required to get even just a few hours in a private office (as opposed to the very rowdy and loud bank of cubicles in the main area) is far too expensive for my budget. Renting hotel rooms in the area is much much more expensive than this, and it's clearly infeasible to spend hundreds of dollars renting hotel rooms or work spaces for every different phone introductory interview that comes up.

It seems that I don't have any choice beyond accepting the phone calls from my apartment, but I am concerned that the loud and abrasive sound of construction will be unprofessional. The interviewer may think, "Why couldn't the candidate arrange to go somewhere quiet?" -- But that is the problem. Even thinking about where to accept the call several days in advance, I can't think of a single place where I would be allowed to have an involved telephone interview and the rest of the space would be suitably quiet.

How can I handle this in a professional way?

In response to the many suggestions below: I've already thought of most of the easy solutions (like going to the library, finding a hotel lobby that doesn't require a lengthy commute, trying to learn the lunch break of the large work crew, etc.)

I'm not really asking to try to get random tips on how to find a quiet place. It's pretty clear that I'm not going to be able to find a quiet place.

I'm asking how to professionally handle the phone call and explain it to the phone interviewer so that the construction (which I can't prevent or get away from) won't negatively impact me.

  • How long will those renovations last? Typically construction either takes at most a month of work. - Or it is riddled with downtime and they seem to "forget" about it. - In 3+ months they build complete new flats, so long renovation wouldn't ever e worth it. – paul23 Mar 26 at 2:10

14 Answers 14

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Firstly, you are right. As an interviewer I think it would reflect poorly on you if the call is constantly interrupted by noise.

Secondly, modern mobile phones are pretty good at blocking out background noise. Try making some test calls to friends - or have them call you from your home - and see just how good or bad the call quality is.

It is your responsibility to find a quiet place to take a call. If you want this job, you may have to go to a little extra effort.

  • Get a decent headset for your phone - wired or BlueTooth. The microphone will be closer to your mouth and it will be less likely to pick up ambient noise. As a bonus, you'll keep both hands free to use your computer.
  • Is it worth getting a hotel room for the day? Sure, it may be a cost - but will it be worth it if you get the job?
  • Can you ask the renovators to be quiet between a certain time? A case of beers often works wonders.
  • Avoid outdoor spaces like local parks - you don't want it to start raining, or have to compete with noisy kids.

Best of luck.

  • These items of advice are wildly impractical. First, I already have invested in headsets, etc., and the noise disruption, even if I close all apartment windows and hole myself up in the most internal room I have (a bathroom) is still noticeably loud. Given that it is a dense urban area, hotel costs are extremely high (many hundreds of dollars per night for a low-quality room) and in the part of town I live in most hotels are boutique and cater to the local university, and they are much more expensive. All that expense for a first introductory phone call? – ely Sep 16 '14 at 13:54
  • The renovation also appears to be a complete overhaul of the roof and siding. I've repeatedly asked the building managers to give me a schedule of the work, but they refuse. There are more than a dozen workers, some on the roof, some on scaffolding, some on the ground. Simply asking them to be quiet seems unrealistic -- it's clearly a huge construction operation and they have to follow what the building manager told them. – ely Sep 16 '14 at 13:58
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    @EMS it's actually very good advise. Maybe not practical in your situation, but they're good examples of things you can do to reduce the noise problem. Another very easy one is to go outside, sit in the car with the engine off. Maybe drive to a quiet spot just outside town first. – jwenting Sep 17 '14 at 6:27
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    @jwenting The OP stated that he doesn't have a car. And he's got no one who lives in his area to ask a favor from. – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 17 '14 at 12:26
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Try your local library. Often they have meeting rooms and possibly you can arrange for one of them. Our rec center also has meeting rooms for a very small fee. Or if there are any local offices in your area, you could go to them and ask them if you can borrow their conference room on a particular date. Local non profits might be willing to accomodate you if you can trade the use of thier conference room for some volunteer work. Local restaurarnts might have a private room that would be quieter. If there is some place you go to often, ask about it.

If you can't find anything better than you already know about, then tell them at the start of the interview, that you work out of your home but construction is ongoing in your building and that is why you are at a restaurant (which is bound to be quieter than construction if you pick a non-meal time). At least they will understand why there is background noise.

  • See comment above on the main post. – ely Sep 16 '14 at 13:25
  • Also, very truly, the restaurants around here are pretty much just as loud as construction, at all times of the day. One of the big reasons is that traffic and street noise here is very loud over the phone. Employees and other customers being loud can make it almost impossible to hear. Imagine how hard it would be to talk while riding the subway when it's medium-crowded... that is how all restaurants / coffee shops / bars / etc., sound here all day. Anything that's open between 9 and 5 will sound like that, unless it's the sort of place that wouldn't let you do the phone interview anyway. – ely Sep 16 '14 at 13:28
  • Rent a hotel room? – HLGEM Sep 16 '14 at 14:15
  • Hundreds of dollars per day, even more expensive than the unaffordable coworking spaces. Too much for an introductory interview. – ely Sep 16 '14 at 14:16
  • My local library is very quiet during the day, and you can find a quiet corner even without renting a meeting room. – Ida Sep 16 '14 at 22:38
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I've been in a very similar situation myself - construction work during a phone interview, with no alternative locations.

What I did (and it must have worked, since I got the job), was basically that during the formal greeting-phase of the phone call, you sneak in a short explanation:

"Good morning, thank you for having me, and I apologize in advance for the noise - The apartment above me is being refurbished."

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You mentioned you don't have a car, but what about renting a car (from zipcar or some such) for a couple of hours. If I desperately needed a quiet way to take a phone call in Cambridge, I'd rent a zipcar and drive to a quiet residential neighborhood, then take the call from inside the parked car. This isn't free, but it's a lot cheaper than a hotel. You could also try asking around, maybe you have a friend who lives nearby and would let you stop by their apartment (without construction) for a quiet phone call once in a while.

If you're not going to leave your apartment, I'd warn the interviewer ahead of time about the construction and try to find a better microphone than the stock one on your cellphone.

  • For this, I would have to sign up and pay the membership dues of Zipcar. Over the past three years, I've never needed to rent a Zipcar for anything, so it seems a bad waste to sign up and agree to pay a year of dues just to use it for this purpose. When considered on a total cost basis (> $60 for the year plus per-hour plus gas) it's still not sensible to pay for this just for introductory phone interviews. – ely Sep 16 '14 at 18:26
  • The $60 is steep but there are often opportunities to join for a smaller fee (discounts with schools, apartment buildings, referrals, and so on.) I agree it's not cheap, but the gas is included in the price of about ~$10 per hour. It may be more than you want to pay, but if you're going to do this 4 times for an hour and a half each, it will come out to something like $30 each time, which is a lot less than hotel rooms. – user3499545 Sep 16 '14 at 18:36
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    One other idea I'll add since you mentioned previous time as a student at one of the local universities. At Harvard at least, you can get a card that gives you occasional access to the libraries (something like 6 days a year) for free as an alumnus. If you can do something like this, you can use the quiet small-occupancy rooms in the libraries (which have far less draconian policies on use than the classrooms.) Many of them are on a first-come first-served basis so you don't need to reserve in advance. – user3499545 Sep 16 '14 at 18:37
  • You don't even need to rent a car, most dealerships wouldn't mind you taking out a car for a "test drive" for ~1hr or so (you don't need to lie, you can be upfront about them, and tell them that you are looking for a "quiet" car) - even if you aren't interested in buying the car, many will let you do that in exchange for honest feedback about your experience with it. – user2813274 Sep 20 '14 at 22:05
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This is a very old question so I'm not sure if I'm adding value here, but I have a suggestion for anyone finding this question later: mute your line when you're not actively speaking

As part of my current systems engineering job responsibilities I join conference calls for high severity events. These calls can have dozens or, in the worst cases, over a hundred people on them trying to diagnose (and waiting for resolution on) large-scale outages. Engineers get paged into these calls at all hours because when the system is down we need to fix it now. So many times people are in noisy places.

The rule of thumb on a call like this is join the call, announce yourself, and immediately go on mute until you have something to say.

It just so happens that I live next to a fire station, and so this rule definitely applies to me. On one or maybe two occasions a fire truck's siren has been going just as I was unmuted saying something, and I had to apologize and repeat myself, but normally people on the call aren't aware of the noise because my line is muted. I use a USB headset with a physical mute button I can press to toggle mute.

For an interview, I would recommend something similar with a good noise reduction mic. I would still recommend explaining that you're in a noisy place because of your circumstances and apologize, and request that they ask you to repeat anything that can't be clearly heard.

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    I think this does add to the existing answers because it gives practical advice on how to manage a call in a noisy area instead of trying to work out a way to reduce the noise. Also, muting your line when not speaking is just a good idea for all calls in my opinion. It prevents Darth Vader syndrome, and guards against folks being interrupted by unexpected noises on your end of the line. – ColleenV Jul 27 '15 at 17:43
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Nobody mentioned the obvious: Find new friends in your area, close enough to visit, far away enough from the noise.

  • This can't be accomplished in the short term. It takes time to get to know someone well enough to ask if you can use their car / apartment to handle a phone call. If you don't already have friends who can do this on short notice, then by the time you learn you will have a phone interview, it's already too late. – ely Sep 20 '14 at 19:22
  • 5 mins to stand on a strangers balcony and get a cup of coffee, watch Spy Game! :) From there it's not far to using the Wifi for an hour .... – user27196 Sep 21 '14 at 0:04
  • I do not understand that sequence of English words. – ely Sep 21 '14 at 0:37
  • @EMS user27196 is jokily suggesting that you use social engineering (spy techniques) to talk your way into a stranger's apartment. – mkennedy Oct 21 '14 at 18:01
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Get a throat mike. They pick up voice directly from throat vibrations, and ignore ambient sound.

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Do the construction employees not take a lunch break? You can always ask them (not the construction managers) when they are going to have a period of 'down time' and coordinate appropriately. They are not robots - you can ask them these kinds of things and it is your place of residency after all.

Is there a room in your apartment where the noise is the least interfering? I see you stated siding/roof. Is there a basement in your building or another room you could use?

Can you experiment with possible moving some furniture around to reduce the acoustics as much as possible? I really hate to sound so desperate but moving your mattress against a particular door/window/wall can help keep out noise.

Make a call to a friend. Ask them their opinion on the noise after you have taken necessary steps to mitigate noise as much as possible. Experiment if they think it is still too loud. If you are as serious about making these calls as you sound in your post then I think you will find a way.

Update:

If it is entirely too noisy to have a simple conversation, then it seems like you don't have an option.

If a conversation is discernible and you can get by, by saying "I have to warn you in advance - they are doing impromptu construction and they have been at it relentlessly. If, at any point, this becomes too loud, please let me know and we can reschedule." and proceed with normal discussion where you can both hear/understand each other - I don't see anything wrong with a quick description with an apologetic tone. It's not your fault, and all you're doing is trying to get your work done. I would just try to explain your situation in a not-so-personalized way but still get your point across.

  • The problem is that there are so many construction workers that they work in shifts on different parts of the building. There are at least 20 workers, all working on different parts in teams of 6-7. There is no single time when all of them are not working during 7 am to 6 pm. They are working on the entry ways and basement (partly covering roof leaks that go to the basement), and in my apartment even the most interior room is too loud. I don't have much furniture and it's a small apartment. I can confirm it is too loud: my girlfriend who lives with me did a test call and it's very very loud. – ely Sep 16 '14 at 16:43
  • @EMS These are all things that should have been in your original question. – Mark C. Sep 16 '14 at 16:46
  • I edited it. However, I didn't think it was necessary. I assumed people would take my word for it that there was no way to avoid the noise and focus on how to professionally explain and manage that with the interviewer on the phone. I've gotten a lot of crap from moderators on this site for making the question too idiosyncratic with personal details, but I guess I erred too much in the wrong direction? – ely Sep 16 '14 at 16:56
  • @EMS Coming up with solutions to avoid noise is a plausible answer for your question if it is achievable. You said the construction workers are working on the roof/siding. Now you say basement and entry ways also. Also, you are now saying there's so many workers that there is essentially NEVER a quiet time. This is an incredible scenario, and the details are important in this scenario - they aren't personal. Now that you are saying construction will be going on relentlessly, we can now focus on your wording to explain your current situation to the interviewer. – Mark C. Sep 16 '14 at 17:00
  • It doesn't seem that incredible to me. It's a 3 story large apartment building in a large city that has tons of old houses and old apartment buildings. I see construction work like this on every block pretty much every week from April to November. Redoing the roof, fixing leaks, and adding siding to a big old house is a pretty big construction project. And indeed, the building manager told me when I previously asked for a schedule of the construction that the goal was to have them working continuously to reduce the total number of days for the overall project. – ely Sep 16 '14 at 17:06
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Clearly we need to think outside the box here, taking the call from your car in an parking lot can work, alternatively, although I wouldn't advise to take the call at a place of worship, cemeteries tend to be quiet places.

The best situation however would be to know someone in your neighborhood willing to provide a haven for the duration of the call.

In term of handling the situation professionally, I would try to reschedule the call at a time either quieter (like 19h00) or where you can move to a quieter location. It would explain by email beforehand, that the environment is currently suboptimal for a professional conversation.

  • Yeah I think your best bet here is large park / cemetery / outside area. – Fiona - myaccessible.website Sep 16 '14 at 15:40
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    Unfortunately, in my area, all of these places are just as loud (often louder) than the construction. It may not come in the form of a loud hammer's bang, but when the guy in the park jokingly yells out a curse word to his friends, that probably would look even worse. And traffic and street noise are still quite loud even at the center of these parks. There is a large cemetery nearby, but they enforce rules about no cell phones and no jogging, etc., in that cemetery. It would not be a good risk. I also mentioned in a comment to the OP that I don't have a car. – ely Sep 16 '14 at 16:41
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These are the options I see for you:

  • Mitigate the sound (clear from comments you can't).
  • Move the interview somewhere nearby less noisy (clear from comments you can't).
  • Move the interview somewhere less noisy and bite the bullet by requesting time off from work to account for travel.
  • If the noise allows for conversation: Simply apologize for the noise, explain that it is out of your control. Offer to reschedule (see Jimmy's updated answer).
  • Explain the situation already while scheduling, and warn about noise. Offer a time where the work is not going on (early mornng, evenings, weekends)
  • If the noise is so bad you cannot have a conversation: Request an interview time outside the construction hours (early morning, late evening, weekends).
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When I wanted to do some research, I was able to get a pass to access the local university's libraries for 6 months. Had to go through quite a few checks but it only cost me about £25.

This is in the UK though, not sure if it is similar near you but it may be worth a try.

  • This probably wouldn't help much. I can't conduct a loud job interview over the phone in the common areas of the library, and like the public library, it requires reservations to book a private room. If I learn on a Tuesday that I will have a phone interview on Thursday, it's not enough time to arrange anything at a library, whether public or university. – ely Sep 20 '14 at 19:23
  • Ask them to give you more notice for the phone interview - tell them that you can do it in 3-4 days time, and briefly state that you need to arrange a quiet room due to the construction. If they are a reasonable employer, they will agree to this. – Paul Nov 5 '14 at 8:47
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Post an ad on craigslist offering some free tech support in exchange for a quiet place to take a phone call.

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In addition to previous answers, if you are in a large, urban area, chances are excellent there is actually meeting rooms for rent on a hourly basis in a large abundance near you and relatively cheap too.

Try checking venues near you and usual techie gathering places, like workplace sharing venues, startup communities and hubs, local hackerspaces.

I have used this kind of option a few times personally for international Skyping when my old private office building was being renovated and it was near impossible to have a decent conversation in person, not to mention over voip.

  • Actually, I've always found the opposite of this to be true. I actually live down the street from a co-working business that provides rentable cubicles, meeting rooms, and offices, and several start-ups work out of it full-time. It is extremely loud, and the price for renting any type of private space is extremely high. I asked one of the staff about this and they said there is just such little long-term demand for private space (because open space is a trendy thing with start-ups right now) that they purposely design their co-working layouts with very little private space. – ely Jul 27 '15 at 15:18
  • As a result, you have to book the private space many weeks or months in advance, and certainly there would be no way to book it in a matter of days after learning about a scheduled job interview. It suffers from the same problem that the library study rooms have: extremely high short-term demand and very little supply. The (I feel incorrect) trend of using open-plan offices is contributing to making sure that market forces don't correct the imbalance. But at any rate, I've found that in urban areas, counter-intuitively, it's much harder to find any sort of quiet meeting space to rent. – ely Jul 27 '15 at 15:20
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If you can't escape the noise, all you can really do is tell them that you apologize for the noise and move on. As you already know, there isn't going to be some magic phrase any of us can give you that you will be able to use in which everyone who calls you will accept and not hold the noise against you. Since there are no solutions to your noise problem, that is all you can do and you must simply accept any negative consequences you may encounter.

If you don't land a job under these conditions, then you are going to have to suck it up and do something drastic like the options you listed above - hiring out an office or visiting a hotel. Personal anecdote: I had no one to teach me to drive and I had to accrue 50 hours before I could move onto my full license. You know how I got those hours? I paid an instructor $50 an hour until I got all 50 hours. It made me angry that I had $2500 to get my license when everyone else got their parents to teach them for free, but as I said - sometimes you gotta suck it up. Prepare to spend money on hotels or office spaces is all I'm saying.

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    this doesn't seem to offer anything substantial over points made and explained in prior 10 answers – gnat Nov 5 '14 at 7:51

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