Upcoming job interviews often spur both nervousness and excitement. You’re at the threshold of an opportunity that could boost your earnings, teach you new skills, and place you in a professional environment you enjoy — but there’s a lot to accomplish before then.

It all starts with the perfect resume and cover letter. Next, you prepare with extensive research on your potential employer and mock interview questions until you feel comfortable and confident ahead of your interview. Then, life happens, and you have to cancel.

Canceling an interview can feel uncomfortable and worrying. But recruiters are human too, and most understand that things go wrong beyond our control. You can uphold your positive, professional image and keep the proverbial door open for future opportunities by sending the right cancellation message.

Here’s how to cancel an interview in a way that demonstrates your preparedness and respect for the company’s time.

When to cancel an interview

If you’ve been looking forward to a job interview, canceling it can be a tough call. When you’re invested in the interview process — and stressed about an increasingly competitive job market — it’s hard to pump the brakes on a solid opportunity.

But certain life events demand your attention and leave you with no way to reasonably proceed with the hiring process. And other, more temporary setbacks can keep you from getting to your meeting, forcing you to postpone. You may even decide the job isn’t one you want after all.

You should consider canceling or postponing a scheduled interview in the following scenarios:

  • You’re sick: When you’re not feeling well or have been in close contact with someone sick, reschedule any in-person interviews. You don’t want to further stress your body and immune system or risk passing the illness on to the hiring team. If you’re just a little under the weather and eager to tackle a Zoom interview, you may choose to keep or postpone the meeting at your own discretion. Just remember: your health comes first.
  • You’ve been in an accident: Perhaps you sprained your ankle on a weekend run or got into a fender-bender on the way to your interview. Accidents are valid reasons to shift a meeting — you need time to heal your body or let your nerves settle after an upset. Ask to reschedule, and if you want to squeeze the interview before you’re able to get to the office in person, inquire about meeting on a video call instead.
  • The death of a loved one: The grieving process is long and unpredictable. When you’ve experienced a loss, you need time to work through bereavement and prioritize your wellness. It may not be the right time to take on a new job opportunity, so don’t push yourself to keep the interview.
  • You’ve accepted another job offer: Once you’ve taken another job, canceling the other interviews in your queue is the right thing to do. You don’t want to disrespect a hiring manager or recruiter by wasting their time.
  • You’ve opted to return to school: People seeking a change may look for new jobs while applying to higher education programs. If this is you, and you’re accepted to a program that could expand your professional opportunities, put your job search on pause as you sharpen your skills.
  • You’re moving: If you planned to commute to your potential new job and now you’re moving too far away, you should cancel your interview. This isn’t a role you’re able to take, and it’s best to save the hiring manager the trouble of considering your application.

When to rethink canceling

While it may be clear that canceling a meeting due to a minor schedule conflict or pre-interview jitters isn’t a wise move, there are other situations that toe the line. What if you lose interest in the role, or feel confident another opportunity will soon come through?

Don’t cancel an interview if you think there’s even a small chance you could take the job. Should that other opportunity fall through, you need a solid Plan B. And if you’re on the fence about a role, meeting face-to-face with the hiring team could convince you to see the opportunity in a new light.

Plus, getting in some more practice answering interview questions doesn’t hurt. And the interview is also a great opportunity to present yourself well to a company you might consider working for in the future.

 

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The consequences of canceling an interview

When you can’t make an interview but want to stay in the race for the position, reschedule — and do it as soon as possible. Moving your meeting in advance allows you to explain the unexpected situation to the recruiter and likely retain the job opportunity.

If you must turn down a meeting outright, you may be closing a door. That’s okay: sometimes it’s necessary. That said, if you write a clear and respectful interview cancelation email that expresses your interest in future opportunities, you can avoid the following consequences:

  • The recruiter assumes you’ve lost interest
  • The company doesn’t consider you for other roles down the road
  • You come off as disorganized or irresponsible

The importance of canceling an interview politely

Calling off an interview might sound scary, but you need to do it if you can’t attend. Recruiters cite negativity, inauthenticity, and lack of preparation as red flags. And failing to show up to an interview without respectfully canceling or rescheduling definitely fits the bill.

Instead, opt to keep your professional reputation intact. When you politely update the recruiter of your upcoming absence, you:

  • Show you value the interviewer’s time
  • Gain an opportunity to reaffirm your interest in this position or future roles
  • Honor your career journey by not pushing for opportunities that don’t suit you

6 tips for canceling a job interview

Learning how to decline a job interview without burning bridges is a class in two parts. You must write a polite, informative note and send it the right way. Here are tips for both facets of canceling correctly:

1. Let the interviewer know ASAP

Write to the hiring manager as soon as you know you can’t attend your interview. This allows the person to rework their schedule and lose as little time as possible to the cancellation. Plus, the interviewer can take the necessary steps to remove you from the hiring process if you’re pulling out entirely.

This tip is crucial when considering how to cancel an interview last minute. It’s far worse to let a recruiter wait for you to show up and assume you forgot to change plans or aren’t punctual.

2. Say “Sorry” and “Thank you”

Briefly apologize for being able to attend, but avoid waxing on. Simple apologies and explanations are best because they read as transparent, honest, and respectful. Thank the recruiter for scheduling the meeting and taking an interest in your application. If you feel this is a company you’d work for in the future, express this point.

3. Restate the appointment details

Make the recruiter’s life easier by restating the date, time, and job title. If the interviewer hires for multiple organizations, also include the company name. This way, the person can quickly locate the event on their calendar and make changes. Hiring managers often have a lot on their plates, so reminding them when you were meant to meet is a nice gesture.

4. Explain the situation

Provide a quick and concise explanation of why you can’t attend. Professional emails should be level-headed and limit emotional expression. Instead of giving a play-by-play of your fender-bender, let the recruiter know that you got into a minor accident and are physically okay but will need to push the meeting.

5. Be professional

Your best professional emailing skills kick in when you’re striving for a job — and you shouldn’t switch up your style when you have to cancel.

If you’re calling off a meeting because you’ve taken another job, decided to go back to school, or chosen to move, send a thoughtful note that represents you well. You never know when you’ll cross paths with this organization or recruiter again, so shed a positive light on your professionalism.

6. Suggest rescheduling

Whenever possible, reschedule. If you’re unable to make a meeting because of a temporary delay like car trouble or a cold, suggest an alternative date or format (like a video call). Use this note as an opportunity to reaffirm your interest in the role — your offer to reschedule will confirm that dedication.

There are times, however, when self-care takes precedence and you shouldn’t try to reschedule. If you’re struggling with a challenging life event, consider grief supporttherapy, or coaching before taking further career steps. Work with a professional to determine the right time for a new professional challenge.

It’s also unwise to reschedule if you have a pending move or are enrolling in school but are worried about disappointing the recruiter. The most respectful action is to send an email canceling the interview. It’s a bigger let-down for the interviewer if you go through the hiring process only to reject a job offer.

How to cancel a job interview: 3 email examples

Interview cancellation emails should be sincere, brief, and pointed. Beyond that, the circumstances of the cancellation will dictate the style of the correspondence.

The following three examples demonstrate how to respond to various common cancellation causes and remain on good terms with a recruiter. Feel free to use them as a template and adapt them to your unique situation.

Rescheduling

Use the following template if you need to move your meeting. This boilerplate is perfect for upsets that only affect your short-term availability.

Subject line: Rescheduling today’s interview due to illness 

Dear [Interviewer’s name], 

I am writing about our interview for the Project Manager role today at 2 p.m. I apologize for the short notice, but I have fallen ill and must reschedule. 

I continue to be very interested in this role, and I look forward to meeting with you. Would Friday at 3 p.m. work? Alternatively, we could have a video call tomorrow when I feel well enough to keep everyone in your workplace safe and healthy. 

Best, 

[Your name]

Canceling due to a challenging life event

The following email sample provides guidance for canceling in life’s toughest moments. The note expresses the severity of the unforeseen circumstances and your gratitude for the recruiter’s understanding with a heartfelt “Thank you.”

Subject line: An update and interview cancellation

Dear [Interviewer’s name], 

I am writing about my upcoming interview for the Senior Web Designer position on June 15th at 11 a.m. I’ve had a death in the family and will be pausing my job search for the time being. 

I appreciate the consideration you’ve given to my application, and in due time, I’d like to continue the conversation about future roles at the company. However, in the meantime, I must politely request that you remove me from consideration. Thank you for understanding. 

Sincerely, 

[Your name]

Canceling because your life plans have changed

If you’ve decided to take a new course in life, like moving or going back to school, you can cancel an interview with a version of the following note. The message is kind and straightforward and lets the recruiter know you’ll be back in touch if plans change.

Dear [Interviewer’s name], 

I am writing to cancel my upcoming interview for the Junior Poetry Editor role on April 12th at 5 p.m. I appreciate your time and consideration and apologize for the shift in your schedule. I was looking forward to meeting with you.

I have decided to return to school full-time to pursue graduate studies in literature. I will hold off on my job search for the next few years, but I hope to remain in contact. I’d like to apply for future roles at the press when I’ll be able to offer new and stronger skills. 

Best, 

[Your name]

Canceling is a continuation of the conversation

Canceling an interview may feel like slamming the brakes on a job opportunity. But when you respectfully communicate your situation and intentions to a recruiter, you can keep the conversation rolling.

You’re in the driver’s seat on your career path. And whether a significant life event pulls you in a different direction or you must pursue other routes to fulfill your goals, be forthcoming with hiring managers. When you know how to cancel an interview properly, you protect your relationships and reputation while making the professional moves that are right for you.