KEEP THE FLU FROM INFECTING YOUR INTERVIEW

The flu is taking its toll on the hiring process around the country. Recruiters tell of interviews being cancelled, candidates showing up who would have been better off staying in bed and professionals altering their handshaking habits.

Ron Proul, senior vice president of the Century Group, a financial-services search firm in Inglewood, Calif., says he has a candidate in the final round of interviews now after three cancellations due to the flu. First it was the candidate who was sick. Then it was the hiring official. Then the candidate had a relapse.

If you?ve got the flu, you probably look terrible, feel worse and can hardly think straight. If you?ve also got a job interview tomorrow morning, recruiters? advice is simple: call and reschedule.

But many candidates don?t. They fear they?ll be out of the loop unless they crawl in. Or that the hiring manager will think they?re flaky if they cancel.

Some professionals feel as though they?re slackers if they postpone an interview. Something from childhood and missing school seems to kick in and they feel guilty about being sick. Their fevered brains aren?t functioning properly.

In reality, hiring managers are more understanding about cancellations because of the flu, says Chris Remmers, a senior recruitment consultant with Nestle USA in Glendale, Calif.

He?s had to set up new interviews with candidates who had shown up sick for their first meetings because managers couldn?t tell if they were right for the job. This doubles the work for candidates, recruiters and managers.

"A candidate might as well spend the extra hour sleeping. It will do them more good than a half-asleep interview," says Mr. Proul.

The prospect of spreading your illness won?t win you any fans among recruiters or employers. Diane Berk, a recruiter in the health-care industry in the Los Angeles area, says a hiring manager she knows says she?s germophobic and tells candidates that she won?t shake hands at the beginning or end of an interview, regardless of their state of health.

Ms. Berk feels this is an overreaction. "Shaking hands is part of the interview process. They?re programmed to shake hands. Not to do so puts the applicant at a disadvantage," she says. Still, Ms. Berk takes precautions for herself. She makes sure she doesn?t touch her face after shaking hands and washes her hands after every interview.

If you come down with the flu and know the employer is on a tight hiring deadline, it pays to be creative. David Knowles, senior search consultant with Excel Unlimited Inc., an executive-search company in Houston, had a candidate scheduled for an interview as district manager with a major retailer. The applicant awoke violently ill. He couldn?t have gone if he had wanted to. He called Mr. Knowles, who called the company.

The company was sympathetic but had another finalist coming in that day and wanted to make a decision between them. Mr. Knowles arranged to have the ill candidate?s references call the hiring manager. The manager happened to know two of the three in the industry and valued their opinions. They sang the candidate?s praises and won him a 48-hour extension. He landed the job after a successful interview.

If you come down with the flu before your interview, don?t hesitate to reschedule. But make sure you call immediately. Be flexible, too. Don?t automatically reschedule for the next day. You may not be over it yet. Your recruiter can help diffuse the situation and come up with creative solutions.

Sell yourself in another way until you can be there in person through a phone interview, an e-mail or, if it?s OK with the hiring manager, having references call on your behalf.

Most importantly, get well.

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