Zack Payne, 12 years of teaching at the University level
Updated October 22, 2020
If you’re applying for a job - there are a few safe bets in most situations.
Because of #1, #2, and #3 - you will be screened out for even “minor” flaws.
Why? Because it’s easier and better on every front.
• You’re late with replies; late for your meeting?
(Unreliable; unpunctual; irresponsible…)
• Misspelt names; a typo; slight grammar issues?
(Lacks attention to detail; negligent; careless…)
• Wants interviews/dates/working-times changed?
(Too self-absorbed; undetermined; pretentious…)
• “Annoying” or “overly pushy”?
(Expect the person to be even more pushy and restless if employed..)
The point here is not that each minor thing is a definitive sign of a huge character flaw. Far from it. Those were just extreme examples of what it may indicate.
The bottom line is - why waste your time and limited interview slots on candidates who are struggling with even such basic fundamentals of professionalism, when you could give the time/slot to the similar candidates who haven’t given you a reason to doubt them? Give it to the guy/girl who was on time; who did proofread; who did research the specific job/company; the one who showed care. It’s that simple.
If your applicant can’t be bothered to run a spell check through his/her application letter, why should you expect that candidate to show any more effort during actual work?
Not in all, but in most cases you tend to see “the best” show a candidate can put on during the selection process. If they’re extremely professional and careful while applying… you hope they’ll keep that up throughout the job. If they’re already cutting corners and making your life harder as candidates, you can be almost certain they won’t suddenly start showing more effort after being hired while showing carelessness.
Back to the OP’s question - the interviewer is likely worried that “this” (cancelling meetings the day before) is what he/she can expect from OP if hired. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not - that’s the impression it gives, compared to the other candidates on the table.
The correct response is to simply acknowledge and take responsibility for whatever the real situations is, in a mature and professional manner. Apologize for the late notice/inconvenience/time-waste, but explain your reasoning in as much detail as is required.
Please accept my sincere apologies for the late cancellation and notice. I fully appreciate the time you have given me throughout the hiring process, and am sorry for the inconvenience this is causing you.
The reason I can’t make it to my set interview is because my mother died on her way to her doctor yesterday. As the one responsible for handling her affairs, which now takes priority, this means I won’t be available until XX-YYYY.
Please note that this is an exceptional situation, as otherwise I take appointments very seriously. If feasible, I hope you’ll be willing to give me another chance. Should you need to make your selection before XX-YYYY, and thus need to move on to other candidates, I will understand and once again thank you for your time and the opportunity.
If you really had a “good” reason for needing to cancel the interview on such short notice:
They’ll either have the time and willingness to reschedule…or they’ll cut you loose.
If they couldn’t wait - that’s just unfortunate for both of you.
If they had the time, and you had a good reason (and dealt with it professionally) - and they still turned you down… you probably do not want to work for them.
p.s. The above example of “mother dying” was simply a nod at one of the other answers to this question. Clearly, much less severe force majeure cases can work just the same. If you had to cancel the interview because you were being responsible on another front - show that. That’s what the interviewer wants. Honesty and maturity.
EDIT (10/2/2020): Wow, thanks for the unexpected upvotes!
Just to put this answer into context - when I initially wrote it, most top answers heavily focused on “blaming the recruiter” to different extents. Some even contain absurdly horrendous advice, such as the delusional notion that “cancelling the day before an interview is more than enough notice” - when in fact it is, without a doubt, extremely short notice for the people being inconvenienced. To believe otherwise is ridiculously selfish and shortsighted.
I do think the recruiter’s quote seems somewhat unprofessional, although we really have no details on this particular case, and certainly not enough to form a judgement. Why OP had to cancel, and how that was communicated to the recruiter, makes all the difference.
If OP had a good reason, and communicated well, the recruiter should’ve been more understanding to OP’s situation, even if rescheduling was not possible.
If OP had no reason, or communicated it on Sunday evening with something like “Yo bro, srry busy tmmr morning, how about we meet next weekend?? Thaaaanks”, while the recruiter was struggling to fit the interview in… yeah I can understand why the recruiter would be upset and no longer interested.