Here’s the bad news: Being late to a job interview is most likely going to make a bad impression. In a Simply Hired survey of 850 hiring managers, 93 percent said that tardiness hurt a candidate’s hiring chances.
Whenever possible, you want to plan ahead and show up 15 minutes early. But when life inevitably occurs — you miss your train, you get lost, your child gets sick — being late does not have to mean you are not getting the job.
You can mitigate the disaster of being late to an interview if you directly communicate with the hiring manager about your tardiness.
There are still ways to recover if you own up to your mistake in a timely, direct and succinct manner.
1. Acknowledge that you are going to be late.
To show respect for your interviewer’s time, inform them as soon as you know you are running behind schedule.
That first means coming to terms with the fact that your hope of being on time is no longer a reality. Don’t adopt the overly optimistic mindest that says, “I’m going to gamble that I get lucky and I’m on time and not say anything,” said Josh Doody, a salary negotiation coach and former hiring manager.
Instead of hoping that all the traffic lights on your commute suddenly turn green, you should reach out to your interviewer and tell them when you now expect to arrive so you can manage their expectations. “The more you can communicate, the better it will reflect on you,” said Amy Polefrone, the CEO of HR Strategy Group.
“If you think you’re going to be late, you want to give them some idea about how late you are going to be,” said Phyllis Hartman, founder of the human resources company PGHR Consulting. “It’s certainly better to reach out than show up late and not say anything. That really is bad form. It’s not polite. It’s not very professional.”
2. Take responsibility for your tardiness.
Owning up to your shortcomings means being aware that blaming others is not going to make you look good. Doody said blaming other people for your late arrival can come across as “defensive.”
“We don’t care why you’re late. You’re late,” Polefrone said. “Don’t make excuses for it.”
Like all good apologies, apologizing for being late means taking responsibility for your actions.
“If you blame another person for it, it becomes a weaker excuse,” Hartman said. “‘I did a dry run but it was not during rush hour and traffic was a lot worse than I expected.’ That’s a good answer. But [when you say], ‘The older woman in front of me was driving slow,’ that’s like, ‘Well, you should’ve left earlier.’”
Polefrone recalled a job candidate who tried blaming Polefrone for sending the wrong address and getting her lost. “She lied about something stupid and very verifiable,” Polefrone said. “This told us, her interviewing panel, that she wasn’t prepared and that she would blame others for her lack of planning.” The candidate did not get the job.
If you know you are going to be 30 minutes late, Polefrone recommends calling the interviewing team rather than texting or emailing. “Reach out and talk to the person to ensure that your message was received and they can hear the sincerity of your apology much better,” she suggested.
3. Accept that your interview might be rescheduled.
Be prepared for your interview to be rescheduled if you are too late. “They may tell you not to come, they may reschedule it, because typically you only allow so much time for each interview,” Hartman said.
Doody said late candidates can acknowledge this in their initial communication about being late by saying, “I understand that we may have cut into the time that you have budgeted for this interview. That’s fine. However much time you can give is good for me.”
Recognize that how you respond to the setback of being late sends a signal to the interviewer of how you will handle adversity on the job.
“When they encounter a problem on the job, they are not going to make excuses about why we missed our numbers last quarter, they’re not going to make excuses about why they didn’t close this client,” Doody said. “They are just going to acknowledge it, resolve it and move on, and that’s the kind of person that I have always liked working for me.”
4. Don’t dwell on being late, but you may need to apologize twice.
You want to acknowledge that you are late without making your tardiness the focus of your interview. The late arrival is already going to be a distraction, and your job is to not make it more of one.
“We all make mistakes. Say you’re sorry, move on and don’t bore people with all of the reasons,” Polefrone said, noting that candidates can allude to the lateness accommodation in their follow-up email by thanking the interviewers for their “gracious understanding.“
Hartman said you should take your cues from the interviewer’s reaction to your tardiness to determine if you need to apologize more than once: “If the person seemed really annoyed in the beginning and then they warm up, then maybe repeating that you’re sorry at the end is a good idea. If they said, ‘Well, OK, let’s move on with the interview,’ then maybe you don’t want to bring it up again.”
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