Poll: What to do when you’re late for that important date?

lateOne day last summer, I started driving to a late afternoon interview with a few minutes of travel time to spare, so at least I thought. Soon after departure, I realized it was also rush hour for the facilities crews and that we all had to exit on a single-lane road through the security gate at work. As I creeped in traffic staring at the clock and trying not to panic, I put my rehearsed plan into action for such a situation. I immediately called the department secretary to let the interview committee know that I was going to be late and asked if I should still show up or reschedule for a different time. From my point of view, calling seemed to be the only responsible option. They told me to still show up for the interview, but the tone in the room was tense and I couldn’t recover from the bad start. I often replay the scenario in my head to remind myself that I should have been less concerned about using up vacation time and instead taken off half a day to get to the interview early, a mistake that I will never repeat.

Lesson Learned…the Hard Way: Always plan to arrive at an interview location a few hours early to allow for any travel delays or other unforeseen circumstances. If you arrive early then grab a cup of coffee and review your qualifications before the interview. Work hours can always be made up but missing out on a job opportunity is irrecoverable. If you are going to be late then my instinct is to call your contact as soon as possible and explain the situation. However, I saw a recent discussion on LinkedIn among hiring managers that they would never hire a candidate who was late to an interview. I am really interested in getting feedback from other people on this topic. Please take a minute to answer the poll questions below (click “vote”  in each question box to submit the results). If you have any additional advice to share then feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Thanks for your input!

36 thoughts on “Poll: What to do when you’re late for that important date?

  1. Josh says:

    In my limited experience, hiring managers have different priorities than the people who are actually doing the work that is the focus of the organization. While they may think it’s an egregious offense to be a few minutes late to an awkward-to-schedule interview, they might be shutting out the very capable, dynamic, creative people their company needs in order to thrive.

    However, aspiring scientist applicants should be aware that hiring managers pose the first barrier to getting a job, and that they don’t stand a chance of getting the job unless they satisfy the hiring manager.

  2. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • While I have never been late to an interview, as a New Yorker dependent upon an over taxed subway system, I have been very close to being late. I have had to re-schedule out of town interviews at the last minute – I once had a flight delay due to a bomb threat at Newark airport which would have made it impossible to interview with all the necessary people at the institution. This did make the news so it wasn’t held against me and I was offered the job. Point being – bad things do happen that are beyond very well qualified potential employee control and for that to be the only reason not to hire someone could mean you are missing out on a great employee.
    –Comment from Judith F. on AWIS LinkedIn group

  3. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • Things happen to the most prepared people. Given the recent threads in Harvard Business Review about leadership and what skills/attributes count in the work place,empathy and the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes may be the issue here. It might be good to give that candidate the benefit of the doubt and conduct the interview as planned. If a likely candidate, a second short interview with a couple of additional people might be helpful to see if lateness is a pattern. And then that’s what references are for: reliability and punctuality can come up in the conversation with the reference. Remember, what goes around comes around. You may in that spot one day where you’re late, you’re underground and the cell phone won’t connect to the network….
    –Comment from Stephanie W. on AWIS LinkedIn group

  4. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • I never really had the opportunity to evaluate what I would do as a hiring manager if someone was late to an interview for a really good reason. Living in Los Angeles, I often had people turn up late to interviews and then say things akin to “eh, you know LA traffic!” Yes, I am familiar with LA traffic, and Southern California traffic generally as I grew up there. That is why I also know that you plan to be at least an hour early to an interview. If traffic is particularly bad due to a car accident or something, this usually gives you enough leeway to still be on time by crawling through the traffic or taking another route. If you do in fact show up the whole hour early, you grab a cup of coffee at a coffee shop and use the time to review your resume, the job description and your notes on the company so that you are well-prepared. None of these people ever came in with a legitimate reason for being late, so I held it against them as it told me that they had poor judgment and did not particularly care about getting the job. It also told me that they would be late all the time as they apparently still hadn’t figured out traffic patterns and how to tell time.
    –Comment from Jessica M. on AWIS LinkedIn group

  5. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • If you called, and they told you to come in anyway, yet held it against you, that says all you need to know about their organization–and you are lucky to have avoided working there.
    –Comment from Elizabeth K. on AWIS LinkedIn group

  6. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • My vote is “Yes” I would hire someone if they were late for an interview, although I wish the poll had other options – captured other possibilities — I know there is a place to “fill in” a reply – but that takes away from the tabulation of the poll — for example – say someone got the days mixed up or say they had a death in the family or they were in an accident (God forbid). My answer is that I would not hold it against a candidate if they were late for an interview (for any reason) – things happen in life and while the interview is important, at the end of the day, it really does not matter very much. Instead I would focus on the qualification of the individual and would they make a good addition to the team. Over my 20 years of recruiting experience I’ve seen companies lose out to top talent because of this . . . and when you think about it, it’s really rather silly – to help make my point consider this situation — let’s suppose your interview was with the President of the United States (or the person you felt was the perfect fit) and he happens to be later, would you not hire him?
    –Comment from Diane P. on AWIS LinkedIn group

  7. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • I would definitely hire someone who arrived late if the reason was appropriate. As a hiring manager, I do also make sure that they have as much information as I do about how to get there on time: I provide a PDF of the campus with the lobby they need to check in circled, for local but far local candidates I provide the option of staying at the hotel across the road if weather is predicted to be bad during the morning commute. We have had to switch around interview schedules when a member of the interview team has a problem and cannot make it in time, so I try to extend the same courtesy to the candidate. For myself, I agree with Jessica M. – better to arrive early and get some private prep time if you didn’t need the buffer.
    –Comment from Joleen W. on AWIS LinkedIn group

  8. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • maybe this is one of those situations that intuition is important. anyone can be delayed for all kinds of reasons, but I think it would be important clue how the candidate responds to their own lateness and this kind of situation can be a good resource for a hiring manager. sure, I would have been the one to delay the interview and conduct it anyways, but also would look into it. truth is easily recognized. also I would be cautios if given vague explanations, or even too elaborate ones. just a thought. as one of my friends lately quoted regan “trust but verify”
    –Comment from Jelena J. on AWIS LInkedIn group

  9. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • Being late is always a deal bender, but may not be a deal breaker. If the interviewee convinces me they left early to ensure being timely, and they really want the job, I will consider them. Further, if the evening news corroborates their story about the truck load of zombies rolling over and causing traffic delays they will remain in the running.
    –Comment from Greg Stickrod on AWIS LinkedIn group

  10. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • Anyone in California knows that there can be an idiot-caused, hour-long, freeway snarl at any second. With any interview being so rare nowadays, the employer will make some accommodations to gain a “prize”.
    –Comment from Paul S. on AAAS LinkedIn group

  11. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • It very much depends on the reasons involved. For example, family emergency reasons should be given a chance. Other than that I don’t think so
    –Comment from Emmanuel A. on AAAS LinkedIn group

  12. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • Arriving late would not be an auspicious start to an interview, and it would not bode well for the overall outcome. That said, I am familiar with the vagaries of traffic and the sometime travails of real life. I would certainly hope that the applicant would make every effort to call ahead, and might be willing to entertain an overwhelmingly good or believable excuse.
    –Comment from Andrew D. on AAAS LinkedIn group

  13. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • Most clients would not hire a person who was late for any reason. That’s a shame because there COULD be a valid reason. Just very unlikely. Most “family emergencies” would be fabrications.
    –Comment from Dave J. on AAAS LinkedIn group

    • Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

      • That is the bad thing of living in a society in which the lies have become a part of everyday. But that will also talk about a future employer, in which making a drastic selection without giving an opportunity to analyze the situation, is his/her daily rule. It is a very interesting topic and to be carefully analyzed through by the future employee and the future employer. Thank you.
      –Reply from Joy P. on AAAS LinkedIn group

  14. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • I once got held up in the absolute nightmare of traffic that is the Capital Beltway, and despite having left my house a full two and half hours before my interview time (to cover the 70 mile distance) I ended up being an hour late thanks to an accident that shut down at least three travel lanes. I called, and fortunately they were understanding, having heard about the accident on the radio. And I apologized a few more times when I got there. The position was supposedly canceled, but I can’t help wonder if the lateness wasn’t a factor anyway. In my defense, I wanted an interview time of early in the morning, but the manager insisted on mid-morning, which I knew was going to be a problem.
    –Comment from Jason R. on ASM LinkedIn group

  15. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • Rehearse the drive the day before (or on a weekday) and plan for the delays. Find the parking lot and building and factor in how much time it all takes. Better to arrive early and wait in the parking lot. If you find you are stuck on the day of the interview, have the number of your host handy and call. There are unforeseen and unavoidable delays, but being proactive and ‘doing your homework’ includes understanding the commute. And so my answer to your question would be: it depends on why the person was late. In general, I would be starting out with a less-than-positive first impression.
    –Comment from Amy V. on ASM LinkedIn group

  16. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • Being late for a job interview is not an indicator as to whether or not that person will be on time if they are hired by your company. There are numerous reasons why one might be late for an interview and how one handles this situation is an indicator about the potential employee, as well as the potential employer. Often there are delays due to traffic – one might never have driven that route during the time of morning of the interview, and in the evening when they rehearsed the route for their interview, there may not have been any traffic at all. If my employer is going to fire me because I am late once, then it’s probably not really where I should work anyways. Employees have things that occasionally come up – sick kids, flat tire, etc.; however, if someone arrived an hour late for an interview, I probably would have only had that hour in my schedule for their interview and would likely have to reschedule. If they didn’t make it to the interview on time for the second chance, then they might not be serious about working, and will have already established a poor pattern. If one is late for the first interview, I would be inclined to ALWAYS have them return for a second interview to see if it’s a habit or one time thing.
    –Comment from Kim V. on ASM LinkedIn group

  17. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • I’m never late – period. And yet there are always circumstances. I would expect an interviewee to prepare for complications given the length of the travel. Traffic would not be an immediate excuse. Being held at gunpoint outside the office door – I think I’d cut them some slack.
    –Comment from Vince T. on ORNL LinkedIn group

    • Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

      • It would have to be a very, very good excuse and I would have a contact number in my phone so I could let someone know that I was going to be late because … I agree with Vince. Prepare yourself and always allow time for unforeseen circumstances. Yes, I think being held at gunpoint might be considered a good excuse!
      –Reply from Sarah S. on ORNL LinkedIn group

      • Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

        • I agree that being late for an interview is pretty bad but I don’t think I would rule someone out just for that reason. I would probably set up another interview or time-specific meeting to see if they do better the next time and try to determine from references if there is any concern about that from past experience. However, they would have to be in my top 1-3 candidates before I would go that extra mile to give them another chance. If they are late and in the middle of the pack I would not bother.
        –Reply from Deborah Y. on ORNL LinkedIn group

  18. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • We hire lots of people who are great researchers, but might not be that good at time-keeping, performance reviews and other business norms… ORNL still needs those individuals to “do science”. I most definitely would never exclude someone simply because they were late.
    –Comment from Doug C. on ORNL LinkedIn group

  19. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • I would try to use it as an opportunity to gauge how well the candidate does at the recovery. If they boldly, calmly and deftly addressed it I would consider it a good demonstration of social skills, situation awareness and adaptability. If they recovered from it like a boss that would get my interest. If they (sadly) ignored addressing it, or fumbled around, they would loose some serious interview points.
    –Comment from Pete E. on ORNL LinkedIn group

    • Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

      • I would definitely take the tardiness into consideration, but on its own it would not make or break a candidate. There are many factors to consider. Did the applicant contact someone to advise that they were running late? Was the reason good? Are they otherwise very qualified? It does not take much effort to be on time, or even early, so if someone just fails to allow for enough time to arrive at the interview, that is quite disappointing. However, flights often get rescheduled, and cars often break down; life happens. How a candidate handles the stress of unforseen events can be very useful information. I agree with Pete’s comment; if the candidate addresses the lateness and handles it well, it shows strong character.
      –Reply from Anna G. on ORNL LinkedIn group

  20. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • I have worked with lots of people who are good with keeping track of time, but are utterly useless at anything else. I do believe if you are going to be late, let them know before you are already late. If the interviewer is put off by this to the point that they don’t want to meet you, then I wouldn’t put much stock in the abilities of that company. Productivity trumps punctuality. Keep in mind, we are talking being late on an occasion, not as a routine.
    –Comment from Will H. on ORNL LinkedIn group

  21. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • I would hire some if they were late. However, the reason for being late would have to be very good and the notification should have been well in advance of the interview to prevent wasting everyone’s time and effort. If late a second time, probably not. As mentioned in a couple of comments, I would expect this interview to be a priority. The person being interviewed should make arrangements to arrive well in advance and be prepared for situations that could impact a good first impression.
    –Comment from Robin H. on ORNL LinkedIn group

  22. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • I agree with most of the comments thus far. You should always plan to be on time. Plan on showing up at the receptionist’s desk for an interview 5 minutes ahead of time. There is, of course, always the possibility of unforeseen circumstances. Make sure you have a contact number for the interviewer in that case. I would also hope that the employer doesn’t have some global “no tolerance for tardiness” policy in that case as well.
    –Comment from Derek C. on ORNL LinkedIn group

    • Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

      • As Chris stated first impressions make a statement thats very hard to lose. Regardless of education or qualifications if I had to choose between two applicants. The person (who is qualified) on time, dressed like he/she cares, shaved and clean gets the first nod.
      –Comment from Brian T. on ORNL LinkedIn group

  23. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • Some of the most gifted scientist and engineers would be late to their own funerals. I agree that if its a pattern or that the excuse given is not appropriate you should not hire the person. However, imagination and ability are more important in the long run. Gifted people think out of the box and dismissing them without an evaluation could be a tragic loss of a future asset.
    –Comment from James C. on ORNL LinkedIn group

  24. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    •Incidentally, I just had a phone interview with a company this afternoon. It was scheduled for 1:30 pm CDT (2:30 pm EDT) — and I made sure to clarify the time zone different ahead of time to make sure were aware of it. I was ready to go at 2:30 pm EDT, but the interviewer finally called at 2:55 pm and offered no explanation nor apology for being late.

    While we often see the interview as the company being the one hiring us, HR “professionals” should also be very aware that it’s a two-way street. We’re judging them and trying to determine whether we would want to work for them just as much as they’re judging us to figure out if they want to hire us. Showing up late doesn’t help anyone.
    –Comment from Derek C. on ORNL LinkedIn group

  25. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    • I was late for an interview once because the secretary for the department head gave me the wrong time. When I arrived 10 min prior to the time I had been given, the professor running the interviews was extremely irate even though the secretary admitted her fault. I was then asked to wait (~ 30 min) before he would interview me. During that time, I spoke the with secretary and discovered that this particular individual had lost many staff due to his inability to be professional. I feel my mistaken tardiness was a good thing because I had the chance to see the real person behind the mask. I did not get offered the job but also would not have taken the job.
    –Comment from Sasha T. on AAAS LinkedIn group

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