Tuesday, September 13, 2016

How To Handle Being Late For An Interview

This post was inspired by my friend Lonny Strum, whose blog, Strummings, recently wrote about the culture of lateness which pervades business today. Lonny wrote that we have a culture of lateness.  It seems that people are so used to being late, particularly those who live in the most populous cities, that they think nothing of it any more. 

Lateness is pervasive in all aspects of our society – personal and business.  We once gave a buffet luncheon, called for noon to 3pm.  At 5 o’clock, people were still arriving and as I recall, few, if any, even offered an explanation or apology.

People think nothing about being late for business meetings. And of course, at the office, keeping appointments waiting is a routine matter. I have written before about this.

Lateness is so common it has become acceptable to many people.

The truth is that there is no excuse for being late; not traffic, not long meetings, not last minute assignments or duties. A little advanced planning goes a long way.

It is not my intention to give a lecture, but merely to remind people that being on time is a sign of respect.

Especially if you are interviewing, better to be too early (wait at a Starbucks if you are more than a couple of minutes too soon, but don’t wait at reception – it puts pressure on those you will be seeing.). One way to be sure to be on time is to make a practice run in advance.  Don’t assume that just because you know the city, you will know how to get to your destination or time your trip.  When Ogilvy Advertising moved to Eleventh Avenue they initially had a huge lateness problem because there is no public transportation nearby.  Even today, HR there tells me that candidates are habitually ten to fifteen minutes late because they underestimate the time it takes to get there. That is not a great way to start a relationship.

I recognize that meetings run longer than expected. If that happens, excuse yourself and make a call – it usually takes less than a minute. (I have never heard anyone who has ever gotten in trouble for being polite and excusing themselves for a minute to make a call or send a text.)   And if your boss schedules an 11am meeting at the last minute and you have a noon appointment, better to cancel than to be late. And please take the time to cancel. 

Among all the other issues resulting from being late, is that it screws up people’s entire schedule. We have all been kept waiting at a doctor’s office, but if it is habitual, I change doctor’s.  I feel the same way about candidates who constantly show up late for me or for interviews that have been arranged.

The worst part of being late is those who do not apologize or, at least, explain.  Not giving a reason shows arrogance and indifference as if the person who is not on time believes it is their right to be late. Some people actually think that if they don't bring up their lateness, it will be forgotten.  Wrong.  A simple explanation always helps.

One of my readers asked me how to handle a situation which is appropriate for this post.  It seems he went on an interview and arrived fifteen minutes early.  After being kept waiting for half an hour, he approached reception and discovered they had announced him to the wrong person (making him 15 minutes late for his original appointment).  He wanted to know how he should have handled this.  The answer is that he owed the person he was seeing an explanation, even though it was not his fault..  Managing perceptions is essential to successful interviewing.


  1. For whatever this is worth (if anything) …

    My mother and the nuns at St. Joseph’s Elementary always taught me about the importance of being on-time as a matter of respect toward others. But it took another 20 years for me to really learn the lesson when I had a one-on-one first meeting with a new agency client (the VP of Marketing) and I showed up for our 8:00 A.M. meet at 8:10. My sincere apology and explanation about traffic from NYC to Morristown during morning rush hour didn’t seem to cut it, as our brief conversation went something like this …

    “Good morning Dom.”
    “Good morning Bill. Can I help you?”
    “I’m here for our 8:00 meet.”
    “Oh, well that was 10 minutes ago and I have a lot of things to do today, so I cancelled that meeting. See Cindy on your way out to reschedule.”
    After letting me squirm for what seemed like a lifetime (more like 30 seconds) Dom very graciously called me back into his office and, with a wry smile on his face, gave me the same speech my mother and the nuns did. And since he was old enough to be the father I never had, I never forgot it. Talk about a “wake-up” call.

    We didn’t have cell phones for me to call in advance back then, but still and to Paul’s point … There’s no excuse for being late unless you or a loved one is suddenly in the hospital.

  2. Still love Tom Coughlin's philosophy, "If you're not 5 minutes early, you're late". Alas the Giants D last year was late to early play.

  3. Fully agree with your timeliness philosophy.. Being late shows a lack of respect, especially without an explanation.

    I always show up at least 10 -15 minutes early - just to be sure. Gives me time to settle in and I always go to the men's room to take a look in the mirror. I will never forget the time a sales person showed up with toothpaste all around his mouth. I had to tell him, since it was impossible to have an intelligent conversation while looking at this face.

    As you say, it is just as bad showing up early and being announced. The visitor should wait until 5 minutes before.

    1. Thanks, Steve. I have actually posted about showing up early so that you have time to read any literature in reception and to watch the people coming and going; much can be learned from that.


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