An article by ABC news reported 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. population is consistently late for work-related activities. It only stands to reason that some percentage of these “punctually challenged” individuals also go on job interviews, and while you might think they would modify their behavior for such an important occasion, I assure you many do not. Perhaps you would never think about arriving late for a job interview and might even feel that my advising you to be punctual is almost insulting. However, I know from experience I would be remiss to not discuss the subject and there might even be a few things about job interview logistics which you may have not previously considered.
Ok, why in the world would anyone ever show up late to a job interview? Actually, there are several reasons: a habit of poor punctuality, travel time miscalculation, unfamiliarity with the location, or perhaps events which are completely beyond anyone’s control. If you have a habit of poor punctuality, I can’t help you much there – that one’s on you – but there are steps you can take to control or at least mitigate the potential impact of the other factors.
One obvious yet very effective approach is to simply make sure your arrival time at the destination includes more than adequate “wiggle room” time. This is particularly important if you need to travel to a distant city for an interview. Any mode of transportation can experience delays and you always need to build a buffer into your time estimates. Unless you are already intimately familiar with the particular city, its traffic patterns, and the transportation modes involved, always add considerably more time into your estimate than you think is needed. Better that you sit in a coffee shop for an extra two hours before the interview than to show up late trying to make excuses. You can’t undo a bad first impression.
Unless unusual circumstances exist, your late arrival on an ordinary work day under ordinary circumstances will likely be read by the interviewers as a sign you are a poor planner, or worse yet, perhaps you don’t really give a rip about landing the job. Explaining that traffic was bad will probably not gain you much sympathy; after all, in most major cities traffic is bad every day and everyone – including the interviewers – simply allow for it in their daily travel routine. Plus, they expect that if you are smart, you would also allow for it and plan accordingly.
Depending on the distance and schedule involved, you may wish to consider arriving a day early and stay overnight in a nearby hotel, even if the cost is out of your own pocket. This will help ensure you show up to the interview the next day refreshed, in a change of clothes not rumpled from travel, and on time.
Be sure to check out the logistics of how you will be getting yourself to the interview building. This might be by walking (is rain expected?), cab, automobile (where to park?), subway, etc. Is there construction on the travel route which could result in delays? You might call well in advance of the interview and talk to someone at the destination to inquire about parking and which specific entrance to use; the receptionist or security guard (if applicable) are accustomed to answering such questions and can usually provide good advice based on their own experience.
You really do need to do more than just pull up a Google map of the location on your smartphone! I remember going to a job interview at a building located in a complex of office buildings in an unfamiliar city. In preparation, I checked out the destination address online and reviewed a map of the surrounding vicinity. Parking options did not seem readily apparent, so I called the office through which the interview had been arranged – and am I glad I did! I learned that while on-street parking using coin meters was available, the odds of actually finding an open spot at that time of the day were practically nil. The lady on the telephone was very helpful and suggested I use a public pay-to-park lot located about two blocks away; this was really the best option, and even then, I had to take my chances it would not already be filled to capacity upon my arrival. Fortunately, I also learned the visitor entrance was not the front door street address for the building, but a different entrance entirely, located on the opposite side of the block-long building. While employees could get in through the front entrance by swiping their ID badges to electronically unlock the door, visitors could not get in, and there was no attendant to speak with. I was also advised that once I reached the visitor entrance, I would need to sign in with the security guard and be escorted to the interview room. So much for just only having to be able to find the building!
After the telephone call, I located the public parking lot using an online map and planned to use that location as my driving destination; the satellite view of the map was helpful in identifying the best walking route to get from the parking lot to the building entrance. Fortunately, the weather was predicted to be warm without rain; if rain had been expected, an umbrella would have been necessary to ensure I would stay dry.
You can see where failing to plan and focus on the details could have been potentially disastrous for my interview. Had I not checked on parking, I might have circled the complex for an hour never finding an open parking meter and unaware of what other parking options were available. What if after finding a parking lot somewhere it turns out it was automated and required coins or dollar bills; did I have any? Once at the facility, I certainly would have went to the front entrance, which was the wrong entrance, and then after reading the sign, would have had to walk completely around the block to the visitor door. Additionally, if there was inclement weather and I didn’t take an umbrella, I would have ended up walking a block in the rain. Showing up late, tired, and stressed, in a soaking wet suit, would definitely not be the way to go into a job interview! No matter what excuses I could have given, the interviewers would have known that my only real excuse was that I failed to plan appropriately. Wouldn’t that have made a great first impression?
Let’s assume you have meticulously planned every detail to ensure you arrive on time and then it happens: there is a traffic backup on the freeway due to a bad accident or your flight is delayed, and you arrive late despite all your precautions. These are matters beyond your control, and while you may have built some extra time into your schedule for minor delays, a two or three-hour delay is probably beyond anything for which you allowed or expected. What now?
In such a situation, call the interview location. As soon as you know the problem will result in a delay, call ahead to the office and advise your contact or the receptionist about the impending delay and the reason, apologize for the inconvenience, give the expected arrival time (if known), and ask if it would be acceptable to still come or if you must reschedule. If your reason for the delay is reasonable and you call in advance, the interviewers may try to accommodate you. A few years ago I was traveling by train on the east coast and a derailment on a critical portion of the track an hour earlier delayed every single train traveling from Washington D.C. to Boston (my destination) for several hours. I could not help but wonder how many of these unfortunate rail passengers might be on their way to Boston for a dream job interview, only to be significantly delayed. A major unfortunate and unforeseeable event like this would likely be widely known and appear on the TV news and internet, and most employers would be understanding. It might even turn out that some of the interviewers themselves were stuck in a rail station somewhere, just like the applicants!
Excellent! By taking the above suggestions into account, you have arrived at the job interview site with time to spare. As a final measure, this would be a good opportunity to visit a nearby restroom and double-check your appearance, hair, clothes, etc. to make sure nothing unexpected happened along the way. If you’re looking good, you’re ready to go!
While the following comments may not be directly related to logistics per se, it is important to point out that your arrival is also the time when you immediately switch on your totally professional mode. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to the receptionist, secretary, security guard, maintenance worker, or janitor, everyone you meet needs to receive the same level of respect you would give the interviewers. You may not know or think about it, but interviewers frequently ask these first-contact individuals about the demeanor and courtesy of the candidates with whom they interacted. Was the applicant friendly? Was the applicant polite and professional? Your interaction with anyone outside the interview room can be viewed as a candid snapshot of how you really conduct yourself with others when your guard is let down. After all, you are on a job interview and supposedly on your best behavior; if your interaction with these individuals is less than optimal, what would your conduct be like with coworkers, customers, and others once you are hired? You would be surprised at how many people “put on a show” for the interviewers but treat the receptionists and secretaries they encounter with less than common courtesy. An unfavorable report from a trusted receptionist or secretary to an interviewer about your lousy attitude and rude demeanor upon arrival can cost you the job, regardless of how well you perform during the interview.
The interviewers most likely know and respect these individuals, and trust their observations implicitly. They don’t know you at all.
Featured image courtesy of Laurence Edmondson – flickr