How to Not Arrive Late to Your Job Interview

Silhouette of man with a briefcase running.An article by ABC news reported the results of a survey which found “15 to 20 percent of the U.S. population is ‘consistently late,’ especially when it comes to work.” It only stands to reason that some percentage of these punctually-challenged individuals also go on job interviews.  While you might expect such people would modify their behavior for something as important as an interview, I assure you many do not.

Now, perhaps you could never even imagine yourself arriving late for a job interview. In fact, you might wonder why I even bring up the subject at all. However, from experience I know there is good reason to discuss it. I have seen many people arrive late. Others are no-shows.  As hard as it can be to get an interview, this might surprise you.

Let’s look at this issue a little closer.  There might just be a few things about job interview travel logistics which you have not previously considered.

Why in the world would anyone ever show up late for a job interview?  Actually, there are many possible reasons. Some good; others, not so much. Here are a few:

  • A habit of poor punctuality
  • Travel time miscalculation
  • Unfamiliarity with the interview location
  • Events which are entirely beyond anyone’s control

If you have a habit of poor punctuality, well, I can’t help you too much there. That one is on you. However, there are steps you can take to control or at least mitigate the potential impact of the other factors.

Travel Time

The following may sound obvious, but it is highly effective.  Simply include “wiggle room” in your travel time.  This is especially important if you need to travel to a distant city for an interview.  Any mode of transportation can experience delays, so you always need to build a buffer into your time estimates.  Are you familiar with the particular city? Its traffic patterns? The transportation modes you will use?  If not, always add considerably more time into your estimated travel time 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.

In an article on website, Allison Doyle suggests, “Whether you’re traveling by car, bus, train or airplane, don’t cut it close when it comes to time. Give yourself more time than you think you need to get there because being late is a surefire way to blow the interview. If you’re flying, arrive at the airport two hours ahead of your boarding time; if you’re taking the bus or train, give yourself an hour.”

Unless unusual circumstances exist, your late arrival on an ordinary workday under ordinary conditions will make you look really bad.  Your tardiness indicates to the interviewers that you are a poor planner.  Worse yet, it might suggest you don’t really give a rip about landing the job. Explaining that traffic was terrible will probably not gain you much sympathy.  After all, in most major cities traffic is bad every day and everyone – including the interviewers – merely allow for it in their daily travel routine. Plus, they expect that if you are smart, you will also allow for it and plan accordingly.

Other Travel Time Considerations

Depending on the travel distance and schedule involved, you may wish to consider arriving a day early.  Stay overnight in a nearby hotel, even if the cost is out of your pocket.  This will help ensure you show up to the interview the next day on time, refreshed, and in a change of clothes not rumpled from travel.

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 one) is accustomed to answering such questions and can usually provide helpful advice.

Having said that, however, be careful to not overdo travel questions with people at the interview site. A few questions are OK but don’t be a pest. Do your own research whenever possible. Kristi Keck in an article on makes an excellent point when she says, “Your flight and hotel room will likely be arranged for you, but don’t view your potential employer as your travel guide.”

Things Outside of Your Control

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 an accident. Your flight is delayed. Despite all your precautions, you arrive late due to matters outside of your control. 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.

A few years ago, I was traveling by train on the east coast to Boston. While waiting in a station for a transfer, a freight car derailment occurred somewhere on a critical piece of track. This event delayed every single train in the area for about four hours.  Hundreds and hundreds of rail passengers, from numerous points of origin, were left waiting in stations. Looking back, I wonder how many of those unlucky travelers might have been on their way to job interviews.  No matter how well they planned, they were going to be late. Really late.

In a situation like this, call the interview location ASAP.  Advise your contact or the receptionist of the delay and the reason, apologize for the inconvenience, and give the expected arrival time (if known).  Ask if it would be acceptable to still come or if you must reschedule.  If your reason for the delay is reasonable or beyond your control, and you call in advance, the interviewers will likely try to accommodate you.

A Real Interview Travel Example

You really do need to do more than just pull up a Google map of the location on your smartphone or car GPS!   I remember going to a job interview in a complex of office buildings in an unfamiliar city. To prepare, I checked the address online and reviewed a map of the area. Parking options did not seem readily apparent, so I called the office. Am I glad I did! I learned coin meter on-street parking was available, but the odds of actually finding an open spot were practically nil.  My telephone contact was very helpful and suggested a public pay-to-park lot located about two blocks away. This was the best option, but I still had to take my chances the lot would not be full.

Fortunately, I also learned the visitor entrance was not located at the front-door street address for the building. In fact, it was a different entrance entirely, located on the opposite side of the building.  This was a big building, a city block long.  While employees could get in through the front entrance with electronic ID badges, visitors could not.

Armed with this new information, I located the public parking lot online and used it 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 correct entrance.  I also checked the weather, and it was predicted to be warm without rain. If rain had been expected, an umbrella would have been necessary for the two-block walk to ensure I would stay dry.

What Might Have Happened

Failing to plan and focus on details could have been 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. I would not have known about other parking options.  If parking required coins rather than a credit card, would I have had any?

Once there, I would have certainly gone to the wrong entrance only to find out I had to walk completely around the block. If rain was expected and I didn’t have an umbrella, I would have walked several blocks in the pouring rain.  I would have shown up late, tired, stressed, and in a soaking wet suit. 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. Wouldn’t that have made a great first impression?

Switch On Your Professional Mode

Excellent!  Using the suggestions discussed above, let’s assume you’ve arrived at the job interview site with time to spare.  This would be a good opportunity to visit a nearby restroom and double-check your appearance, hair, clothes, etc.  If you’re looking good, you’re ready to go!

Well, there is one more thing…  Your arrival at the interview site is also the time you immediately switch on your totally professional mode. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to the receptionist, secretary, security guard, or janitor, everyone you meet receives the same level of respect you would give the interviewers.

Here’s something you might not have thought about.  Interviewers will sometimes ask these first-contact individuals about the behavior of candidates.  What was the demeanor of the candidate?  Was the individual friendly? Was the person 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 down. If your interaction with these individuals was less than desirable, what will your future conduct be like once you are hired?

I have seen this far too many times. Many people put on an awesome show for the interviewers but are surprisingly rude to receptionists, secretaries, and others.  An unfavorable report from a trusted receptionist or secretary to an interviewer about your lousy attitude or rude demeanor can cost you the job, regardless of how well you performed during the interview itself.

Remember, the interviewers know and respect these individuals. Their observations are trusted implicitly. The interviewers don’t know you at all.

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment!

Featured image courtesy of geralt/

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