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Thursday, November 12, 2009

company wouldn't interview me because I was 5 minutes late

A reader writes:

Yesterday, I was scheduled for a very much anticipated interview with a well-known airline for a customer service position. I know in my heart that this company would not only be an honor to work for, but that the position would be a great fit for me!

The interview was scheduled for 3:00 p.m. I left home in ample time to arrive. The problem was that I encountered traffic due to an accident on the freeway. I did not telephone for fear of being rejected from the interview process. I managed to get off the freeway and take an alternate route. I arrived at the guard's gate @ 3:00 p.m., I was allowed into the parking lot, made into the front door/reception desk (this took maybe another minute or two); then I was told that "it's 3:05 p.m., and because I was not there at 3:00 p.m., that they could not see me and would not allow the interview. I explained the circumstances but it was apparently of no interest to them

Feeling like this was a bad joke, I was absolutely devastated. I know my watch and car clock is set to the radio station time and is accurate. As I was heading to my car, I looked at my watch and it was just 3:04/3:05. All the preparing I did and anticipation I had has been crushed. I want to get in, I want to work for this company. Who knows when they will have another opening in Phoenix?

What, if anything, do you think I can do right now to somehow get into an interview? I just know that once I get an interview, they'll love me, they'll agree that I would be an asset to their team. This circumstance is not customary, it was a circumstance that simply happened.

Yes, it simply happened, but you made choices that contributed to it: You deliberately chose not to call, and you also didn't allow a buffer for the possibility that you'd hit traffic -- two things you could have done differently.

However, that doesn't change the fact that refusing to interview you because of a five-minute delay is pretty harsh. (Especially from the airline industry -- insert obvious joke here.) We've discussed the question of how late is too late in the past, and very few people thought that a couple of minutes deserved a flat-out rejection.

Still, though. I can't quite get my head around why you decided calling them would be a bad idea. You call in that situation because it's the courteous (and safe) thing to do.

As for what you can do to get an interview, well ... maybe nothing. But if anything is going to work, it's writing a flawlessly professional and apologetic letter reiterating your strong desire to work for them. Don't make excuses, take responsibility for it, and find some convincing way to assure them that this was out of character and a one-time aberration. It still may not work, but it's probably your best shot.

There's also the question, of course, of how much you really want to work for a company that handled a five-minute delay this way. Screening procedures go both ways, you know.


Kerry said...

In my last job, I was the head of HR for an airline. On-time performance is a HUGE deal in that industry. HUGE. A five minute delay is a five minute delay, and in an industry where your delays are reported to the Department of Transportation and published for the world to see, it's not okay to be five minutes late.

And if you're late, you should always call. Always. I can't imagine why calling would get you rejected, but NOT calling wouldn't.

Bottom line---you're probably done with this one. There's no sense in dwelling on it...just focus your time and energy on finding another job.

Kenneth J. Nessing said...

Yes, I agree with your last paragraph; I recently sat for an hour waiting for an interview I WAS on time for. I walked out after the absurdity of the situation -- and the message it sent about the employer -- outweighed my desperation for a job.

Anonymous said...

Actually, in the airline industry, you're not late (according to the DOT) until you're 15 minutes late. Seems that airlines should afford the same slack to the employees ;)

That said, Kerry's right. Speaking as a former airline employee, tardies are a BIG BIG BIG deal, and if you can't be on-time for an interview, what does that say about your ability to get to work on time?

At the airport, you'll have an assigned shift -- the company and your co-workers will be counting on you to make that shift, each and every day. If you're late, someone who was expecting to leave work will have to stay to cover for you.

But, I must ask, why do you want to work for this company so bad? Working for the airlines is a losing proposition these days. The airlines are constantly struggling financially, and they continually put the squeeze (read: pay cuts) to their employees every chance they get. Free flights? So what. With all of the capacity reductions in place, and revenue management at its best, there aren't any seats to fly for free on.

And I'm going to take a leap and guess that if you were interviewing with a major airline in Phoenix, it may very well have been US Airways. Their pay sucks, and you aren't missing anything. Count your blessings and move on.

CJ McKinney said...

Especially in an economy like this one, there are NO excuses. Don't be late. DON'T be late! Oh, and DON'T BE LATE!

It is a buyers market right now in the labor market. There WILL be many applicants that find a way to make it on time. Employers want an employee that is proactive and that fixes problems not one that has a really good excuse why he or she failed.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to chime in my two cents here...if the policy is that they do not interview candidates who are late (which is what I'm surmising here), than there is nothing this candidate can do to "get the interview."

When my company has a specific screener (like tardiness), I cannot make any exceptions - period. Exceptions are generally when you open yourself up to discrimination claims.

And to be quite honest, the not-calling part is what seals the deal for me. When a candidate calls and explains the situation, I generally don't care about the five minutes, but if someone doesn't call - forget it.

Hank Hill said...

You're missing the point. In the long run, they did you a favor.

Anonymous said...

Yes, this situation really sucks, but since candidates should show up about ten minutes early, the person was really more like FIFTEEN minutes late...

I expect the candidate didn't call because he or she was HOPING to still make it in time and not bring attention to the chance of being late, whereas calling ahead would guarantee being noticed even if arriving on time.

I'm one of those "he'd be late to his own funeral" types, and I was late to an interview - ONCE. They still interviewed me but I didn't get the job (and rightly so).
For important events like interviews, I compensate by leaving early enough to arrive at least A FULL HOUR beforehand.

When I'm a mile or two away, I take a restroom break, park a block or two away, and do interview prep or read until fifteen minutes beforehand, then casually drive the last little bit to the destination - much better to arrive calm, cool and collected instead of frantic, sweaty and spastic!

Anonymous said...

I worked for an airline for 5 years and "on time performance" is the prime concern in that business. Employee lateness is a HUGE deal whether for a shift, a meeting, or anything else, and being late for an interview would be extremely detrimental to your candidacy.

That being said, I'm not sure if I would have knocked you out the running for 5 minutes, but obviously these people did.

I think you'll have to take this as a learning experience for next time. I always like the "dry run", try driving to the interview the day before during the same time, and see how long it takes, and then add some extra time. You can always go down the street to the coffee shop and wait if you're extra early, better than being late.

camorra said...

She actually did leave a buffer for traffic; she left with "ample time." Just wanted to point that out.

In addition, I think that you're right about this screening out this employer. The fact that they couldn't see her 4-5 minutes late is a deal breaker for me. While I understand the importance of being on time, arriving late because of a legitimate accident on the freeway should have been acceptable. Of course, she should have called while she was stuck in traffic...her fear that she would be rejected because she called was irrational.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I seriously don't understand why someone wouldn't call if they were running late to an interview - at least if you call, you show you're proactive and responsible. Not calling is definitely the most detrimental thing you can do in that situation. Hour early, coffee shop, every time!

Lisa said...

Of course, she should have called while she was stuck in traffic...her fear that she would be rejected because she called was irrational.

That line about being afraid of being rejected from the interview process if she did call ahead said something different to me; it suggested that the candidate already had a good idea of how particularly important timeliness was to this interview and employer, in which case... well, I have some sympathy, but maybe she needs to rethink what she considers 'ample' time, which I think for an interview needs to build in the possibility of accidents and delays.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to all for your feedback. I guess I will have to file this one away as an unfortunate learning experience. As I dwell on it, I think I may have subconsciously sabotaged my own opportunity. After researching this company that I had only previously heard mentioned as a contender in the SW but never knew much about them, I came to the conclusion that this was an awesome company. I had my heart too set on this one. I like helping people and I am very professional on the phone. Plus, the travel, I admit would have been nice (since I've been shipwrecked in this oasis so-to-speak, and haven't been able to be with my mom and family for nearly a decade). I was gloating for days that I was contacted almost immediately and passed a phone interview. I very much wanted this next interview. I liked their background and I was sure that they were going to see that I would be great fit. Although much of the rationale pointed out here makes sense, just an FYI: I decided against calling for (a) yes, for fear of highlighting the possibility that I might be late (b) the written instructions were very clear - "unprepared and late arrivals cannot be rescheduled." I was prepared and I did not want to be late.

My oldest daughter & I were in a car accident two years ago (which was clearly not my fault - I was in the far right lane and a driver of a moving truck two lanes to the left of me travelling in the same direction decided to turn right to a side street with NO WARNING and drove right into the front of my car). I'm a driver with more than 25 years driving experience and never had any other accidents. If anyone has ever experienced the way people drive on Phoenix freeways, you can understand my apprehension to try and drive one-handed in the midst of traffic and dial a cellphone with the other, while trying to cross over four lanes of traffic to an alternate exit.

I understand and respect the company's policies; also understanding that anything worthwhile may not necessarily be easily obtained. I apologized and attempted to explain but did not want to appear to be begging. I was shell-shocked because in my mind, I had just hit a Grand Slam. I was still on time despite the events. When did not being early mean that you are automatically considered late? It was 3:00pm at the gate and approximately 3:02 by the time I approached the reception desk. Upon leaving and conversations, I noted that the time was just then 3:05. In any case, I'm always on time to my current job. However, this day, I just couldn't seem to get out at the time I had planned; yet, I still was able to leave with enough time to arrive early. Rush hour hadn't even started yet. Who the heck knew that I'd run just behind an accident? I was just thanking God that I was not a part of the accident and praying that I'd still get to where I needed to on time (which, by the way, is fairly close to home). I will probably go ahead and write a formal letter to follow up and consider the ways that I also contributed to the events, and be sure to avoid those altogether in the future. I'm still wanting a new and prestigious job. Again, thanks for your feedback and for listening. At least I'm not as depressed today about it as I was the past 2 days.

Interviewer said...

One anonymous commenter above pointed out that you should be about 10 minutes early, so in reality, arriving in the parking lot at 3:00 means you're late.

My computer runs about 4 minutes faster than my cellphone, which is different from my car clock. Regardless, your car's clock is not a factor in this equation. They will use their own clock, every time.

I heard a lot of excuses in your post and your followup. "I'm an excellent driver. I was really prepared. It wasn't my fault. I left in plenty of time. I would be perfect for this job, if they could just interview me." Enough excuses. Just own up to this one! You needed to be there at 2:50, not 3:00. So you were late. The moment you can actually say, "I was late" and not keep repeating, "but my car clock said I was on time when I drove up to the gate, and it was only 3:05 when I left" is the moment you can learn and move on.

fposte said...

Anonymous--I'm glad you've decided to take a more philosophical approach to the incident.

I would say, though, especially in light of the company's clear warning, that I wouldn't consider arrival at the gate at the appointed time to mean a candidate was on time. "On time" means "ready to start the interview at the appointed time," not "on the premises at that time."

Anonymous said...

So they told you beforehand that your interview wouldn't be rescheduled if you were late? And then you were and wondered why they wouldn't reschedule? Hmmm.

I think that the employer was very up-front and simply did what they had told you they would do if you were late. Chalk this one up to experience I guess.

Anonymous said...

Man, I think 2 minutes late is a bit severe for a cancellation of the interview. I can see it being a point against hiring the candidate, but to cancel altogether? That is a bit much.

Anonymous said...

Interviewer: So well put! All I heard in this posters follow-up were excuses. This was not her fault. She's a great driver. She was being safe by not using her cell phone. BLAHBLAHBLAH.

I'd actually suggest to the OP that if her formal apology is going to be riddled with reasons for why it was not her fault, to save herself some time and not bother. Candidates who are completely void of responsibility and accountability, and so clearly not self-aware are candidates whose names stick in my head...months and sometimes even years after the event.

Walt said...

"Yes, I agree with your last paragraph; I recently sat for an hour waiting for an interview I WAS on time for. I walked out after the absurdity of the situation -- and the message it sent about the employer -- outweighed my desperation for a job."

Kenneth you are a better man than I am. Faced with the same situation, I would have walked up to the Receptionist and said: "I'm sorry, but I have another appointment in 30 minutes. Please convey my apologies to the person who was supposed to interview me an hour ago. Then, I would have walked out.

Punctuality is a two way street, if a business expects you to be on time for an interview, they should show you the same courtesy. In the final analysis your experience may have been a blessing in disguise. Imagine what they would have treated you like had they actually hired you.

Anonymous said...

Time is of the essence! It shows you care, it shows respect, it shows you plan and it gives a hint into your work ethic.

Old trick. Set your watch 10 minutes
late for your average meeting. Set it fifteen minutes late for killer
meetings. Don't promise what you can't deliver. Negotiate the time to
suite what you really need-AND THEN DO IT

Anonymous said...

Most of the reponses are from Airline people. "on time" is the goal but the records show otherwise.
Little dig from 40 years of travelling.

Punctuality is a key to any job interview. It's simple. Sho up on time and I'll look at the way you dress, check you resume and critique
your response to questions that have
nothing to do with the job you want.
Pure BS but you have to learn to play the game.

Anonymous said...

The last paragraph is an important point. An interview and what happens during an interview is informative not only for the interviewer, but also for the interviewee. Remember, you're interviewing the company as much as they're interviewing you. You just can't often be obvious about it.

Linn said...

I would move on . . . the interviewer isn't going to "love you" because he/she already has a first impression of you as being someone who is late. Best of luck to you in your job search.