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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

how late is too late for an interview?

You're an interviewer. You have a 12:00 interview scheduled. Normally people go in the mildly annoying direction of arriving waaayy too early, but this candidate is late.

How late can the candidate be before you (a) hold it against him/her, and (b) cancel the interview altogether?

I consider lateness of more than a couple minutes very notable. And at 10 minutes, there better be a profuse apology so it doesn't seem like typical behavior for the candidate. If the person isn't there 15 minutes after the scheduled time, I'm likely to cancel the interview entirely. (If the person calls within the first 10 minutes to explain and has a reasonable excuse, I will cut them some slack, but not a huge amount.)

Where do you stand?


Joselle Palacios said...

Barring some unforeseen traffic catastrophe (bus blew there in 10) or an emergency that causes an interview to be rescheduled (a different case, I suppose, and hopefully the interviewer would understand), lateness is unacceptable. The interviewee should be 10 minutes early. If they can't get it together to at least be on time, I would seriously question their seriousness or sobriety! This is job search 101. Be on time!

If they were just a little late and, as you write, apologize profusely and have a legit reason, I'd let it go if the interview went wonderfully. But if they don't offer an explanation or apology, bye bye.

Lisa said...

I once had to be 45 mins late to an interview because the train I got on had mechanical problems and I had to wait almost an hour for the next train. Had it been on time, I would have been 45 mins early, which I prefer so that I can grab some coffee, go over notes about the company and relax.
I called the firm right away, and let them know all the details. I maintained my cool throughout the whole ordeal and the interview went very well. I got the internship in the end.
I think if I were the manager, I would be very concerned about lateness to an interview. What would stop the person from being late to work if they don't see the interview as being that important? However, circumstances do arrive that cannot be foreseen. These can happen on the interview date as easily as during employment. If these roadblocks are dealt with grace and professionalism, I think that can speak volumes to the kind of potential employee they will be.

Anonymous said...

Under five minutes, I make a mental note, but move on. 5 - 10 minutes, I ask if the interviewee had trouble finding our office (give them the opportunity to be profusely apologetic). At 10 minutes, I call them and see what's up (usually get voicemail). At 15, they're probably not getting the job, but if my schedule permits, I'll still see them. Barring a huge catastrophe, I have no patience for someone who can't be on time.

Anonymous said...

I interviewed a candidate earlier today who was just over 20 minutes late. Lateness makes me uneasy about the general professionalism of a candidate; will she be just as blase about the job itself? There were other issues with the interview, but time constraints alone forced us to end it slightly earlier than we otherwise would have.

With cell phones being utterly ubiquitous, a phone call the moment a candidate realizes she will be late is necessary at a minimum (our candidate did not call). That, and an apology, can mitigate the situation if she truly had no control over the situation. Otherwise, it just looks very sloppy.

Anonymous said...

PS (same anon as above) More than 10 minutes early is inappropriate - just as bad as being 10 minutes late in my book. I've actually asked candidates to leave and come back (when they're more than 20 minutes early). It shows a lack of well, a clue. Busy yourself at the coffee shop next door (I'm in a very urban environment).

Anonymous said...

I view lateness as disrespectful to my time. If it's important you'll be there. If you are running late have the courtesy to call and let me know.

ExecSearchPro said...

I have only had one candidate ever show up to an interview with a client late. This was a Senior Manager at a Big 4 firm interviewing for a Tax Director position. She called to give the CFO a heads up that she was running late and the CFO didn't bat an eye. She had worked in public accounting as well and understood the demands of the job and that sometimes meetings go late. She was 30 minutes late and she was offered the position! I also agree with the comments on being annoyingly early. I can't stand it when candidates are any more than 10 minutes early!

Anonymous said...

Occasionally a candidate will be late in calling me for a phone interview. The most recent one appeared to be a misunderstanding (the candidate was told that I would call her) but after 10 minutes of waiting, I emailed the recruiter to find out what was going on. I got profuse apologies, and he said it was definitely his fault, not the candidate's. The candidate called me within a minute or two.

So, if it's truly his fault, do I ever use that recruiter again?

Unknown said...

I would expect a phone call if someone will be more than 5 minutes late. For those of you who hold it against candidates that show up too early, keep in mind that many employers have ridiculously long applications they ask you to fill out upon arrival, and they are not always willing/able to email them in advance. I recently interviewed for a finance position at a major national cable network and their application was over 10 pages long!

I typically show up 15-20 minutes early prepared to fill out an application (unless I've done it in advance), and am perfectly willing to wait until the scheduled time if I finish early. Try to cut early-arrivals some slack. Their intentions may be good.

nuqotw said...

I think even one minute is bad but that was when I was at a place with very predictable public transportation which made punctuality a virtual certainty.

As long as it's <5 minutes I think it's okay to overlook it if the candidate apologizes sincerely. More than five minutes, especially if it affects my schedule (like I have a meeting scheduled promptly after the interview - can I be late to my meeting?) is very annoying.

Just Another HR Lady said...

Totally depends on the circumstances, but if it's more than 15 minutes with no reasonable explanation, I cancel. Typically when I'm interviewing my day is booked solid. I don't mind running behind if it's because I've met some awesome candidates and we're having good discussion, but I do mind running late because candidates are late for no good reason.

For those candidates out there who arrive late for an interview, why in the world would you want to start out your interview with a negative mark against you before you even open your mouth? We will assume that if you can't even make it to an appointment on time, you'll probably have difficulty with work schedules as well. Plan your transportation well ahead of time, and have a backup plan. And if unforeseen circumstances take over, call as soon as you know you're going to be late, not after you're late.

I wouldn't hold arriving early against someone, although I do have our receptionist advise them that I will be out to collect them at the interview time (i.e. not early), so if they wish to wait around, it's up to them.

Ask a Manager said...

Erica, that's a really good point on the early arrival thing. I hadn't even thought about that.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree AAM.

Unless there is a reasonable excuse, that level of lateness says 'my time is more important than your time' and it completely inconsiderate and rude.

Charles said...

I have NEVER been late to an interview.

Living in the NJ Suburbs and interviewing in NYC I often catch a train an extra hour earlier than I would to be there. During non-rush hour the trains run just once an hour. But I do this just in case NJ Transit screws up; meaning the train is late or cancelled. (not an uncommon event)

This extra hour means that I then have to scout out a coffee shop or someplace to wait which adds another five bucks to an interview that already has me in the hole over 25 dollars (parking, train fare and subway fares). Bring me back for a total of three interviews and I have now spent close to 90 bucks; (so you damned well better call me if I do not get the job!)

Because, as Erica has already pointed out, I will arrive a little early (but no more than 15 minutes) to fill out "the paperwork." I always apologize for arriving early and explain to the receptionist why. So, yea, cut me some slack on that, will ya?

There have been other times when I arrive "on time" only to find that it will take me another 15 minutes to fill out the paperwork. This is supposed to be accomplished while balancing a clipboard on my lap because there are no tables or other flat surfaces to write on. The lighting in many a reception area of companies is "home-like," by which I mean the lighting is very dim and not the best for those of us that need to wear glasses to read and write under.

During this filling-out-the-paperwork time the interviewer keeps coming out to see if I have "finished yet?" with a tone that indicates annoyance on their part at my being "slow."

So, yea, as a job seeker, I go through a lot to be there on time; planning ahead for commuting "mishaps," your organization's "paperwork" and inadequate reading/writing area.

Not that there are many of you; But for those of you who are willing to overlook someone who is late with or without an excuse I say: "Am I now in the running with another job candidate who cannot show up on time?"

jeesh, No wonder I just can't win!

Surya said...

A bit Asian perspective here:

I have had candidates come late, not just for face to face meetings, but also for video conferences. I would expect the candidate to let me know if he or she is going to be late. They have my mobile number, and they can call or text me.

Valid excuses are traffic delays, death, accident or major sickness in the family and being sick oneself.

And on coming early - We usually have our cafeteria connected to the reception, so I would tell them to help themselves to the coffee / tea / soft drinks and wait for me.

Rebecca said...

I will forgive up to 5 minutes of lateness with no phone call.

At the 5 minute and 1 second mark, if I haven't received a phone call with an apology and a damn good excuse, they are officially Late To The Interview and Wasting My Time, which will not reflect well on their candidacy.

At the 15 minute mark with no call, they're not getting the job, but I'll probably talk to to them anyway, mainly out of curiosity to see what kind of jerk thinks they can be 15 minutes late to an interview and still get a job.

Vicki said...

I am with Joselle. This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. If you cannot make it to an interview on time, why should I believe you will ever make it to work on time?? An interview is a time to make the BEST impression that you can make. Being late is not a step in the right direction. I would MUCH rather a candidate be, as you said "annoyingly early" than 1 minute late. I have turned candidates away for being late - and will do it again I am sure.


cherylb said...

I'm in the 15 minutes camp. 15 minutes late and I'm "so over you." Usually I'm working with a committee though, and they may be more forgiving.

However, in an EXTREME situation, such as the one Lisa describes, with the train, I would reschedule, BUT expect to be called and told about the situation.

I myself have always arrived 15 minutes before an interview. Good to learn the new "normal" is 5.

Unknown said...

Erica and Charles,

YES, yes to arriving early because there is often a horribly long and detailed form to fill out (sometimes the same damn one you filled out online!).

And it is terribly awkward and uncomfortable doing these in the office under the gun, and are hard to do in an efficient and detailed way. We should be commended, not condemned, for coming in a little more than 10 minutes early (although 20 is too much). Save the real annoyance for people who come late.

I wish all you wonderful HR bloggers out there would recommend to employers that they send these to candidates before the interview to avoid the wasting of time, and to get a decent product from us rather than a rushed, often incomplete one. I know I hate being blindsided by these forms in interviews. At least give us a heads up. There has to be a better way of getting the paperwork done.

I have learned the hard way to bring a copy of the online application or a cheat sheet with names, addresses, emails and phone numbers of all past employers, references, etc. (as if I am going to be able remember all that stuff!). Your resume will not be enough.

Kerry Scott said...

If my candidates are arriving early because they think there's a form to fill out, then I've screwed up. It's my job to make sure they know EXACTLY what to expect when they arrive. I tell them what will happen when, who they'll be meeting with. I also never ever make people fill out forms onsite. As a candidate, there's nothing more annoying than having to fill out a ten-page form going back to 1989 when you're nervously waiting for the big interview to start. Why do companies do that? Either email it to them in advance or have them take it home and send it back after. Sheesh.

I always notice whether they're late, but how much I'll hold it against them depends on the reason. Winter in Wisconsin can include some impressive storms, so being late in the middle of a blizzard is different than being late in July.

I once had one who was an hour and 45 minutes late. He blamed "traffic," which in Milwaukee is ridiculous, because if we ever had a traffic jam THAT bad it would have made the front page of the paper. The hiring manager stayed until 6:45pm doing other work waiting for him, and the guy arrived just as he was packing up to go home. The hiring manager interviewed him anyway and LOVED him. He insisted on hiring him, over my objections. The guy turned out to be that flaky and inconsiderate all along...we had to fire him a couple of months later.

Anonymous said...

Kathy - I couldn't agree more. I tell candidates when I schedule them that there is no need to show up more than five minutes early for the interview. I tell them that there are no forms that need to be filled out and that our reception area isn't all that big. If they don't get the hint and still insist on showing up 35 minutes early (this has happened more than once recently), I have our receptionist suggest strongly they tour the neighborhood (large city) for a bit since I won't be seeing them until our agreed upon time. If they still don't get the hint (happens more frequently than you'd think), they're out of the running. Why? I don't hire "clueless."

My advice for candidates: ask the recruiter when you're scheduling the appointment if there will be paperwork to fill out ahead of time. Then budget time (if there is) or show up 5 minutes early. It's never appropriate to show up more than 10 minutes early if you've done your homework. You don't look eager and look like you got the time wrong or are desperate.

Amy said...

Our office is located in the downtown area of a fairly large city. Some applicants not familiar with downtown are late because of parking issues or taking public transportation which they're unfamiliar with. In these cases, I'll cut them some slack, assuming they're appropriately apologetic.

Melina said...

I have no problem with people arriving early. If I am not ready for them, they can just wait in reception.

As for late, 10-15 is OK if they call. More than that without a valid reason and they are most likely not going to be hired based on reliability and communication.

I had one candidate who called 30 min into his scheduled time to say he couldn't find our suite- that it didn't exist. (He had the right address) The funny thing is that we are the only tenant in the building and there are multiple doors. Needless to say, he didn't get another interview.

Anonymous said...

Working in NYC, its not uncommon for subways to shut down or be seriously delayed. Before an interview, I try to do a test run of how long it will take to get to my potential employer so I can add on a little incase the day of the trans are on the fritz. The one time I did not do this, of course the train was shut down, and I had to frantically scramble for a taxi and was still going to be late. I agree with most of the commenters - always, always call if you are going to be late. My interview went well, because I was on top of the situation and apologized profusely. It's absolutely true - things do come up - but in this day and age of cell phones, its inexcusible not to call if you are going to be late.

Revanche said...

I was mortified to be 1.5 minutes late to an interview once. I'd scheduled myself to be there 30 minutes early, but I missed the one exit for miles off the freeway and had to navigate through some really hairy intersections to find the place. I'm still not sure if that interviewer actually forgave me for it, but from my POV, it was absolutely awful. I'm always 15 minutes early but try to stay out of their hair for at least ten of those minutes. I know everyone's busy and it drove me nuts to have to stop working 15-30 minutes early to entertain a candidate.

Justin said...

I'm not sure why showing up more than 10 minutes early is such a big deal. I don't see why anyone would have to stop working to entertain the candidate. If they want to sit in the lobby/reception area for 30 minutes, I don't see what the big deal is. More than 30 minutes might be a bit strange, but I don't understand why it would be such a grievous offense to be 15-30 minutes early. These candidates are probably trying to be on the bestest of best behavior.

Revanche said...

@Justin: Didn't mean to leave the impression that I ever faulted the candidate - the hiring manager just never told them to show up 5-10 mins before. I had to entertain them because we had no reception area, so they had to sit awkwardly next to my desk in the front office while I worked. I felt it was rude to ignore them, or to send them off on a tour of the area [we had a very small work site that wasn't at all welcoming to visitors] and the boss insisted that I entertain them. Didn't hold it again the candidates, it wasn't their fault.

Unknown said...

To flip the tables a bit, as we speak I'm waiting for my third round interview call with a company. Every call I've had with this company is late. The first was a no call/no message. The HR rep said they got busy and rescheduled for the next day. That time they called on time. The second round was half an hour late calling due to timezone differences. Now I'm on the third round call and they are exactly 1 hour past call time. The HR rep is in EST, interviewers are in MST and I'm in CST. This is a very reputable company in my industry, but this is starting to throw up some red flags for me.

Part of me wants to think that these are busy people who have to take time out of their busy schedules to interview potential candidates, but at the same time, this could be a reflection of how meetings and punctuality is all the time at this place.

Ask a Manager said...

bawigga, I just turned your comment into a post of its own!

Anonymous said...

I had a huge interview this past Friday. I studied everything about the company there is to know. I got up early the next morning, got dressed and left the house 2 hours early (interview was 30 min away). Nevertheless, my stupid GPS malfunctioned and I was completely lost. I ended up being 30 min late! I called in advanced and apologized. The interview went well, but I felt so bad because I have never been late for an interview. I myself hate when people are late. I am extremely upset because I wanted that job. Is there any chance they will call me? Time will tell.

hdanie said...

I feel so terrible! I had a second phone interview for a position that I have been really excited about for four months! I did tons of research last night and wrote out several pages of notes to use during the call. The hiring manager was calling me at 9am so I arranged all my notes on my coffeetable and flipped open my cell phone around 8:45am so I could take her call on speaker when she called. 9am came and went and no call. At about 9:07 I closed my phone and immediately it beeped and said I had one new voicemail! I was mortified that the call didn't ring through to my phone while it was flipped open. I called her back at 9:08am and I think the interview went well (I'm VERY qualified for the position) - but is there any recovering from being eight minutes late? I was apologetic and tried to explain what happened but felt like it just sounded like a giant excuse! :(

Ask a Manager said...

hdanie, it sounds like you handled it exactly right, by assuring her you were mortified, it was technical error, etc. If you wanted to, you could apologize again in your thank-you email, but I don't think you need to!

Anonymous said...

So I was extremely excited about interviewing with a state agency for a caseworker intern position(paid) and ended up being 15 min. late. I'd been practicing questions and answers for a week and a half before the interview. I was so distraught about being late. It would have normally taken me 10-15 min. to get to the interview location but for some reason in Pittsburgh, Pa. they never tell you when they will be doing construction. I turned around 3 times trying to find alternate routes to get to my interview. I called and spoke with the interviewer, she told me to come as soon as possible but when I got there she was unavailable but I interviewed with someone else from the training department.

Don't know if I got the internship yet.

GeekyCrossfitDad said...

So I had a very bad time yesterday. I was flown down to interview with a Fortune 500 company for an intern position. I was heavily recruited for this position and have been studying up on the company for weeks.
All I needed to do was meet with the VPs to make sure i had the right personality for the company and the position would have been mine.

Anyway I land in Texas at 10 PM and go to my hotel where I have a bite to eat. I make sure I am in bed by midnight and have my phone alarm set for 5:30 and a wake up call scheduled for 5:30 as well. When I interview I like to wake up early, go for a run, and give myself ample time to get prepared and do some last minute studying. I usually get to interviews 30 minutes early and either wait outside or find a place to go until about 10 minutes before the interview. That is when I finally go into the building.

So my nightmare: My phone died and the hotel never gave me my wake up call. I wake up at 8:25 just five minutes before my interview is scheduled to begin. I immediately call my recruiter and let him know what happened and he phones on to headquarters to let them know I will be late. I rush to get ready (I nicked myself pretty bad shaving to it bled forever) and go downstairs to check out of the hotel. Luckily I was able to get the hotel to comp my night so the company did not have to pay it.

Anyway I got to the interview about an hour late after everything was done. Luckily I was able to meet with the three out of the four VPs though they had to reschedule my flight home as well as their schedules to meet with me.

The interviews went great and i could tell that the VPs knew I was one of the best candidates for this position. (I wasn't interviewing against anyone for this position I was interviewing against myself) The one VP came in with a clock and told me he thought that I needed this more then him. By the end of meeting with him he told me that he thought I would be great for the position and he would give me his thumbs up for the position.

The other two interviews also went well. Unfortunately I was able to meet with one of the VPs.

I pretty much know that I gave up the position when I was late but I can only hope that I WOWed them enough in the interviews to make them overlook my carelessness. I have even thought about asking my previous employer (who is a chief of surgery at a world renown hospital) to write them an email stating what kind of a worker I am but in the end decided it would just hurt me by bringing it back up. This position would be a dream job for me and I cant stop beating myself up for how stupid I was. I knew flying down that the position was mine and then I had to go screw it up. Since this is a very high stressful position I hope that if anything they can see how well I handle stress even if it is self induced.

Sorry for my ranting and please keep your fingers crossed I should find out on monday (two days from now)

Anonymous said...

If you are driving to an interview and you have never been to the building or that part of time you should never let your interview be the first time you go to the building. If I am interviewing in an unfamiliar part of time I always go a day or two before to make sure I can find the building and a proper route.

As a college student the first internship I interviwed for was a late situation because I had never been to that part of town and the building they were in was tricky to find. I was 15 minutes late but as soon as I realized I was going to be late and could not find the place I called. The HR rep was nice enough to actually guide me over the phone until I reached their parking lot, but still. I will never ever make that mistake again if I can help and all subsequent job interviews I have gone the driven the route the day before and made sure I could locate the office building and suite.

GeekyCrossfitDad said...

Just wanted to say I some how miraculously got the job. The recruiter told me that being late almost worked in my favor because the VPs were trying to stare me down and I wouldn't let them. The fact I took responsibility for my actions and then moved on showed them what kind of a man I am. I would however never recommend this to anyone as I just got plain lucky. That and I was interviewing against myself and no one else. Thanks for all the positive wishes I received!!!

Unknown said...

I live and work in NYC. Here, we take the subway most of the time. So just about every interviewee will be underground - and out of mobile phone range - for 30-45 minutes before the interview.

This presents a problem, both to the interviewer and the interviewee:

- Train delays happen. Not nearly as often as you'd think if you believed everyone that said they were late because of the train. But they do happen.

- So as an interviewer, I would be crazy to off-handedly dismiss a candidate for being late - even substantially late - simply because they passed the arbitrary "15-minute-and-one-second" barrier.

In other words, I need context. I need a sincere apology and a great explanation. Most importantly, I need to know that you were concerned about my time (and not just my opinion about you). I also need to be impressed with your ability to handle stress as well as an overall good sense of your professionalism (from your resume, phone presence, etc.). How someone handles being late can tell you a lot about them. Everyone is late sometimes, even to important events.

Oh, and one more thing:
- 5 mins early is great
- 10 minutes early is just fine
- 15 minutes is an imposition
- 20 minutes is a really bad sign

If you want to be really early to an interview so that you have some fudging room in case something goes wrong, that's fantastic! I'd even go so far as to call it "ideal". But get there, find the place, make sure it's correct.... and do something else until 5-10 mins before hand. Go for a walk, sit in your car, find a coffee shop, quit smoking... but don't impose on my time. I scheduled you for a reason.