We recently had a top candidate show up late for a final interview. By that point the job was his to lose—he was “in.” And he was only ten minutes late (because of a high-pressure meeting at his current job that ran over). But he decided to act as if nothing had happened, launching directly into why he would be great for the job. The client didn’t hear any of it. He was still waiting for an apology and thinking to himself that, although this guy wanted to be in a client-facing role, he had no clue that he just made a boo-boo. Crash and burn.
Too much traffic. No time to plan. A boss who takes up all your time so that you have no time to meet any potential new bosses. We’ve all had days when everything that can go wrong does, and some of those days are definitely going to be job-interview days. But fear not: while there are no guarantees, there are steps you can take to redeem yourself and get back on track.
1. Let them know you’ll be late, and do it ASAP. Mom was right. Whether your new job involves meeting with clients or not, manners matter. If you think you’re going to be late, let the hiring manager know as soon as possible. (And plan ahead: have interviewers’ telephone numbers and email addresses programmed into your phone in case of just this kind of emergency. Do the same for the assistants’ and in-house recruiters’ digits.) If you’re using a headhunting firm, reach out to them: it’s part of their job to help smooth the situation. Giving people as much notice as possible demonstrates that you respect their time and aren’t clueless. That extra time may also allow the people interviewing you to move their calendars around a bit, or at least let them answer a couple of emails while they wait for you.
2. Breathe to regain focus. The first thing you’re going to want to do is run right into the interviewer’s office. Don’t—you’ll probably blow the interview if you dive right in with your nerves still frazzled. Pause outside the door and take a breath to soothe your anxiety. As someone who has sat across the desk from many a late candidate, I can tell you without hesitation that it affects your interviewing mojo. Ground yourself by remembering why you are there, and think about the three things you want the interviewer to remember about you.
3. APOLOGIZE as soon as you arrive. Shake hands, look the other person in the eye, acknowledge that you’re late, and give a short explanation (repeat: short). If you’ve kept more than one person waiting, then lather, rinse, repeat. Be sure to ask how much time your interviewers have left to do the interview, and adjust your interview style accordingly. You don’t want to be delivering a 20-minute discourse in response to “So tell me about yourself” and then find out that time’s run out on you.
4. Reschedule if you know ahead of time you might be late. Sure you want the new job, but showing up stressed out and powering through it pretty much ensures you’ll blow it. Everyone, potential bosses included, knows that unavoidable circumstances come up. If you have a company emergency developing that could make you late or affect your focus, consider rescheduling instead of rolling the dice. Just remember, you only get one of these “something suddenly came up” passes. Reschedule twice, and you’ve lost all your credibility as a candidate.
It’s hardly ideal to be late for an interview, but it’s also not necessarily the end of the world. If you manage to acknowledge the problem in a way that gracefully shows that you’re professional and value others’ time, you just may be able to stop it from being a major liability.