By Tamar Van Der Merwe
Dear Mr. Candidate: Is it ever acceptable to be late for an interview?
A tough question, but one I will attempt to answer as best I can.
So, you’ve partnered with a recruiter who you trust and you have managed to land that interview at that company you have been eyeing for a couple of years. I guess you could say this is your “dream job”, for lack of a less predictable term.
Your appointment is scheduled for 10:00 am on Monday morning, and behind the scenes, unbeknownst to you, all parties involved have shifted their diaries around all so that they can be available to meet with you. These are Senior, busy folk- the CIO, the Senior this, the Senior that…On the day, you get up, get suited and booted and you get into your car. As you turn onto the highway, you see that you MAY have miscalculated how long it would take you to get to your destination- the highway is backed up like there is no tomorrow. To top it all off, it’s raining (and you know Capetonians can’t drive when it rains). You might as well park your car and take a smoke break.
You may, or may not have, found yourself in a similar situation before. If you are a Cape Town local, you know that if you get invited for a braai (barbeque for non-locals), no on arrives on time, because the time provided is really just a guideline. However, an interview is something entirely different.
In my opinion, the most precious thing that anyone can ever give you, is their time and undivided attention. Disrespecting someone’s time is disrespecting a gift. I acknowledge that things come up and life happens. There are extenuating circumstances- in those circumstances, it will be critical how you handle things, and it will say a lot about you as a potential future employee.
This might seem like the simplest thing in the world, but this is something that can make or break an interview process. My personal suggestion to candidates is usually the following:
Be transparent with your recruiter about what times will work for you to interview. Don’t say “Yes I can make it”, and you know that there’s a chance you might be called in for an emergency meeting that day and have to cancel the interview. Pick a time you know you will make comfortably, without feeling too stressed.
Do not assume; Look up the address beforehand, and make sure you are fully confident in how to get there. If you are really nervous about it, ask a friend who knows the area to go with you and help you navigate. There’s no shame in it- I have done it before
Prepare for the worst. Pessimistic as that sounds, you have to take into account the fact that unexpected things come up all the time. An accident on the highway, a stationary car on the freeway (for whatever random reason), roadworks, a cow crossing the highway (that has literally happened in Cape Town!), a public demonstration (also not outside the realm of possibility). I always suggest finding out what coffee shops are close by so that you can arrive nice and early and grab a nice cuppa Joe! (Remember to have a mint after so you don’t have unsavory breath!)
Make sure you have the correct time!
Know where you need to park- a small thing, but if you are struggling to find parking when you get there, it will only cause unnecessary stress.
Don’t be there too early- if you arrive too early, you might throw your interviewers off their game, since they might be occupied with something else when you get there, and they will feel bad that you are waiting. Wait in your coffee shop and walk in a couple of minutes prior to announce yourself, making sure you know who to ask for.
Remember: it does not matter how Senior you are, or whether you feel you have already landed that job, or how much you think they want to offer you the job, or whether “it’s just a stone’s throw away”- anything can come up at any time and throw a spanner in the works. Never forget about Mr. Murphy!
All of the above being said- life happens, and things come up. If you find yourself in an awkward spot, and you realize you will be late- make sure that you call immediately and apologize and give as accurate a guess as possible as to when you will arrive. Stay calm, and don’t let the situation ruin your MOJO, and don’t take it into your interview.
A small confession: when I interviewed at then Earthstream Global, now Techstream Global- I lost my way en route to my second interview, and things just snowballed. I was already stressed and that is probably why my brain would not remember the road- I called to let Jeron van den Elshout know I would be late, and he graciously dropped the location to my phone.
Long story short, after many profuse apologies, I did land the job, even though I was late. The human factor will always be present with an interview process. Make every effort to be as prepared as possible, and if things do go south, hopefully you will have a friendly interviewer like Jeron who will look beyond the lateness and see the human behind it.