There's two people in my office who get a fair number of people visiting them.

One of them has clients coming to visit them, and the other is often performing job interviews.

Every time, regardless of how busy they are or they aren't, they always make the person coming for the meeting wait at least 5 minutes before greeting them. Even if they person is on time, early, or late.

This really bugs me, because I hate being kept waiting when I'm on time. And I know that sometimes they do this artificially. Because I'm actually in the office I can see them just pretending to fiddle with papers, or finish reading whatever blog/news article/comic/whatever.

Is this something that should bug me? Is it common? Is this some sort of power play? Are they playing good cop/bad cop? Making them sweat for some reason? Should I bring it up with them? We're all on a similar heirachy level, so they're not my manager, but I work in a technical role and they work in managing the company.

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    Sure, it's a personality check. They are trying to see how quickly the applicants get annoyed... Or the colleagues... :) Aug 1, 2012 at 1:40
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    If someone has enough time to pretend busy just to make others wait, it means he/she has too much free time
    – superM
    Aug 1, 2012 at 8:22
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    @superM - not an entirely fair statement, as I'm sure most of us don't work at 100% capacity for every moment when they're at work. Aug 1, 2012 at 11:03
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    FWIW, they might just be preparing themselves for the meeting: reviewing mental notes or just getting into an appropriate state of mind. How do you know for sure that they're really "ready" for the meeting and are just delaying for some kind of power play?
    – Angelo
    Aug 1, 2012 at 13:21
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    Don't forget that an interview is a two way process. I've turned down job offers before because the interviewer was 20 minutes late and obviously was more concerned about his own importance than the task in hand.
    – Qwerky
    Aug 3, 2012 at 11:24

5 Answers 5


This is not about etiquette but it is a rather simple way to show who is in charge and show who has control. It can also be used to make a person more nervous. But in general it is a rather bad way especially if they do it with your colleagues as well.

If they don't do it to you I would not confront them but ask them for their reasons and try to understand their mindset. But if it bothers you (and I assume it does as you asked here) talk to them in a non-confronting way and try to bring up some rational points why it is bad behavior (e.g. technical interviewees get a bad impression and won't follow up as there is a high demand for them)


Imposing a wait is just one of a series of strategies used for guaging a potential hire's suitability. The most classic, of course, are off-topic/odd questions. But other strategies include requiring interviewees to be doing something with their hands while answering questions (I've been required to play with some clay/playdoh and shuffle then sort a deck of cards on separate occasions), forced waiting, and food (bringing a bowl of crackers/pretzels to an interview, placing them in center of table, and paying attention to whether interviewee just takes some, asks if they can take some, or ignores it completely).

All of these help interviewers to get insights about the things people can't put on resumes. Personality, attitude, patience, level-headedness... None of those can be easily (or believably) expressed on a resume. Making someone wait a bit can tell you alot about their personality, depending on how they act in the subsequent interview. If they're terse and somewhat ruffled, then they are very impatient/have a very high opinion of themselves. If they're fine, then they're probably much easier to get along with. It's mostly to bring out the subconscious tendencies, as some of the most unpleasant and annoying individuals can memorize their resumes and ace interviews, however it is far harder to suppress subconscious behaviors.

  • 1
    I wonder if your bowl of pretzels takes into account that people who are avoiding gluten will ignore them completely or may even ask you to put them away (depending on level of sensitivity) for reasons that have little to do with fit (unless desire or lack thereof to be healthy are key components of fit in your company). Nov 11, 2013 at 18:40

I've worked at firms where we sometimes penalized interviewees who arrived too early (e.g. 20-30 minutes). Even for some interviewees who timed things the right way, there was still a waiting period imposed. Say, 10 minutes. The point was to test them interviewee a bit. There was a psychological component in demonstrating that we were in control. I asked about it once, and was told that it's part of the process to throw the interviewee "off their game". And the delays were absolutely artificial as well... so it was just a game.

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    I'd treat it as "we're insecure, but pompous", not "we're in control" and leave your company to your games. Aug 1, 2012 at 14:38
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    Penalized? I often arrive at first interviews anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes early just because of unsurities. What if there's bad traffic? Maybe my GPS doesn't direct me to the correct building? There's many possibilities, especially if I've never been there before. While I, personally, tend to sit in my car until 5-10 minutes prior, I still see it as unfair to penalize someone for that.
    – animuson
    Aug 2, 2012 at 22:29
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    It is impossible to be exactly on time. One is either early or late. What is the penalty for being early? Penalties for being x minutes early other than waiting patiently for x minutes are a red warning flag.
    – emory
    Aug 2, 2012 at 22:47
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    I actually think timing things to arrive as early as needed is good, but don't show up at the receptionist 30 minutes early! Hang out. Walk around the block. Rehearse your introduction in the car. 5-10 minutes is good, though.
    – ewwhite
    Aug 2, 2012 at 22:52
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    Maybe on a nice day. But during the summer when it's 90-100 degrees outside, I'd much rather just sit inside the building where it's cool. I still expect to wait until the time I was assigned, but sitting inside is just more convenient.
    – animuson
    Aug 3, 2012 at 0:43

Artificial delays and games are childish if there is no purpose other than the demonstration of power. While there can be reasons for delaying someone to evaluate their reaction or to review information prior to the meeting, doing it simply to demonstrate who is in charge would strike me as a red flag. I wouldn't want to work for someone who is so insecure in their position that they need to play games to feel like they're in charge. Nor would I want to give my business to someone who tries to appear busy when they aren't.

I think the one conducting interviews is far more likely to have a valid reason (seeing how the interviewee reacts) than the one meeting clients (demonstrating that you're important and busy strikes me as petty).

Since it bothers you and they're in a management role, you could ask them in order to learn their reasons. They may have good reasons and, as long as you ask in the right way, they will likely feel it is a compliment that you're asking to learn from them. If it's about establishing power relationships, you will just have earned "points" by indicating you know they're more powerful or important than you are.


All this pathetic personality testing often from smart engineers who score -10 on working with each other. Argh. School is over folks. testing against your peers is over. it's time to focus on working with a variety of people and personalities instead of competing against them.

Once you start dissecting personalities like this you're focusing on the wrong stuff and you're not making half the effort to get along yourself.

Never substitute a direct question with this sort of personality 'test'. If you want the answer to a direct question try just bluntly asking it first. You'll tell a lot more from the answer even if subconsciously you're not sure why. You'll also be setting the stage for an HONEST relationship. The other approach isn't exactly fostering the beginning of a great relationship. imho of course!

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