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I don't have a driver's license, and I doubt I'll ever be able to get one due to my Asperger's. I'm currently on the hunt for a job, and during the about 2 years in total (including previous job hunt periods), I've had about a half-dozen times that I've been late to a job interview because of extenuating circumstances (usually missing my transfer due to a bus or a train being late). Most times, it was less than 5 minutes, but I had one time on a snowy day where the trains were heavily disrupted causing me to be over an hour late, and recently, I was 15 minutes late. Both of these longer times, I have informed my contact at the company as soon as I knew I would be late and gave them an estimated time of arrival.

I've also had some cases where I arrived 10 minutes or more early to an interview, usually because the time tables were such that those were the only time I could arrive without risking being late. One time, I arrived half an hour early, even though I took my bike, due to a combination of taking some room for error and a route that was unexpectedly mostly downhill, skewing the Google Maps prediction.

Usually, when this happens, the interviewer is understanding, especially when I inform them in time. However, being late can't possibly be helping my chances, and I doubt that being excessively early is all that positive either.

How much does being late or early to a job interview affect my chances?

  • I would suggest not arriving more than 10 minutes early. Any earlier than that and your interviewers may be in another meeting, working on a problem, or even out of the office on a business errand. If you are scheduled to interview at 2PM, then they expect you around 2PM and not 1:30PM and thus may have other things planned for that period of time. Also being late can serve as a quick way to eliminate similar candidates if the number of people being interviewed is high. Especially since it is expected that your behaviour/demeanor for an interview is at it's best. – ssell May 29 '15 at 19:41
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    When I arrive to places early I usually just wait outside in a nearby food place or park. – Artur Gaspar May 29 '15 at 20:40
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    It sounds like you're not leaving early enough to guarantee being on time. It doesn't matter whether you're driving or taking public transport: any journey can take longer than you expect. For an important appointment such as a job interview, you should aim to be sufficiently early that any ordinary delay, such as a late train, won't make you late. Eventually, you'll still be late because you were stuck on a broken-down train for three hours and nobody can plan for that. But being a little late multiple times says you're not leaving enough time. – David Richerby May 29 '15 at 21:23
  • @ssell Almost any place I've ever gone for any sort of appointment, if you show up 30 minutes early they just tell you to please wait. That's why offices have "waiting rooms". I think most people here in the U.S. expect you to show up about 15 minutes before the scheduled time for any appointment. Sure, if you show up 4 hours early, that might be awkward. If the nature of the thing is that you're the only one waiting, someone may feel obligated to "entertain" you, etc. But I've never seen any indication that anyone was annoyed when someone showed up 30 minutes early. Beyond that, maybe. – Jay May 29 '15 at 23:05
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    @Nzall Sometimes the timetable isn't helpful but, ultimately, you just have to live with that. If there's only a train every half an hour, you need to plan to arrive more than half early so you're still on time if you miss a connection. Yes, that means that most times, you'll have half an hour to kill. Use that time to relax: wander round the neighbourhood, sit in a cafe, play games on your phone, whatever you like doing. – David Richerby May 30 '15 at 19:57
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Being late affects it greatly. You set a negative precedent that lasts the entire interview, no matter how good you may be.

If in doubt, plan to arrive extremely early. Personally, I plan on getting to interviews an hour early so I can review topics/questions and meditate. It also allows for traffic or unexpected time traps. However, don't go in there until about 10 minutes prior to the interview. Sit outside or in the car until then.

Being too late or early says you don't respect the interviewers time when in actuality the interviewer has way more important things they could be doing. You do not want to give off that vibe.

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    +1 from me, an interviewer expects you to arrive at the exact time of the interview, not a minute earlier or later. Always aim to be at the location of the interview well in advance, but don't go in and announce yourself until a few minutes before the appointed time. – Cronax May 30 '15 at 10:09
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    @Cronax - I've often wondered about that. I've had one or two where I may have arrived 10-15 minutes early and just sat in a waiting area. Once the receptionist asked to help and I said, "I'm here for an 11:00 interview" and they called the person immediately. I wasn't expecting that, so I wonder how my early arrival was perceived. – user8365 May 30 '15 at 15:34
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    +1 for the arriving early to avoid being late. Your arrival time is making a statement about how much you value this rare opportunity: an interview. If you appreciate it, you'll plan on arriving to the vicinity early in case of some disruption -- the greater the possibility of disruption, the earlier. Then wait nearby so that you're not imposing on anyone. In a very large company, you might be able to sit in the lobby, but why hover around like you're desperate? In a smaller company, you will be bugging someone who has other stuff to do before you were scheduled. – Wayne May 30 '15 at 17:59
  • I don't see a problem with being 10 minutes early. It says 'I wanted this, and wanted to make sure I'd be on time'. More than that though is too much really. Sitting in car/coffee shop beforehand for even an hour or so, chilling out and refreshing your memory on the company and things you want to put across definitely assists interview performance. – Sobrique May 31 '15 at 18:08
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    10-15 minutes is definitely not too early to be inside. 30 minutes is perhaps too early. However, I would question whether I would want to work at any place/with people that held it against me just for arriving a little too early. – stannius Jun 1 '15 at 15:07
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Anything outside of 15 minutes early to exactly on time could appear negative (in North American culture). What I would suggest is aim to be 30 minutes early, if you do in fact make it for that time go for a short walk to gather your composure (sit in a park or coffee shop for a few minutes if there is one nearby)then arrive at the company 10 minutes early.

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    +1 - I tend to be very early to interviews because I am extremely conservative in my travel estimates so to not be late. I usually do this to appear not quite so early, but even when I've gone into the offices, nobody was particularly upset that I was very early. – Telastyn May 29 '15 at 19:23
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    A lot of IT companies in Belgium are located in industrial areas, where there's not much free space to sit around and wait, and walking around might draw attention from any security guards. – Nzall May 29 '15 at 20:41
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    Then definitely go for a walk. – Myles May 29 '15 at 20:43
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    @nzall Sure, you don't want to stand outside their building peeking in the windows. Go for a walk around the block, not a walk around their lobby. – Jay May 29 '15 at 23:00
  • @Telastyn: That may be your experience, but being very early: 1) can look desperate, hovering like a vulture, 2) depending on the size of the company, may make someone feel obligated to assist or entertain you, or 3) those who don't know who you are and that you're there for an interview could regard you with suspicion: are you a salesman trying to sneak past the receptionist, are you a competitor trying to overhear conversations, are uninvited and just waiting to pounce on the first person who looks like they have hiring authority? If there's a location nearby, why not wait there? – Wayne May 30 '15 at 18:06
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Being late is worse than being early. But you can mitigate pretty much all of the negativity of being late if you can call ahead to let someone know you're on your way but you've been unavoidably delayed (tell them exactly why, and be honest), and provide an estimate of how much longer you think it will be before you arrive. This call should be made before the appointment, not right at, or after the interview was scheduled. Especially if you're on a bus, you have no excuse for not calling ahead. If you're driving yourself, pull over and make the call.

Being too early isn't nearly as bad. It is usually just awkward. You'll end up sitting there and staring at the people in the front office. You can always delay entering the building until the "magical" 10-15 minute mark if you have to. If you have to go in early, simply apologize to the person greeting you and explain that you gave yourself plenty of time to get there early, things went better than expected on the road, and you don't mind waiting for them to be ready.

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    +1 It's excellent advice and something you should definitely do in any case but I am not sure it's necessarily enough to mitigate all the negativity in the context of a job interview. – Relaxed May 29 '15 at 23:07
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    @Relaxed As someone who interviews candidates quite often, I understand that unexpected things happen. What irritates the interviewers the most about being late is not knowing why or when. The phone call makes all the difference in the world, as long as the reason is legitimate. Don't call ahead to say you're late because your phone didn't wake you up. Just show that you were making every attempt to be there on time, or early, and things beyond your control which you could not have foreseen have prevented it. – Kent A. May 29 '15 at 23:24
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    @KentAnderson: +1 True, though the key is "could not have foreseen". Saying, "Traffic's worse than I expected" in a big city known for traffic jams is really only meaningful if you're not from the big city and really couldn't have an idea how bad it could get. Or, as the OP mentioned, "The bus was late and I missed a connection" isn't a very good excuse from a regular bus rider. – Wayne May 30 '15 at 18:14
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I'll answer from personal experience.

I had an interview 2.5 years ago with a company for a high-paying position. On the way to the interview, my tire busted, and I had to call them and explain the situation. They were understandable and rescheduled for later that afternoon. I got the job. There was a time just a year ago where I was ~5 minutes late and missed the group I was supposed to interview with. Still got the job.

On the flip side, I have gone to multiple interviews and arrived anywhere from 30 minutes early to 10 minutes late. There have been times where I was late to the interview where I was simply denied the interview because I had arrived late. In many interviews where I arrived early, we actually started the interview early because of it. However there were also places that I interviewed at where they weren't yet prepared for me to be there so early, so I had to wait quite a while.

I can also say that based on the many places I have interviewed (ranging from call centers paying minimum wage to software development companies), the only ones who tolerated me being late were the ones desperate for more employees. Under extreme circumstance, such as with my car, the more professional companies seemed to tolerate it at best.

So under this impression, it really depends on who you interview with and the circumstances surrounding your lateness. Some people flat out don't care about lateness, while others will see this as a potential red flag. Being early doesn't appear to have nearly that kind of impact, but expect to be sitting around waiting if you're too early. I find 10-15 minutes early is a good time unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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You absolutely don't want to be late for a job interview. No matter how good an excuse, how much it is not your fault, it looks bad. The employer is going to say, "Yes, MAYBE he made every effort to be on time but unforeseeable circumstances beyond his control interfered ... or maybe if he's 15 minutes later for the interview, he's going to start out being 15 minutes late for work every day and go down hill from there, and he's going to be late getting back from lunch and late for meetings. If he's careless about when he shows up for the job interview, maybe he'll be careless about getting projects done on time." Etc. It gives the impression that you are disorganized, unreliable, or don't have enough respect for the company to take it seriously, none of which is a good thing.

In general, I'd plan to show my face 15 to 30 minutes before the scheduled time. If the person you're supposed to see isn't ready, there's no problem sitting around for 15 minutes waiting for them. That won't bother them or tire you out unduly.

When I'm going to a job interview or some other important appointment, I allow absolutely ridiculous amounts of extra time. I may get stuck in traffic. If I've never been to the place before, I may have trouble finding it. I may have trouble getting a parking space. Etc etc. If I expect that it will take half an hour to get there, I'll give bare minimum an hour, probably more.

If I do end up getting there way early, no problem, I just waste some time before I actually go to the door and introduce myself. I wait outside. Depending on just how early and where I am, I may just park and sit in the car listening to the radio for a few minutes, or drive around the block a few times. If I'm way early I may get a cup of coffee or something. It's easy to waste time if you're early. There's no way to make up time if you're late.

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    +1 If I'm driving to an important interview, I will check and double-check directions, look at Google Street View, and if it's not too far I may drive there one evening to make sure I know where it is and where I might park. It boils down to: is this rare opportunity valuable to you or not? If you're not enthusiastic enough to go out of your way for this, how will you act once you've been there a year and it's not a honeymoon any longer? – Wayne May 30 '15 at 18:22
  • I find getting there an hour early, and sitting in a coffee shop around the corner chilling out works wonders for both my timeliness and my preparedness. I don't interview as well when I've just finished driving, especially if my journey was stressful. – Sobrique May 31 '15 at 18:11
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The extent to which being very early or a little late has an effect on your candidacy is actually very small. If you were the only candidate applying, it would have no effect. The much greater factor is out of your control. The number of competing candidates applying for the same position inflates every small factor. The interviewer will use the tiniest detail such as having too much nose hair as an excuse to whittle down the list of candidates for a second and even third interview. So much more important than having perfect timing for an appointment is showing that you are the best candidate. If you appear as mediocre in a sea of mediocre candidates, then every tiny factor will count against you. If you show the interviewer that you are an exceptional candidate that is perfect for the job, enthusiastic, competent for the role, then being late or early will have zero effect to discount you.

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    I think this is a bit idealistic. If you have an interview at all, your resume and other items -- say a phone interview, etc -- have indicated that you have the basic skills necessary for the job. The in-person interview does have a "let's try to check the accuracy of their resume statements" aspect to it, but a lot of it is personal: how do you interact, what kind of attitude and expectations do you have, how much would people like to actually work next to you. Being late to something as important as an interview is a negative for any meaningful job. – Wayne May 30 '15 at 18:18
  • Of course, my answer is not suggesting that being late isn't going to have any influence. The point I made is that the amount of competition for the job will directly influence the degree of effect being late will have. Being inexcusably late and not bothering to apologize or handling it in a negative way will of course be a bad presentation. I think the asker was only asking about those times when the tardiness was unavoidable and when he did in fact call to let the interviewer know etc. thus handling it properly. – user322404 May 31 '15 at 4:45
  • Good point, although you did mix your message by starting with "a little late" but ending with "being late will have ... zero effect", which is a pretty strong statement. My comment is based on the OP's case that they missed a bus connection -- which is not unexpected if you ride busses much. I haven't met a "perfect candidate" who was late though. People are a whole package, and it would be surprising to run into a "perfect candidate" who felt something as rare as an interview was not worthy of extra effort to be exactly on time -- perhaps they are too certain they're the perfect candidate? – Wayne May 31 '15 at 13:11
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This depends a lot on what sort of job you are applying for, which you haven't said.

I interview a lot of candidates for professional positions. If candidates are late - assuming by appropriate notice and appropriate apology - I don't think it negatively affects my appraisal of them. I'm looking for great software engineers, for example, or project managers. These skills are rare enough that I'm not going to miss out on a good candidate just because they had a mishap. In the case of a project manager, I might expect better than to be late for an interview, but the person will have a chance to explain why - and during that explanation they might actually make a positive out of it, depending on how they handle it.

On the other hand, an interview for casual or less skilled position can be totally ruined by being late. Suitable candidates are easy to find - you get one chance.

There is almost never any reason I can think of to be early. Just don't do it. No-one wants the situation of a candidate awkwardly sitting in the lobby. It oughtn't to affect your chances, but why take a chance on a slight negative impression for a reason that is totally in your control. (The only sort of mitigating circumstances would be an invterview location where going some place else till closer to the time is completely impractical: say, an industrial estate while it's snowing or something!)

  • I'd call getting there 10-15 minutes early for an appointment reasonable. Don't necessarily need to wait in the lobby though, that's actually quite a good way to make yourself more tense. – Sobrique May 31 '15 at 18:14
  • I agree 10 mins, 15 max, sitting at the company where you are interviewing is fine. More than that is definitely awkward though. And honestly, as the interviewer, I like it when you're on time. – GreenAsJade May 31 '15 at 22:25
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You need to keep in mind that if you get the job, you'll need to get there on time EVERY DAY.. So if it's hard to get there once, you might want to consider not applying. Long-term, signing yourself up for a difficult task that you're going to have to pull off every single day, is not healthy for your future. Find a place that is more convenient or you'll regret it either way.

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