35

Recently interviewed an intern where they:

  • did not have any commercial experience and was eager to gain it.
  • lacked theoretical understanding of software engineering principles.

(I expected this)

But:

  • arrived 35 minutes late
  • Did not offer an apology or reasoning for being late

Since the individual was applying for an unpaid internship, I did not expect much, but it is still bothering me right now that they were 35 minutes late and gave me short notice. I basically feel that if they wanted to learn, they should at least show up on time. Aside from that the intern seemed pleasant.

Is it bad interview etiquette to dismiss somebody completely because they were late or is it better to rule it out as a one off and judge them on their performance at the interview?

Edit:

Turns out that my boss told the intern to arrive between 9:30-10, the candidate was still late by 5 minutes.

closed as off-topic by Masked Man, Mister Positive, JasonJ, gnat, IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 7 '17 at 18:26

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  • 3
    A personal anecdote for young professionals worried about being late to interviews: One time I was 45 minutes late for an interview because extreme cold caused damage to the train tracks. When I finally reached my destination I told the interviewer that the trains had been running late - he was not impressed with my "making excuses". I didn't sweat it because I felt it was completely outside of my control, and that if he can't accept that, and chooses to hold it against me, then I probably don't want to work there anyway. – AndreiROM Mar 8 '17 at 17:49
175

I was in the same boat before when interviewing a candidate — he showed up half an hour late, and didn't offer an apology. This also really annoyed me, as I had rearranged my afternoon for the interview.

So I indirectly prompted him to give an explanation on why he was late (e.g. "Did you have trouble finding the place?") — but it turns out he wasn't late at all. He had been in reception since 5 minutes before the scheduled time, but our internal communication chain (reception -> HR -> me, or however it went), had broken down, and no one told me he was there until 30 minutes after.

I'm guessing the reason he didn't bring it up was that he didn't want to make a fuss while in interview ('Why did you keep me hanging around for 35 minutes!').

So just to offer the alternative view that you'd want to make sure you're getting annoyed at the right person!

  • 62
    I am thinking that from the point of view of your candidate, for all they knew, you were late and they were waiting for you to be ready for the interview. – Matthieu M. Mar 7 '17 at 12:39
  • 7
    @MatthieuM. Exactly that, and I know that from his side of the table interviews are stressful enough without that unnecessary stuff on top too! It's always good to try and give people the benefit of the doubt — interviewing dozens of people at a go to fill a position can really wear down your enthusiasm on it, but it's important to remember what it's like in their shoes :) – anotherdave Mar 7 '17 at 12:44
  • 4
    Almost the exact same thing happened to me. Security had me tied up for nearly an hour, nobody called up to my interviewer. Oddly enough, I got the job. – Retired Codger Mar 7 '17 at 16:41
21

Punctuality is part of the interview

If there's no adequate explanation for the lateness other than bad preparation, then it sends a message. If there's a good reason and the candidate calls ahead to say they're running late and then works hard to make amends or explains well, then that's something else.

If I were more than half an hour late for an interview and didn't let the interviewer know, I wouldn't be surprised if I lost the slot.

  • 2
    Always arrive 30 minutes early, allows for plenty of time to adjust to unknown conditions, such as traffic accident, etc. – Mister Positive Mar 7 '17 at 13:27
  • 1
    A lack of punctuality at the interview is invariably indicative of poor timekeeping generally. – Richard Mar 7 '17 at 14:52
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    Yes, what @Richard said, because people tend to be on their best behavior during hiring. – MissMonicaE Mar 7 '17 at 14:55
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    Sometimes things happen and you can't avoid being late. Transport breakdown, overriding personal priorities, etc. – Snow Mar 7 '17 at 14:58
  • @Pᴇᴛᴇ - As I said, indicative. Perhaps they'll be on time every day afterwards, but you've had fair warning. When you have to fire them for having poor timekeeping, it's not their fault you ignored the blindingly obvious signs, it's yours. – Richard Mar 7 '17 at 15:00
7

Is it bad interview etiquette to dismiss somebody completely because they were late or is it better to rule it out as a one off and judge them on their performance at the interview?

Just as with any hiring situation, you must have clear in your mind the attributes and skills you are seeking before you begin interviewing. If you don't know what the role demands, you can't know if a candidate is a good fit or not.

This is not a matter of etiquette. Instead, it's a matter of fit.

Decide if punctuality is important for this internship role or not. Then judge the candidate accordingly.

Do the same for all other attributes you will be looking for. You already decided ahead of time that commercial experience and theoretical knowledge were not important. And you seem to think pleasantness is somewhat important. But for some reason, you haven't concluded if promptness is important or not.

When I hired 6-month work-study paid college interns, promptness, maturity, and the willingness to work hard were of primary importance. If the candidate couldn't get themselves to the interview on time, I would have crossed them off the list immediately. Your mileage may vary.

  • For me, when I help hiring interns, promptness is not a big issue. Since they have to work 4 hours per day, it doesn't matter for me which time an intern arrives at work (morning or afternoon), as long he/she works 4 hours in that day. However, for a full-time employee, promptness is important since he/she have contact with customers, frequent meetings, tight schedules, etc. – Zanon Mar 7 '17 at 13:49
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    Punctuality may not be a requirement for the job, but if we have a scheduled time to meet and then you keep me sitting around for half an hour without apology or explanation, that demonstrates a lack of respect for my time. That should be a red flag no matter what the position. – Seth R Mar 7 '17 at 14:08
  • @SethR So what did you expect the intern to say? "I was late because your stupid boss gave me a 30 minutes time slot, which clearly shows that your organization doesn't take punctuality seriously." – Masked Man Mar 8 '17 at 3:44
  • @MaskedMan In the OP's case, the candidate did exactly what they were told to do. They weren't late, it was the boss that messed up by not telling the OP about the window. However, if the candidate decided to use use words such as yours, I would most certainly reject them. – Seth R Mar 8 '17 at 6:40
  • @SethR I was exaggerating to make the point clear. My point here is "if candidate is late, he must apologize" as a one-size-fits-all rule is unfair to the candidate. If the delay was the result of the company, then bringing attention to that by way of an "apology" could be bad for the candidate. "I am sorry for being late, I was here 10 minutes early. The receptionist told me to wait until someone comes to meet me, so I kept waiting." sounds like "I am sorry because you screwed up". – Masked Man Mar 8 '17 at 7:48
6

Turns out that my boss told the intern to arrive between 9:30-10, the candidate was still late by 5 minutes.

This may be a cultural thing (and would depend also on how things were said to the candidate), but being late by 5 minutes does not sound like a big deal when you are given a time interval rather than a precise appointment. If someone tells me "between 9:30-10", it usually gives me the impression that they do not care very much about the exact time when I arrive, as long as it's roughly in that interval.

If you care very much about the time at which the candidate would show up, I would think it better to give them an exact time, and be ready for the interview at that time. Then you can legitimately blame them for being late if they are not there at the appointed time.

3

Candidates do know that they are supposed to be there ten minutes earlier. If they don't, and if they don't try to call you, and if they don't apologise, then it's bad etiquette on their side and it speaks a lot about their attitude.

That said, young people need to make mistakes, and sometimes need to be forgiven for them. I had a junior developer show the same attitude, and if I based my evaluation only on this I would have lost a valuable asset.

It's possible that the candidate said nothing because he/she felt terribly embarassed. If you still have the time, and if you don't have better candidates, then it would be better judging the candidate based on the interview.

Of course, between two similarly performing candidates, the one with the better attitude would get the job. If your company allows feedback, I would tell this to the candidate in case of rejection, it should help him/her improve a bit.

And finally, if this guy was not looking for his/her first job... well, it's a totally different story.

  • 1
    Yeah, that's the other issue. Intern has clearly never had a professional job and is immature. So not sure how hard I should be based on that. – bobo2000 Mar 7 '17 at 12:01
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    You don't need to have had a professional job to know that "sorry I'm late" is basic good manners. – Laconic Droid Mar 7 '17 at 12:14
  • I used to be like that, and I got a chance to improve... in a fast-food. I don't know what kind of work you guys do, but my immaturity had little impact in a fast food's well-oiled machine (pun intended). – ta_notreddit Mar 7 '17 at 12:14
  • @LaconicDroid Common sense would dictate that being late is a bad thing and that one should apologise for it. Unfortunately in practice, common sense is not always all that common amongst young people looking for an internship or for their first job. It's up to the interviewer to decide whether or not they take this into account. – Cronax Mar 7 '17 at 12:29
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    @ta_notreddit I don't think this statement is universally true: "Candidates do know that they are supposed to be there ten minutes earlier." Some people think 5 minutes early, some 10, some 0 minutes. I have even read articles that actually advise people to show up on time, not early. – user70848 Mar 7 '17 at 17:07
2

Let me say what happened to me once ... .

I was scheduled to interview at a (well-known in the industry) software firm, and as I was driving there, got lost. So I turned around and went home, figuring I already blew my chances.

But they were so impressed by my resume, they called me back and scheduled a new interview. I went, wowed them, and was hired. It was a good job.

I guess this shows that "it depends".

2

I'm answering because I recently saw a situation like this come up on LinkedIn. Basically, he said a candidate came 30 min late for an interview, didn't apologize for his lateness, "lied" about when he thought the interview started, didn't offer an explanation when asked. The interviewer didn't give him an interview.

My only qualm about this type of immediate rejection is that punctuality on its own won't tell you everything you need to know about how an employee will turn out. Lazy workers, jerks, and bullies manage to make their onto teams. Presumably they showed up on time, too. So, you never know.

I see this "complaint" so much, though, about being late. But, I think it's just lip service most of the time to feign professionalism. It sends mixed messages when I see this kind of reaction at workplaces that are otherwise extremely casual (ex: dogs, shorts, flip-flops, beer, foosball, etc). If punctuality is so important, maybe it should go into the job description.

  • That's true, but there were a few questions about truth of the original story to begin with, and whether or not the interviewee was actually lying. That's why I put "lied" in quotes. – user70848 Mar 7 '17 at 16:59

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