George Bernard Shaw once said, “Better never than late.” So, by the Irish playwright’s logic, if you’re suddenly waylaid en route to an interview, are you better off just turning around and heading home? Or, can you finesse your way back into the interviewer’s good graces and salvage the opportunity?
Interview expert and author of What to Say in Every Interview Carole Martin says even those with the best intentions often find themselves in situations beyond their control—like mass transit snafus—rendering the most punctual among us hapless victims of tardiness.
When a potential new job is on the line, what’s the best way to handle this dilemma? The career coach offers five tips for rebounding from a late arrival.
1. Call if You Can
Martin says if it’s at all possible, give the interviewer a heads up that you’ve been detained and won’t arrive on time. When you call, let him or her know your ETA and ask if that time will still work. If it doesn’t, offer to reschedule.
“Everybody has an agenda; if you’re expected at 1:30 PM and you show up at 2 PM, that throws off the whole schedule,” Martin says. “Offering to reschedule shows that you’re respectful of that person’s time.”
2. Apologize, But Don’t Overdo It
Just like when you give your co-worker 17 excuses as to why you can’t attend her birthday happy hour, overdoing it can hurt you. Whether you’re apologizing on the phone or in person, be professional—but don’t gush ad nauseam.
“Let the interviewer know how sincerely sorry you are and how out of character this is, but don’t ramble,” Martin says. “Make your apology and then move on. Things happen, and people understand that. Don’t undermine yourself by throwing out a bunch of lame excuses.”
3. Take an Extra Minute to Compose Yourself
You’re already running late. Who has a spare second to take 10 deep breaths and try to pull yourself together?
You do, Martin says.
Yes, you’ve started off on the wrong foot, which automatically puts you at a disadvantage, but going into the interview completely frazzled will only harm you further. Instead, Martin says, take a few moments and do whatever you need to do to get yourself back on track.
“Whether it’s a focusing on a quote or mantra, counting, or listening to music, take an extra minute to do whatever you need to do to calm down,” the interview coach advises. “If your blood pressure is up and your heart is going a hundred miles an hour, you’re not going to make a good impression.”
4. Keep it Positive
When you arrive, apologize again by saying, “I’m sorry; this is not ordinarily how I conduct myself,” and then let it go.
“Starting off with a ‘Please, please, mea culpa,’ isn’t a good way to set the tone,” Martin says.
Bear in mind that if things go well, this is the person you’ll either be working for or with, so keep the conversation positive and professional. Give him or her a chance to get to know you—particularly your strengths, such as how you can overcome a challenge like an unexpected detour on the way to an important meeting.
“Woody Allen said 80% of success is just showing up,” Martin says. “So when you show up, be present and give them 100%.”
5. Prove You are Adaptable
Martin points to the scene in The Pursuit of Happyness in which a bedraggled Christopher Gardner, played by Will Smith, arrives for the interview that ultimately changes his life in a paint-splattered tank top after spending the night in jail. Despite his inappropriate apparel, he conducts himself professionally and impresses his futures bosses not only by rising above his tattered garments, but also by proving he’s adaptable.
“Fifty percent of an interview is getting to know you as a person and getting a feel for who you are and if you’ll fit within that organization. How you handle yourself under pressure says a lot about you and how you’ll conduct yourself as the company’s employee,” Martin says. “If you’re late to this interview, chances are you could be late to see a client, and the company wants to know how you recover. At that point, it almost becomes a test of how you handle the situation.”
If you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of arriving late to an interview, all may not be lost. Being prepared and working through the situation like a professional could save the interview—and the job opportunity.