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For interview, don't arrive too early

Posted by Peter Post  March 26, 2009 07:00 AM

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Q. I would like your perspective on what I perceive to be a frustrating trend: job applicants showing up too early for interviews. When I have interviewed for positions, Iíve made it a point to arrive about 5-10 minutes before the scheduled time. If I arrive earlier to ensure Iím not late, I make it a point not to enter the facility until the 5-10 minute window.

In my current position, Iím often required to interview candidates and have noticed theyíre showing up earlier and earlier. Often I get a call from the reception desk that my candidate has arrived as much as 30 minutes ahead of the appointment. I often have a full calendar and cannot take time out to go and greet them, even though it makes me feel uncomfortable keeping somebody waiting idly in reception.

H.S., Mansfield, MA

A: My number one piece of advice for job seekers, and perhaps the most important, is to be on time: not too early and not too late. Being late, even just a couple of minutes late, is a sure fire way not to get the job. Youíre starting off on the wrong foot, and youíre making the interviewer wonder if thatís the way youíll treat clients, prospects, and fellow employees.

Being on time also means not arriving too early. Not only does it create an awkward situation for the interviewer, who feels responsible for your comfort during the wait time, it also can create difficulty for other interviewees, who may not want to be seen interviewing. Often, interviews are staggered so that candidates donít meet in the waiting area.

For the interviewer, instruct your receptionist/administrative assistant to ask an interviewee who arrives too early to wait perhaps in an empty conference room if necessary. Their early arrival is their problem, not yours. For the interviewee, avoid creating a difficult situation for your interviewer. If you arrive more than ten minutes early, find a place to wait: your car, a local diner, or a shop where you can browse for a few minutes, and then show up on time.

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10 comments so far...
  1. It also shows that your own time has no value. Yes take the extra 1/2 hour to assure you are realy but take any time before the interview for preparation and focus. If someone shows up 1/2 hour early I let them wait, they have an appointed time. That is what an appointment is for.

    Posted by Matty March 26, 09 09:15 AM
  1. It depends. I showed up early for my interviews; I'd consider showing up 5 minutes beforehand to be on the late side; 15m would be about right. There may be forms to fill out-- NDA, paper job application (rehashing of the resume essentially), consent to background checks, etc.

    30 minutes is a little much. But if the job is far from your home or in a potentially traffic-filled trip, you may not have as much control over your arrival time if there's an unexpectedly speedy trip. But you could wait in your car, perhaps. Or wander the area to get a sense of the neighborhood eateries or something. Getting a feel for your potential future workplace.

    But if I arrived so early, I don't feel that I necessarily needed to be greeted and pampered. Simply letting the receptionist know the time of your meeting and acknowledging that you're early is all right. Besides, many companies have a lot of good reading -- about the company or their industry-- in their waiting areas.

    In the end, I feel it's probably ~10x worse to be late than early. i.e. 1 minute late = 10 minutes early.

    Posted by Nick March 27, 09 07:48 AM
  1. I typically show up 5 minutes early for interviews, and if I'm earlier than 5 or 10 minutes before the interview is scheduled, I'll lay low. At my last interview, I was so early (thanks to majorly overestimating the trip time) that I actually just read at Starbucks for a while.

    I don't think that the applicant necessarily feels as if he or she is owed any sort of attention by arriving super early, but I can certainly see how it might make an employer or interviewer annoyed or uncomfortable. Arriving super early might be because of any number of things ( overestimating arrival time, person was already in the area for something else, person REALLY wants the job), so it's not appropriate for an interviewer/employer to make assumptions about what sort of person arrives 30 minutes early for an interview. But at the same time, if you're scheduled to interview someone at 2 and they show up at 1:30, it does seem as though the applicant is being disrespectful of the agreed-upon time of the interview.

    But I agree with Nick; I'd rather be 30 minutes early to an interview than even a minute late.

    Posted by sabend March 28, 09 01:30 AM
  1. To be early is to be on time
    To be on time is to be late
    To be late is to be forgotten

    But we're talking 5-10 minutes early.

    Posted by Karl March 29, 09 10:00 AM
  1. Nick...

    You are completely missing the point. If someone scheduled you for an interview/appointment and there was paperwork to be filled out prior they would let you know in advance or it would be part of the time set aside for the interview/appointment.

    Showing up EARLY does put a negative into the mind of the interviewer and the object of the interviewee is to have as few negative impressions as possible

    I do agree that showing up early gives you time to scout out the area. It gives you an opportunity to ask informed questions during the interview regarding parking, building access or accessibility to mass transit etc.

    Posted by John_Adams_2 March 29, 09 10:03 AM
  1. if showing up early is a problem then you don't want the job, way to take a positive and make a negative out of it. Get a life.

    Posted by Dan March 29, 09 01:07 PM
  1. I totally disagree with the idea that people should arrive anything more than 5 minutes early. Any paper work you need to fill out is scheduled into the interview time.

    Anyone who interviews people on a regular basis (of which I am one) knows that these sessions tend to be highly scheduled. Anything more than a few minutes early is just as rude to me as a minute or two late.

    Posted by 02446 March 29, 09 03:02 PM
  1. Well - this tells the prospective employee where they fit in the whole scheme of things, you can arrive early to work all you want, but don't you dare wast the employers' time.

    Posted by Richard March 29, 09 09:46 PM
  1. I am in an industry that people don't even have appointments to meet with me. They just show up, and I still don't understand it. If I don't have time for them, I give them my business card and have them schedule an appointment.

    In this economic climate, more and more people are just driving around looking for work anywhere.

    If someone is too early, I make them wait. If they are late, and I didn't get a cal - I won't see them, because obviously they can't get to an interview on time, they won't come to work on time.

    Posted by Laura March 30, 09 09:54 AM
  1. I once had a candidate show up for a second interview around an hour early. He seemed to expect that I would be free to meet with him at his leisure. One of my staff members told him that he was welcome to wait, but that he might want to go get a cup of coffee and return at the schedule time. When I heard him speaking rather peremptorily in response, I found a reason to step out to see her and told him myself that he would have to wait until the scheduled time. Guess what? He did not get the job.

    Posted by wicked April 21, 09 05:18 PM

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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

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