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How Early Should You Arrive For a Job Interview?

My single biggest hot button as a Hiring Manager is when candidates are late for their interview.

Come on, folks, there’s no excuse for being late to something as important as a job interview. Just so you know, the only valid excuse in my opinion is a major unexpected event. And then, you better have called to say you’ll be late and why unless you’ve been in a car wreck and are unconscious. I’m only exaggerating a little here!

You’d think it’s common sense to show up on time for your interview, yet a surprising number of applicants simply don’t plan well enough to be on time. The most common reason I hear for being late is that traffic was heavy. Sorry, but this is not a valid excuse. Traffic is something you can plan for and you should build in a large amount of extra time if you even suspect that traffic will be heavy.

Of course, a major accident on your route that brings traffic to a stop is sort of a grey area. It’s not something you could have planned for, so immediately call and explain the situation. This is the only acceptable excuse for traffic. I still won’t be happy, but I’ll understand.

A second reason I’ll sometimes hear is “I got lost.” This is worse than the heavy traffic excuse because it’s one hundred percent avoidable and therefore one hundred percent unacceptable (say, we Hiring Managers are tough, aren’t we?).

Before your interview, you need to get exact driving directions to the site of your interview. Most companies today have a website with their location and directions on how to get there.

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No matter what the excuse, it’s hard to recover from being late for your interview. About the best you can do is to call before your scheduled interview time and explain the circumstance. This is why you should always have with you the phone number of whoever scheduled your interview.

The hard truth here is that if you’re more than 15 minutes late, your interview will probably be cancelled.

Make a Dry Run

Unless the location is more than an hour or so away, you should do a dry run during the week, and at a time close to when your interview is scheduled. This will not only ensure that you don’t get lost on the day of your interview, but it will also give you a sense of the traffic you’ll encounter.

Even if you’re familiar with that part of town, make the dry run. Unless you’ve been to that specific address before, you can’t know for sure that you’ll be able to easily find it.

Don’t rely completely on your GPS as a substitute for making a dry run. It’s rare, but construction and development can make your GPS map out of date if you haven’t upgraded it recently. And believe me when I say that an excuse of “My GPS misled me” is also unacceptable. Again, it’s one hundred percent avoidable.

The bottom line here is that a dry run is best. It will take a lot of stress off of the day of your interview.

Plan to Arrive 45 Minutes Ahead of Time

Now that you’ve got your route down solid, plan to arrive a minimum of 45 minutes before the start of your interview. I know this sounds like a lot. However, it gives you a comfortable cushion in case of unexpected events.

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If you’ve read other articles on this subject, you’ve probably noticed that most of them recommend arriving 10 to 15 minutes ahead of time. By this, I’m assuming they mean walking into the building 10 to 15 minutes ahead of time. This is different than your arrival time. Your arrival time is when you pull into the parking lot. And this should be 45 minutes before your scheduled interview time.

Here’s a personal example that drives this home. I once had an interview myself for a management position at a company located quite a ways from me in an unfamiliar (to me) part of downtown. I stupidly didn’t follow my own advice and didn’t make a dry run because I thought it was too much trouble to go to the other side of town.

You can probably guess what happened. I made a wrong turn on my way to the interview and drove several miles in the wrong direction before I realized my mistake. By the time I figured out where I went wrong, doubled back, and finally made it to the interview, I had wasted 30 minutes.

Fortunately, I did take some of my own advice and left early enough to arrive 45 minutes ahead of time. So I still had 15 minutes and was able to relax a bit and walk into the interview five minutes ahead of time, calm and collected.

This is precisely why I stress so much the importance of arriving 45 minutes early.

Hopefully, your trip will be uneventful and you’ll arrive the full 45 minutes in advance. Use this to do a last-minute review of your research notes about the company, your 60-second marketing message, your prepared interview answers, or just to relax.

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Then, plan to walk into the interview building 10 minutes ahead of your scheduled time. Any sooner than that and they may be unprepared to receive you and it can awkward to find a place to park you until your time arrives.

Any later than that is cutting it too close. What if there are elevator delays? Or delays buzzing you in if it’s a secure location? Any number of things can come up.

Walking in 10 minutes ahead of time takes the pressure off and gives you some slack and time to visit the rest room if needed.

You’ll then be able to walk into your interview cool and collected, without the stress of a last-minute arrival.

And you won’t have to make any excuses!

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