how should we handle job candidates who show up for interviews way too early?

A reader writes:

I’ve seen a lot of mentions on your blog about candidates who arrive too early (including that it is not something top candidates do). Accepting that there will always be some people who will show up early anyway, do you have any suggestions on mitigating the awkwardness that ensues if someone is 20-30 minutes early with nowhere to wait?

I work at a startup that is small but growing, so while we have an entire floor in our building, our “reception” area just has a few employee desks and no actual waiting area. We have only a couple rooms for meetings, and they’re nearly always booked immediately before an interview. Most candidates who arrive early are between 5-10 minutes before their appointment time, which makes it easy to just show them the restroom and get them a coffee or water. But we’ve had folks arrive even earlier and then have to awkwardly stand around employees doing work for 15 minutes, or we’ve turned them away and suggested they go to a nearby coffee shop until their interview time.

This isn’t something that seems to warrant proactive communication in the interview confirmation email, since most people have decent judgment about when to show up. I also don’t want to scare people off by making it seem like we’re squished into a hole in the wall — the office is fine, it’s just that floor space is valuable, and when interviews are our only outside guests and only occasional occurrences, desks were prioritized over reception seating. But I don’t want our lack of accommodations to reflect poorly on the company if someone shows up before we have room for them. Thoughts? Am I overthinking it, and we should just continue to recommend a coffee shop if someone is 30 minutes early?

P.S. For what’s it’s worth, 99% of our candidates are local so should know how long it takes to get here and have the ability to scope out our neighborhood for a spot to hang out if they’re early.

Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s reasonable to expect that people won’t show up outlandishly early, so I don’t think you need to give specific instructions to ward that off. And you shouldn’t need to worry about the lack of reception space reflecting poorly on you, as long as you do plan for and accommodate people who show up a more reasonable five to ten minutes early, which it sounds like you do.

So yes, when the occasional person does show up way too early, just tell them you’re not ready for them and ask them to come back at the scheduled time — as in, “We won’t be ready for you until our scheduled time, but there’s a coffeeshop across the street that you can wait in. We’ll see you at 2:00!”

I’ve noticed that when this topic comes up, people often say that they’re annoyed but still feel obligated to accommodate the really early arrivals — either by spending time getting them settled or by letting them wait in an area that’s really not set up for it, or even by starting the interview early. But there’s no need to do that, and in fact I’d argue that it’s better not to … because (a) your schedule matters, (b) it’s perfectly okay to politely but firmly set boundaries, and (c) there’s value in sending signals about your culture, like “we’re thoughtful about how we use our time and our schedules are real, not just suggestions” and “we mean what we say when we make commitments.” (That might seem like a lot to read into this situation, but I really do think it reinforces those things.)

The same thing is true in other situations where someone is doing something a bit inappropriate or inconvenient. For example: fielding calls from parents job searching on their kids’ behalf (you can and should just say “we only speak with applicants directly”), making a meeting full of people wait to get started until one late person shows up (you usually can and should just get started, unless the late person is truly crucial to the meeting; people will generally learn pretty quickly that they need to be on time), and sitting through job interviews where you’re mistreated (you can say “you know, this isn’t for me” and get up and leave).

You can and often should assert yourself in situations like these politely — just be matter-of-fact about it, explain what you want or plan to do, and proceed as if of course the other person will be fine with it. They usually are — and if they’re not, you’ll get valuable info from that exchange anyway.

{ 141 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Katie F

    See, this is why I always have a book. I have a tendency to leave WAY too early because I’m convinced traffic will be awful, then it’s just me and some pigeons and I end up 45 minutes early. So I park right down the block or nearby and read in my car until about ten-fifteen minutes ahead of time. I’ve timed my interview entrance to be about seven minutes early for every interview I’ve had.

    That way, I’m early enough to show that I’m very interested in the job/will be punctual as a rule, but not so early that it’s a huge inconvenience. Plus I get reading time. Everyone wins.

    Reply
    1. GigglyPuff

      Exactly. After living in a major metro area where one day traffic will be fine, you could get somewhere in twenty mins, but another day for no reason, it’ll take you forty minutes. I also tend to show up waaay to early. And I also read, it helps calm me down and clear my mind, so I’m not stressing as much and just sitting there thinking what could go horribly wrong.

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      1. penny

        That’s how traffic is here too so you have to plan to be way early just in case or risk being late. Then I sit in the car til 10-15 til. That’s said depending on if traffic patterns are like this in OPS city or public transportation use is common, I don’t think 20-30 minutes is egregious and there’s not always a coffee shop across the street and some people may not want to go find a place in an unfamiliar area. You don’t need a whole reception area, but could you stick a simple slipper chair & magazines in this area for people to wait?

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        1. Elizabeth the Ginger

          there’s not always a coffee shop across the street and some people may not want to go find a place in an unfamiliar area

          Well, but in the OP’s case, they say that there are coffeeshops nearby, and it seems a bit inconsiderate of someone to show up early just because they don’t want to look up a Starbucks or something. It wouldn’t be polite in a social situation – if I got invited to a party by a new acquaintance and left early because I thought there might be traffic, that still wouldn’t make it okay for me to show up at their house 30 minutes early just because there wasn’t traffic. They’re not ready for me.

          If the OP’s company only interviewing occasionally (even as often as every month), then it doesn’t make sense to dedicate space even to a chair and side table. I feel like this would probably take about 12-15 square feet to not feel crowded, since you wouldn’t want to put this chair directly next to someone’s desk or in a walking path.

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          1. addlady

            Oh man, that reminds me of Michael Scott going to his boss’s house for a party, and she’s wearing a robe and a towel on her head.

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            1. Friday Brain All Week Long

              With the potato salad! And he was dressed the same as the waitstaff. Oh that one’s good.

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        2. Katie F

          If there isn’t anywhere coffeeshop wise and I’m without a vehicle (as has happened), I usually go inside the nearest air-conditioned or heated building that is open to the public and read my book.

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        3. Sas

          Well said, Penny. I mean didn’t the lw say that she had to find something for the people who were 5-10 minutes early to do?? Seems like this may be part of the job she has, doesn’t like it, and is simply trying top put it on other people. :(

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    2. JP

      I also leave way too early. I either just sit in my car or find another place to wait until t-minus 10 minutes and no earlier. Go to the bathroom! Take a walk to get out the nerves! There are so many other things you can do instead of sitting in the building, twiddling your thumbs.

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    3. Kristine

      I’m going to steal this strategy! I live someplace where a 10 mile drive could take 15 minutes or it could take 45 minutes, so I always plan for the worst.

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    4. Joseph

      Another thing you can do while sitting in your car is to review your talking points / company background / job description / etc. It’s the adult equivalent of skimming your notes right before the exam for key points.

      One side note though, if the company is really small and/or has their own parking lot, you should probably park next door so you don’t come across as “that creepy guy in his car sitting there for 30 minutes”.

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      1. Library Director

        Yes. I’ve had people knock on my window to see if I’m okay. Do I need to call a tow truck? Am I in any danger that they need to call the police?

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    5. Mando Diao

      Yep, I’ll sit in my car until 10 minutes before the interview. The ten minutes are often necessary just to navigate the office building. Do other people not just wait in their cars? I suppose they think it makes them look good to be early. Not a bad impulse and not worth shutting down IMO but it doesn’t mean the employer owes them an earlier interview.

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      1. JuniorDev

        Not everyone has a car, is the problem.

        Last year I went to an interview that was out in the suburbs. I took public transit and because we were in a heat wave and this had been causing the light rail to run slow (don’t ask me why but it was) I left an hour early.

        Turns out the train was on time. The office was a 5 minute walk from the train stop, the nearest cafe was a 15 minute walk the other way. So I walked to the cafe, which left me dripping with sweat, sat in the AC for 10 minutes, and then walked back to the office, by which point I was exhausted and couldn’t concentrate from the heat. (I didn’t get the job but frankly I wasn’t qualified at all and I don’t know why they called me in; but for a job that was more appropriate for my skills I can easily see my mental state at the time costing me the position.)

        This is a rather extreme example but I’m sure many people have been through something similar. When you don’t have a car you often have I give yourself 30 or more minutes to ensure you’re on time, due to things like taking multiple buses and a single missed transfer throwing your whole commute behind. (To those saying “if you don’t have a car don’t get a job that requires one for the commute,” how are we supposed to buy cars with no income? I actually just started a job I had interviewed for by taking Uber, and bought a car in the week before starting, but there’s no way I would have been able to afford it without this job.)

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        1. Pwyll

          +1. I used Zip Car for my interview at my current job, and flat out told my interview that I’d be buying a car with my first paycheck (when they asked how I planned to get to work).

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        2. Lizketeer

          I took public transit and because we were in a heat wave and this had been causing the light rail to run slow (don’t ask me why but it was)

          OT, but this is because the heat causes the rails to expand, and as a safety precaution trains tend to run at a reduced speed. The expansion could result in the rails becoming several inches longer which creates a dip and the trains need to travel slower to navigate these dips without clipping anything

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        3. Dynamic Beige

          I did something similar in that I had a client meeting far away and with the traffic, one can never tell. So I left early, it was summer and my old car didn’t have A/C. I was an hour early due to some sort of miracle. But that was fine with me, it gave me time to go to a local restaurant, have an iced tea and cool down.

          Honestly, is it really so hard to show up for an appointment, realise you’re too early/they’re not ready for you and just quickly say to the receptionist (or someone), “I’m sorry, I expected transit/traffic was going to take longer than it did, I didn’t think I would get here so early. I’ll be back shortly”? Whether you go to the bathroom, get a Starbucks or hang out in the stairwell, they don’t really need to know. Anyone who asks what you’re doing hanging around, “I’m interviewing for a job at Evil Corp and got here too early, so I’m just waiting a bit until it’s closer to the time I was scheduled.”

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          1. Your Weird Uncle

            It’s tough; I had a similar situation for a job I interviewed for in central London. I was commuting from about 90 minutes away and had to take a coach and two tube trains. I also wasn’t familiar with the area and wasn’t sure what to expect from London rush hour, but I thought, hey, it’s central London….there’s got to be a Starbucks or Pret or *something* close by! Turns out that it was actually in a very residential area, so there I was hanging around in a park, in the rain, in my nice interview outfit, like a weirdo. For, like, 90 minutes. I didn’t want to be the one who sat in the reception area for that long, but in hindsight my mental state would have been better off and I would have been more prepared for the interview if I had.

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        4. Just Another Techie

          I always used ZipCar for that sort of thing. Although I guess if money were really tight $7 for commuter rail would have been far more affordable than $32 for the ZipCar, and that doesn’t solve the problem for someone without a driving license. A cab or Uber from anywhere on the MBTA red line out to, say, Burlington, where a lot of corporate offices are, would run $60-$80 :(

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      2. Megs

        Well, not having a car or preferring not to drive does tend to rule out waiting in the car, but ideally there are other options, such as a nearby coffee shop. My most irritating job interviews have been at our capital complex, which has great public transit, bad parking, and not so awesome waiting around options during the winter.

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      3. this is a name

        Not everyone has a car. If you live in the city, there’s a good chance you don’t have a car or don’t even know how to drive. People tend to assume everyone going to an interview drives, but a lot of people use public transit.

        I’m often early because I have no idea if the subway is going to get me there on time. I’ve interviewed several places where there’s nowhere to wait nearby, so it’s either loitering outside the building (which is awful in 100 degree heat or 10 degree winters) or being a bit earlier than I’d like. I don’t mind waiting for my scheduled time, but employers do need to realize not everyone commutes the same way and that if there office is in the middle of nowhere, they need somewhere for people to wait, even if it is the lobby of the building or their reception area.

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        1. OP

          Totally agree. But we know most people are taking public transit, and if you look on a map to find out where we are, you literally have to do no work to see that there are several coffee shops on our street alone.

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        2. Allison

          I’m sure employers in the city are more understanding of early birds than employers outside the city with mostly car commuters; especially, as you mentioned, when it’s far too hot or cold for people to be outside when they don’t need to be!

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          1. Anna the Accounting Grad

            Exactly. And since the people who work there probably also take mass transit themselves, having the Subway Gods deal you a spectacularly prompt hand for no good reason is usually unsurprising.

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    6. Allison

      I’m an early bird too. I have really bad time anxiety and it causes me to be very early to just about everything. It’s actually something I’m trying to ease up on because my super chill boyfriend wants to be with someone who can go with the flow, and my insistence on being early all the time is a huge turnoff.

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      1. Katie F

        I feel for you. My husband just adjusted to always being early to places. We basically compromise – instead of 30 minutes early or more, if I’m with him it’s closer to 10 – 15. We just adapted to each other.

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    7. ashleyh

      While I was job hunting, I liked to arrive early to listen to pump up music on my phone (with headphones, obviously). You know, some “We Are The Champions” and “Eye of the Tiger”. That always gets me jazzed!

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      1. Marcela

        Hahaha, I’m not the only one! But my song is Pop Diva by Kumi Koda, which starts with “You know I’m the top diva. Most beautiful, powerful, and talented girl on the planet…”. It’s very difficult to feel down after singing that, even if it only makes you laugh.

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    8. BRR

      Exactly what poeple should try to do (or if you can’t wait in your car a nearby coffee shop or something). That time you don’t give yourself extra time is the time there will be traffic.

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    9. sam

      This is me, except without the car (NYC resident). I always arrive WAY too early, whether it’s for an interview or anything else, and just find a coffee shop or even a bench if it’s nice out, and wait until the “appropriately early” amount of time. Sometimes I just walk around the block if the weather is amenable (note – this is less advisable for actual interviews, because…perspiration and/or uncomfortable shoes).

      Also, at least here in NY a lot of people don’t think about the time it takes to get through building security – it’s definitely a good idea to show up at least 15 minutes early so that you’ve gotten through whatever hoops are necessary there.

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    10. Kimberly

      I have a similar strategy, except I’m in Houston so sitting in the car is not really an option. (we have been breaking 100 on the heat index for weeks until today, when rain broke the heat). I’ve looked for libraries or community centers near to interviews. We are fortunate to have many and I can usually find one close by. That way I give myself plenty of time to get to the area, and air conditioned place to wait close by.

      I’m a teacher. Here you apply to the district, then get called in to interview for a specific school. These can be last minute can you be here this afternoon type things. I use the time in the library to look up info about that specific school and their programs. These can vary widely especially with elementary schools. I once was called in for an interview. I was 10 min away and they wanted to see me within the hour. Thing was I had been doing manual labor on our farm/wild life refuge – that doesn’t have a shower or bath. It would have taken me an hour to get home, time to shower and change, then an hour 1/2 to drive back (rush hour). Fortunately I had a change of clothes and gym bag in the car and a gym from the chain I use is nearby. I was able to shower and get there in just over an hour. They liked my flexibility and I got the job.

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    11. Mabel

      If you’re me, make sure to set a alarm, or you’ll end up being late for an appointment you were early for!

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    12. Vicki

      I had the One Bad Experience when there was traffic AND construction as well as bad directions and a missed turn with one-way streets. My planned extra half hour turned into me being exactly on time – and then there were no open spaces in the parking lot.

      So, early is better.

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  2. MsMaryMary

    PSA: Arriving no more than 5-10 minutes early to ANY in person meeting is a great rule of thumb! Whether you are a client, vendor, partner, visitor, consultant, contractor, etc, it really throws whoever is hosting the meeting off when you arrive 30 minutes ahead of time. Even when there is reception space, it’s awkward to leave someone there for half an hour. It makes people think the receptionist is not doing their job. Trying to take a guest into the meeting room half an hour early is also problematic, since the room is usually occupied or needs to be setup. Please, if you are extra early, just stay in your car or visit a coffee shop or something.

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    1. Katie F

      I’ve generally found that interviewers don’t mind you coming in with your own drink, for people who are worried they won’t be able to finish before they have to leave the coffee shop. Every interview I’ve ever had has offered me water/coffee/whatever anyway, so I generally find if I step in with half a cup of coffee in a Starbucks cup they don’t particularly mind. Or I should say haven’t minded in the past – it’s been a couple of years since I was in an interview.

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      1. Lemon Zinger

        Definitely still ok to do in most cases. People are so hooked on Starbucks, I don’t think twice if someone brings their coffee with them! Obviously don’t fiddle with it or chug your drink during the interview, but generally it’s fine.

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    2. BRR

      Good point! I had a vendor arrive 20 minutes early and I work in NYC, there are places to wait. This is exactly what happened. The computer wasn’t set up, I didn’t get a chance to review the materials I was going to, but at least the room was open.

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  3. AW

    people often say that they’re annoyed but still feel obligated to accommodate the really early arrivals — either by spending time getting them settled or by letting them wait in an area that’s really not set up for it, or even by starting the interview early.

    Starting the interview early is one of my pet peeves as an applicant.

    What I never understood was that I’d be interviewed by companies with their own buildings with large waiting areas (sometimes in areas with no nearby restaurants or something similar to wait at) and they’d still insist on starting almost as soon as you got there instead of the actual start time. Why do they do that? I appreciate that in the OP’s situation there’s no place on their floor to put them but the companies I’m talking about are clearly set up with the expectation that there will be several people in the waiting room/reception area.

    It’s been a while since I’ve had to interview but I’m thoroughly convinced that it’s a strategy to not give applicants a chance to catch their breath, relax, and mentally reset before the interview starts.

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    1. Joseph

      I don’t think it’s any sort of intentional strategy. After all, it’s in their best interest for candidates to be relaxed and natural so the company can better judge what you’re actually like at work. More likely, the interviewer had finished up what they were doing a couple minutes early and intentionally decided not to try to cram something in for that last five minute before the interview (you know how “One More Quick Thing” always takes about double the time it should), so they figured “meh, no sense in making them sit there when I’m just reading CNN”.

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    2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

      As my old boss used to say, “reception, not a waiting room.”

      We were always taught that we should not leave anyone (vendor, client, applicant, etc.) sitting in the front area. We have to scramble to finding waiting areas for applicants who arrive more than 5 minutes early.

      I actually had to move people out of a smaller conference room and have a candidate who arrived 20 minutes early wait in there as I scrambled to bump up everyone’s interview slots.

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      1. AW

        We were always taught that we should not leave anyone (vendor, client, applicant, etc.) sitting in the front area.

        Why? I still don’t understand the problem with this when there’s room for people to wait.

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    3. Cat

      Of course it’s not a strategy. If it was, you could subvert it by not coming really early. It’s just that people figure they might as well not leaving someone waiting if their schedule allows them not to.

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    4. BRR

      I don’t think it’s a strategy. I think there’s a guilt on making people wait (wouldn’t know it at my organization though). That people feel awkward just leaving a candidate waiting for 20 minutes.

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      1. AW

        Except you’re not making them wait if they’re the one who’s early.

        It seems like there’s a collective…anxiety(?) around seeing someone wait that I never picked up. Do people really assume/expect appointments to start early if they show up early?

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        1. ceiswyn

          No, but what the early-arriver expects has nothing to do with it. The knowledge that there’s someone sitting there waiting is just like a phone ringing and not being picked up; you want to deal with it so that you can get on with your life.

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    5. Mel

      It’s a strategy to complete the task as soon as possible and probably to not keep you waiting around if it isn’t necessary

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    6. Chickaletta

      My former evil employer used the opposite tactic as a strategy: they’d leave the interviewee by themselves in the conference room for 10-15 minutes past the scheduled time. There were also rumors that the president had the office designed to create intimidation; there was a long hallway from the front door that lead to an open room where everyone’s desks were. It was impossible to enter the office without everyone noticing you, and anything you said to the receptionist was heard by all.

      I hated that place.

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  4. Lily in NYC

    I’m sorry, I know this is completely off topic but I feel the need to share that our intern showed up to the office today wearing fuzzy slippers and is wearing them to meetings and walking around the halls in them. WTF!

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    1. AW

      There was some guy at my college who walked around everywhere in a robe.

      Is it possible they injured one/both feet?

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      1. Lily in NYC

        He said he sunburned his feet. I couldn’t believe how willing he was to walk around the halls wearing them – we are very conservative and he definitely got noticed. He even wore them on the subway. He also ran out during the middle of the afternoon to go catch a pokemon that was a few blocks away. I’m endlessly entertained by him (he is ridiculously smart and goes to an Ivy League school, but he just does not give a F***).

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        1. Dangerfield

          He sounds like a perfect culture fit for my office! If he wants to get paid too little to get yelled at by students, point him my way.

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  5. Michelle

    Applicants arriving way too early can be problematic. Is there a way to maybe have 2 chairs and a small side table as a “reception” area? At least those way-too early interviewees won’t have to hover around employees and make the employees uncomfortable. Of course if space is way too valuable even for that, the coffee shop is a perfectly polite suggestion.

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    1. hayling

      I also think that although you shouldn’t disrupt your day to entertain early applicants, it’s not a bad idea to have a few chairs as a waiting area. You’re going to have important people (partners, etc.) who will show up early and you want somewhere they can sit!

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    2. Emma

      You definitely need to have a chair, because some candidates won’t be able to stand for even 5 minutes, due to disability (or the fact that they ran a half marathon yesterday, or whatever) and they shouldn’t have to request a chair. This in turn neatly accommodates people who turn up way too early.

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  6. Jeanne

    I understand what you’re saying and really early arrivals can be inconvenient. But what caught my eye was “standing around” while the employees work. Is this just your phrasing or do you really not even have one folding chair for visitors? Even the ones who are appropriately early at 5-7 minutes before should be offered a seat. I would understand that you don’t really have a lobby or reception. I would not understand you don’t even own a chair. It’s hard to find that definitive line. At 10 minutes people are welcomed, at 11 minutes you need to leave. It will depend on what is going on in the office that day, probably your mood, whether it’s pouring rain. I say err on the side of hospitality but feel free to factor into your interview thoughts that they were too early.

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    1. OP

      Original question-writer here! That’s actually what we end up doing – I pull a chair into the front area from a conference room so they can be seated, but the bigger issue is actually that they are still in the midst of two-three people who are doing work, and who might be on the phone. It’s just kind of awkward because there isn’t a great place to add a chair anyway (there’s a door to a conference room, three desks, an elevator, and the entrance to a hallway). So regardless of whether they stand or sit, it just feels like they are in the way – and I imagine it’s how the candidate feels to! I wrote the question because I empathize hugely with the candidate potentially feeling awkward, but it just seems like such an avoidable situation in the first place to not show up outrageously early.

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      1. Meg Murry

        I think another thing that is throwing people off is that it sounds like the elevator dumps them right into your workspace? Whereas I’ve been in large office towers where once you get to the building it can still take a couple of minutes to navigate the elevator and then a maze of hallways to find the right office suite – the building my doctor is in is like that. I could absolutely see myself taking the elevator up thinking that I’ll just walk by and make sure I can find Suite 401A (and then stand in the hallway or go back down and wait in the lobby for 10 minutes) only to discover that the elevator dumped me out into the middle of your office space.

        Alternately, is there any seating in the lobby of your building? Could you ask people to just wait *there* and you’ll send someone down to get them at the interview time?

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        1. Hannah

          This happened to me when I was a few minutes early to an interview. I immediately saw that there was no reception area, so I tried to stay out in the elevator vestibule for a few minutes so that I wasn’t early. A friendly employee happened to walk by and “helpfully” let me into the workspace though. Oh well.

          OP maybe you could find a home for a single visitors chair somewhere, or habitually book a room for a little extra time before the interview. Because this sounds so awkward for someone who is even 5 minutes early

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  7. Evie

    I would maybe put a line in an email about the interview there is no reception area to wait and if they arrive early because of traffic there is a coffee shop across the street where they would be comfortable.

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    1. irritable vowel

      Yes, I agree. “Just a heads up that we’re a small office environment without a separate reception area, so we recommend Joe’s Coffee Shop across the street from us if you arrive more than a few minutes before your interview (no need to check in first before heading over there).” And then if they *still* show up 30 minutes early, that’s something that should be factored into your assessment of them.

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      1. Allison

        I agree as well, that’s totally fair! Then people know where to go if they’re early without having to go into the office first.

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      2. Elizabeth the Ginger

        This is really nicely done, and would be especially good if the OP’s company often hires people who are newer in their careers and may not know interview norms or may have gotten bad advice from college career services/great-uncles who are convinced that “showing gumption” is the most important factor in getting a job.

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    2. justsomeone

      I really like this suggestion – now that I think about it, I’ve gotten a few interview requests with just this kind of line.

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    3. featherwitch

      I employ a lot of early career employees (recent college grads, often 22-23 years old). One decided to arrive one hour early to our interview… all I could do was show her the conference room and tell here I would be back in an hour. Now, I use a version of this when I issue interview instructions. “Please do your best to arrive as close to the appointment time as possible. I have meetings that morning and won’t be able to meet with you until our interview time. “

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  8. Tiffin

    I agree with Allison’s advice, but I would suggest that if at all possible, you find a place to stash a chair just in case someone does show up at a reasonable time (5 to 10 minutes early) and there happens to be no one available to show them the restroom, coffee, etc. If everyone gets happens to get tied up right before the interviewee arrives, he or she is going to feel awkward standing around.

    For the record, I’m another one who gets to interviews ridiculously early just in case but then sits in my car or a coffee shop to read until it’s time to go in.

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    1. OP

      Original question-writer here! Yes, we do bring a chair out if we need to, but they’re still in the middle of people doing work in a layout that doesn’t have space for

      We’re in a big city with lots of options of places to wait (inside or outside, depending on weather or preference). Most people who come in take public transit, so I get the variability on commuting, but there are SO MANY other places nearby to wait. Definitely not a walk 15 minutes in snow or heat scenario to get to a coffee shop. It takes about a minute and a half to get to Panera from the front door to our building!

      Reply
  9. evilintraining

    I guess I’m old school because waaay back when I was in school, we were told to arrive 20-30 minutes early. I’m assuming that was because there was a paper application to complete and 10-15 minutes is the new norm?

    Reply
    1. Tex

      At one of my old workplaces (large corporation) there was a 10-30 minute process (variable on how many people were in line to be checked in, etc.) to sign into security at the building. If vendors and applicants were on time at 5-10 minutes early, they were inevitably late with regards to scheduled meeting time.

      There was no admin or form letter for the group, so each employee had to remember to tell this to guests when scheduling appointments.

      Reply
      1. Pwyll

        When I interviewed at a government agency, I had to go through 2 security screenings. They told me it could take up to 20 minutes, so I arrived SUPER early, only to breeze through both lines and be in the hallway with 30 minutes to spare. When the second person in 5 minutes asked me if I was lost because I was just standing in the hallway, I decided I might as well just sit in their reception area. So, I get to the door and there’s a sign that says “Secure area. Please use phone and dial 0.” I did so, and the very kind admin told me they don’t have a reception area, and sat me what was basically a closet because I couldn’t be unchaperoned.

        I got the job, but it was quite awkward for all of us. Security lines can be so unpredictable.

        Reply
    2. Karo

      At my last interview I had to do a paper application, but it was factored in to the meeting time. So I was told to arrive at 10, but the interview didn’t actually start until 10:15, 10:30. Basically, if they don’t tell you to get there early to do XYZ, just assume that you should be there at most 15 minutes early.

      Reply
    3. Friday Brain All Week Long

      I’ve found in the past that when there’s to be a paper application for me to complete, the person arranging the interview always says something like “Your interview with Manager X will be at 12pm but please come at 11:45pm to complete the application beforehand.”

      Reply
    4. Liz in a Library

      I would say less than ten minutes, based on interviews I’ve had and also hiring at places I’ve worked.

      Reply
  10. (Not an IRS) Auditor

    I once went into an interview 15 minutes early because the recruiter told me to allow plenty of time to go through security. “Security” turned out to be signing a log book at the receptionist’s desk and being handed a badge. I was so uncomfortable being just that early – I can’t imagine going in a full half hour early.

    Reply
    1. Bonnie

      I find this happening — I’ll want to get in the building to make sure I can find the suite or just because the weather is bad — and then the reception or security is calling the interviewer, even though I just want to hang out! I’ve gotten much better at saying “I’m early — I’ll just wait a few minutes before you call them if you don’t mind” but these situations can be tricky.

      Reply
  11. Terra

    Anymore any paperwork or testing they require should be factored into the interview time so 5-10 minutes is sort of your safety net/appearing to be a go-getter without being rude zone it seems. Although once or twice I’ve had people be really put out that I showed up even that early so it may be one of those things that varies by company/culture/industry.

    Reply
  12. Erelen

    Something to note… many new veterans will arrive very early. It has been drilled into their heads that if you aren’t AT LEAST 15 minutes early, you are late. (Honestly, military personnel try to arrive anywhere half an hour early in order to be on time.) So if a veteran arrives early, they are simply not familiar with civilian norms yet and are trying to be polite! It took me a while to figure that one out myself… :)

    Reply
    1. Gene

      Yes. And some of us still work this way, 3 decades later. Though personally, I’ve managed to get it down to 5 minutes early is “on time”.

      Socially, I’ve never understood the term “fashionably late”; late is late. If you invite me to an event at 7, I’ll be knocking on the door at 6:58.

      And don’t get me started on airplanes! My wife considers herself early to the gate if the boarding hasn’t started yet; I consider myself late if the airplane is already within 30 miles of the airport.

      Reply
      1. ashleyh

        haha, I pride myself on arriving to my gate just as my plane starts boarding. I spend way too much time in airports to be sitting around in them all day – I’d much rather get some work in at a coffee shop with free wifi. My husband, on the other hand, feels the same way you do. It makes it interesting the few times a year when we’re flying together (versus alone for work).

        Reply
      2. sam

        I’m like this and I’ve never been in the military – I think it’s an inherited trait from my dad (who was in the army, but I’m not sure getting drafted during vietnam and then serving his entire tour of duty in munich doing things like scamming jobs working as a lifeguard at the air force base swimming pool really made him “military” material). But we’re both OBSESSIVELY punctual. It drives everyone else in our family crazy.

        Once, when he offered to drive me to the airport, I of course factored in the “getting to the airport ridiculously early” factor. He showed up at my door an hour earlier than I told him to pick me up.

        When I lived in Italy, where EVERYONE was late to EVERYTHING, I thought I would have a nervous breakdown because people would just never show up to critical meetings on time (or ever). I had to actually plan to be late to things, because it was so outside of my nature to be late. Our office christmas party was scheduled for 8pm. I *literally* set an alarm to not even call a taxi until 8:30 so that I wouldn’t leave earlier. I showed up after 9. I was the first one there. As in, the lights were still off because the office manager hadn’t shown up yet to set things up.

        Reply
        1. Marcela

          When I lived in Spain, we had in our group events in the German and Italian timezones. If something was in the German time, it meant it was X time sharp and nobody would wait (meaning, all Germans and DH and me would be on time and leave, while Italians and most other Latinos would be left behind). Most trips were in German time. If the event was in Italian time, this meant we could wait or that the event allowed people to be late without issue, for example gatherings at our homes or in restaurants. It worked perfectly, for we were aware and accepting that we had two different ways to look at time, and nobody would get angry with the other side.

          Reply
        2. Rusty Shackelford

          In places that run on “Italian time,” is that only for social commitments? If you have an interview at 10:00, do you show up at 10:00?

          Reply
          1. sam

            No. I had clients who showed up hours late for meetings. IMPORTANT meetings. about their IPO. When I went to the Italian partner to ask where they were after sitting in the empty conference room for a half hour, the partner just looked at me and said “Sam, this is Italy. They’ll get here when they get here”.

            Another NY partner had an even funnier story about arriving in italy after a redeye flight, being frantic because he’s horrifically late for the kickoff meeting with all of the parties for a HUGE deal, getting picked up by the Italian partner (on, yes, his Vespa) and the italian partner insisting on stopping for coffee first. the NY partner is getting more and more stressed and the Italian partner just told him to relax. They pulled up to the meeting over an hour late – when they walked in, everyone else was just arriving and getting settled.

            Reply
      3. Isabel C.

        Ha! My dad is a civilian, but is totally like that re: the airport. I’ve always thought of it as a Dad Thing.

        Reply
        1. Rebecca in Dallas

          Maybe so! My FIL worked for an airline, which meant they flew everywhere on standby. Which meant you got to the airport really early so that your name was first on the list. My husband and his whole family still do that, even when we buy our tickets. I’ve gotten to where I just put my makeup and hair-styling tools in my carry-on so that I can roll out of bed and don’t worry about looking presentable until we are sitting at the gate… for hours.

          Reply
    2. Kms1025

      Completely agree. 15 minutes early seems completely normal and reasonable. Has never bothered me in our own office. Thirty minutes early would be excessive. And five minutes LATE is excessive. Must be showing my age :(

      Reply
  13. NarrowDoorways

    My last interview had an issue like this!

    I’d make the appointment through HR. While I’d asked for a 4:00 time, she told me, “I’m putting you down for 3:30, and I’ll check if 4 would work for the hiring manager instead.”

    The HR person never got back to me, even after I called to request more information like, go figure, the name of the person I’m meeting with. Silence.

    So I show up at 3:20 and put my name in with the receptionist. She asks who I’m meeting and I have to awkwardly explain I only spoke to HR lady, but this is the job and 3:30 is the time. She looks and looks and looks and cannot find anything about anyone having a 3:30 apt.

    I bring up that I’d requested a 4:00 apt, but had never gotten that time confirmed. Surprise! That’s when HR lady had scheduled me for, so I was the annoying person who showed up 40 minutes early.

    Of course, in the actual interview it comes to my attention that the job was literally nothing like the job the HR lady had posted…. I was not in the least qualified OR interested.

    Reply
    1. Jools

      I kind of had an interview scheduling mishap like that years ago. I had a half-day interview scheduled, starting at 8:00 am. I showed up around 7:50, and the receptionist looked baffled when I said I had an interview at 8. Turns out they’d rescheduled it to start at 8:30, and told everyone involved except me.

      It actually also turned out to be a job I wanted nothing to do with. As I made the rounds of talking to various people over the course of the morning, it became apparent that there were some serious internal politics going on thanks to a new VP, who was pushing for me because I had the background/experience to help further his agenda, while everyone else was on the other side of the turf war. I got some serious mental whiplash going from the VP, who was gushing about my background and everything I’d be able to do, straight to the next person down the hierarchy, who started off by telling me she didn’t understand why they’d even brought me in when I was clearly unqualified for the position.

      Reply
  14. KellyK

    Is 15 minutes really too early? It seems to me that anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes is reasonable. Arriving exactly on the dot gives you no margin for error. (Even if you’re waiting in the car right outside, you’re not going to know whether to allow three minutes or six minutes to sign in with the receptionist, get directions, and go to Bob’s office on the third floor.)

    Also, maybe this is irrelevant when everyone has smart phones, but the clock in your car and the clock in the office could easily differ by five minutes or so.

    Reply
      1. penny

        See I disagree. I think 15 is fine. I just ask the receptionist to two them I’ll be up at X time (the appointment time) so they know what to expect. Better early than right on the dot when I’m starring to wonder if this is a no-show.

        And like Kelly K said,you never know what that building’s procedures are. You may walk into the LW situation, just sign your name or have to show your license or you could be at the wrong building with big companies so you’d have time to get to the right place.

        Reply
        1. Leatherwings

          Walking into the lobby of the business/org 15 minutes early is annoying. You can disagree, but the fact is most hiring managers agree. When I was hiring, I certainly found 15 minutes annoying. On the flip side, when I was interviewing I would walk into the building 10 minutes early and was never once late because of a buildings’ procedures (and sometimes I just stood in the lobby triple checking last minute details so I was 5 rather than 8 minutes early.

          The risk of annoying an interviewer just isn’t worth it to me.

          Reply
        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          Another way to look at it: Would you knock on someone’s door 15 minutes early in other situations where you don’t know them well, like a first date? Or a dinner party where you don’t know the hosts very well? I think most people wouldn’t. (I know that social situations are different than business ones, but I think there’s some crossover here.)

          Reply
        3. Observer

          You actually wonder if someone is a no-show if they show up ON TIME?

          I hope you let people know this – most people don’t treat being ON TIME as being LATE. So, if they take the job they need to know this about you.

          Reply
      2. DEJ

        I also feel like 15 minutes early is the most awkward early arrival time – it’s not so early that you can send someone to a coffee shop, but it’s early enough that your interviewees probably aren’t quite ready yet.

        Reply
    1. Allison

      To me, yes. You should aim to get to the building 15 minutes early to give yourself “cushion time,” but wait somewhere other than the office for a bit and go upstairs with 5ish minutes to go.

      Reply
    2. Nina

      Personally, I think 15 min is OK, but no earlier than that. People are usually just texting on their phones/tablets anyway. I’m not a hiring manager, though.

      With my last interview, I arrived about 15 min early, but went to the bathroom before checking in. When I met the interviewer later on, she said how glad she was that I hadn’t shown up any earlier than 10 minutes. Turns out that she had had a very busy morning and was running behind. So it is a thing.

      Reply
  15. Rachel

    This brings back an interview memory for me where I arrived stupidly early. I was interviewing for a job at a small company downtown and I wasn’t sure of the parking situation. So I arrived downtown plenty early and parked in a public parking structure and then walked to the address. I walked around the block to kill some time and then I decided to figure out exactly where the entrance to the office was. The office was located above a clothing store and while I was standing in the vestibule, reading the directory, another person walked in and called the elevator. I figured it would look strange not to get in the elevator, so I did, thinking that there would be a lobby or a bathroom or somewhere that I could go. Except there was nothing on the second floor but that business, so I ended up being 20 minutes early and then shown to a conference room. The interviewers were 15 minutes late and then the interview only lasted 15 minutes. Fun times.

    Reply
  16. Allison

    Where I work, we often have people arriving early for interviews because some people take a shuttle from the nearest subway station. Which in itself gives us pause because if they’re gonna rely on that shuttle, we wonder how reliable they’ll be, and we worry they’ll flee the second they can get a job in the city. But anyway, yeah, early people. We usually tell them to go downstairs to the cafe and hang out, because while we do have a reception area, we’re a security company and we worry they could overhear something they weren’t supposed to hear if they’re in the lobby for too long. But one guy in particular was a huge jerk to the coordinator when she tried to get him to wait downstairs, which *was* a turnoff to us. We understood him being early, but being early AND a jerk was a no-no.

    Reply
    1. Biff

      Why does taking the shuttle equate with reliability issues? Is it because it indicates they are coming from a central location that is seen as more desirable?

      Reply
      1. sam

        I used to work in a suburban office that involved taking a subway to a commuter train and then a “last mile” shuttle. We would have given our right arms to move into one of the buildings that was right next to the train station rather than take that shuttle. If the train was two minutes late, it meant having to wait another 20-30 minutes for the shuttle that was linked with the “next” train (and forget if you were on the “last” shuttle in the morning, then you were calling a cab). Going home, you became an obsessive clockwatcher because you had to catch that 6:17 shuttle out of the parking lot otherwise there wasn’t another shuttle for an hour (even though there were trains every 15-20 minutes). Everyone agreed that even though it was the shortest part of our commute, it was by far the worst part.

        Reply
  17. Pwyll

    If I’m interviewing in a new area, I usually arrive wicked early but use that time to scope out what may be my go-to lunch spots if I get the job.

    Everything goes back to food with me.

    Reply
  18. YRH

    As a general rule, I try to walk into the office where I’m interviewing about 5-7 minutes before the interview. I try to get to the building 15-20 minutes before the interview (I might try to get to the area even earlier than that). I try to get to the building earlier to use the bathroom. However, in a situation where you have to go to a specific office area to use the bathroom (as opposed to a somewhat public one in the building) and can’t find a public restroom nearby, it is bad to arrive at the office 10-15 minutes early?

    Reply
  19. alex

    Couldn’t the OP just add to the interview invitation something like: “NB: our office doesn’t have a waiting area, so please plan to be here no more than 10 minutes before your scheduled time” ? That easily tells early arrivals to wait elsewhere and not be a burden (and also saves the interviewees from feeling awkward). I think that most competent adults can locate a close-by spot to pass a little extra time that’s not in the office, even if they’re in a new area.

    Reply
  20. Anxa

    I’m surprised by the common suggestion of going to a nearby coffee shop. Never mind that that’s not always an option or is inconvenient or is unsafe, does anyone else feel strange loitering somewhere where you don’t have any interest in their business? Or is this just another of those job search expenses you have to budget for before an interview?

    I’d worry that I’d get more nervous and sweaty feeling uncomfortable loitering and it seems strange for an organization to expect another business to provide waiting room services uncompensated (or expect an interviewee to pay that business).

    Alternatively how far away from a building do you think is reasonable to wait? I feel like it may be more distracting to be outside if the weather is bad than sitting quietly.

    I’m a recovering late person, and I find it very tricky to time these things sometimes, even trial runs can be misleading, plus they may be prohibitively expensive. I usually pace around outside but on a day like today (hot and humid) I would be so tempted to sit in the AC. I’ve never minded waiting quietly places, though.

    Reply
      1. BRR

        Yeah I think of getting something even if it’s the cheapest thing they have. Not sure about the unsafe part. It seems a stretch. Adapt to the situation. See if there’s something close by or if you can wait in your car. If neither is an option just think of what you can do to not arrive 30 min early.

        Reply
        1. Anxa

          The simple truth is you can’t guarantee not being late without giving yourself a large buffer. I liked the phrasing of not expecting to arrive so soon if you get there by car.

          I don’t have a car and there are lots of places near me where the buildings are along highways. Pedestrian deaths are actually a major issue in my city. It’s a common joke at my current workplace that all of these new businesses popping up are going to have to get a bridge up. While I am pretty confident in my ability to frogger, I’m pretty cautious and it takes time with a break in the road.

          In the past I’ve waited near the buildings or just in the waiting room. The stress of staying nearby but out of site or risk being late is usually not a big deal, but when interview nerves strike, it’s easy to just want to stay put and make yourself at ease. I feel like waiting outside could make you look like you’re loitering or pacing, and behind the building can make you look a little odd.

          I’m not trying to be difficult; I’ve adapted to some pretty tricky commuting issues (I’ve never owned a car). I know for some situations, there is no right answer for this, because people without their own cars and enough cash to think nothing of splurging on a tea or cookie are probably not the kinds of applicants they want anyway.

          But I also wonder if maybe an interviewer is overlooking how much more of the inconvenience burden an applicant who took the earlier bus just in case has to go take to avoid the maybe milder inconvenience of being present.

          I never would have thought to save some cookie/etc. money for an interview, but now that’s something I can prepare for better.

          Reply
          1. Isabel C.

            Agreed. I also have no car, and I generally allow a buffer for interviews because horrible public transit is horrible. I’m fortunate in that there usually has been a coffee shop or similar around, and I usually have enough cash for at least a tiny purchase, but I can imagine that being an issue if I was going somewhere without much around and the weather was bad.

            Generally I show up within about ten minutes of start time, except for the one interview that I’d put on my calendar as 2 PM rather than 2:30. They were nice about it, but d’oh!

            Reply
          2. Anxa

            (I didn’t mean it as though people joke about the deaths; but many people don’t patronize the eateries because they are across a pretty dangerous highway…so close, yet so far away)

            Reply
          3. AW

            I know for some situations, there is no right answer for this, because people without their own cars and enough cash to think nothing of splurging on a tea or cookie are probably not the kinds of applicants they want anyway.

            Unfortunately, that seems to be the case.

            Reply
    1. LadyTL

      Maybe that is why people are not going to the coffee shop? Depending on alot of factors they may not have the money to buy any thing and the coffee shop rightly would not want to be a waiting room for interviewees who are not buying anything.

      Reply
      1. Chickaletta

        It seems to me that if an adult cannot problem solve to the extent that they make themselves a hassle to the organization they’re trying to impress, then that starts to reflect poorly on them in interviews. It’s a simple matter of finding something to do with yourself so that you arrive at your meeting at the expected time. It’s not hard. Whether you sit in your car, buy or don’t buy coffee, evaluate the safety of your surroundings, loiter on the sidewalk, in the hallway, in the bathroom, it doesn’t matter. The point is that an adult, who considers themselves employable nonetheless, should be able to figure out a solution on their own.

        Reply
        1. Anxa

          Well, I fully admit that I’m not a professional person; it’s one reason I’m on this site to be begin with and try to understand the difference between office and white collar norms and my own experiences. And I know I can’t compete with other more experienced workers who would have more experience and insight and anticipate things like this. Because in my experience arriving at the place of an interview or meeting early and hanging out in the hallways or vestibules or outside wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but hanging out outside during a heat advisory in a full suit instead of standing indoors might. And risking being late by trying to time things more accurately just isn’t wise if you’re using public transit.

          I think one of the issues is that I consider arriving to the building and general office of a meeting 20 minutes early different than showing up to the meeting itself early.

          And while I do have my doubts about my employability, I would be able to figure out a solution to this issue very easily on my own. It’s just that I never thought of it as an issue to be solved, but I hadn’t thought about my presence as an inconvenience so I’d just be standing or sitting somewhere.

          I’m actually pretty glad this letter was submitted, because I probably wouldn’t have planned for alternatives other than wait in the reception area or outside of the building or kind of rotate around to visit the bathroom and such.

          Reply
        2. AW

          Why are you so offended by this? I don’t see anything that warrants challenging someone’s “adultness” here, just because some options aren’t universally applicable or practical.

          Reply
        3. Observer

          It seems to me that you’re being rather judgemental, and not cognizant of some real issues. Of course, if an applicant shows up half an hour early, they should definitely apologize and try to stay out of people’s way. But the reality is that sometimes there really is not a good solution. Where I work, there is no reasonable place to hang out most of the time – no library, coffee shop or even a grocery in within a couple of blacks. And public transportation to our area is flaky enough that it’s easy to see why someone would wind up being significantly early.

          These are not issues that are in the control of a typical person. “So sit on your car” says that you only want people who own a car. That’s your right, but not owning a car does NOT equal being unable to problem solve or a poor fit for most positions.

          Reply
  21. Critter

    Gotta say I TOTALLY agree with all the points Allison made about how a company handles their interview process speaks about them. At the worst interview I ever had, they had me wait about half an hour before I met with anyone. They had all of my information through the recruiter but had me fill out an application anyway. Then they kept me there for about another 3 hours, which included a skills test of Microsoft Office (with my interviewer sitting next to me, giving me the prompts), a lengthy chat about how I cannot change what their Yelp status was, with the interviewer getting up to leave and return with about 20 minutes later. With my husband and son waiting around the corner in the car because none of us thought it would take more than 20 minutes tops. On my birthday. Considering what I already knew about the company, it was not surprising, but still mind-boggling somehow.

    Reply
  22. Chelsea

    This is really interesting. I think I’ve showed up at least 20 minutes early for every interview I’ve had (including my current job)! Interesting to think that while it didn’t seem to harm me in some interviews, maybe it did in others. I always thought it showed that you are very punctual but I guess too much is overdoing it.

    Reply
  23. The Cosmic Avenger

    I always aim to be early, usually 30 minute early per hour of travel time (so 15 minutes if it’s normally a half hour drive), because in the DC area you never know what traffic will be like. I usually sit in my car and post pics of me in a suit on social media so my friends can make rude comments….that actually does much the same as the “pump up music” that ashleyh mentioned earlier. Well, it doesn’t psych me up, it makes me laugh and relaxes me, which is great prep for an interview. I’ve already done my research and memorized it by that point, so that’s when I just need to relax and let go.

    Reply
  24. MsChanandlerBong

    When I used to travel for work, the policy was that you were supposed to look up the driving directions and figure out your timetable like this:

    – Add 15 minutes for traffic
    – Add 15 minutes for inclement weather
    – Add 15 minutes for things like getting lost, looking for parking, etc.

    So if the original estimate was 30 minutes, I’d have to leave an hour and 15 minutes before my appointment. Yes, I spent a lot of time sitting in my car. I traveled to high schools in some pretty rural areas, so there usually wasn’t a coffee shop or bookstore nearby.

    Reply
  25. FunTillSomeoneLoosesAnEye

    So 15 minutes early is “way too early”?

    It would explain my frustration as to what many deem to be “on time” or “just running a little late”.

    Reply
  26. Amy Merritt

    How about communication? Most average employees know next to nothing about how to put together a resume, never mind what “we” expect as “etiquette” when it comes to the actual interview. If you don’t have a place for a candidate to wait, then communicate that to them. It’s ok to be direct. Let them know there is no place for them to wait so ask that they don’t arrive any earlier than 5-10 minute before the appointment. That way they know what to expect and you don’t have to figure out what to do with an extremely early candidate. If they are very early they know to wait in their car until the appointed time. This should not be a “test”. Why are we not direct with our communication. They are nervous enough as it is. Have common courtesy and treat them the way you would want to be treated in their shoes.

    Reply
  27. Nana Bee

    I have always been an early bird, and it has confused and annoyed people. But my habit has allowed me to get the lay of the land, especially at job interviews. Before one memorable interview I observed a boss who was so tense and controlling it affected her staff. She informed me during the interview she expected her employees to understand her “mind set.” Interviews don’t allow for observing the company culture.

    Reply

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