can you play games on your phone while waiting in the lobby for an interview?

A reader writes:

I have been going on many interviews, thanks to your website and advice. Typically before entering the building, I turn my phone off completely, so as not to be distracted or interrupted during an interview. At times I have had to wait in the lobby for a good amount of time before actually meeting with the interviewer. (One time I actually sat waiting for 40 minutes!)

Once, while I was waiting to go in for an interview, another candidate showed up and immediately pulled out his phone and played a game while waiting. I had to wonder to myself whether this is proper interviewing etiquette. Does the employer see it as an issue that this person may not be able to pull themselves away from their phones long enough to sit and wait? Or am I thinking too much into this and no one cares since smart phones are a part of our lives?

How do you feel about this and what would you think of a candidate if you walk out to greet someone and they are sitting playing on their phone?

I wouldn’t think anything of it. I’m sure there are some interviewers out there who might have a reaction to it, but it wouldn’t be warranted — because it’s really none of their business how you occupy yourself while you wait, unless you’re distracting their receptionist or making loud calls on your cell phone in their reception area or vandalizing their walls. Sitting quietly doing something on your phone? Not their business.

And particularly if they’ve left you waiting more than 10 minutes from the scheduled time of your interview. In that case, it would be outrageous for them to pass judgment on how you (quietly and unobtrusively) entertained yourself while waiting for them to keep your appointment.

There are a few exceptions to this. Obviously you would indeed risk creating a bad impression if you play games with the sound on, so that anyone passing by is treated to sounds of explosions or the creepy Candy Crush voice … or if you take even a few seconds to finish up your game when the interviewer does arrive to get you; you need to ignore the phone the instant the person shows up.

But in general, playing a game to pass the time during a wait? Not really a big deal.

All that said, you are constantly sending signals about yourself throughout the interview process. And while playing a game isn’t a big deal, I’d still argue that you’re better off using the time to read a book or magazine that you bring with you, and giving some thought to what the title will signal if anyone happens to notice it. To be clear, it should still be something you want to read — the purpose is to entertain yourself, not to put on a show of your immense intellect for passersby — but why not use the time to send a positive signal rather than a neutral one?

{ 86 comments… read them below }

  1. Ruffingit*

    I’ve read books while waiting, but usually on my Kindle so the title was not apparent to the interviewer. But in general, I find this question odd because I don’t know anyone who just sits there for 30-40 minutes waiting quietly. Most people will read, play on their phone, text, etc. I wouldn’t think anyone would be judging them for it.

    1. Jessa*

      The one thing I would do if I decided to play a game is make sure the sound was off. I would not want to disrupt anything in the office for anyone who could hear it.

  2. Done That!*

    I had this happen once. There was a snowstorm that morning, so traffic was of course really bad. I made it on time, but the interviewer was over 30 minutes late. They asked if I was ok waiting and if I needed anything, but I figured at that point it was ok to read some news sites/emails. They put me on the coziest sofa in the warmest spot, so I was battling the urge not to nap as well! But like AAM said, as soon as anyone popped their head out, my phone went in my bag. I got the job, so it wasn’t an issue, and I’m sure they understood you can only read the same brochure so many times!

  3. Colette*

    The problem I see with using a phone (whether for e-mail or games) is that it takes a few seconds to turn it off, which is an issue when your interviewer finally does arrive. (Do you shake her hand then turn off your phone? Throw it in your bag without turning it off? Turn it off immediately, even if she has to stand there for a few seconds? Hit the power button every time someone walks by?)

    However, if they kept me waiting for 45 minutes, I would probably move past that and use the phone anyway. 5-10 minutes, I’d just wait (or read something).

    If, on the other hand, you’re waiting a long time because you’re showing up more than 10 minutes early, you need to fix that.

    1. Zahra*

      You don’t need to completely turn off your phone: vibration + bottom of your bag should be enough for the interviewer. After all, the goal is to not be disturbed by the phone while in interview.

      1. Anonymous*

        Just because it’s on vibrate, doesn’t mean everyone else can’t hear it! My biggest pet peeve is people who put their phone on vibrate and ignore the fact that the vibration makes noise (sometimes just as much as much as the phone would if it was ringing).

        I personally think you’re better to have your phone off or on silent, you won’t be checking your messages until after the interview anyway! (I hope)

        1. Colette*

          Yeah, vibrate would be even more annoying than ringing – I’d be wondering what that sound was.

          If it’s totally silent (or, as others have said, on airplane mode), that would be fine.

        2. Blinx*

          In one interview, all three people interviewing me had their iPhones directly in front of them on the table. After a while, they started going off — I didn’t hear them, but felt the vibrations through the table! A little distracting at first, and then I thought it was funny. And I didn’t dare tell them that I had an Android. :-)

        3. Vicki*

          People in cubicle environments who lay the phone on their desk and then walk away. The phone goes off and the whole desk goes BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

        4. Cat*

          I think pretending we can’t hear phones on vibrate is a social construct we’ve developed in response to the fact that the default iPhone silencing button puts the phone in vibrate mode rather than true silencing mode. I’m okay with it.

        5. Bea W*

          I was just coming back to say that, because I thought “Oh wait, a vibrating phone at the bottom of someone’s bag is just as distracting!”

    2. Anon1*

      I can keep my phone in silent mode and still use it. I would just click the button to lock the screen and throw it in my bag.

    3. Rana*

      I’d put it in airplane mode, if your phone has that option. Then you have access to all its other functions, with no worries about receiving either texts or calls unexpectedly.

    4. Jen*

      I usually put my phone in airplane mode when I don’t want to receive phone calls – you can still play games. So I’ve put it on airplane mode and then clicked around on the phone trying to calm myself. When they show up, it goes into the bag. I turn off airplane mode when I get to the car.

    5. Bea W*

      What I do is turn the sound off or to vibrate before well before that point, as soon as I have checked in at reception and sit down. I do this just because I’m in an office and don’t want to be disruptive by having my phone go off if someone calls or texts me even while I am waiting. Even if you’ve forgotten to do it before hand, you can always quickly say something like “Please excuse me a minute while I turn my phone off/turn the sound on the my phone off, so we’re not interrupted.” That’s 100 times better than the alternative of just tossing it still on in your bag then having it go off in the middle of the interview.

  4. Mike C.*

    I don’t see the problem at all with using a phone and outside of things that would be rude to do in a library I have a really difficult time believing that anyone of substance would have any issues either.

    Are there really folks out there who find this distasteful?

    1. Arbynka*

      The only time it bothers me is when I can hear it. Sound should be turned down or headphones should be used :)

    2. EJ*

      In an interview situation in particular, if you’re holding the phone sideways and playing with both thumbs, or pull out a game boy or something, I would be worried you’d do the same at a client if I gave you the job (and clients might look down on this because you’re on the clock). Yes, personal time is personal time – but pre-interview time is a good opportunity to show your professionalism.

      1. Cat*

        I don’t see why what someone is doing while waiting has any relevance to what they’ll be doing when they’re not waiting. If they’re doing that during the interview, by all means, auto ding. But otherwise, I get AAM’s point about not taking the risk and agree with it; but from a normative standpoint, I think it’s also a ridiculous thing to judge people for and those of us who might be in a position to, shouldn’t.

      2. Mike C.*

        I think you’re making up arbitrary tests of professionalism.

        “Oh my, the candidate is using both thumbs, how unprofessional!”

        1. Chinook*

          Obviously the iPhone has made its impact on the business world because my Blackberry is best used with 2 thumbs when reading and responding to AAM.

    3. Lynn Whitehat*

      Oh yeah, there are absolutely people out there who wish smartphones had never been invented, and since it’s too late for that, want them banished. Or something. “People these days, always glued to their phones! In MY day, we stared at the walls to pass the time, and we LIKED it that way, consarn it!”

      Now, I can stare into space with the best of them, but I don’t think there’s anything particularly virtuous about it.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        I think what happens is that there are people (and we all know who they are) who can’t stop looking at or playing with their phones and it’s really really annoying when you’re with someone who just can’t leave the thing alone. I finally have a smart phone and I like it, but I work with people who are glued to theirs, who have it out in meetings, who type out texts when they’re talking to you. It just seems very rude to me.

        But yeah, if you’re waiting a long period of time, I have no problem with candidates using it. I do expect it to be totally silent during the interview though.

  5. some1*

    On some phones, assuming you turned the sound off, it’d be hard to tell whether you’re playing a game, texting, or answering work emails anyway.

    1. Ellie H.*

      Yeah, it’s hard enough for me to see what my boyfriend is doing on his phone when I’m sitting right next to him. Even less so on my phone which is a BlackBerry and has the small screen. I don’t really get how anyone can even tell what you are doing with a phone unless they’re furtively peering over your shoulder.

  6. A Teacher*

    When we’ve been kept waiting for a meeting at work, I’ve checked email, read books, and occasionally played Sudoku on my phone. I can only sit and stare off into space for so long. I’d rather read a book on my iphone.

  7. Yup*

    I wouldn’t think badly of someone quietly using their phone during the wait. As a candidate, I understand wanting to get out of your head for a few minutes by reading the news or playing a quick game, especially if you’re nervous. (But as someone who decided *not* to bring my book club copy of ‘The Poisoners Handbook’ to an interview as downtime reading, I also understand being ultra circumspect throughout the entire interview process.)

  8. AdminTO*

    As long as you’re quiet and unobtrusive and most importantly are able to disengage as soon as the person who is interviewing you appears it shouldn’t matter if it’s a book, magazine or phone.

  9. Courtney*

    Suddenly I feel like the goddess of patience because I have no problem with just sitting and relaxing while I wait for an appointment, even if it’s a hour.

    Maybe it’s a yoga thing, but it’s just so refreshing to just sit and not do anything… Nothing is expected of me, there is no to-do list, nothing else I “should” be doing; I can relax and just BE. For me, it’s the perfect way to soothe interview jitters too!

    1. Rin*

      Me, either. I can’t check anything on my phone, but I wouldn’t feel the need to. People are compulsive phone checkers; I think it would make a person stand out NOT to be on the phone.

    2. Wren*

      I would have a terribly hard time not falling asleep. Every time I have tried yoga, for example, I am out like a light. Just sitting and staring makes my ADD go wild.

    3. Cat*

      I definitely can’t, nor do I particularly want to, nor do I think it says anything bad about me that I pull out something to read or check/answer e-mail while waiting for things.

  10. Elizabeth West*

    I wouldn’t mind if someone did that. I wouldn’t do it myself, though. What I usually did was take the time to look around the place, note what I could about it from the lobby (is it messy? Too close/noisy in relation to what could possibly be my work area? Are there customers, and how do they act? Etc.).

    And I took the time to read over the printed job description I had with me, and the questions I had prepared. It helped me get into Interview Mode, whereas playing Angry Birds would have meant that when someone came to fetch me, I would have had to regroup.

    I totally play Angry Birds while waiting for my doctor, but I put it down when he/she shows up. That’s one of the reasons I bought a smartphone: to entertain myself while stuck sitting around.

  11. Kay*

    I cant just imagine playing Candy Crush Saga with the sound on and the interviewer coming in just as the phone says “Taste-eeeeeeeeeey” o_O

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Depends on where you are interviewing! They’d probably like that at some investment banks I deal with.

    2. Lynn Whitehat*

      Also any intensely personal self-help books. You can study “When Libidos Don’t Match” and “Overcoming Bulimia” on your own time, please.

  12. books*

    40 minutes? You have permission to quietly read whatever you have on hand. If it’s racy, on your kindle please.

    If it’s brief <10 mins, then you may be better off re-reading your notes/questions/job description etc. As someone above said, puts your brain in interview mode.

  13. Audiophile*

    I once waited more than an hour. In that case, it was understandable. It was a doctor stuck in surgery. His admin was great, she took me to the cafeteria. Sat with me for a bit. When she had to leave, she left me in the office, apologized for having to leave me. It gave me a chance to see the office area. And the doctor was very apologetic.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Nice that everyone was apologetic. It’s irksome when someone makes you wait forever and then acts like it’s no big deal.

  14. Brett*

    Because of our somewhat broken first round interview process, we do leave a lot of candidates sitting in the lobby for 30+ minutes. I have actually notice that those who sit quietly doing nothing tend not to do so well.
    Makes me wonder if playing some sort of brain game could actually help prep you for the interview (especially since we have lots of behavioral and problem solving questions).

    1. Clever Name*

      I think it may be a personality thing rather than a brain game to prep for an interview. I’ve noticed that the people who are successful in my company basically have many ADD-like traits. I know it sounds really bad, but I work for a fast-paced company and everyone juggles lots of projects that often have quick turnaround times. I was bored out of my skull at my last job, as I didn’t have enough to do.

      In essence, maybe there’s something about the type of person who isn’t content to just sit and do nothing is the type to answer in the ways you want successful candidates to answer interview questions.

  15. nyxalinth*

    First thing I read is anything directly related to where I’m interviewing, if available, then any business magazines, if any. I’m a fast reader, so those are quickly exhausted, but it usually is long enough that the receptionist or people passing see me looking at them. then out comes the book. Often Stephen King, but only if the covers aren’t too wild. Same with other stuff I might be reading. I don’t currently have a cool phone, so reading is my thing!

  16. Lily in NYC*

    I waited 3 hours for an interview once and had nothing but my resume to read. I would have killed for a game, even stupid Minesweeper! And the interview ended up getting canceled. But they offered me the job on the spot after we rescheduled and I just had my 10th anniversary here this week.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        I agree but she ended up being a fantastic boss who gave me huge raises three years in a row. It’s really the only reason I’ve been here 10 years – I have it easy here and if I left, I’d have to get a pretty hard-core job to make the same salary (I’m an executive assistant).

  17. Lisa*

    Furiously texting to me is a worse waiting etiquette thing than playing a game, or reading on your phone. Let’s face it, you can tell when someone is typing an email versus texting. I have 20 diff news apps on my phone and I read them when waiting.

  18. Allison (not AAM)*

    I guess I’m just very old school; I go with absolutely not. I will review my notes, maybe look at literature that they have put out (opportunities for research are EVERYWHERE!) in the waiting area, or just sit quietly and go over my interview plan-of-attack in my head while I’m waiting. I have mild ADD myself, but I can keep myself composed and relaxed – I don’t need to be occupied/entertained 24/7. I am there for a job, I need to be as professional in that time as I would be ON the job – and I certainly wouldn’t play games or take personal calls during work hours (my friends know I’ll call them later!)

    1. Mike C.*

      Why do you go with “absolutely not” and how does this affect your judgement of others who do and why?

      1. Anonymous*

        I personally absolutely would not. As far as my opinions of others who would, I’d be fine with it if they were my “competition” for the position. If it was someone I was interviewing, I’d make a mental note and through the course of the meeting be much more aware of other indications of unprofessionalism.

        At my last job, we had, out of a team of 14 people, 4 coworkers who spent way too much time on personal calls, hanging out in the break room during non-break times, surfing the internet, playing games, etc. not only did it affect their productivity, the rest of us had to pick up THEIR slack (customer calls, etc). If these tendencies were noted at the get-go, things might have been very different.

        It’s all my own personal philosophy – during work hours, or appointments or dinner dates – I’m there for a reason, and that doesn’t involve playing games or putting the person calling me in a position of higher importance than the one(s) that I am with, or waiting for.

          1. Julie*

            I can understand wanting to avoid hiring people like those you described who made your job harder, but I don’t think you can know that if someone reads or uses their phone (silently) while waiting for an interview to take place, that the person will be a slacker and always playing on their phone when they should be working. Sometimes I can sit still and people-watch, but sometimes I can’t stand to sit and do nothing, so after going over my resume, the job description, and my interview notes, I would read the news or a book on my Android. And I never do that sort of thing at work (except while I eat lunch).

        1. Bea W*

          Keeping yourself occupied while waiting in a lobby for someone while you have nothing else to do is entirely different than goofing off when you are supposed to be working. I doubt there is a correlation between doing one and the other.

  19. Amber*

    Haha I completely messed this up one time in an interview!!! I waited like half an hour past the scheduled time, and when the interviewer finally arrived, I didn’t realize that it was her at first and it was only once she sat down at my table and held out her hand for me to shake – when I was still holding my phone – that I realized that it was her. Oooops!!! Ahhh, rookie mistakes… In the future, I will pay more attention. :P

  20. ChristineSW*

    I personally wouldn’t do this–I barely use my smartphone (Microsoft Windows) for much more than checking for the rare missed call or text and sometimes Facebook–but if someone else nearby is playing on their phone, I’d be okay with it as long as the sound is turned off. It’s crazy how people are glued to their phones nowadays, but I’m so used to it now, it doesn’t really phase me. I think as long as a job candidate is otherwise professional and does a good interview, I don’t think playing on the phone while waiting to be seen should be factored in at all.

    By the way, leaving you to wait 40 minutes without explanation and an apology would send up huge red flags for me.

  21. Anonymous*

    If you’ve got a smart phone this waiting time would be a good chance to review their web site or social media sites again.

  22. Garrett*

    I just have some vision of somebody slogging a hardbound copy of War and Peace into the office lobby to read while they wait.

    I wouldn’t mind someone playing on their phone. I would probably not, especially playing a game or reading the news because I might get frustrated and I prefer to be as calm as possible.

    1. Chinook*

      Not War and Peace but any one of the Diana Gabaldon books when they first come out (because I can’t wait for the soft cover version) would make the same thud on the table. I used to judge bags for work based on whether they would hold one of her books. Now my shoulders are grateful for my eReader.

  23. Marissa*

    This is good to read. I had an interview with a specialized temp agency last week, one that had been highly recommended to me by people in my field, and I ended up having to interview with three separate people, with large chunks of time in between where I was left in an office by myself. During one of these wait times, I pulled out my phone to email my next appointment to tell them my interview was running long and I would be late, and the owner of the agency walked in and scolded me saying “put that phone away! No phones in an interview!”

    I was totally caught off guard and assumed he was being a little ridiculous, but it made me start to wonder if I was really making a huge faux paux by simply sending an email on my phone while left alone for 20 minutes.

    He then said, no joke, “take out a pen and paper because I have some important advice to give you and you’re going to want to write it down” and then proceeded to give me some run of the mill industry advice that everyone but the most novice person would know, so…yeah. He was not plagued by insecurity.

  24. NutellaNutterson*

    Oh look, another opportunity to mention Amy Cuddy’s fascinating research on how our posture impacts our brain chemistry. I’m as big a fan of smartphones as anyone, but the problem with using one while waiting for an interview to start is that you’re generally hunched over the device. This puts your body in a closed-off pose, actually changes your cortisol and testosterone levels, and makes you less likely to do well in your interview. Check out her awesome TED talk for a lot more info about it. Power poses are my new secret weapon. :-)

    1. Female sam*

      +1 to power posing! I had a meeting today that I was slightly nervous about. After watching Amy Cuddy’s TED talk just yesterday, I spent a couple or minutes power posing in the bathroom before going into the meeting. I was also conscious to not hunch over or rub my neck which are big habits of mine. The end result of the meeting? I felt a lot a more confident and competent, I wasn’t plagued by thoughts of inadequacy and I felt a lot more positive about the outcome. Of course, I am but a sample size of one, however it’s something that I felt really helped and in will continue to use those techniques in future.

      (a big thank you to whoever posted the link on here the other day – you may just have made a huge difference to my life :-))

      1. Julie*

        I’m going to check this out! I have been making an effort to sit up straight and hold the phone up higher (not in my lap) when I read or play games on my phone while commuting (on the train – not driving!) because I thought the hunched-over posture couldn’t be good for me. So I’m interested to learn more about “power posing.”

  25. Tiff*

    Meh, I’d use the time to review my resume and list of accomplishments. I can’t imagine judging a candidate because she did things differently, though. As long as you interview well and are nice to the admin support we’ll get along just fine.

    I wouldn’t be very proud of my performance as a manager if I got caught up in that type of stuff.

  26. Kam*

    I am the OP. The guy that pulled out his phone actually didn’t mute his phone. (I was the only person waiting along with him and him sitting 2 seats away from me) although his volume was low, I was able to hear lil bombs exploding.
    I didn’t think it would be a big deal to have my phone out while waiting, but I have an iPhone
    and at times my phone takes a while to actually shut off and I have had times (not interviewing) when I thought my phone was off but actually wasn’t so I just take the extra min to shut it off before I enter the office/building. Upon shaking someone’s hand I may not turn have enough time to turn it off and the vibrate on my phone is just as loud as a ring.
    I also typically have a magazine or a book in my pocketbook because I am in NYC and I take the train so during the train ride I cant actually use my phone.
    The 40 min wait was lack of organization and scheduling on the part of the interviewer, it was a major red flag although he did apologize, he didn’t seem to care while I was waiting and contemplated running out of there many times. I just read a newspaper and my trusty hgtv magazine while waiting.

    I just wanted to know what the opinon was of others.

    1. Julie*

      I love that magazine! My idea of a good time is reading HGTV magazine and/or Real Simple on the couch with something to drink (coffee, tea, or a cocktail, depending on the time of day). Not that I ever get to do this, but I would like to!

  27. Female sam*

    I’ve been interviewing a lot recently, and have so far avoided pulling my phone out. Admittedly I’ve not had to wait longer than 10-15 minutes, but I’d rather use the time to focus on getting “into the zone” for an interview – running through what questions to ask, what I know about the company etc. Playing candy crush, or checking emails or texts, would distract me terribly, so I’d much prefer not to.

    I’m also surrounded at home by relatives who are constantly moaning about how much I check/play with my phone, and told that it’s rude and ignorant. I guess this also factors into my thinking.

  28. Annie Onymous*

    There’s a creepy Candy Crush voice? I always play on my laptop w/the sound off. However, I have heard the annoying Pet Rescue Saga music.

  29. Cassie*

    I wouldn’t have problems with someone playing games on their phone, especially if they got there early and there was 20+ minutes until the scheduled interview. We just went through a couple of rounds of interviews and one candidate just sat there in the lounge staring at the door (as people walked) by. There’s nothing wrong with that – she probably didn’t want to use her phone (even for texting/internet/games) and she probably didn’t bring anything – but some people might think she was strange, while others wouldn’t bat an eye. We do have some magazines in the lounge that she could have perused but it’s not mandatory.

    When she left the interview, she pulled out her phone and started texting (or typing) as she left the office space. I found that to be a little odd – she couldn’t wait 10 more seconds until she was actually out the door to start texting? (Although that’s not going to make or break a candidate).

  30. Mena*

    I would not do this – it sends a signal – “I need mindless entertainment at all times.” Rather, review notes you’ve made on the company you are interviewing with, makes notes of points to cover in the interview, anything but ‘playing’ in their lobby, please.

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