Interview Follow-Up: What to Say if You Were Late to the Interview

Interview follow-ups, particularly when you’re in damage control mode, can require some thought. The classic case is being late for an interview.

If you’re in this situation, first let us reassure you that this happens regularly, to just about everyone. Interviewers, particularly experienced conveners, will understand the situation, because they’ve heard it before. They already know you weren’t deliberately late.

However, you do need to deal with the issue, and give an explanation of your being late. Interview etiquette is involved, and so is the obligation for courtesy to the interviewers.

The best way to handle this issue is promptly, and as soon as possible when you know you’re going to be late.

  • Basic interview etiquette requires you to notify the interviewers immediately if you cannot make it on time and reschedule the interview.
  • If you can’t notify them right away, you should do so as soon as you can.
  • Get someone else to notify them for you, if you’re unable.

Sometimes it’s impossible to notify in advance. That creates a further degree of difficulty and a requirement for more information for the interviewers. Many interviewees tend to forget when explaining that they actually do have good reasons.

Reasons for being unable to notify can be very good indeed:

  • Car broke down on the freeway, no phone available
  • Phone battery dead
  • Flight canceled, couldn’t get in contact because the flight left at 3am, and you’ve only just been able to get in touch
  • Family issue, had to do something requiring immediate action

These situations are unavoidable, and happen all the time. The family issue is actually a legal obligation when it relates to kids, and yet some interviewees worry about mentioning it.

Never worry about telling interviewers a perfectly true story about a real problem. The important thing is to clarify why you were late, and make sure you don’t miss the interview because of some infuriating situation.

How to Explain Your Reasons and Handle the Situation

The fundamental information and how you approach the interview panel are the real issues in managing this situation:

  1. Apologize for the inconvenience to the panel
  2. Stick to a straightforward, no frills version of what happened
  3. Do not sound like you’re inventing an excuse or drag out your explanation by providing too much information 
  4. Keep things on a business footing, making it clear that you appreciate the position of the interview panel, are keen to do the interview, and are obviously trying to meet your obligations
  5. Don’t allow yourself to arrive in a tangled mess for the interview. Schedule a new time which allows you to groom, get yourself composed, and ready for the interview.
  6. Ask the interview convener what time would be convenient for the panel, and make a time which allows you to get organized while you’re at it

This approach covers all angles, and you’ll also have time to get the situation that caused the problem under control.