Is Being Late to an Interview Really a Dealbreaker?

A common refrain in the fashion business (and perhaps in other businesses, too) is that if you’re late to a job interview, you might as well have not shown up at all. By being late, you’ve forfeited any chance you had at actually landing the gig, and, as an editor who’s been in the industry for more than a few years now, I’m here to tell you: It’s absolutely true.

Now, I’m just about the most chill person I know in the fashion editorial world (the rest of the Who What Wear staff notwithstanding.) I don’t consider myself to be a “mean girl”—I’m not the type to judge overtly on appearances, I try my best to be kind to my cohorts and anyone reporting directly to me, and I do not adhere to many of the prescribed, unnecessarily brusque methods the fashion world is so well known for (think: Devil Wears Prada). But recently, I had to put on my bossy pants and do something unpleasant in the name of teaching a young interviewee an important life lesson. 

Let me tell you a little story. In my role at Who What Wear I get extremely busy, and the more help I have, the better. I like to have no less than two interns working for me at a time, and since I started here, I’ve been blessed with some of the best interns of all time (you know who you are!) As such, I take my hiring of them very seriously—they do very important work, and they help me get my work done in a more timely and streamlined manner. After the holiday break, I found myself in need of a new intern to replace my rock star who had left. I lined up a few interviews, and hoped for the best.

One morning, I expected a potential candidate to arrive at 10:30. She e-mailed around 10:15 to let me know she would be about 15 minutes late because of unexpected traffic. I was a little peeved, as this would require me to move some things around in my schedule—but it wasn’t a deal breaker. She had done me the courtesy of letting me know in advance, and if I can’t cushion 15 extra minutes into my schedule, then there’s probably a bigger problem going on. I responded that it was fine and thanked her for letting me know.

You can imagine my surprise when, after no further notice, this candidate didn’t arrive until well after 11a.m. She was more than 30 minutes late for the interview—something I would have never fathomed when I was a young person pursuing a career opportunity. Once she got to our office, I met her in the lobby and told her—firmly but also as kindly as I could—that we would need to reschedule the interview. I asked her to please email me with a day and time that worked for her, and she said she would—but I never heard from her.

Whether you are interviewing for an internship, an assistant’s job, or to be the CEO, showing up on time is critical. Yes, there will sometimes be extreme, unforeseen circumstances that might make you 10 to 15 minutes late (in which case you should ALWAYS call or email), but being extremely late (anything over 30 minutes) is a huge no-no. And let me tell you why.

It’s a clear sign you don’t respect the time of the person you are meeting. The last thing any editor (or professional of any sort, really) wants is to hire someone who doesn’t respect her—not only on principal, but also because people who don’t respect authority don’t make great employees. Plus, if you show up that late for the interview, how do you expect your potential employer to believe that you will show up on time for work? When it comes to your career, actions speak much louder than words.

What do you think? Is showing up late for an interview a deal breaker? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below! And read more of internship and career tips here