Arriving late for an interview is considered one of those cardinal sins that’s unforgivable. But unfortunately, sometimes even with your best efforts, things don’t go according to plan. So how can you recover after arriving late for an interview? And is it even possible? 

Good reasons for arriving late for an interview

It’s never ideal to arrive late for an interview. However, if you want to know some good reasons for arriving late for an interview, here they are, based on my personal experience as a recruiter, an interview panel member, and as someone who’s arrived late for an interview myself. 

There’s been a serious incident: This could be a car accident that’s just taken place, a natural weather condition that’s caused delays or cancellations to transport, or heaven forbid, you’ve been hurt in an incident ( yes, this did once happen to a candidate. The interview was rescheduled)

Only a major unexpected and unavoidable situation is a valid good reason for arriving late for an interview, especially without notice.

Bad reasons for arriving late for an interview 

  • You got lost
  • You missed the train/ bus
  • The car broke down 

If you’re late for any of the reasons above then you need to start preparing more thoroughly for interviews. This means knowing exactly how long the journey will take, potential hiccups and travel challenges, and the best way to travel. Including making sure your car is running well. 

Now that we’ve covered that, here’s how you can recover after arriving late for an interview.

How To Recover After Arriving Late For An Interview

Inform them as soon as possible 

While arriving late for an interview is a big no-no, there are occasions when arriving late for an interview is unavoidable as we’ve already covered.

As a recruiter, I would always advise that you leave more than ample time to reach the interview location. Better to sit in the car park or a local coffee shop, or even take a walk around the block than to be late, but now and again, something will happen that is out of your control causing you to arrive late for an interview. 

In this situation, assuming you’ve given yourself ample travel time, the best action you can take is to promptly call the interviewer or recruiter and inform them that you will be late. 

Do this with plenty of time to spare. It’s best to play it safe and arrive on time than it is to call at the last minute. 

Give an estimated time of arrival 

When you make the call, apologize and let them know the situation, as well as an estimated time of arrival if possible. 

When doing this, err on the side of caution. While you might feel panicked and be tempted to give the earliest time possible, this is a bad idea. Be honest and realistic about when you expect to arrive. 

If you’re contacting them with ample time, and the situation is so severe that you can’t imagine arriving within a reasonable timeframe, explain this, apologize and let them know that rather than waste anyone’s time, it may be best to reschedule. 

This may come as a shock, however, if there has been a severe incident with a five-car pile-up, chances are, you probably won’t be arriving within a reasonable timeframe. 

Take a moment to regain composure 

You’ve finally arrived. Before you run in shaking and flustered, take a moment to breathe and regain your composure. This isn’t about wasting anyone’s time further, it’s about giving yourself the best opportunity under the circumstances. 

If you’re filled with nerves, shaking, and sweating like crazy, it’s unlikely you’ll perform well under the pressure of the interview. 

Apologize in person

The worst thing you can do when you’ve arrived late for an interview is not apologize. Whatever happens, make sure you apologize in person to everyone concerned, be sincere, and thank them for their patience and the opportunity.

By this time, you already called them long before the time of the interview, you kept them posted if need be, and you have a valid reason for being tardy, so do apologize but don’t go overboard. 

Forget you were late 

While it might feel impossible, with apologies out of the way, it’s time to focus on the interview at hand. If you want to know how to recover after arriving late for an interview, this step is crucial.

If your mind is freaking out and focused on your lateness for the remainder of the interview, this will show. You’ll be more nervous and you might even forget all your preparation.

Forgetting you were late isn’t rude. The best thing you can do if they are still giving you the opportunity of an interview is to prove to them that seeing you is worth their time. You do that by performing well. 

Smile and make eye contact 

A great tip when recovering after arriving late for an interview is to make good eye contact, smile, and build rapport. 

The better you can do this, the more likely it is they’ll be focused on your answers, and what you have to offer, rather than the fact that you were late. 

What’s more, we’re more likely to forgive people we like. Sad but true.

Remember your preparation 

When you’ve arrived late for an interview, your heart is pounding, the blood is rushing through your ears and you can very quickly turn into a nervous wreck. 

It’s important to remember why you’re there, and what you have to offer. After all, they did invite you for the interview. You have a legit reason for being late, and you’ve done your homework. Don’t let all that go to waste. 

One of the things I’ve seen candidates do due to nerves is rush to answer. Especially when they feel under time pressure. 

While you might feel under more pressure after arriving late for an interview, don’t make the mistake of rushing your answers so you can get the heck out of there. 

If you need a moment to think, take it. It’s better to take a moment and provide the best answer rather than answering with the first thing that pops into your head due to nerves. 

Thank them for their time 

If you’ve arrived late for an interview, the rest of your interview etiquette needs to be on point. 

Thank them for their time and remind them how interested you are in the opportunity. 

Follow up 

A strong follow-up email is more critical than ever if you’re trying to recover from being late for an interview. 

The email should be short and to the point but should include:

Thanks again for their time and the opportunity 

What you learned from the interview that makes you even more excited about the role

Why you’re a good fit, based on what you discussed in the interview

[Related: The Perfect Template For A Thank You Note After Interview]


To conclude, arriving late for an interview is something that you want to avoid at all costs. But when it does happen, don’t give up on the interview, go in there and give it your best. With a little luck, you could still win them over and secure the job. You certainly wouldn’t be the first person to have done this. 

Want more job search and interview tips? Check out our best advice for finding and landing your dream job