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How to Answer the Interview Question: "What Do You Do When You Are Late for Work?"

How to Answer the Interview Question: "What Do You Do When You Are Late for Work?"

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Why Do Employers Ask Punctuality Questions?

During a job interview, you will be asked a variety of questions.

Some of these will relate to your work history and the role you have applied for.

Others will be designed to give the employer insight into what your personality will be like as an employee.

These are known as behavioural questions.

Questions such as "What do you do when you are late for work?" are designed to assess core competencies such as punctuality, reliability and honesty.

How Else Might This Question Be Asked?

Quite obviously, interviewers will have their own way of asking questions.

This means that you may hear other questions regarding lateness, trustworthiness and honesty worded in different ways.

It is important to be able to recognise what the interviewer is asking, even if the question is unfamiliar.

This will help you structure your answer around the question you have been asked and include the important information.

Never just give a pre-prepared answer that isn't tailored to the exact question you have been asked.

Some alternative examples of punctuality-based questions are:

  • "Can you tell me about a time when your punctuality affected your work?"
  • "Can you tell me about a time when you were late for work?"
  • "What is your attendance like with your current employer?"
  • "Have you ever been absent from work for more than a few days?"
  • "What would you do if you were stuck in traffic on your way to work?"
  • "Have you ever received disciplinary action due to your absence?"
  • "What do you think would be an acceptable number of absence days in a year?"
  • "What do you think would be a good reason to be late or absent from work?"

What Employers Are Looking for in Your Answer

That You Value Punctuality

Punctuality is important in many areas of life, not just business. But, for an employer, employees must value punctuality.

Being consistently late or unreliable with timekeeping can indicate that you do not value other people's time.

By making sure that you are as punctual as possible, it shows a potential employer that you understand that their time is just as important as your own and you are committed to doing your best for their company.

That You Understand the Correct Procedure if You Are Late

Every company will have a policy regarding lateness.

Although there may be some differences from business to business, the core elements of these policies will be the same.

Generally, they focus on the courtesy of notifying a manager of the fact that you will be late and explaining the reasons.

Showing that you understand the correct procedures indicates that you are aware of what is expected of you and able to follow through on those requirements.

That You Understand When It Is Acceptable to Be Late and When It Is Not

Sometimes things happen, and being late is an inevitable consequence, but not every reason is an acceptable excuse for being late.

You must show that you know the difference between acceptable and unacceptable reasons to be late.

For example: Being late due to a sick child or car trouble is something which you can't help. Being late because you went out the night before and overslept is not an acceptable reason.

How to Answer the Interview Question: “What Do You Do When You Are Late for Work?”

Explain Your Strategy

What is your approach to being late? If you know that you are likely to be late or unable to attend work, what is the process that you follow?

Taking care to explain this as part of your answer means that potential employers can see that you value punctuality and take every care to avoid lateness and absence.

Use the STAR Method to Help Structure Your Answer

The STAR method is a useful tool when it comes to answering questions.

It helps you to provide enough information without sharing unnecessary information.

It will also help you to keep your answers clear and concise.

  • S-ituation – What is the background to the situation which led to you being late or absent? By setting the scene, it gives the interviewer an idea of any preparations you made beforehand.

  • T-ask – What happened? Explain the issue which occurred and resulted in you being late or absent.

  • A-ction – What did you do to notify your employer or rectify the issue? This will enable potential employers to see that you followed the correct protocol and did what you could to rectify the situation.

  • R-esult – What was the result? Were you able to create a positive from the situation? Explain what the outcome was when you were able to get into work after your delay or absence.

How to Answer the Interview Question: What Do You Do When You Are Late for Work?
How to Answer the Interview Question: What Do You Do When You Are Late for Work?

Make It Clear That You Value Punctuality

The interviewer will want to know that being punctual is important to you.

Employers need to hire people who are going to be reliable and able to fulfil the position they are hired for.

By emphasising how you value punctuality, you are telling them that you will always try your best to be on time and will avoid taking time off of work unless it is necessary.

What if You Don't Have Workplace Experience?

Not everyone has experience of being in a workplace.

You may be applying for your first job or perhaps attempting to get back into work after a period of unemployment.

It isn't always possible to relate your answer to being in a work environment in these situations.

It is, however, still possible to answer this question in a way that tells an interviewer how you feel about punctuality and what your process would be.

For Example:

If you are asked this question in an interview for your first job, you can relate it to an experience you have had of being late to class or a medical appointment. Perhaps there has been a time when you needed to be absent from college for a few days.

Example Answers for Punctuality Interview Questions

How you choose to answer the question will depend on your personal experiences.

Here are a few examples of answers which show a potential employer that you value punctuality even in unexpected situations.

Example 1

I had a situation recently where my son was unexpectedly sick. This meant that my usual childcare provider couldn't take him. I was due to be at work, but I knew I wouldn't be able to go.

I phoned my line manager and explained the situation. We discussed the options, and it was decided that I would be able to work remotely for that day. This meant that I was still able to get my work done and didn't miss any important updates from work.

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Example 2

Within the first few weeks of starting my last job, I got stuck in really bad traffic on my way to work. It was a route that I wasn't used to travelling, and I didn't realise how bad the traffic got.

I phoned my boss and explained that I was stuck and would be in as soon as I could. When I got to work, I made sure to work late so that I could make up my lost time and catch up on my work.

After that, I found a new route to work and made sure to leave ten minutes earlier. I haven't been late since.

Example 3

I don't have any workplace experience, but I do have experience of being late to important events. When I was at college, I was due to be in a lecture at 10 a.m.

On my way there, my car was rear-ended. This meant that I had to sort out insurance details with the other driver and wait for my car to be towed.

I knew that I wouldn't make it to my lecture, so I sent my tutor an email which I knew he would receive before it began. He was able to email all of the information I needed from the lecture so that I didn't miss out on any information.

Example 4

As I am a teacher, I always try my very best to make sure that I am not late or unexpectedly absent. So far, this isn't a situation I have had to deal with.

If something happened and I knew that this was going to happen, then the first thing I would do is contact the administrative team at the earliest opportunity so that they could put an appropriate substitute in place.

What to Avoid

Don’t Lie

You should never lie in an interview.

Making claims about your punctuality that aren't true should be avoided, especially if you have given details about your current attendance record.

There is always a chance that the interviewer could check with your current employer to make sure that what you have said is true.

Even if you have had to take a lot of time off due to personal issues or health problems it is better to be honest about it.

Don't Overshare

While it is important to share a personal experience that you have had, it is also important not to overshare irrelevant or personal information.

The interviewer doesn't want to know about something that isn't relevant to the situation. It detracts from the story you are telling.

Don't Talk About What You Did While You Were Absent From Work

Unless you were absent from work for a professional reason, the interviewer doesn't need to know everything you got up to.

The important thing is to mention that you were away from work, how you worked to resolve this and your transition back to the workplace.

Don't Hint At Future Absences

Even if you know that you are likely to need time away from work due to childcare issues or other problems, don't talk about it.

The only time that this should be mentioned is in the case of a long-term health problem as your new employer should be willing to offer support.

Tips for an Effective Answer

Arrive for Your Interview on Time

Start as you mean to go on.

Arriving on time for your interview will automatically show your potential employer that you value their time and understand the importance of good timekeeping and being professional when attending an interview.

It also makes your responses to questions about punctuality more believable.

After all, why would an interviewer believe that you will always be on time for work if you were late for an interview?

It is usually a good idea to arrive at least five minutes early.

Give an Answer Which Has a Positive Ending

It isn't always possible to find a positive in a situation, but you should try wherever you can.

This will show the interviewer that you can learn from past situations and will do what you can to avoid repeating the same issues in the future.

For example:

If you have been late due to traffic issues, then it would be a good idea to finish by saying that you learned to leave for work five minutes earlier to make sure that you were on time in future.

If you were unable to go to work because of a sick child, perhaps you were able to work remotely so that you didn't miss any deadlines.

Check Your Punctuality Record Before the Interview

If you are asked a question relating to your punctuality, then honesty is vital.

By checking your punctuality record before you attend the interview, you can make sure that you can be accurate in your response.

It may also remind you of times when you have been late or absent, which may help to shape your answer.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to answer this question.

Although the wording may vary, the main thing that the interviewer wants to see is that you understand the correct policies to follow, that you are reliable and you value punctuality.

Remember to be honest and keep your answer concise.

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