Good and not-so-good excuses to get out of work for a job interview

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Sometimes a little white lie is the only viable option.

Unless the hiring company is willing to meet with you off the clock, you’ll likely need to spin a tale to sneak away from work for a job interview. It’s a situation where the correct thing to do may be to tell a white lie.

Tell your boss you have an appointment and you’ll be back in a few hours. However, you may feel compelled to offer more details, especially if you’re actively looking for a new job and need to make multiple trips away from the office during the workday.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career expert with SixFigureStart, advises approaching the issue with cunning. You need to get your boss inured to the notion that you might be out of the office.

“Start blocking off your calendar and getting people used to you having and keeping your own timetable for doing things before you even start interviewing,” she said. “This will make slotting in interviews easier and less obvious.”

Here’s a general framework of excuses you should never employ, as well as a few of the safer, smarter options.

Bad Excuses

One that insinuates irresponsibility. A common pitfall: You're so worried about providing a believable excuse, you choose one that makes you look bad. In some situations, the impression you leave can be worse than if your boss found out that you had an interview.

One recruiter said he had a candidate tell him that, in an effort to get away with missing work, they called their current boss after the interview and said they went out the night before and slept through the alarm. Not a good choice. Never choose an excuse that makes you look like a bad employee.

Bad news involving a family member. It’s dangerous to involve someone else who is close to you in an excuse, especially if it is of a serious nature such as sickness, injury or death. What happens at an office party or a work outing that includes spouses or kids? Not only are you involving a second person, but you’ve stretched an excuse into an emotionally manipulative lie.

People can understand if it comes to light that a “dentist’s appointment” was, in actuality, an interview, but an excuse like “My son was in a car accident” is tough to look past. Even if you get the job, you risk burning bridges.

“If additional questions are asked, likely when colleagues want to be supportive because of your loss, your lie will be forced to grow and that is never a good thing – ever,” said Alyssa Gelbard, the president of Point Road Group.

Many others seconded that notion.

“Most people don’t like to say it’s a family emergency, lest they jinx themselves,” Ceniza-Levine said.

Anything your boss can help you with. You say that something small and inconvenient came up, like a flat tire or your nanny didn't show, and you’ll be a few hours late. What if someone from the office can help in that situation? Larger financial firms often have backup daycare to guard against their employees missing work due to issues with their children. Some firms even offer concierge services. Know your employer's policies.

One that doesn’t give you enough time. If an interview is going well, sometimes a one-hour conversation can quickly become a three-hour marathon with multiple people. The last thing you want to do while trying to make a good impression is telling someone you need to walk away. Give yourself plenty of time.

Doing It Right

The easiest, most professional way to get out of work for an interview is to not have to do it at all. Inquire if a hiring company can meet you before or after typical work hours. Even if they say no, they won’t be taken aback by the request. If anything, it will make you look like a responsible employee.

If the interview must happen during work, then consider taking a vacation or personal day, giving more than a day’s notice. Then there is no excuse needed and you won’t have to worry about timing or what to do with your interview clothes.

“You don’t want to be worrying about annoying a supervisor with a last-minute excuse and having that distraction when you are going on an interview,” Gelbard said. “A vacation day also gives you the luxury of not having to worry about rushing back to the office.”

If that is not an option, ask for an early a.m. or late afternoon interview time. Your absence won’t be noticed as much and you won’t need to concern yourself with the “before” and the “after” fallout at your current office.

When making excuses, it’s best to be as vague as possible. "I need to take care of some personal business" or, even better, “I have an appointment” works 90% of the time. Often there is no need to go into more detail and, quite literally, you aren’t fibbing. You can also try "I'm taking a couple of hours' personal time" or "I'm picking a friend up from the airport." Try to work from home that day if at all possible.

“For finance pros who need to ditch work for an interview, old standbys include a doctor or dentist appointment, or a maintenance issue in the home – for example, a water leak coming out of my apartment's sink,” Ceniza-Levine said. “If it’s a lunch-time interview, you can mention an old friend is in town so you’re taking a longer lunch.”

When expecting a series of interviews, either with one company or with different firms, dental problems may be a good excuse. Just don't make this mistake:

Photo credit: LuminaStock/iStock/Thinkstock

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