It’s one of the only situations in life where the correct thing to do may be to tell a white lie. 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.
In some situations, it’s not overly difficult. You tell your boss you have an appointment and you’ll be back in a few hours. In others, you may feel compelled to offer more details, especially if you’re actively looking for a new job and need multiple stays away from the office.
“A key focus should be keeping your schedule clear since you don’t know when interviews might happen,” said Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career expert with SixFigureStart.
She advises approaching the issue with cunning. Don’t wait until you start interviewing to book time off. You need to get your boss inured to the notion that you might be out of the office well in advance.
“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.
One that insinuates irresponsibility. Here’s a common pitfall. You are 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 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. Always notify your boss before you are supposed to be in the office, not afterward.
Bad news involving a family member. If you feel compelled to provide a specific excuse, it’s rather dangerous to involve someone else who is close to you, especially if it is of a “serious” nature. What happens at the company Christmas party or a work outing that involves 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. It’s best to avoid the serious excuse, especially one related to sickness, injury or death.
Aside from being an absolutely awful thing to do in general, people will ask questions if you say that there was a death in the family, so you will actually have to determine who the fictional deceased is.
“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 Resume Strategists.
Many others seconded that notion.
“Most people don’t like to say it’s a family emergency, lest they jinx themselves,” Ceniza-Levine said.
Calling in sick. Whether it’s to come in late or not come in at all, if your statement that you’re feeling ill is out of the blue and you felt fine the day before, then it won’t be so believable, Gelbard said.
“Plus, when you do come into the office, if you immediately act like your regular, healthy self, you can create suspicion … unless you convince everyone that you made a miraculous recovery,” she 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. Well what if someone from the office can help in that situation? Banks and other larger financial firms have back-up daycare to guard against their employees missing work due to issues with their children. Some firms even offer concierge services to help settle small annoyances. Know these policies and prepare for such a possibility accordingly.
One that doesn’t give you enough time. If an interview is going well, often a one-hour chat can quickly become a three-hour interview 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 berth when it comes to timing.
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, you may want to consider taking a vacation day. Then there is no excuse needed and you won’t have to worry about timing or what to do with your interview clothes (another significant problem we’ll address later). Just give more than one day’s notice.
“A last-minute excuse is not appreciated, and you don’t want to be worrying about annoying a supervisor 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 a really early or really late 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.
As for 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.” If you feel you need to provide more information, stick with the standard appointment with a doctor, dentist, accountant, tax professional or contractors who need to work on your house or apartment. Try to work from home that day if at all possible.
“Regarding 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 seems to be 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,” she said.
If you’re going to employ the commonly used doctor’s appointment excuse, it’s better to say your appointment is first thing in the morning or late in the day, but not in the middle of the afternoon – that can look suspicious, especially if you normally schedule your appointments early or late. Also, avoid using this excuse when you find out about an interview at the very last minute.
“A sudden morning doctor’s appointment can raise some eyebrows, especially if you haven’t been out sick,” Gelbard said. “Plus, if you need to arrange for coverage, doing it last-minute is never appreciated by anyone – colleague or boss.”
When expecting a series of interviews, either with one company or with different firms, dental problems may be a good excuse. Typically, people need to go back several times. Just don’t make this mistake.
The Dry Cleaner Trick
What do you do if you work in the city and take public transportation? If the interview is at the end of the day, where do you store your suit while at the office? The old industry trick is to drop it off at the dry cleaner days before the interview. You then go to work in your normal clothes, put in a good day of work and head to the dry cleaner to pick up your suit. Find a bathroom to change into and tuck your business-casual clothes into your bag. If the interview is first thing in the morning, drop your suit off at the dry cleaner afterward. Just don’t forget a change of clothes.
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