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 will be a few hours late. But in other instances, particularly for juniors in banking who are practically tied to their desk, one may feel compelled to provide more details. This is especially true if you’re actively looking for a new job and likely need multiple stays away from the office. The best advice: keep the narrative as simple as possible. It’s more about what you don’t say than what you do.
Start with the simplest path
The easiest, most professional way to get out of work for an interview is to not have to do it at all. Ask the hiring manager if they can meet you before or after typical work hours. Even if they say no, they shouldn’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 hours, 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 if they are different than what you’d wear to work. If you feel uncomfortable with the first option, start here instead.
“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,” said Alyssa Gelbard, the president of career consultant Point Road Group. “A vacation day also gives you the luxury of not having to worry about rushing back to the office.”
If that's not an option, ask for an early morning or late afternoon interview time. Your absence won’t be noticed as much, and you won’t need to concern yourself with the potential “before” and “after” fallout at your current office.
If excuses are necessary, it’s best to be as vague as possible. “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. If you feel you need to provide more, stick with the standard doctor or dentist appointment – something that would take a real blowhard of a boss to push back against. Plus, you can plan these types of appointments in advance, ensuring you don’t need a last-minute excuse that may be denied. Calling in sick the day of an interview is a common option, but one that involves several layers of acting both before and after the event. You shouldn’t need to pretend to cough for three days to leave the office for a few hours. And besides, you may be a lot worse actor or actress than you think.
What not to do
Bad news involving a family member
Resist the urge to say you have a family emergency, particularly if you are close to your boss, who may ask for more details. Not only are you involving a second person, but you’ve stretched an excuse into an emotionally manipulative lie. And never say you’ve had a death in the family.
“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,” Gelbard said.
People can understand if it comes to light that a “dentist 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. Saying you have a client meeting can portend similar outcomes where you’re involving a second person unwittingly. Plus, your boss is well within their rights to tell you to push it off.
Anything that can quickly be remedied
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. Last year, Goldman Sachs increased its support for breastfeeding mothers by offering to pay for a service that will courier their expressed milk back to their babies.
Excuses that insinuate irresponsibility
A common pitfall: You're so worried about providing a believable excuse, you choose one that makes you look bad. There is no need to “forget” something or be late without your boss knowing ahead of time. One recruiter told us 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 their alarm.
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 tell someone important that you need to cut it short. Always give yourself a minimum of a half-day.
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