A behavioral interview question to reveal if candidates have problems with punctuality


The only funny thing about chronically late employees is the excuses they sometimes give. “I was there on time but fell asleep in the parking lot” and “My cat got stuck in the toilet” are two laughing things I heard, as long as you’re not the one who receives such absurd excuses.

Expecting employees to come to work, on time, as scheduled, shouldn’t be a problem, but unfortunately it’s a common problem. Supporting chronic latecomers to get to work on time is not easy, which is why I advise managers to get around the problem by hiring punctual, reliable and reliable people.

I suggest asking this interview question: “Could you tell me about a time when your punctuality or attendance had an impact on your job?” “

This question is really open-ended, requires the candidate to give a specific example, and makes him reveal his underlying attitudes. These are three characteristics of great interview questions, and you can see more questions that share these characteristics (and how difficult they are to answer) in the online quiz. “Could you pass this job interview?” “

Unfortunately, many interview questions do not allow the candidate to reveal their true attitudes and underlying performance when it comes to punctuality. Here are some examples of frequently asked punctuality interview questions that fail the test:

  • Our attendance requirements are “X” – Will you be able to meet them?
  • What situations prevented you from coming to work on time at your last job?
  • How do you deal with situations that might cause you to be late or absent?
  • In your opinion, what is the acceptable number of days of absence in a calendar year?
  • Two hours before your scheduled arrival time for work, you learn that the weather is bad and traffic is blocked. How do you respond?

No candidate will categorically admit, “No, I can’t meet your attendance requirements” or “Well, most mornings the line at Starbucks is pretty long and that tends to make me late. It might be the truth, but most people won’t say it. And filling in questions with help words like “handle” and “acceptable” provides just enough information for people with delay problems to fake the correct answer. For example, “Oh, I’m pretty proactive when it comes to punctuality. I always set three alarm clocks and without fail I leave the house 20 minutes earlier than necessary. Sounds awesome, but there’s no way to know if it’s true. As for the hypothetical question about bad weather and traffic, you will probably get some answers that sound good, but they will not reflect reality because despite what we would like to believe about ourselves, there is a huge gap between our self. hypothetical and our true self.

The question “Can you tell me about a time when your punctuality or attendance had an impact on your work?” Works because it doesn’t provide any hints. How to answer this question is entirely up to the candidate, and it will tell you a lot about whether or not that person will get to work on time or not. Of course, you should always know what to listen to when the candidate answers.

Here are some answers from candidates shared with me by hiring managers who regularly ask this interview question. Let’s start with a few potential underperforming answers:

“I always make a point of getting to work early so that I can review my workload for the day and, if necessary, catch up from the day before. “

“I’m a very healthy person and only take time off for vacation or pre-approved days off. And if I ever had a health problem, I would make up for time by working sooner or later as soon as I got back to work.

“Punctuality is really important to me and I understand how important it is for the success of the team and the organization. In fact, I was known in my last team as the one who was always on time, present and very committed. In fact, I grew up in a military family where the rule was “if you’re not ten minutes early you’re considered ten minutes late”, so being on time is pretty much ingrained. in me. “

In all of these examples, candidates do not answer the question and do not explain the impact of their punctuality or attendance on their work. Instead, we hear the candidates’ overall philosophy on punctuality, often expressed in a hypothetical way (eg “I understand how important good attendance and punctuality are to the success of the team and the organization. . “). Also noteworthy is the abundance of qualifiers (eg, “always”, “never”, “great”) that underachieving students tend to use to “amplify” their responses.

Compare these responses to this potential high performance response:

“I love everything I do at work during this magical hour before everyone else arrives, and being early often pays off. My boss was really sick one day when we had to do a big presentation to a potential new client. He knew I would be at my office early, so he called me to ask me to contact them and reschedule. I knew I could handle the presentation, so I asked if he would let me take over. We took advantage of this quiet time to work on the phone, go over the main talking points and go through the presentation slides. I walked into this calm, cool, and serene 9am meeting and not only did we win the job, but the client specifically asked me to lead the team. This is just one example of a time when being the early bird paid off.

Notice all the details that actually answer the question, especially compared to the fuzzy answers from the underachievers above? In our study “Words that cost you the job interview” we’ve found that top performers use a lot more past tense verbs, which makes sense because that’s how we talk about things that really happened to us, instead of using hypothetical examples of “might” and “”. High achievers who care about punctuality will speak candidly about their experiences because they’ve lived the reality of punctuality and good attendance at work. And again, because this is an open question, it is up to the candidate to reveal whether or not he is who he is.

A great way to hone your listening skills is to test this question on your current employees. Ask the open-ended question and listen as they answer. It won’t take long to begin to recognize the characteristics of high performing and weak responses. And given the frustration of dealing with chronically late employees, and the cost of training and then firing people for not showing up for work, it’s worth it.

Mark Murphy is the CEO of Leadership IQ and the author of Hiring for attitude.