When Things Go Wrong

A young student recently requested to meet with me about her career.  She was already working as an intern, so she scheduled the meeting for early morning – before most people are in their offices. I’m a morning person, and 8:00 AM is very reasonable for me.  She scheduled the meeting with my assistant, so we never spoke in advance.

The day of the meeting, she got lost. Very lost.  I know from experience, that’s a terrible feeling.  She was genuinely upset, knowing she was running many minutes late with no way to reach me.  She had not asked for my direct line, so she had to take a chance on reaching the switchboard and asking for help in finding my location.  She also asked them to let me know she was running late.  (They came and delivered the message in person.)

To make it worse, she parked in the only garage she could find near our building so she could check her location on her smart phone.  When she realized that she was just a block or two from us, she tried to exit the garage, but the attendant would not let her out without the $1.07 she owed for two minutes of parking.  She had no cash in her purse.  She re-parked and ran for our office, knowing that she’d have to find an ATM after the meeting to bail out her car.

When she arrived (30 minutes late) we had a great meeting.  To her credit, she was able to relax and put her panic behind her, so we had a very productive discussion.  As a tribute to her determination and focus, I’m presenting these tips that would have made her morning less stressful.

  1. Get detailed directions and ask about parking.  You may not want to ask your contact for them, but if you are scheduling with an assistant, it makes sense to ask about cross streets and parking.  If you’re traveling to a downtown location, make sure you have some quarters and small change on you in case you have to use a meter or self pay at a lot. 
  2. Ask for a contact number in case you’re running late.  At 8:00AM, many companies’ switchboards aren’t open.  Having a direct line or cell number will allow you to notify your contact.  Give her your cell number as well, so your contact can reach you if there’s a last minute change of plan. If your contact is a public figure or prominent in the company, you can even Google how to reach her.  Sometimes, when looking for someone’s number, I’ll simply type: “contact Mary Smith at ABC Company” and see if her email or phone turns up in online documents.  Meeting minutes, company websites and other sources will often pop up and provide contact information.
  3. Look up a map of the location the day before.  Online maps make it easy to see where you’re heading (although they’re not perfect; construction and special events can create problems.)  If the location still confuses you, you’ll know to leave earlier so you can take your time finding an unfamiliar street.
  4. Turn on the radio or television as you’re getting ready that morning.  Listening to your favorite music in the car may improve your mood, but it can’t help you avoid traffic snarls on the bridge or recommend alternate routes.
  5. Prepare your questions, topics and research in advance.  Even if you had planned what you wanted to say carefully, a series of disasters could easily drive it all out of your head.  Having written notes to rely on may help you focus and recover your poise and confidence once you arrive.

We all have stressful days when everything seems to go wrong.  Advance preparation can keep a bad day from becoming a disaster.

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