As a determined job seeker, you're probably spending time researching opportunities, polishing your application documents, establishing connections on and offline, and preparing to ace interviews. One logistics factor you may not be thinking about (but should) is transportation. How will you get to and from your internship or job when you don't have a car?
Whether or not you own a car is irrelevant to your qualifications for a position, unless driving is required to perform essential job duties. That said, many employers are concerned about a candidate's ability to make it to work on time and may inquire about your access to reliable transportation, especially if you'll be expected to work unusual shifts, overtime, or weekends.
If that is the case with jobs you are currently exploring, be sure to consider the question about reliable transportation as you prepare for interviews. This involves more than simply saying, "Yes, I have reliable transportation."
Understand the Interviewer's Perspective
The truth is that having a car doesn't guarantee that an employee will always make it on time -- traffic, car issues and one's work ethic can all ultimately lead to attendance issues. When you don't have your own vehicle, however, and depending on where you live, you may be regarded as a bigger risk by some employers.
As such, when you search and apply for openings, think about the location of these jobs and your options for making it there for an interview and for work if hired. Pay attention to the job description so you have an understanding of what's expected, including required shifts. If you truly don't have access to reliable transportation and aren't sure how you'll make it to work on time, you need to press pause and develop a strategy before moving forward.
When interviewers ask the question about reliable transportation, they care about one thing: Can I trust you to show up on time, stay late if needed, or come during unusual hours? Your goal is to assuage their concerns and show them that they can rely on you to consistently make it to your shift on time.
Explore Your Options
Knowing that reliable transportation is of concern to employers, do your homework and explore possible modes of transportation ahead of interviews. What are the options in your geographical area? Below, I've listed four you may want to choose consider. Which one works best for you, considering where your potential employer is located?
1. Public Transportation
Buses, trains and subways are all valid forms of transportation depending on where you live. If you have access to any of the above, study and practice your route, even before the interview, so you are both familiar and comfortable with the trek. Doing this will also give you an idea of what your commute will look like (length, required transfers and cost).
2. Carpooling, Vanpooling
Vanpooling was the choice for me when, as a graduate student, I secured an internship opportunity with Shriners Burns Hospital in Galveston, Texas, which was 50 miles from where I lived at the time. Because I had no car, I did some research and found out that quite a few people lived in Houston but worked at hospitals in Galveston, and many relied on vanpools to get to work and back. The vanpool I joined met at a designated Park & Ride spot at the same time each morning and left from a designated spot at the same time every evening. The best part was that my interviewer was quite familiar with the vanpooling option and had no doubts about it being reliable.
Today, I live in the Washington, D.C., area where a popular form of transportation to and from the city is slugging, also known as casual carpooling. What makes this option different from other carpooling setups is that it's free for riders. What opportunities do you have to join carpools in your area? You may want to check out Waze, the popular GPS navigation app, which now allows users to carpool and share rides.
Even if you don't live in one of the best cities to bike to work, biking is increasingly becoming a popular form of transportation in large and small cities across the US. If you choose to travel to work using a bicycle, however, please educate yourself on how to do so safely. You may also want to check out available classes on safe cycling.
Is your city pedestrian-friendly? Though it may not seem appealing to you, walking is a valid option to get to work, one that also improves your health. When thinking about walking, keep in mind the factors that will result in a better experience.
Consider the Weather
Even if biking or walking to work may be perfectly fine on most days, think about what you'll do in cases of bad weather (other than simply calling in and saying you can't make it). I once missed out on a great on-campus employment opportunity because I failed to acknowledge that with temperatures reaching the 100s and the occasional torrential rains, simply saying I'll be walking to work wasn't convincing enough for the interviewer.
Keep in mind that it's your responsibility to make it to work on time and when you commit to a job -- you are expected to have plans A, B and C as to how you'd be on time consistently. Whether you are asked the question in an interview or not, think about it. It'll make you a more responsible employee in the long run.
How to Answer the Question
Now that you understand the interviewer's perspective and know your options for getting to work, prepare for the interview by practicing your response. The following three points can help you navigate this process successfully.
1. Stay calm: Don't be the one to bring up the matter of reliable transportation -- your only concern is that you have a solid plan for getting to work. If the employer brings the matter up, don't lie and don't be anxious. You've anticipated the question and have your response ready, so now it's time to deliver it confidently.
2. Keep it short: This is not the time for lengthy explanations. In a sentence, directly answer the question, identifying the form of transportation you've decided on. For example, "Yes, I plan to get to work using the 67 bus, which brings me right across from your main entrance."
3. Tell a story: To support your response, share an example of how you've used the same approach in a previous role. A story is a more effective tool of showing employers -- instead of simply telling them -- that you are reliable.
Lastly, if you anticipate a lengthy commute, depending on the role, you may want to highlight the value of having the commute: listening to podcasts, keeping abreast of relevant news, or catching up on emails. Ultimately, you want to convince employers you are taking the opportunity seriously and are ready to take on the responsibilities that come with it.