Whether it’s a first interview or the first day on the job, an awkward question will inevitably present itself at some point. But when we enter into the “real world,” we’re often not yet well-versed on how to go about crafting a professional email in a sensitive situation. And when you’re just starting out, asking for help can sometimes be scary—or even not an option at all. So what do you do?
Because we understand this conundrum all too well, we consulted two HR professionals for advice on how to deal with five awkward professional situations, along with some basic email templates to get you started. From how to reschedule an interview to how to ask for a day off, here’s how to handle these scenarios the next time you encounter them in the real world.
The Situation: You’re Going to Be Late to Work
We’ve all been there: your morning alarm doesn’t go off. Suddenly you’re no longer enjoying a peaceful morning coffee and instead rushing out the door to make your morning meeting. No matter your standing in the company, people notice punctuality (or lack thereof). The best way to win back some brownie points is open communication with your supervisor. According to one HR professional, you should “apologize for the inconvenience, provide a brief explanation, and then let your supervisor know when to expect you. You should know the how and when of telling your supervisor you are going to be late. If you don’t [already], ask them—they will appreciate it.” Check out the email sample below for a guide on how to write your message.
I wanted to reach out to let you know I’ll be a few minutes late to the morning meeting today. I missed my morning train and I’m waiting to board the next one—my current ETA is 9:30 a.m. I’m so sorry for the delay. If you need to reach me sooner, I’ll be checking my email. Please let me know if you need anything.
The Situation: You Need to Ask For a Day Off
When requesting time off, it’s important to plan ahead so that both you and your boss are prepared. Company protocol varies, so be sure to check with your supervisor. The HR expert we spoke to says, “Find out if your company has specific steps to request time off. Some employers may require you to fill out a form while others may simply ask that you email your supervisor. Ideally, you will want to request time off in as far in advance as possible. The sooner you notify your supervisor and team, the better they can prepare for your absence.” You can use the following email template to help you out.
I have a doctor’s appointment on July 15 and will need to be out of the office from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. if possible. If needed, I’m happy to go over the schedule and come up with a plan to ensure I’m meeting all upcoming deadlines with my absence.
The Situation: You Need to Reschedule an Interview
Here’s the deal: A hiring manager has reached out to you, you’ve locked in a date and time for an interview, and then something extremely important comes up that prevents you from being there at that time. What do you do? HR says, “Unexpected issues come up, life happens. If you must reschedule an interview, apologize for the inconvenience, provide a legitimate reason and offer additional days and times.” Rescheduling an important meeting can be tricky, but it can be done. Use the template below to help you navigate this sticky situation.
Unfortunately, I will be unable to interview on Thursday, July 5 due to an unexpected event. I apologize for any inconvenience to you and your team.
If you are available to reschedule, I am able to interview next Monday – Wednesday after 1 p.m. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet with you and the rest of the team!
The Situation: You’re Not Going to Finish a Project on Time
No matter how dedicated and hard-working you are, there will be times that you simply cannot complete a project by the deadline. But while asking for an extension can be difficult, open communication with your supervisor is the key to success. Be truthful and clear about how much more time you need.
The HR expert we spoke to says, “Unexpected issues come up, so be honest with your supervisor. Similar to asking for a day off, the sooner you can let them know, the better they can prepare for the schedule change. Apologize for the inconvenience, and suggest a new deadline that you can complete it by.” It’s never easy to admit you need an extension, but with the right approach, you can avoid any major issues with your team. An example email to help you get started is written below.
The project I’ve been working on is running behind schedule and I was hoping to meet with you to discuss a new deadline. The project is finishing up, and I can have it completed by Wednesday EOD. Please let me know what your thoughts are on this.
The Situation: You Noticed a Mistake Your Boss Made
Noticing a mistake on a project can put you directly in the hot seat. It now becomes your responsibility to tell your supervisor, which can be awkward. To avoid the flames, be tactful when approaching this email, and always have an exit strategy.
HR says, “Accidents do happen, whether it was your mistake or someone else’s. Bring the issue to your supervisor as soon as possible, and provide a plan of action to rectify it.” Even when the mistake isn’t yours, admitting a mistake can be uncomfortable. The email example below is a good way to handle the situation.
After looking through the July 1 deliverables, I noticed a file is missing. I am wrapping my current project and will be available later today to assist the team on this assignment. I can also meet with the client to discuss a later due date if this is not possible.
What are some awkward situations you’ve encountered at work? Let us know in the comments below!
Opening image by Kai Li.