What is the On-Site Interview?
Most organizations which recruit college students will include an on-site interview as a major part of the hiring process. The on-site visit is generally a full day of interviewing and related activities, at the organization’s site. After the visit is completed and an evaluation conducted, an offer may be made.
The on-site interview serves two primary purposes:
- Allows the organization to get a more in-depth assessment of the candidate prior to making a job offer.
- Allows the candidate an opportunity to see the organization and some of its people first hand in order to make a wiser decision if an offer is made.
Preparing for The Visit
Considering the importance and purpose of the on-site interview, it is imperative to prepare for the day. Preparation for the visit should not be taken lightly since this visit is the final step for most organizations in deciding whether to make a job offer. Candidates should attempt to learn as much about the organization as possible. Items of preparation should include:
• Notes taken after the initial (campus) interview • Organization website and other web resources • Annual report
• Promotional material on the organization • Industry and business publications containing information about the organization • Talking with former students who are now employed by the organization • Talking with current employees in the line of work for which one is interviewing • Talking to people who have had direct dealings with the organization or its products.
Arranging The Trip
An invitation to an on-site interview will usually come from a contact person at the organization. Any questions prior to the trip can be addressed to this person. This includes finding out who will be responsible for making travel arrangements and if you should keep track of your expenses. This is important because travel plans are usually handled one of three ways:
- The employer will make all of the travel arrangements (flights, hotel, ground transportation & meals) and cover all of your expenses.
- You will make your travel and/or hotel arrangements and the employer will reimburse you for your expenses after the interview.
- The on-site interview will be completely at your expense
It is usually a good idea for the candidate to plan to arrive in the city the night before the on-site interview. The wise candidate tries to avoid very late flights or the last flight into the city. This will help avoid the problems that can arise from airline delays, cancellations or related difficulties.
Once in town, the candidate goes to the hotel and checks in. Many hotels have courtesy vans from the airport. In other cases, the candidate may take a taxi. In any case, receipts should be kept for later reimbursement.
When checking into the hotel the candidate should ask for any messages (the organization may have left information) and verify any prepayment agreement. Most hotels will ask to imprint a credit card for any charges not covered by the organization.
Evening Before The Interview
Many organizations arrange for an employee to meet the candidate for dinner on the evening of arrival. The dinner is designed as an opportunity for the candidate to relax and meet an employee while getting a casual flavor for the next day’s schedule, the organization, the city and any other pertinent topics.
The day of the interview is generally a very busy one. It is impossible to write exactly what to expect because different organizations set up different types of schedules.
Many organizations will schedule three to five hour-long interviews with various levels of management in a one-on-one setting. These interviews may, however, be shorter or longer, fewer or more numerous. In the one-on-one setting, candidates will speak with department managers and first line supervisors of the area in which the position is available. Additionally, the candidate may meet with a second or third level manager who has had experience in many different areas of the organization. Finally, the vice president of human resources or a director level manager may meet with the candidate to round out his or her exposure to the organization’s personnel.
Some employers schedule group interviews with four to twelve candidates visiting at one time. The candidates engage in some group sessions, and at other times are involved in one-on-one interviews. The group visit is more difficult for the organization to arrange but allows them the opportunity to see each candidate among his or her peers. It permits the candidates a chance to see some of those who might be a part of her or his training group.
The last meeting of the day will often be with the contact person or personnel manager. This session is to answer any final candidate questions, explain follow-up procedures, discuss reimbursements and take care of any similar details. After the visit the candidate will be directed back to the airport for the flight home. Most organizations will structure the day to allow the candidate to depart the facility between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m.
Candidates should be sure that all their questions have been answered prior to leaving. They need to understand both their and the organization’s responsibility regarding follow-up. These should be discussed during the last session of the day.
As mentioned earlier, most day long on-site interviews are packed with interviews. Under the pressure of numerous back-to-back interviews it is easy for the candidate to grow weary and ignore some points which are important to survival in the process.
The candidate will be speaking with a variety of managers at differing levels of the corporate hierarchy. It is important that the candidate be him- or herself, maintain a positive attitude, and relax as much as possible.
The wise candidate takes the opportunity to ask a lot of questions and to get a feel for the organization’s operating environment. She or he relishes the opportunity to speak with as many workers as possible at the organization location. This gives the candidate a better understanding of the people and environment in which he or she might eventually be employed.
This is a touchy topic and students are often caught off guard when the topic comes up in an interview. If questioned about salary expectations the candidate can respond in one of two ways:
- Give a broad range: “I would hope with my background and qualifications to be making between $40,000 and $46,000.” The range given should be realistic and based upon prior research of starting salaries in the industry and for the position being discussed. Use sites such as Villanova’s Placement Statistics or www.salary.com to help you develop a salary range.
- Sidestep the question: “I’m sure that if you make me an offer it will be commensurate with my qualifications and the current salary structure for your industry.”
The candidate should try to avoid giving an exact figure in response to this question. If pressed on the issue by the interviewer, one has to respond but it is still best to give a range. Candidates are often tempted to bring up the salary issues themselves. As a general rule, it is best not to mention salary until the company brings it up. Salary will usually not be a topic of conversation until an offer is made.
Many organizations test candidates prior to extending offers to visit the organization or during the visit itself. This testing may consist of standard mathematical and verbal tests similar to the SAT or ACT, but much briefer. The candidate should be aware that no preparation is possible. The candidate should, however, get plenty of rest the evening before a test to aid clear thinking.
Some organizations administer personality tests. These tests involve numerous questions for which there are no right or wrong answers and candidates must answer them honestly or risk showing very unusual profiles. There is no benefit to trying to “psych out” a personality test.
A test instituted by many organizations over the last few years involves drug testing. This encompasses testing for all controlled substances and takes the form of a urine specimen analyzed for appearance of a substance. Candidates should be aware of the possibility that this test may occur and should be advised that failure to submit to a drug test may end further employment consideration.
Candidates should also make an effort to learn about the organization’s surrounding territory. It is a good idea for the candidate to contact the local chamber of commerce or visitors’ bureau requesting information on the area. Additionally, an apartment guide or home guide is probably available through the chamber or the realty association for use in selecting a residence.
If an eventual offer is made and accepted, the candidate will be relocating to that city. During the on-site interview day the candidate should question people, particularly those closest in age, about housing entertainment, cost of living, and other personal concerns.
After The Visit
Following the visit the candidate should email or mail a personal letter of thanks to all the people met and talked with that day. While this may not affect the probability of getting an offer, it is a common courtesy and will definitely be remembered if he or she ends up working there.
Additionally, a letter of thanks to the main contact person is mandatory. This letter should reaffirm interest in the position, highlight qualifications one last time, or if applicable, indicate no further interest in the position. This short letter should reflect the candidate’s aggressiveness, highlight her or his understanding of etiquette, and show continued interest. The letter provides the candidate one last opportunity to stand out above the competition and position him or herself for potential hiring.
Many organizations will get back to candidates within two weeks of the actual visit with an offer or rejection. This is an average. Some organizations offer jobs on the spot while others take up to a month to respond. It is, therefore, a good idea for candidates to find out how long they can expect to wait to hear from the organization regarding an employment decision. The candidate should feel free to contact the organization to check on delays if the estimated decision date passes with no response.
Finally, candidates are advised never to be afraid to turn down a job offer if, after careful consideration, they consider it not to be right for their future. After all, long term career satisfaction is the goal of the whole career process.