• By Walter C. Vertreace

Not a Replay of your On-Campus Interview

You were successful at the campus interview, and have been invited for a site visit at the company headquarters or field facility. You impressed the company’s representative with your preparation, your knowledge of the company, your appearance and your credentials. The job is virtually guaranteed, right? Wrong! The fact that you were among the 15% or so who were screened in, not out, indicates only that you fit their basic list of required skills, abilities and interests. The company’s focus will now change, from finding those who meet those basic requirements to selecting the very best available candidates for employment.

On campus, the representative was looking to see if you could do, or learn, the job. Now the company is evaluating you for the long haul. They want to see if the initial, favorable impression was justified. The second set of interviews will require more in-depth preparation on your part, because the company wants a more in-depth perception of you.

Practice – Still a Key to Success

If you were initially interviewed during a job fair, the entire encounter probably lasted three to five minutes. If during a campus visit by the company representatives – twenty to twenty-five minutes. Your site visit can consist of individual or group interviews of up to an hour each, and an overall evaluation experience of one to two days. Now is your time to prepare.

By far, the best preparation for interviewing is interviewing. Participate in mock interviews, and attend the various job fairs and career days at you school. You will become accomplished at speaking to various company representatives, and ease the tension you felt the first time. Practice builds confidence.

Be able to answer such typical questions as: “Tell me about yourself.” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” “Where do you expect to be five years from now?” “Do you prefer to work alone, or in a team?” “How do your grades reflect your abilities?” You should be able to talk confidently about this most familiar of subjects – yourself.

Other questions are likely to be situation specific, and your answers should be just as focused. Even in response to the inevitable hypothetical questions, be ready to tell how you actually performed, not speculate on how you would perform, in leadership or problem-solving situations. “I solved that problem, with this team, and achieved these results.”

After each interview, ask a question or two, appropriate for the individual with whom you have been speaking – accounting questions for an accounting supervisor, organizational structure and policy matters for human resources. Prepare your initial list of questions in advance, while you are continuing to research the company, thereby avoiding inquiries that could have been answered by a quick look at the Annual Report or the company Web site; you do not want to appear as if you did not do your homework.

Logistics and Procedures

Your contact person, identified on the invitation letter, can tell you how travel arrangements are made. If travel will be by air, the company may make your reservations in advance, and provide you an e-ticket to be picked up at the airport. If travel is by train, you will probably buy your ticket and file for a reimbursement.

Some companies make advance arrangements to pay your hotel bill. It is considered bad form to charge personal calls to the room, use the in-room bar, or order pay-per-view movies or events. Maintain detailed records of all expenses, including mileage on your personal car, and keep receipts.

Request an itinerary or agenda, and a list of things you need to bring, such as a transcript of college credits or a writing sample.

Drive by the facility the evening before your appointment, so you will be comfortable with the route and know what to expect. Then get a good night’s sleep. You’ll need it. In the morning, allow extra time for traffic congestion during the rush hour.

First Impressions

Conservatism in dress, speech and demeanor is the order of the day when making your first impression to a corporate interviewer. Unless you have been given specific instructions to the contrary, stay with the basic business suit. Set your clothes out the night before – one less thing to think about in the morning.

Grooming should also be conservative. Lose the Iverson braids and shoulder-length dreads. Wear a shirt that covers your tattoos, and avoid trendy nail designs or multiple earrings. You want your abilities, not your appearance, to stand out.

Bring a briefcase or valise, not a backpack, and be sure to have extra copies of your résumé available. Turn off your cell phone and pager before each meeting.

Arrive at the facility about a half-hour early, but don’t check in with the receptionist until about ten minutes before your scheduled start time. When you do check in, the evaluation has begun; treating the receptionist with respect can pay dividends, since this gatekeeper is often asked for an initial impression of a candidate. Identify yourself, and the person with whom you have an appointment, and give the receptionist one of your networking cards. From the time you are first introduced to each interviewer, be confident, enthusiastic, and courteous. Use “Mr.” or “Ms.” until directed to do otherwise.

While waiting, walk around the reception area, reviewing the awards, plaques and other displays. This is a relaxing way to get a last-minute idea of the company culture as portrayed to the public.

A Different Kind of Interviewer

On campus, you probably met one company representative, who evaluated your communication skills and the extent to which your degree or discipline matched the company’s stated needs. That information was then forwarded to a hiring manager. At the workplace for the on-site interview, you will have a series of longer meetings.

Often, your first contact will be from human resources, followed by managers or professionals from various operating units, representing a range of levels from new professional to senior manager. Take all of them seriously, as any one of them may turn out to be your boss. These sessions can run from 45 minutes to an hour each, followed at the end of the day by a closing meeting with human resources.

You are likely to be asked the same question more than once, but by different interviewers. Try to remain enthusiastic, as if you are hearing the question for the first time, each time.

A Mutual Evaluation Exercise

During the on-site visit, you get to experience firsthand what the company and its people are like, and management gets a close look at you outside of the campus environment.

Dinner with company representatives the evening before the interviews, and lunch the day of the interviews, are not social occasions – you are still on display, still being evaluated. Remember manners, etiquette, and watch what you order – no finger food, no alcoholic beverages, and nothing messy, like spaghetti, lobster, or corn on the cob. Discreetly let the company know if you have any special dietary restrictions, meal times or breaks.

Order something light and easy – you will probably be doing more talking than eating. And don’t order the most expensive, or the cheapest, thing on the menu. The key again is not to attract attention to things other than your qualifications.

You may be asked to take a test. Whether skills testing, work samples and simulations, or personality testing, the fact that it is being conducted at all is usually a good sign. If the company is spending time and money testing you, they must still be seriously considering hiring you. Relax, be yourself, and do your best.

Evaluate the company as your potential career home for the next few years, and consider the answers you receive to questions dealing with training and development, life in the surrounding community, and what it takes to move up. Also, look around for people who look like you. Is there diversity at this company? Are minorities and women in the corner offices? In speaking to your future peers, are they open, or are they secretive? Does the morale seem to be on the upswing? Do you perceive cooperation and friendliness, or competition and backstabbing?

The End as Another Beginning

At the close of the interview day, you will likely be asked your impression of the experience. Be positive, even if you are no longer interested in the position. If you are still interested, make that fact clear to your contact person. If there has been no effective closing to the day, take charge of it. “I’d like to ask about the next steps in the process. Where do we go from here?”

Remember the names and titles of each person you met on site; collect business cards if possible. When you get home, send each a personal thank-you letter. Many applicants leave out this important step. If the date given for a decision passes and you have not heard from the company, give your contact person a call to let them know you are still interested.

When you receive an offer letter (or a rejection), respond in writing, again expressing your appreciation for their time.

Either way, you’re on your way. After the first on-site interview session, the rest become second nature, putting you one step closer to your new career.