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Mastering the On-Site Job Interview:
A Guide to Company Visits
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
It's something most job-seekers both eagerly anticipate and sometimes dread: the invitation to spend a day or two interviewing at a company's office after an initial interview at a job fair, a screening telephone interview, or after an on-campus recruiting interview(s).
The good news is that you made the cut; the employer thinks highly enough of you and your potential from your initial interview to invite you for the visit. The challenge that lies before you, however, is mastering the informal and formal interviews that await you on the visit.
The purpose of the on-site interview is to allow both you and the employer to gain a more in-depth knowledge of each other -- to see if there is a "fit." The employer, through the multiple interviews that occur during your visit, gains a greater understanding of who you are and how you interact with numerous potential co-workers and supervisors. You get firsthand exposure to the company's work environment and corporate culture -- and prospective co-workers. (Follow this link for more comparisons between on-site interviews and campus interviews.)
Here are the 10 most critical things you need to know about successfully navigating a company visit.If you master each of these aspects of the company visit, you should reasonably expect a job offer. Just remember that job-hunting is an art, not a science, and even the best efforts do not always lead to job offers. Read this job-seeker's bad on-site interview experience.
One final comment: you should really accept office visit invitations only from the companies at which you plan to seriously consider a job, if offered.
Once you've received the invitation for the on-site visit, your first test is one of successfully dealing with the travel arrangements and arriving to the employer's office safely -- and on time. Every company handles travel arrangements differently, so make sure you clearly understand the procedures and arrangements before you leave for the visit.
Depending on where you live and where the office is, you may have to deal with airlines, buses, trains, taxis, rental cars, maps, tolls, hotels, restaurants, and other expenses. If the company has not prepaid for something, make sure you get a receipt. Consider doing research on the city if you are unfamiliar with the area.
Read this job-seeker's bad travel anecdote.
You thought you had to know a lot about the company for the initial interview? Well, you now need to become even more of an expert. Spend time researching the company by examining the company's annual reports, company Websites, and external sources of information. But don't stop there. Spend time familiarizing yourself with the key industry (or industries) that the company or division operates within. You can find all the resources you need by visiting our Guide to Researching Companies.
You should also spend time boning up on your interview skills and style. Do some research to determine the types of interviews you should expect during your visit -- but be prepared for everything.
If possible, ask your company contact person (or his or her assistant) for a copy of the interview schedule -- and make sure you get the names and titles of those who are interviewing you. Try to find out information about these people; the Web is a great source for this type of information, especially LinkedIn.
Make sure you know the exact position you are interviewing for so that you can research typical duties and responsibilities, as well as salary range. Determine how your unique selling proposition (USP) fits with the position -- and plan on articulating it again and again at each interview setting during the company visit.
When packing for the trip, be sure you have all that you need for the time you will spend on the road and at the company -- and make sure it's the proper clothing for the climate you are traveling to for the visit.
Finally, do be sure to bring all the necessary job-hunting material, including multiple copies of your resume, a job-skills portfolio (if you have one), employment history, and reference list. Keep in mind you may need to complete a job application while on the visit.
Informal Social Event/Interview
Whether it's the night before or the evening afterwards, an informal social event designed for casual conversation is almost always part of the company visit agenda. Employers see this as a time to see how well you seem to fit with their current mix of employees -- and you should take advantage of the event to see how this group fits with you.
Some employers put a high degree of importance on this issue, so don't ever forget for even a second that this event is a series of interviews. Don't talk about controversial topics; don't get into arguments; and avoid all other bad habits/manners.
Meals and Drinks
You can usually expect one or more meals during your on-site visit. A time to relax and pig out? Hardly. These "breaks" from interviewing should be seen as just another interview, in which your manners, poise, conversation skills, and judgment may be evaluated. Make sure you know proper dining etiquette and order a light meal that is not messy (no pasta with cream sauces), not spicy (forget the onions), and is not the most expensive item on the menu -- kind of like when you are on a date!
My personal advice regarding alcoholic beverages: Avoid them. Some career experts say it's okay to have a glass or two of wine (nothing stronger) with a meal, but anything that dulls your senses cannot help you stay sharp -- and believe me, people will be talking about what you said and did at the meal.
Corporate Culture and Fit
An on-site interview is also a great chance for you to really get a snapshot of the organization's corporate culture. The corporate culture is the environment or personality of an organization; it dictates acceptable business practices, the treatment of employees, and much more.
Take the time to get a feel for the corporate culture so you can decide whether it's the type of environment where you would feel comfortable working because if you do not fit in with the culture of an organization, you are simply not going to last long there (or not want to last long there).
Day of Interviews
Make sure you get a good night's rest before the big day of interviews. You will often meet with multiple groups of people, from potential coworkers, to managers and executives. Be prepared for different types of interviews and different style of interviewers. You need to stay focused and excel at each interview session -- repeating your USP at each interview.
You will find yourself answering the same questions to different groups throughout the day, and while this scenario may seem strange and monotonous, be sure to treat each meeting as a separate interview, even if that means repeating answers you gave in previous interviews. Stay fresh!
Salary is certainly likely to come up during the on-site visit -- just make sure you are not the one to raise the salary issue. But you need to be prepared with a response when the issue is raised in one or more of the interviews. Try to stay as flexible as possible in any salary discussion.
Knowledge is power, so hopefully you've done your homework and know the salary range of the position. If so, use this knowledge to give a desired range, if pinned down for a figure.
For lots more advice on salary negotiation, be sure to spend some time reviewing our salary negotiation tutorial before you go to the interview.
You may be requested to take one or more aptitude or personality tests. The aptitude tests are similar to standardized tests you probably took to get into college -- and are designed to analyze whether you really have the skills you claim to have. The personality tests are designed to see whether your personality is a fit for whatever personality types the company is looking for. See our article, Handling Pre-employment Screenings and Assessments.
End of the Visit
At the end of the (final) day, when your visit is just about completed, do several very important things before you leave. Presumably, your final meeting of the day will be with the person who has coordinated the visit.
First, if you are excited about the job and feel you had a strong visit, you should ask for the job offer. As we say in sales, try to close the deal. If you're offered the job, ask about getting a formal, written offer, and ask about when the company needs your decision. See our articles, Closing the Job Interview, and Closing the Sale and Overcoming Objections in the Job Interview.
Second, if job-offer talk is still too preliminary, make sure you ask about the next step in the process -- and the company's timetable for filling the position.
Third, if arrangements have not already been finalized, make sure you have a clear understanding of what the company needs from you so you can get reimbursed for your expenses. Don't pad your expense report with personal items, such as personal phone calls, in-room movies, or alcoholic beverages. Do be sure to list all transportation, lodging, meals, and tips. Don't include speeding tickets or parking fines.
One of most important things you can do after the on-site visit is to write thank-you notes (or letters) to each person who interviewed you or spent a fair amount of time with you. As we stress in many of our job-hunting articles, this action should be automatic as a common courtesy, but the fact remains that most job-seekers don't send thank you notes -- and you can get an edge by doing so.
Should you send thank you notes if you received a job offer at the end of the visit? Of course! If you decide to take the offer, your actions will give you an edge as you start on the job -- as a courteous and considerate co-worker.
Finally, if you did not get a job offer, follow-up with a phone call to the hiring manager. Keep to the timetable you talked about during your visit, but I suggest that you check back in a week -- regardless -- if nothing else then to continue expressing your interest in the position.
Notes: Two other good articles about on-site job interviews/visits are:
- Preparing for the On-Site Interview, by Aaron Wyche in The Black Collegian Online.
- A Guide to a Company Visit/Second Interview, from the McComsey Career Development Center at Alfred University.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com.
Have you taken advantage of all of our job interviewing resources? Find articles, tutorials, and more -- all written to help job-seekers learn how to succeed in all types of job interviews.