"It’s a lot more intense," said Lauren Egierski, a senior at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. "They definitely put you out of your comfort zone."
She’s not talking about finals or meeting her boyfriend’s parents. Egierski is a veteran of the on-site job interview.
Many students feel confident about campus interviews, when recruiters question potential candidates on their home turf. Yet, big businesses are following up with an on-site interview, which is usually the last step before an offer. A little prep work, showing genuine interest in the company and making a lasting impression can get you an offer on the table. Find out what recruiters are really looking for when they invite you over for dinner.
READY FOR ANYTHING
One thing you can expect is a more rigorous schedule than that of a campus interview. On-site interviews often involve an overnight stay to accommodate multiple interviews, meeting executives, presentations and social gatherings.
You should assume that the expectations are much higher than those of the campus interview, said Jackie Wilbur, director of the career development office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.
The MIT Sloan School of Management, ranked fourth on the U.S. News and World Report’s list of top graduate business schools, sends students all over the globe for on-site visits. Besides a series of standard interviews, there’s really no way to predict what to expect, Wilbur said.
"We’ve seen everything from panel interviews to being put on teams with people you’re competing with for the job so the company can observe how you interact and work with others," she said.
She did note that aptitude tests were much rarer in U.S. companies than in global corporations, where they’re highly accepted.
Transportation and reimbursements are rarely something to worry about.
"A good company will make your travel arrangements for you, from the airport to the hotel to taxies," Egierski said. "They ask you to keep your receipt for gas if you drive."
To balance the unknowns, you should do everything within your power to give the best impression possible despite circumstances, said Cedric Bryant, a manager of college and professional recruiting for Gannett.
Gannet Company, Inc., an international newspaper, broadcast and Internet firm, visits approximately 50 college campuses a year to recruit. Bryant visits nearly a dozen campuses each year.
"Control the things you can control," Bryant said.
A little preparation can build a lot of confidence.
Sean O’Hara, a manager of investor relations and recruiter for Zimmer, Inc., recommended preparing intelligent, well thought-out and researched questions.
"Don’t just go to the Web site," O’Hara said. "Show them you’re really interested in the company."
The MIT Sloan School of Management teaches its students to do the same.
"Do in-depth research, like on the business challenges of the company and some possible solutions," Wilbur said. "This could be a competitive strategy or public relations. An applicant would need to be thinking that through."
Current employees are also an advantageous resource.
Prior to an interview you should reach out to someone in the company, like alumni and friends, to learn about the culture of the company or departments, said Pat DeMasters, one of the directors of career services at the University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business. The UCB Haas School of Business, which is ranked seventh on the U.S. News and World Report’s list of top graduate business schools, recommends having references within the company who can vouch for your qualifications, she said.
MAKING AN IMPRESSION
Recruiters rely heavily on personal interaction to see if you’re a good fit.
Baxter International, Inc., a global healthcare products and services company, goes through an extensive process to filter out weak applicants before the interviewing process begins.
"Applicants are heavily screened on paper before an on-site interview is even scheduled," said Brian Grothe, a senior financial analyst and recruiter for the company. "Once they’re interviewing, it’s 100 percent about the in-person presentation."
Egierski recommends playing the part. She tries to "be the job" by showcasing what kind of employee she would be throughout the interview. She also brings a portfolio with her resume, references and samples of her work, something she said a lot of her fellow applicants failed to have.
Looking good on paper alone won’t get you the job.
"Your competition is at your caliber or higher," Egierski said. "You have to convince the company that it wants to hire you."
A SOCIAL AFFAIR
Recruiters use dinners out to test your social adaptability and allow you to meet current employees.
"Dinners are supposed to be the most fun, but it’s often the most awkward part," Egierski said.
If you’re nervous about whether you should order the lobster or simply a cheeseburger, Scott Tidwell, a financial development program analyst for Baxter, recommends taking cues.
"They’re not going to throw someone under the bus and make him or her order first," he said. "Just follow the leader."
The same goes for alcoholic drinks.
"If the recruiter orders a drink, it’s always acceptable but never expected," Tidwell said.
Students should not feel compelled to drink, even if one is offered, DeMasters said.
"You want to be as sharp as possible," she said.
O’Hara suggests asking employees if they’ve ever dined there before and what they would recommend.
"This shows that you’re engaged and can interact well in a social setting."
THE BIG DAY
After you’ve dazzled recruiters with winning conversational skills and ordered the perfect meal, be sure to get a good night’s rest for the long day of interviewing ahead.
DeMasters suggests putting small candies in your pocket before leaving the hotel to keep your energy level up throughout the day.
Arrive early and remember to be polite to the receptionist, she said.
"He or she is such an easy person for the interviewer to ask if the applicant was friendly or rude," DeMasters said.
The waiting room is a great place to brush up on company literature. You should also check the daily news before an interview for current events and be aware if the company made headlines, DeMasters said. For appearance, err on the side of dressing more professional. Being well groomed, wearing polished shoes and ironing your suit are essential. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or smoking directly before an interview, she said.
During the interview, give genuine responses.
"A bad interview is when the applicant isn’t sincere and gives canned answers," Grothe said. "We’re trained to recognize that sort of thing."
Be upfront about what you would like from the company.
"Tell the interviewer what you really want to do with the company," O’Hara said. "Not being truthful and communicating poorly is a waste of everyone’s time."
Applicants should always be prepared to answer the question of why the company should hire them.
"There’s a lot of competition, and your strengths should be tailored toward what the job is about," Demasters said.
LEAVING YOUR MARK
O’Hara suggests following up with something personal and prompt that draws attention. It should also be carefully proofread.
"I’ve received format follow-up letters with another company’s name in the middle of the text," he said.
Use the business cards you’ve collected throughout the day and write a personal letter of gratitude to each person. Because email inboxes tend to fill quickly, DeMasters suggests a legible hand-written note on professional stationary.
"This is also a good time to readdress a concern that might have come up during the interview," she said.
In-depth preparation, sincere interest in the company and making an impression are essential for a successful job search.
After nearly 40 campus interviews and five on-site visits, Egierski will graduate with a job offer from a wine distribution company.
"I’ve never walked out of an on-site interview thinking I’ve nailed it," Egierski said. "The on-site just requires a lot more personal confidence than a campus interview."