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Your Time to Shine

Success during on-site interviews

By Robert Shannon

Everyone knows the first interview is tricky, but when you’re invited back to one of your top companies for an on-site second interview, your stress levels can go through the roof. Everything you did to prepare for the first interview—all the research, the preparation, the practice—you have to multiply by 10. Or more!

The stakes are obviously much higher for the second interview. If everything goes well, you will be taking your first step into the professional realm. However, this is not the time to give into fear or anxiety. You should instead give every on-site interview the attention and appreciation it deserves.

What to Expect

As opposed to your on-campus interview, an on-site interview might involve a number of interviewers over several hours. The questions will be much more in-depth and will test your knowledge of the industry, the company and your own abilities. You also might have the chance to talk more casually with interviewers during the day. Don’t let your guard down; these informal chats can be just as important as more formal conversations.

When you attend an on-site interview, you may meet with human resource representatives, supervisors, potential co-workers and other members of your prospective department. And, depending on the company, your day might include a social gathering, such as lunch or dinner. You’re going to have to be “on” for quite some time and impress a number of different personalities, so make sure to arrive well-rested and prepared.

All-Important Second (and Third) Impression

There are a few things to keep in mind throughout the interview: 1. You obviously made a great first impression to the recruiter when he or she was on campus. 2. That first impression no longer means anything.

Yes, you’ve made the cut. You should feel good about that and use the boost of confidence throughout your on-site interview. But keep in mind that you’re not the only one who made it through that first elimination. The competition has only become greater, and you are going to be making more first impressions all day long.

Stand out from the crowd with confidence. Be the person who greets the interviewer with a firm handshake. Dress sharp and maintain the conversation. Don’t be the one who says, “Oops, I guess I forgot my resume at home!”


We’ve often discussed the topic of preparation in Cheat Sheet. It’s at the heart of every phase of the job search. If you’re really prepared, your on-site interview will seem—dare we say—easy. Or maybe, easier.

Know the company. Research! Know the company’s mission statement, the names of the senior management, and the primary products or services. Look up recent news articles. Browse Web sites, see how the company defines itself. Ask your career services office to put you in contact with recent alumni who work at the prospective company; they can be an invaluable resource. Prepare yourself so you can talk about the company as if you already work there.

Know yourself. During the interview you will undoubtedly be asked a question like, “What can you bring to this company?” It is helpful to think of an adequate answer in advance. Think about: Why are you pursuing this job? What is it about your skills and education that makes you want to work for this company? Why do you think you will succeed in this position? And while you’re at it, consider your long-term goals. You’re going to have to sell yourself to many people to get the job you want, so you should be confident talking about your background, education and professional aspirations.

Mind your manners. Get an honest appraisal of your interviewing skills—and your social skills. Do you slouch? Do you avoid eye contact? Are you soft-spoken? How’s your handshake? Can you get through a four-course meal without having to ask, “What do I do with this fork?” If you need help in any of these areas, your career center can assist you. There are also many books on these topics.

Details, details, details. The logistics associated with on-site interviews can be intimidating. Remember, this interview might entail more than just putting on your business suit and printing out a few copies of your resume. Make sure you have a full understanding of how you get to the interview site, where you will stay if it is out of town, your travel expenses, and who you will meet with. Have it all in writing, and don’t let the details overwhelm you.

Know What’s Next

Before you leave the interview, make sure you know what your next move is. Did you leave with an offer? If so, then the ball is in your court, and you need to respond in a timely manner. Or, will human resources follow up with you and set up a following meeting?

Regardless, you should get a business card from everyone you meet with. Follow up with thank-you notes.

The on-site interview can be overwhelming, but just approach it as you would a classroom presentation. The more you know about your project, the more confidently you’re going to present it. . . and the higher you’re going to score.

Ultimately, your goal during any interview is to be able to talk about the company intelligently, form insightful questions for your interviewees, give specific reasons why you’re the best candidate for the job, and to show yourself to be a mature, polished professional.

Robert Shannon is a free-lance writer from Chicago.


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