Guide to the On-Site Visit
Many employers who recruit on college campuses include a worksite visit as a final stage in the hiring process. The visit is generally a full day of interviewing and related activities. After the visit is completed and an evaluation conducted, an offer may be made.
Employers use many terms to describe the on-site visit. A few common terms are "on-site interview," office visit, plant trip or "final rounds." Financial services firms and Fortune 500 companies sometimes arrange events on weekends and refer to their programs as "Super Saturday."
Employers vary greatly in their approach to interviewing candidates and in structuring site visits. The length of the trip, number of people involved, levels of people interviewed with, types of tests conducted, and degree of informality can differ from one employer to the next.
As a result, the following suggestions for preparing for employer visits focuses upon practices that are fairly consistent among employers. This information will help you understand the nature of the visit, how to prepare for it, and how to "put your best foot forward" while you are there.
The Purpose of the On-Site Visit
Generally, the visit serves two primary purposes:
First, and foremost consider the employer's objective. The onsite visit allows employers to obtain a more in-depth assessment of the candidate (i.e. you) prior to making a job offer.
In most cases, they don't invite you unless they are very interested in you and think that you have the technical skills and qualifications to do the job.
From the employer's perspective, on-site visits are time-consuming and expensive. In today's economy, most companies have finite resources dedicated to recruiting, so they screen a large number of applicants down to a few who are invited to visit. The visit is generally the last step in the selection process before an offer is made.
An on-site visit, then is an opportunity for employers to confirm that there is a good match between your professional goals and the career opportunity. They will also be looking to see that there is good "chemistry" between you and the employer's culture.
When you accept a position, you are, in effect, making a commitment to spend more time with your employer than with your family or your friends. (Very few of us spend more than 40 waking hours a week with the same person.)
For you, the on-site visit is a first-hand opportunity to observe both interpersonal interactions and the work environment to see if you think that this could be a fit for you. Take the opportunity to learn more about the position, the career opportunities, the employees, the employer, the work environment and culture, and the local community.
Remember that the employer will usually be doing as much selling as evaluating. Employers are generally just as interested in hiring good employees who are genuinely enthusiastic about working for them as you are in finding the right opportunity.
Preparing For The Visit
Preparation for the visit is critical since the visit is the final step for most employers in deciding whether to make a job offer.
You should learn as much about the employer as possible. Research can include:
- Notes taken after the initial interview
- Annual report
- Promotional material on the employer (e.g. website and brochures)
- Industry publications with information about the employer and its products/services
- Talking with former students who are now employed there
- Talking with current employees in the line of work for which you are interviewing
- Talking with people who have direct contact with the employer or its products/services
A good source for researching employers is available through our, "Conducting Employer Research." The handout includes access information for the Global Business Browser, an on-line research tool which provides quick access to key company statistics, news and financial indicators.
The better prepared you are, the more probable it is that the employer will recognize your enthusiasm, drive, motivation, maturity, and thoroughness. You'll be fully prepared if you can present yourself as being knowledgeable about the employer, their products or services, and the career opportunity being discussed.
You don't need to be a "walking encyclopedia" of information in this regard either, the key is to be able to convey this information casually in conversation or by asking insightful questions at the end of your interview. These questions should demonstrate your thorough preparation for the visit, and also elicit the types of information that will support an informed decision to accept or decline an offer. To prepare, you should investigate the following about the employer:
- The business in which they operate
- Their mission and long range goals
- Their business philosophy and management style
- The community in which they are located
Prepare questions on a wide range of topics:
- Corporate goals and direction
- Career enhancement
- Career paths of recent hires
- Market growth opportunities
- Representative work projects
- Research & development
Questions such as: "Can you describe your ideal candidate?" or "What are the benefits?" are not the proper questions to ask. These questions show shallowness and a lack of concern for the key criteria that are being judged during the visit. The first type of question requests information that should be obvious (as they've invited you to the interview), and the second reflects an over-emphasis on matters that will be explained in good time.
While knowledge, good insightful questions and a sharp business outlook will go a long way toward succeeding in the visit, your personal preparation is equally important. This should include:
- Leaving personal problems at home
- Bringing appropriate business dress (for the type of company involved)
- Having a well-groomed appearance (hair, face, skin, nails, etc.)
Note: When possible, try to tie up "loose ends" (e.g. papers and assignments) before leaving on your trip. In a recent study publicized through CNN, researchers found that "people who drive after being awake for 17 to 19 hours performed worse than those with a blood alcohol level of .05 percent." While driving and interviewing require different motor and verbal skills, performance in both is certainly enhanced when you are well-rested and alert!
Arranging The Trip
Generally, the person who invites you for the trip will also serve as your later point-of-contact for all logistical information.
The majority of visits are one full day in length. This generally necessitates an overnight stay in the city where the employer is located. Travel will be either by flying or driving, depending upon the your preference and distance away. Usually trips of more than 200 miles will justify flight or train travel, if appropriate.
In many cases, the employer will discuss how travel arrangements will be made with you during your initial contact. Generally they will offer information about financial arrangements before you need to ask.
Some employers are prepared to schedule all the arrangements for the visit. They will reserve and pre-pay the hotel room and schedule and pre-pay the flights, but might offer these conveniences only when requested. If they are making flight arrangements in your behalf be sure to give them your formal name (in other words, the name which matches your driver's license or passport) so that you will not encounter any difficulties with airport security. Make sure you are very clear about the dates and times of travel. If traveling from Hanover, make sure that they are aware of other issues that might affect your travel day. For example, if you will be flying out of Boston and plan to use Dartmouth Coach to get to Logan Airport, be sure to share the bus schedule with them
If you are asked to make the travel arrangements yourself, you may find the Dartmouth Travel Office to be helpful in making your arrangements. They can be reached at 643-2700 (ask if student rates area are available). Be prepared to have a method of payment for the travel agent.
Make sure to confirm hotel reservations with the contact person; it's okay to ask up-front how payment arrangements should be handled. Arrangements for ground transportation should be discussed with the contact person so that you are prepared in advance to handle this part of the trip.
After receiving confirmation of the travel arrangements, you should call or send a note to the contact confirming reservations and travel plans. This helps to avoid any last minute mix-ups or confusion.
Candidates who are married sometimes request that their spouses accompany them on the visit. Some employers may include spouses on the visit, although many others will offer a later visit for the spouse, after an offer has been made. (Generally, it's better to wait until after an offer has been extended to make this request.)
You should get all directions ahead of time. If anything at all is unclear (dates, times, locations), the contact person should be called prior to departure to clear things up. You should know how to get from the airport to the hotel to the interview site and how to get to the first meeting of the day before ever leaving campus.
Disclosure of a Disability
Disclosure is only relevant when it directly relates to the impact a disability will have either at the interview or on the job. Timing for self-disclosure should be based on the individual's needs and the time frame in which barriers arise or are most likely to occur.
The issue is whether or not the disability will have some impact on the interview. If you have a learning impairment, for example, and will need an interpreter at the interview, obviously that needs to be discussed. If you are worried about being able to access the interview and you are in a wheelchair, for example, you should disclose your disability.
Basically, if you think you will need an accommodation to participate in the interview process, it would be appropriate for you to self-disclose prior to the on-site visit. Early notification allows the employer time to make necessary arrangements. If you do not disclose prior to your visit, it doesn't mean you will not have the opportunity to participate in the interview with reasonable accommodation; however, it may mean that the interview will need to be delayed while the employer makes the arrangements for accommodation.
It is your responsibility to make the need for an accommodation known. Some types of disabilities require that special preparations such as parking, building and bathroom access, or greeter/guides be made before an on-site interview. Therefore, if you know that your accommodation needs will take time to arrange, it is important for you to explain these to the employer prior to the on-site visit.
Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
A free consulting service that provides information about job accommodations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the employability of people with disabilities.
- Employment Resources from the Riley Guide
If possible, try to arrive in the city the night before your on-site visit, avoiding late night flights and "the last flight in tonight."
Once in town, go to the hotel and check in. Many hotels have courtesy vans from the airport. Some cities have rail stations that allow you to take a train or subway from the airport. In other cases, you may need to take a taxi or bus. In any case, receipts for ground transportation expenditures should be kept for later reimbursement.
When checking into the hotel, ask for any messages (the employer may have left information) and verify any pre-pay agreement. Most hotels will ask to imprint a credit card for any charges not covered by the employer.
Some items you should be aware of include the following:
- Schedule a morning wake-up call with the front desk allowing plenty of time to get ready.
- If the initial room is unsatisfactory for any reason, particularly a noisy location, don't hesitate to ask the hotel to change it.
- Non-smoking rooms are available for non-smokers.
- Local calls are not free. They often cost anywhere from 25 cents to 75 cents per call.
- Do not bill any long distance calls to the room. Call collect or use a credit card.
- Review the bill upon checkout to ensure its accuracy.
- Do not open the "mini bar" in your hotel room. Items are very expensive, and no employer will be impressed by a "mini bar" bill, particularly if you consume alcohol.
The Evening Before
Many employers will arrange to meet you for dinner on the evening of arrival. The dinner is designed as an opportunity for you to relax and meet an employee or two while getting a casual flavor for the next day's schedule, the employer, the city and any other pertinent topics.
The dinner companion might be a line manager, your key contact, a recent hire or Dartmouth alum. The degree of informality and nature of conversation at dinner can vary but they are usually quite relaxed. Any dinner companion can serve as an evaluator so you should always reflect maturity and professionalism. To a degree, you are being interviewed during this dinner. The dinner host may be evaluating your social graces, manner of speech, contemporary ideas/views, ability to converse, ability to mix business/pleasure, maturity. (Remember that most of these skills will be come quite naturally to you, given that you use a majority of them everyday.)
Dress appropriately. Eat moderately, avoid alcoholic beverages (beyond a glass of wine, a beer, or a single drink, only if the host orders any of these first and if you are of age), and relax. The dinner is generally very social in nature and you should act naturally, although it should be the professional self that comes through. Avoid controversial subjects.
Ask for a morning wake-up call, use a travel alarm clock, or have a parent or friend call in the morning to make sure you wake up with plenty of time to prepare. No mistake is worse than tardiness.
Check out of the hotel upon leaving for the business site. If it is not out of your way to return to the hotel at the day's end, store your luggage with the bellman.
The day of the interview is generally a very busy one. It is impossible to write exactly what to expect because employers arrange different types of schedules. Many employers 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 addition, some interviews may be conducted by a team of interviewers.
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 to arrange but allows the opportunity to see each candidate among peers. It also permits you with a chance to evaluate your competition.
Most employers are well-prepared for visits by candidates. Many conduct formal interview training for their managers and these employers usually provide very good interview sessions with candidates.
Interviewers have reviewed the resumes of their visitors and will be familiar with your background. The interviewers will attempt to assess your motivation and drive. Often, each interviewer will be looking for slightly different qualities or potential performance indicators. You may be asked the same questions by three or four different people during the day, yet you must give as good an answer to the fourth as to the first. This can be tiring, but may indicate an area of particular concern or interest.
Some employers may prefer to take the non-directed approach to interviewing in which you (the candidate) are expected to ask the questions and make observations. This is one reason why conducting research in advance of your interview is very helpful.
Generally, on-site interviews can run the gamut in terms of who you interview with. You will usually speak with department managers of the area in which the position is available. Additionally, you may meet with individuals who work in different functional areas of the company. Finally, the head of human resources or a higher-level manager may meet with you to provide non-technical information.
It is probable that an employment manager or site manager will conduct a tour of the work environment at some time during the day. While this is usually a relaxed tour, you should be aware that they are still being interviewed, even in this setting.
Employers will usually try to structure the itineraries to meet your schedule, and many will design the day so as to provide a friendly and relaxed atmosphere for you. It is important to the employer that you feel as comfortable as possible about the visit so that you may accurately assess your feelings about the job, employer, location, etc. Remember that interviewing is a two way street in which everyone puts their "best foot forward"—including the employer.
Anyone you meet is a potential evaluator, including secretaries and janitorial staff. Considering this, you must remain sharp, confident and professional at all times.
The last meeting of the day will often be with the contact person or human resources manager. This session is to answer any of your final questions, explain follow-up procedures, discuss reimbursement and take care of any other details. Most employers will structure the day to allow departure between 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.
You will be speaking with a variety of managers at different levels of the corporate hierarchy. It is important that you be natural, maintain a positive attitude, and relax as much as possible.
Sometimes you may obtain valuable information in unexpected settings, such as
- Waiting for an interviewer to come pick you up at a reception area
- In the company cafeteria during lunch
- Speaking with a secretary in a manager's office
Most interview questions are geared toward assessment of communication skills, assertiveness, leadership capabilities, personal skills and desires as they relate to the position open, as well as to long range career goals.
In some instances, employers will assign each interviewer a specific quality or skill to ask about during the interview. One interviewer will probe for leadership ability, another for analytical ability, still another for communication skills and so on. After the process is complete, all the interviewers will meet to discuss your candidacy and a decision will be reached.
In other instances, each interviewer will determine independently the nature of questions to be asked. This approach might appear less coordinated to you. Again, the interviewers will share the impressions they have reached after your departure.
Students are often caught off guard when the topic comes up in an interview. If questioned about salary expectations you can respond in one of three ways:
Give a broad range: "I would hope with my background and qualifications to be making between $45,000 and $49,000." The range given should be realistic and based upon prior research of starting salaries in the industry and for the position being discussed. Check with Career Services for current starting salaries.
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."
Throw the question back: "Could you provide me with the established salary range for this position?" This provides some information upon which you can base your response.
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 best not to mention salary until the interviewer brings it up.
Many employers test candidates at some point during the interview process. This testing may consist of standard mathematical and verbal tests similar to the SAT, or they may involve questions/problems that are very specific to the position requirements. Some employers 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 a result showing very unusual profiles. There is no benefit to trying to "psyche out" a personality test.
Many employers have instituted drug testing. This encompasses testing for all controlled substances and takes the form of a urine specimen analyzed for appearance of a substance. You 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.
If a position requires a move, you should also make an effort to learn about the surrounding territory. During your visit, inquire about housing, entertainment, cost of living, and other living concerns.
Expenses and Follow-Up
Expense handling and reimbursement varies by employer but nearly all will handle this part of the process with a sensitive eye towards your needs. If possible it is a good idea for you to secure access to a major credit card, if you don't have one already. This will provide the ability to pay expenses when the need arises and will help to avoid any potentially embarrassing situation.
If a major credit card is not an option, and cash flow is low, many employers are willing to pre-pay expenses. You should never turn down a visit because funds are low! Talking to the contact person can help. Employers can assist students in ways such as:
- Pre-pay airline tickets for pick up at the airport
- Provide a travel advance to the student
- Pre-pay the hotel room
- Arrange for ground transportation
Generally, most major expenses (travel and lodging) will either be pre-paid or put on a credit card (yours) and reimbursed at a later date. Incidental expenses to be paid by you and reimbursed later include:
- Mileage (if personal vehicle is used)
- Cab fares
- Meals en route
- Business phone calls
- Tips (within reason)
Other incidental expenses fully borne by you include:
- Room service snacks
- In room movies
- Personal phone calls
- Other personal items
Always collect receipts for expenses and have resources to pay hotel expenses, even when pre-payment has been agreed upon. Mistakes are sometimes made.
Use common sense and good judgment regarding expenses. Employers will see all expense report and receipts after a visit, and unusually high expenditures for ordinary items or unnecessary expenditures are inappropriate.
Meals need not be at a fast-food restaurant, but should be reasonable and items such as expensive wine or appetizers should be avoided. The hotel's own restaurant (or comparable prices) is usually a good measure of how much to spend. The employer wants you to enjoy the visit but not to be extravagant. Ordering caviar or drinking 18-year-old Scotch from the mini bar can be a negative reflection on your good judgment and sense of good business practice.
After the Visit
Following the visit, send a personal letter of thanks to all the people you met and talked with that day. While this may not affect the chances of getting an offer, it is a common courtesy and will be remembered.
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 your enthusiasm and show continued interest. The letter provides you with one last opportunity to stand out above the competition.
Many employers will get back to candidates within two weeks of the actual visit with an offer or a rejection. However, some offer jobs on the spot while others take up to a month to respond. It is, therefore, a good idea for you to find out how long you can expect to wait to hear from the employer regarding an employment decision. You should feel free to contact the employer to check on delays if the estimated decision date passes with no response.
Finally, you are advised never to be afraid to turn down a job offer if, after careful consideration, you consider it not to be right for your future. After all, long term career satisfaction is the goal of the whole process.