Time to Schedule Onsite Interviews

Make best use of your time & energy

Flying to California for an interview

Following the post on phone tech interviews last time, this week I want to talk about the strategies in scheduling onsite interviews.

1 Overview

In tech industry, onsite interviews are usually the last step in your application process. Once the company extends you an invitation for an onsite interview, they will let you pick an interview day, usually within the next month, and help you schedule your flights. When you are at the company, you will usually receive 4 tech interviews and get to go to lunch with an engineer. This trip will be fully paid by the company, irrelevant of your interview outcome. After the interview, you will hear back from the company within 3 days to 1 month. Sometimes if your interview result is at the border line, the company might request more phone interviews afterward your onsite. If you get an offer, you are usually given 2 weeks to decide whether to accept it.

Since onsite interviews usually lead to an offer or a rejection, what time you go onsite and when the offers come out plays an important role in getting into your dream company and negotiating your offer package.

2 Overall strategy

a) Take a light semester at school.

The first semester of your senior year will be very busy: job hunting, networking, interview practicing, sometimes you also have senior design project. I recommend taking a light semester so you can save your weekends for travels. I have taken homework with me onto interview trips and have worked on homework in hotels in Seattle and Bay Area. Trust me, doing homework after a day of exhausting interviews is not fun.

b) If you don’t want to miss school, interview on Friday and Monday.

Fridays and Mondays are the two most popular interview days for students because you can travel on weekends, so you miss less school.

c) Alternatively, dedicate one entire week to travel.

This is a piece of advice I received from my friend but never put into use. If you live in the Midwest or on the East Coast and need to fly to interview on the West Coast, it makes sense to stay on the West Coast because flight time could easily be 5 hrs+, which is very tiring. Imagine flying that much every weekend! Alternatively, you could fly to the West Coast on Sunday, interview on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and take Tuesday and Thursday off, then fly back on Saturday. This way you turn your interview trip into one week mini-vacation! The only drawback is that this is difficult to schedule, because it’s hard to guarantee that you get three interview invitations roughly around the same time. If you have the opportunity, definitely give this schedule a try.

d) You want your offers to come out roughly at the same time.

Different companies spend very different amount of time on reviewing your interview results. For example, after Microsoft onsite interviews, expect to hear back within 3 days. On the other hand, Google takes much longer, usually 2–3 weeks. We want to schedule our interviews just right so that we would hear back from companies around the same time. In this way you would have competing offers, which helps you negotiate with the companies. Additionally, this helps you avoid the awkward situation in which your №2 company extends you an offer before your №1 company — do you just accept your №2 or do you want to bet on getting an offer from №1?

3 When you book your flight

a) Leave a day early and have plenty of time to get dinner and get to hotel.

The onsite interview usually starts in the morning, so arrive the previous day to allow plenty of time to recover from traveling. You want to give yourself enough time to eat and unwind, so you can be super energetic on the day of the interview.

b) Prefer direct flight.

I recommend choosing direct flight because it’s less travel time and you are less likely going to face delays and luggage not coming in time. I once traveled to California from Missouri with a layover in Phoenix. When I arrived in California, I was told that my luggage was still in Phoenix. The airline sent my luggage to my hotel the next morning before I left for interview, but it was extra stress in addition to stress I had already accumulated from the interview.

4 Packing

a) Consider different weather.

Interviews can happen anytime between August and December (or even later!), which means sometimes we are flying to a location with very different weather. Always check the weather ahead of time and pack accordingly. For example, I interviewed in Wisconsin in November, and it freezing. I packed extra clothing, but still didn’t feel warm enough.

b) Pack important things in carry-on.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but in the previous story where my luggage came late, I was very nervous because I packed my interview clothing in the suitcase. Learn from my experience and pack the important (to your interview) things in carry-on.

c) Proper interview clothing.

Tech interviews do not expect you to come in a suit. Feel free to wear t-shirts and jeans, just make sure you look clean and don’t smell. I would not wear a free logo shirt I got at the career fair from a competitor company though, just to show respect to the company I an interviewing at.

d) Bring resumes, at least 1 for each interviewer.

Sometimes during the tech interview, the interviewer will pull up your resume and ask questions about your work experience and projects. If you changed your resume since you applied to the company, it would be very helpful to both you and the interviewer to have the updated copy on hand. This is particularly beneficial if you are applying for the same company the second time, because the company might still have your old resume. The interviewer can ask more relevant questions and you can better present your past experience with an updated resume.

5 On the day of travel

a) Don’t be in a rush.

Give yourself plenty of time to prepare.

b) It’s okay to miss class.

A well done interview leading to an offer might worth more in the long run. However, let your professor know that you will be missing class because of an interview.

c) What to do on the airplane.

Feel free to do whatever you want. I would always look at algorithm questions because I never feel that I prepared enough. I also sleep because travel is tiring.

d) Keep the receipts.

Keep the receipts for cab, food and snacks so it’s easier when you submit them to the company for reimbursement. If you worry that you might lose them, take a photo with your phone whenever you pay. Itemized receipts work best. If you are at a restaurant and pay tip, I would recommend you keep both the itemized receipt and the one with the tip.

e) Get a good night’s sleep.

Do anything to make sure you get plenty of rest and feel energetic the second day.

6 On the day of interview

a) Get up early and eat good breakfast.

Don’t go to an interview on empty stomach. You need food to support your brain gymnastics.

b) Research traffic situation ahead of time.

Rush hour traffic in a new location could be very different. Research ahead of time so you get to your interview location ~10 minutes early.

c) Have the recruiter’s phone number & email ready in case of emergency.

In case you get stuck in traffic or your flight get delayed, you can let your recruiter know and they will try to accommodate.

d) Use lunchtime to observe.

You will usually get to go to a casual lunch with an engineer at the company. The questions you ask will not affect your interview result, unless you are super rude. This is a great time to ask questions about how they like the company, what personal development opportunities are available and what the work-life balance looks like. I would also ask where employees usually live, how long the commute is, how much the living cost is, what people do for entertainment. I want to enjoy my social life as much as work ;)

7 After the interview

a) Explore the city.

If you have extra time after interview, I encourage to go out and explore the city to see if you like it. Some companies will pay for your sightseeing as part of the interview.

b) Expense your trip.

Before you forget, submit your receipts to get reimbursed for your interview trip. Now the receipt photos you took along the trip comes in handy.

c) Let the recruiters know if you have competing offers and would like them to expedite your review process.

Some companies take longer than other companies to reach a decision. If you have an upcoming deadline, definitely let your recruiter know as soon as possible so they can try to accommodate.

d) There is a deadline, but it actually isn’t that strict.

The recruiters usually tell us that we have 2 weeks to decide. Of course, respect this deadline because companies will have to find someone to replace you as soon as possible in the case that you decline the offer. However, if you are waiting for another company to get back to you, you can usually get 1 day (or more) extra. Once you receive an offer, the recruiters will try their best to keep you, so they won’t give you up easily.

e) Negotiate your offer package.

Definitely negotiate your offer package. Usually the base salary is a bit harder to change, but stocks and sign on bonus are negotiable, so definitely give it a shot. Keep in mind that they are all going to be taxed!

Interview is a time to explore a company and to decide whether you like the company. It is a mutual selection. It is about whether you like a company as much as whether a company likes you. Trust yourself and good luck!

Thank you for reading! I tried to incorporate experience of my own and still keep it concise. If you enjoyed reading, please Like this post, Follow me, or Recommend it to a friend who might find it helpful (or a good pastime in the bathroom).

If you have specific questions about applying for a tech position, or have experience to share, or have feedback for me, feel free to comment! I’ll try to address them in upcoming posts. Any feedback is much appreciated!

Again, hope you enjoyed reading!