How To Prep When Traveling For On-Site Interviews
When I think about traveling for interviews, I flash back to college, when I was a defensive lineman on my school’s football team.
I’ll never forget my first away game. It was freshman year, and we were going to UMass Amherst — about four hours by bus from the upstate New York campus I’d just started to call home. I had no clue what I’d be walking into. It was exciting and weirdly intimidating. By the next season, though, away games were a way of life. I learned to efficiently pack and transport my uniform, gear, and sweats. Traveling was no longer an overwhelming to-do.
It wasn’t until the spring of my senior year that the distinct “first away game” feeling returned. This time, it was my first “away interview” for a full-time job.
I’ve since been through my share of interview-related travel. Now I sit on the other side of the table in my post at Jopwell, interacting with some amazing job seekers, many of whom are making their interview travel debuts. That in mind, I wanted to share a few tips to acing the away interview.
1. Get in the right mindset: Business travel does NOT = vacation travel.
There’s something especially exciting about the idea that a company is interested enough in you that they are going to pay to have you come meet them. Be proud of yourself — it’s certainly an accomplishment — but also don’t let this distract you from the task at hand: Landing the job.
At the end of my senior year, I flew 1,000-plus miles from upstate New York to Atlanta to interview for a teaching fellowship at a prep school. I remember calling my dad to share the news and express how much I was looking forward to checking out Atlanta — a city I’d always wanted to see. He was quick to remind me that my focus was in the wrong place. “You can explore Georgia all you want once you land the offer,” he told me. “They’re flying you in to interview.”
He was right. Using my “free” time to settle in, figure out how to get around, and run through potential interview questions served me much better than sightseeing; I ended up having a great interview and landing the offer.
2. Pack for success.
This starts with knowing the dress code of the office you’re walking into. Your point of contact at the organization has hopefully given you some information or instructions outlining this FAQ. If not, it’s totally appropriate (and wise) to send a quick email asking, “What is the typical office attire?” It’s worth doing some internet research on forums like Glassdoor — and even via Google images — to try to get a sense of the environment beforehand too. I personally like to dress a notch above the code and pack a suit (my dad always stressed that you can dress down by taking off your tie on the spot but that it’s hard to go in the other direction if you show up underdressed).
A quick public service announcement: Always bring a few more outfits than the number of days you’ll be in town, because ketchup loves clothes. Invest in a dopp kit with a travel toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and a Tide pen for emergencies.
3. Prep and plan.
Block out some time during the days leading up to the interview to review your research and prepare to answer those questions you might get asked. As for nailing the logistics, that info packet the company gives you with information outlining where to show up and when is great, but don’t just give it a read and assume the rest will work out. Do enough research to know how long it’ll take you to get to the office (accounting for traffic and most anything that could possibly hold you up). If possible, do a test-run beforehand so you know where you’re going and don’t have to scramble to find the exact building and entrance when you show up for the real interview. If time doesn’t allow for this, Google Maps is your friend.
4. Remember that interviews are two-sided.
No matter how much you’ve read up on an office, there’s something different about actually being onsite and meeting employees. When the interviewer inevitably asks whether you have any questions, you should always take that opportunity — not just to impress him or her, but to inform your understanding of the company and culture. Just as your interviewers are trying to understand what value you bring to their team and the company, you should seek to understand them, too.
5. Make yourself memorable after you’re gone.
How do you stand out when there are likely other highly accomplished and qualified candidates vying for the same role? Focus on bringing your best authentic self and making your story stick. When interviewing in Atlanta, I remember being one of more than 15 interviewees in the running to fill six slots. I had to remind myself that it was okay (and maybe even a good sign) that the company had a lot of interested, talented applicants to consider. View your competition as giving you a unique opportunity to demonstrate why you’re an especially special fit for the role. Remember: This does not take away from anyone else and what they have done. It does, however, demonstrate that you take yourself seriously and would take the job very seriously too.
Don’t forget to send awesome thank-you notes to your interviewer(s) within 24 hours!
6. Enjoy the experience.
Being invited to interview on-site is an opportunity and, in many ways, an accomplishment in and of itself. Recruiters can look at hundreds of résumés, and if they are choosing to bring you in, they think you are an exciting candidate. Even if you don’t ultimately get an offer, take advantage of the experience and consider keeping in touch with the people you meet along the way.