Cornell University

Office of Career Services

201 Ives Hall, 607-255-7816

The On-Site Interview

What is an on-site interview?

An on-campus, telephone, or first-round interview is generally for the purpose of screening applicants. If you make it past this selection level, you'll be invited for an on-site interview, or an in-person visit to the location where the job is or sometimes to corporate headquarters. The decision to hire usually rests with the supervisor in whose department the opening exists, or with input from departments that work with the program you're being considered for, so your performance in the site visit is critical.

How is the on-site interview scheduled?

Most employers bring all their candidates to the site on a specific date, although some offer flexibility in the selection of the date. If possible, defer site visits until you've finished most of your on-campus interviews so that you will not be pressed to accept or reject a job before you've assessed all of your opportunities. This is not always feasible during a busy recruitment cycle; however, you don't want to have too many on-site interviews loaded into the final weeks of the semester when your courses require additional work.

Be mindful of your academic schedule. Be sure to check with your professors to make sure you can make up the work you may miss in class. Otherwise, you may jeopardize your grade in the given class or classes. If you experience a conflict with a class, please see a staff member in ILR OCS. Do not ask an employer to speak with a professor on your behalf.

Will the on-site interview cost me anything?

Most organizations pay expenses for travel, lodging, and meals. If it is not clear that this is the case, ask for clarification. The employer may send you a cash advance to cover predictable expenses, or reimburse you either at the end of your interviewing day or within two or three weeks following your interview. Keep accurate records of your expenses, including mileage (if you drive to the interview), hotel bills, airline or train tickets, meal receipts, and taxi fares. You should feel free to discuss any monetary or travel concerns with a staff member in OCS.

What will the schedule for the on-site interview be like?

To speak of the on-site visit as an interview is somewhat misleading. You may undergo anywhere from four to fourteen separate interviews in ONE day! Some organizations set up a full day of half-hour interviews with people from human resources, supervisors in the department(s) where openings exist, middle-level managers, other employees, etc. Other organizations limit the number of interviews to five or six individuals who are directly related to the particular opening. Be prepared for varied interviewing styles. Keep in mind that the three most crucial interviewers you will see are the hiring manager, your future supervisors, and your supervisor's supervisor.

Typically, the day begins with a meeting at which you will be given an overview of the day and the names and titles of the individuals with whom you will be meeting. (If you have spent the previous night in a hotel, you may be met at the hotel for breakfast.) Either during this meeting or at the end of the day you will receive general information about benefits, the organization, and the community.

A meal or reception may be part of the schedule that seems more like a social event to you than an interview. Regardless of how it seems, it's still an interview so be very careful to maintain your professional behavior! Before you order a meal, think about how easy the dish will be to eat while you're conversing with others. In a reception setting, don't latch on to any one person; talk to others and mingle around the group. Don't drink too much alcohol (and don't drink any if you're not of age!), as you may let down your guard inappropriately or demonstrate that you don't take work seriously.

What are they looking for?

During these interviews you will be judged in three general areas:  technical expertise, personal attributes, and level of maturity and organizational 'fit.' You probably will not have answered questions designed to test your technical expertise at your on-campus interview. During the second interview, however, you will be speaking with individuals with specialized knowledge, so you should be fairly well prepared to discuss the particular activity for which you're being considered. In order to determine your level of specialized knowledge, the interviewer may give you specific problems to see how you handle them. There will not necessarily be right or wrong answers; they are looking for evidence that your education and experiences have prepared you to provide reasoned responses.

Your personal attributes, maturity, and organizational fit will already have been assessed to some degree during the screening interview. You will continue to be judged on these areas by everyone with whom you come into contact on site. Treat everyone you meet with respect and courtesy.

Some organizations arrange for candidates to have lunch with a group of younger employees or young alumni. Keep in mind that these people are not there as your friends (even if you knew them when they were at Cornell!) but are representatives of the organization; they are in a position to evaluate you. Don't give in to the temptation to let down and relax. Instead, ask questions to find out how their perceptions of the organization and how they have progressed within it.

What happens at the end of the visit?

At the end of the day you will probably return to the human resources office (or potential supervisor) for a discussion of how your day went and information about when you might expect to hear from them. Don't ask about salary at this point. Wait for an offer to discuss salary. After you return from your trip, write individual thank-you notes to the people with whom you met. If there is additional information about yourself that you want to get across, include it in one or more of these letters.

What general advice can you offer?

The most important thing to do for second interviews (as for all others) is your homework. Research the organization more extensively than by merely reading the recruiting literature. Check the New York Times Index for recent news items; talk with faculty members who may have had some contact with the organization; find out the names and addresses of recent alums who work with the organization and call them to get additional insight. Use the Catherwood Library resources on researching organizations and industries. The more prepared you are, the better impression you will make and the better able you will be to decide whether or not this is the right job for you. Be prepared with lots of questions about the organization, its position in its sector, the culture there, new ventures, etc.

You will be interviewed by several different people, so you are likely to be asked some of the same questions over and over again. You should answer the questions in full and with enthusiasm each time, even though you feel you are repeating yourself. At some organizations an attempt is made to alleviate this problem by giving each interviewer a particular dimension of the individual upon which to focus.

In most cases you should address the interviewers by first name. Be attentive to any instructions (such as 'Call me Bob') that interviewers may offer. Watch and listen to how others address the individuals, depending on their position in the organization.

Interviewers at the site visit may or may not dig deeper into your résumé, but review it and familiarize yourself once again with the details of your accomplishments. If you think that important information about you is not being elicited, take the responsibility of getting that information across. As in any interview situation, you shouldn't leave yourself completely at the mercy of the interviewer.

What about ethical behavior in on-site interviews?

Only accept 2nd-round interviews with organizations in which you are sincerely interested in. Do not accept if there is a chance you will cancel the on-site interview. Organizations who make flight arrangements on your behalf must bear the cost of flight changes or cancellations!

If you do need to cancel, give ample notice. Cancelling a few days or even a week ahead of time is not considered sufficient notice and puts the good reputation of the ILR School at risk with the employer.