Written by: Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.
I had no idea what to expect or how to prepare for my first onsite interview.
By the time the company called me in for the site visit, I had already had 3 phone calls and 2 video interviews.
I was so excited to have made it to this stage of the hiring process and knew that the company would be a great fit for me.
When they invited me out, they said I would be coming in for a “site visit”.
This terminology threw me off.
Was this an interview, or not?
I thought maybe they just wanted to meet me in person to offer me the position.
I was told I would need to give a presentation and that the rest of the day, I would meet with various members of the company.
This sounded great.
I’d given many talks during my PhD and postdoc, so the presentation would be no problem and I was excited to meet the people I would possibly be working with!
The day of the visit finally arrived and I thought I was ready.
But, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was in over my head.
The presentation I prepared ended up being too long and no one seemed very interested in the parts I did have time to present.
Then, I was shuttled from place to place, meeting with nearly 20 people who asked me both technical questions and questions about why I wanted the job.
I was overwhelmed.
After just a couple of hours, I felt my energy dwindle and struggled to be enthusiastic when answering questions and interacting with people.
I couldn’t wait for the day to end.
It was terrible.
As I was leaving, I knew I had just blown this job opportunity and was very disappointed.
Next time would be different.
For this site interview, I just hadn’t prepared the right way.
I had not taken the opportunity seriously enough and done the homework required to impress at a site interview.
It was a massive learning opportunity.
I learned what I needed to do before a site interview to ensure that I would be able to give my best impression.
I learned the most important ways to prepare for an onsite interview and have used those preparation strategies for all my subsequent interviews.
Why Your Onsite Interview Is The Final Chance You Have To Prove Yourself
The biggest thing to remember is that if you have been invited for an onsite interview, then the company is seriously considering hiring you.
So, you need to be seriously prepared for the interview.
According to Workopolis, only 2% of candidates are called in for an interview.
By getting to the interview stage, you have already proven that you are a great candidate and the company has invested in you.
So, on your site interview, you need to go above that — you need to impress them further so that investing in you seems like the right choice.
Because, hiring is expensive.
According to a study by Berkeley, the average cost to hire a new professional is $7,000 but, depending on the role and company, this cost can increase to $25,000 or more.
How will you prove that you are the candidate they should invest in?
This is where your preparation becomes essential.
But, you have to know the right way to prepare so that you are ready for your site interview.
5 Ways PhDs Should Prepare For An Onsite Interview
A site interview is an intense process.
You will likely meet many people from the company from all different levels within the company.
You need to be prepared to sustain your energy for the whole process.
You need to be at the top of your game.
You need to be ready.
Here are 5 ways that PhDs should prepare for site interviews…
1. Learn how to present like an industry professional —not an academic.
Presenting is obligatory in industry.
It is a part of everything you will do in an industry role — so naturally, in an interview, a company wants to know if you are a good presenter.
If you want to get hired you need to demonstrate that you have this key skill.
You might be thinking, “I present all the time at my university, so I’m good to go” — well, you’re wrong.
First of all, presenting in industry is different from presenting in academia and second, industry places much more importance on the delivery of your presentation than academia does.
In academia, if you have great data but present it poorly, people don’t really care.
But, in industry, you must also have a great delivery of your great data.
It’s about the story you tell and how you tell it.
A few key points to remember:
- Vary the pace, pitch, and tone of your voice to convey emotion.
- Don’t bury your lead piece of data.
- Have lots of white space on your slides.
This is just the beginning of what you need to know in order to properly prepare for an industry interview presentation.
Check out this article that has 21 tips to help you prepare for your industry presentation.
2. Research the company extensively so you can ask good questions.
If you have earned a site interview, then you are very close to the end of the hiring process.
By this time, you must know as much as possible about the company you are interviewing with.
Research the company from a variety of sources.
Use informational interviews, the company website, press releases, or other news sources following the company’s actions.
However, remember that no matter how much you learn, you will not know more than the people who actually work at the company.
Do not use the information you learn to be boastful about how much you know about the company.
Instead, use the information to ask good questions.
As a PhD, asking questions is what you have been training to do for years.
You are better at asking questions than almost any other person.
By leaning as much as you can about the company, and understanding their position, you can formulate great questions that will demonstrate your interest in the company and your business acumen.
3. Know your “why”.
By the time you have been invited to a site interview, you will have already been asked lots and lots of interview questions.
But, the questions aren’t over yet.
In fact, you will probably have to answer lots of the questions you already answered again — this time, with a different audience.
At the site interview, you will meet with people from the team you might work with, as well as the company’s leadership.
They will ask you common interview questions, and you need to have compelling answers.
The questions you need to pay special attention to are questions that start with “why”.
By asking these “why” questions, the interviewers are trying to learn your motives and find out if you are a good fit for the company.
Why do you want to work for this company?
Why do you want to leave academia?
Why are you the best candidate for this position?
Why do you want this job?
These may seem like simple questions, but the reasoning behind them is very important.
How you respond will demonstrate your knowledge of the company, your passion for the role, and whether your core values align with the company or not.
Write out answers to these common questions and practice them outloud.
You don’t want to be in front of the CEO and not know how to answer the question, “Why do you want to work here?”
4. Practice controlling your body language in a variety of settings.
A site interview is a whole-day process.
You will meet many people and every interaction is an interview, whether they are formally asking you questions or not.
Like any interview, you will be prepared to talk and answer questions, but something that many PhDs neglect is body language.
Your body language is conveying more than you realize.
Whether you are uncomfortable, tired, nervous, confident, ready, or energized, your body language will give you away.
So, you need to practice controlling your body language to convey the message you want, even if you are not feeling particularly confident.
Learn the major “tells” for body language and how you can use them to your advantage.
Simple habits, like slouching or touching your hair and face, will make you seem nervous and incompetent.
We do these things unconsciously and it will take practice for you to become aware of these body movements and alter them.
5. Identify what you want your workplace culture and environment to be like.
A site interview is the last and best opportunity to figure out if the company will be a good fit for you.
This day that you spend at the company is a 2-way interview.
As much as they are going to ask you questions and judge your actions, you should be evaluating them, too.
But, to properly evaluate if a company will be a good fit for you, you need to first identify what you want in a workplace.
What culture do you want?
What type of communication style is a good fit for you?
What hours do you want to work?
What type of leadership do you want to have?
What values in a company are important to you?
During your site interview, ask questions and look for information about these questions.
You won’t get another chance to have this up-close look at a company until after you accept the job.
If, during the interview, you realize that this company is not a good fit for you, do not feel obligated to take the position.
Many PhDs are desperate to leave academia and you may feel pressured to take the first position that you are offered.
This is a mistake.
You are valuable and in control of the next steps of your career — so, do not take a role that is not a good fit, as you will regret it.
Once you have been invited for an onsite interview, recognize that this means you are a top contender! You have one more chance to impress the company and prove that you are the right candidate. It’s also your last chance to decide if the position and company are a good fit for you. So, you need to be well-prepared for the site interview. Before your site interview, you need to learn to present in an industry style, research the company intensely so you can ask good questions, prepare thoughtful answers to the “why” questions interviewers are going to ask you, practice controlling your body language in a variety of settings, and identify what you want your workplace culture and environment to be like. Completing these preparations before you have an onsite interview will give you the best chance to impress your potential employer and get hired.
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