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Surviving your first on-site interview

So you're a student and you've managed to reach the on-site stage of the interview process for an internship program or your first job post-graduation, congratulations! I recently went through a similar experience, where I flew from Indiana to Dallas, Texas for an on-site interview with a nationwide company that receives nearly 30,000 applications for their internship program annually. If you're anything like me you may be feeling very nervous at the thought of traveling to an area you're not familiar with. For example, it was only the second time I've ever been to Texas, and the first time I'd ever traveled completely alone. Don't worry though, I have some tips and tricks to ease your mind!

1. Ensure you'll be early to everything.

If you're flying: Flying out-of-state or driving several hours brings all kinds of different obstacles, from traffic to security or even weather delays. It is essential in this situation to leave plenty of extra time to get where you're going. The golden rule for air travel? Leave home at a time that will get you to the airport at least two hours before your flight is scheduled to board. This rule of thumb almost always leaves you with enough time to check your bags, get through security, find your gate, and even pick up a snack.

If you're driving: Two of the biggest concerns when driving to a far-away location are traffic and getting lost. I suggest, for example, for a four hour drive, you should also leave an extra two-hour window. Driving is more unpredictable than flying due to the uncertain nature of traffic. You never know when an accident is going to happen that will result in your car moving a measly 15 miles-per-hour down the highway. You also want to be sure to use a navigation website or app to assist you in picking the quickest route to your interview so you avoid getting lost. If you input this extra time into your schedule and end up getting to your destination very early, you now also have time to stop for a bathroom break or to pick up food. Additionally, this extra time can give you the opportunity to explore the area.

2. Bring an iron or steamer and an extra outfit!

No one wants to show up looking unprofessional at an interview. You have likely spent plenty of time picking out the perfect outfit that will help you to wow the recruiter, and it would be a travesty to have that ruined by an excess of wrinkles or an unsightly stain. Therefore, if you're flying and need to cram your outfit into the suitcase, I suggest bringing a travel-sized steamer or calling your hotel to see if they provide an iron and ironing board in the suites for guests to use. Further, if you are only flying in for the day or if you will be driving, bring an extra set of professional clothing. The last thing you want is to accidentally end up with a stain from the greasy food you decided to grab for lunch. You want to feel as confident as possible when heading into an interview, and believing that you look the part is half the battle.

3. Print extra copies of your resume, letters of recommendation, etc.

It's always a good idea to print out extra copies of your resume and letters of recommendation that you've received, and keep them in a padfolio! If you are seeking a job or internship in a more creative profession, it is also useful to have printed copies or pictures of things that you've created. Having physical copies at the ready if asked not only looks very professional, but also serves as a way for employers to check that the information you've previously provided them with is true.

4. Prepare questions to ask the interviewers.

For almost any interview, the recruiter conducting the interview will conclude by asking if you have any questions for them before you go. ALWAYS have at least one question prepared, but try not to ask more than three. A safe bet is always: "What projects have previous interns/employees worked on in the past?"

Another favorite of mine is: "Why did you want to work for (insert company name here)?" These questions get the interviewer talking about their experiences at the company, and you may even be able to discuss some more aspects of your prior experience after learning about the projects that previous employees have completed. Additionally, if the company is very adamant about their mission, purpose, or values, it may be beneficial to ask, "How do you connect with the company mission/purpose/values?" If you mention something this important to the company, it shows that you have definitely done your research!

5. Send a Thank You e-mail!

Lastly, as soon as possible after your interview, send a thank you e-mail. This is an extra, and not required step of the interview process that will set you apart from other candidates. It is also a great way to reiterate your interest and qualifications for the job. Further, you can also use it as a time to address something you may have forgotten to mention during the in-person interview. Without a doubt, this tip will make you a more attractive candidate to employers.

Good luck with your interview and happy job hunting! Research, plan and prepare to the best of your ability.

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