Moving from On-Campus to On-Site

I was on the campus of a large university recently talking with students about the recruiting process. Many of them expressed excitement over being asked for on-site second round interviews, and frustration over what they experienced once they got to the interviews. One sentiment was universal across job functions, industries and company size. Students felt the companies were sending mixed messages, and didn’t follow through on promises. For example, one student stated the job description she had heard at the on-campus interview was vastly different than the one she got from a recent grad at lunch during the on-site. Many students expressed frustration over the difference in the time between when companies stated they would be making decisions and when students were actually notified. Based on these conversations here are some thoughts on making the most of your on-site interviews with a focus on managing candidate expectations. Consistent Message Throughout the entire recruiting process from company presentations and career fairs through the final offer–and even beyond to the actual job–create one clear message for candidates. Take time before the recruiting process begins to develop realistic job preview information and train everyone who will be meeting with the candidate. In today’s competitive market, organizations focus on marketing their jobs based on what they believe candidates want. Be sure that what you are marketing is consistent with what you offer. With each step of the process, have your employees communicate to the next interviewer what they have told students and what students have told and asked them. This will ensure that the next interaction flows from the previous one. Pro-actively address student concerns and questions by making the next person aware of what those were at the last meeting. Candidates will be impressed at your follow through and how much you care about their concerns. Reinforce The Message But Don’t Ask The Same Questions Every time a candidate meets with an employee there is an opportunity to reinforce the message crafted above and to get new information about the candidate. Students express surprise and frustration over answering the same questions several times. Considering the range of information you want to have about your candidates when making the decision, don’t waste time gathering that information several times unless you have a reason for doing so. Before the interview, determine what information you need to gather from the candidates and create questions. Sometime the best approach is to break it down into topic areas such as teamwork, taking initiative, or creative problem solving. Make each member of your team responsible for asking a sub-set of the questions. Each one should be given a list of topics or information to cover over the course of the interview. When the day is complete, you will gather all the information together and get a complete view of the applicant. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> Base the questions or topic area each person will be covering on the interviewer’s strengths and experiences. You may also focus on what they feel are important qualities or skills for a candidate to possess. This will align their natural interviewing tendencies with the information you need them to gather. For example, a high-level executive, while recognizing the importance of team work, may not be utilizing this skill in her job on a daily basis. Therefore, her tendencies may be towards emphasizing the need to creative problem solving or strategic thinking. Match the questions to the interviewer. Provide Time For Catching Their Breath An on-site interview can be very stressful. The candidate is required to be “on” all day and may have little idea what is expected of them. Schedule some time in the day for them to get a break. Having lunch with a recent grad is an excellent way to accomplish this. The focus of the lunch should be the employee sharing his or her experiences with the candidate. They should not be asking questions or assessing the candidate, but rather helping to fill out the picture of working in the organization. In fact, tell the candidate this is purpose of the lunch and you want them to take this time to ask questions which have arisen so far and absorb information. The employee can also be a contact post-interview for candidate questions. Knowing this person is a source of information for the candidate rather than providing information for the employer takes pressure off the candidate and allows them a way to get information which is important to them. The types of questions candidates ask this person should be used in shaping the information you provide to this candidate and others in the future. Wrapping It Up The biggest frustration I hear from candidates is lack of follow through or information coming after it was expected. Apparently, candidates would rather hear a decisive rejection on time than an offer three weeks after they had given up on the opportunity. The largest transgression is never giving any feedback. Some candidates say they interviewed with a company and never heard from them again. Doing this may loose that candidate as a prospective employee for years to come. It also taints what anyone they share this information with thinks about your organization potentially losing you candidates you didn’t even know existed. You walk a tightrope between getting candidates information quickly and managing their expectations. It is true that candidates want to hear your decision as soon as possible. However, they would prefer waiting longer, as long as they were expecting to wait, to expecting an answer sooner and having none arrive. Give candidates a realistic deadline for receiving information about your decision. Determine before they arrive on-site when you will be able to make a decision. If that deadline approaches and it is clear you are going to miss it, contact the candidate and explain that the decision needs to be delayed. That three minute phone call or email will go along way in candidate relations. They understand that problems arise but keeping them apprised of the situation sends the message that you take their needs seriously and value their time. The basic message is be as organized as possible and have an open line of communication between your company and the candidate. Consistency and follow through in the recruiting process can turn into a greater number of acceptances. Students factor in how well they are treated and how well their expectations were met when making their decision on offers. If my recent conversations are indicative of candidate experiences, consistent messages and timely communication will put your company well ahead of the pack.

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Maggie Ruvoldt (mer@FutureCollegeGrads.com) runs FutureCollegeGrads.com, a website devoted to helping students and employers find each other and to maximizing the internship and entry-level job experience for both. Ms. Ruvoldt also consults for organizations developing college recruiting and internship programs. Ms. Ruvoldt is also working towards completing the Masters Program in Human Resource Management at the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations. More information about her work, consulting services, and job listings can be found at FutureCollegeGrads.com.

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