One of my college classmates told me he wanted to be comfortable on the flight to his interview, so he boarded the plane in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. His suit, dress shoes, and shaving kit were tucked safely in a checked bag. He arrived at the destination of his interview, but his luggage did not.
When we have an out-of-town interview, we must be prepared for anything. Here’s how to survive an out-of-town interview by careful planning, professional dress, and attention to people throughout the interview process.
Prepare for your interview well in advance.
If an organization thinks enough of you to invest in flying you in for an interview, you owe it to them to prepare thoroughly. Research the organization, including:
• The interviewer's background.
• The organization’s mission, leadership, and board of directors.
• Products, services, and distribution channels.
• Outside news reports and inside press releases.
• Its social media posts and interactions with followers.
• The position and responsibilities for which you’re interviewing.
Create a list of questions for your interviewer, based on your research. Nothing disappoints an interviewer more than a candidate who doesn’t ask questions, because questions show you are genuinely interested.
Handle travel logistics like a pro.
A large organization usually has a designated travel agent or assistant to schedule your transportation and lodging. Or the organization might give you a budget and let you book your own travel. Keep your receipts so you can submit them to the organization later for reimbursement.
Expenses an employer should reimburse:
• Ground transportation.
• Parking expenses and tolls.
Expenses that are your responsibility:
• Parking tickets or speeding violations.
• Snacks between meals. (Don’t submit receipts for reimbursement for frivolous items like coffee or a bag of chips at the airport.)
Find a hotel near your interview.
Ask for hotel recommendations from the person assisting you with travel from your potential employer, and also if the employer has a discount at those hotels.
Navigate your ground transportation options.
In the best scenario, your potential employer might send a car to the airport to pick you up. If not, map out your transportation and alternatives – allow extra time for rush hour traffic and bad weather.
Ground transportation could include a ride-hailing service, taxi, shuttle, train, bus, rental car, or a combination of these. Ride-hailing or a taxi makes more sense if the organization is in a city. A rental car makes more sense if the organization is in a suburban or rural location.
Rental car companies often ask for your airline and flight number. Make sure to fill that out, so they can track your flight if it’s late.
Only one time did I reach an airport to find the rental car counter closed. Fortunately, my hotel wasn’t far from the airport, so I took a taxi to the hotel and in the morning, the hotel shuttle brought me to the airport to pick up my rental car.
Whether you’re driving a rental car or your own vehicle, ask the organization where you’re interviewing for the best place to park.
Save money for your interviewer.
Even if you’re being reimbursed by the employer, keep expenses down. No one wants to hire someone who will drive up the expense account.
• You want a good flight deal but be aware that some airlines require you to pay for a checked bag with the lowest fare. Don’t book a first-class flight, which can be more than twice the price of a coach seat.
• Check prices at multiple shuttle services from the airport to the hotel. A person at an airport’s Information booth tipped me off to this. When I walked outside the airport, the first shuttle’s personnel were practically grabbing at my bag to get me on their shuttle. When I checked with the shuttle parked in front of them, it was $20 cheaper.
• Dine at fast food or fast casual restaurants instead of the most expensive restaurants. If you want to treat yourself to an upscale meal, don’t turn that receipt in.
• Select a moderately priced hotel with a free breakfast. When breakfast is included, that’s one less thing to worry about.
It's an interview, not a vacation.
Focus on the interview; don’t make vacation plans around your interview trip. Your time on an interview trip is your interviewer’s time. If the organization that flew you in invites you to dinner, you can’t say, “I’m sorry, I made plans with my friends.” Your interview hosts take priority.
Be ethical. Never accept an interview with an organization that you have no intention of joining, just for the free trip to see someplace you’ve never been.
What to wear in the air.
When traveling by air, dress for the interview. Don’t dress like you’re on vacation. If your flight is delayed or your luggage lost, you may have to go directly from the airport to your interview. Stick with professional attire for the trip out and the trip home.
You never know who might be on your flight. The person sitting next to you or near you could be connected to your potential employer. Speak positively of the employer with others and in cell phone conversations.
Avoid checked bags.
Learn to live out of a 22-inch carry-on. I was once on a trip to New York with a team of executives, where everyone arrived at the airport at the same time. We started for the taxi stand but were held up for over 45 minutes waiting for one person’s checked bag. A 22-inch carry-on allows you to walk off the plane and keep going.
Even without checked bags, things can still go awry. On the way to a conference, I had to leave my bag on the jet bridge, right before I boarded the plane. At the end of the flight, my bag didn’t appear. The flight had one stop on the way to its destination – I stayed on the plane, while unbeknownst to me, my bag got off.
I found a big box store near my hotel that carried inexpensive suits. I purchased a suit and a few other necessities to carry me through, until the airline delivered my bag 24 hours later.
Air out your suit.
Plan for at least two interview outfits, in case you’re invited to dinner the night before your interview. If you use the same suit, have a change of blouse or shirt and tie to make it look slightly different.
If, during dinner the night before, your suit absorbs the aromas of the restaurant, air out the suit by hanging it on a hook in the bathroom while you’re showering.
Get a good night’s sleep.
Get to bed early and get a good night’s sleep. Don’t stay up watching a bad TV marathon or spend too much time on your digital devices.
Have more than one wake-up alarm. In addition to your phone or the digital alarm clock in the room, call the front desk or guest services and ask for a wake-up call. It’s a free service and gives you peace of mind.
Most hotel wake-up calls are digitally programmed. Occasionally, I’ve had a wake-up call come 10-15 minutes late or not at all. Never rely on the wake-up call alone. Also, be aware of time zone changes.
You have arrived.
Your interview doesn’t begin when you meet the interviewers; it begins at the front door. Be kind and convivial to the security guards, assistants, and anyone else you meet on the way in and on the way out. They’re part of your process.
In one place where I worked, the marketing manager always vetted interview candidates with the receptionist. It was like the movie, “Gladiator.” The receptionist either gave the candidate the big thumbs up or thumbs down. Candidates who were rude or aloof to the staff out front were not hired.
Mind your manners — stand up to greet people to whom you’re introduced. Give a firm handshake to show you’re confident. Be enthusiastic and curious. Ask questions of people and thank your interviewers, along with people who have given you a tour of the organization or any other special attention.
Send two thank you notes after the interview:
1. An email thank you, in case the decision is being made within the next 24 hours.
2. A typed thank you letter by postal mail, which leaves a lasting impression.
Why isn’t the email enough? Because letters linger longer. I often hear that the second thank you note, sent by postal mail, makes the difference in whether someone gets hired.
Also send thank you notes to anyone who assisted you with travel plans or reimbursement, gave you a tour, or participated in the interview process. If the interviewers don’t offer their business cards, you can always call the lead interviewer’s assistant to get correct spellings of names and titles.
Return the compliment.
It’s a great compliment when a potential employer thinks enough of you to pay for your travel for an interview. Return the compliment by being prepared, dressing the part, and following up with your interviewers and others who assisted you. Don’t just survive your out-of-town interview—thrive in it.
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About the Author
Callista Gould has spent over 11 years as a certified etiquette instructor, speaking at universities and businesses across the United States. Her new book, The Exceptional Professional: What You Need to Know to Grow Your Career, is an entertaining read, filled with true stories of etiquette triumphs and disasters in the world of business and nonprofits. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MannersThatMove. She offers a free Etiquette Tip of the Week by email. Learn more at www.cultureandmanners.com.
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