Acing an Out-of-State Interview Means More Than Answering a Few Tough Questions

Michele Warg
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Tom Lawler earned an MBA in Human Resources nearly 4 years ago. He felt his career was progressing nicely because he was holding down a HR Management position, he was teaching business management courses at his local community college, and he was an established free-lance writer; but something was missing from his life. Having transplanted himself to Boston to complete his MBA, he found a decent job market, and decided to stay. However, this native of Louisiana felt a void in his life needed to be filled; a void that has been growing larger since he left the South.

"After living in the Boston area for nine years, I felt that my career objectives were exceeded but my personal life needed some attention. . . . I really missed pursuing the outdoor, recreational activities that used to be such a large part of my life. Since my career had completely replaced my adventurous hobbies, I wanted to try to balance the two and make my life whole again. So I decided to try to take my career either down South or out West where some of my family members had relocated," said Mr. Lawler. Having job hunting savvy, he hopped on the Internet and dug-up some job openings from a few of his favorite Sunbelt cities. "The Internet makes it easier to find out-of-state jobs than walking to your corner drugstore for the local Sunday classifieds," says David Gordon, the Assistant Director of Career Services for Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois, "And as a result, more job hunters will be considering long distance opportunities than ever before."

Long-Distance Interview Tip #1: Seek Positions that are Considered

After a week of surfing the Internet, Tom found two jobs that interested him. They were both lateral moves, so he would not be offered more responsibilities nor would his title change. Yet, he was curious and eager to explore his options in hopes of scoring an opportunity to live in the Sunbelt. "Mistake number one in Tom's case, is to think that he can make a cross-country move in a lateral fashion. Since he was not informed of the salary range for either of the positions, it would have been in his best interest to assume that they would offer an equal if not LESSER compensation," said Dr. Betty Newlon, an Independent Career Consultant and retired University of Arizona professor from Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Newlon added that Tom should have researched the jobs' pay ranges and the cost of living indices for both cities BEFORE he applied. And, unless he was expecting to accept a job that offered a substantial pay cut, or even his same salary at a higher cost of living, he should have declined the opportunities to interview.

Long-Distance Interview Tip #2: Expect Preliminary, Electronic Screening

Tom could have used this advice because after applying for two jobs in the Southwestern US, he was called to interview for BOTH! "I really felt caught off guard," said Tom, "I thought I would try sending-in an application to test my Market Value but I really didn't think I would be considered a finalist, mainly because of my out-of-state status." Within two days, both companies contacted Tom; they e-mailed him news of a forthcoming electronic interview, whereby the corporations would send preliminary interview questions to his computer. "Since the dawn of the technological revolution, e-mail, virtual interviewing, and even the phone and fax have made it easier for employers to seriously consider and screen out-of-state candidates," asserts Tina Van Horn, a Human Resources Manager for Accurate Manufacturing in Chicago.

"When the companies actually came after me within hours of my e-mail interviews, I knew they were serious. The whole situation began to seem out of control because the closest company was over 2,000 miles away and I had no idea what I was getting myself into," reflected Tom. He continued, "Then, from out of the blue one of the companies offered to fly me to their city (all expenses paid) and I began to feel a lot more comfortable. Nevertheless, it was all happening very quickly."

The fact that very few companies will offer out-of-state job hunters an all-expense paid opportunity to interview is because of the large numbers of half-hearted interviewees who are merely taking advantage of a free sightseeing tour. As Lizzie Schloss, Assistant Director of Career Services at the University of Arizona says, "Companies won't pay your way as often nowadays. They test your level of interest and sincerity in the position by leaving the travel expenses up to you."

Long-Distance Interview Tip #3: Arrive at Your Destination City at a
Comfortable Time

Tom's all expense paid interview was with a mid-sized, manufacturing facility in San Francisco. Having a background in HR Management in industrial and high-tech manufacturing, Tom felt that this particular corporation would provide an opportunity worth investigating. Tom arrived in San Francisco after a five-hour flight which had a mis-connection in Kansas City. He landed at 1:00 a.m. local time and had to report to the interviewers office in just 6 short hours! First, he had to pick up his rent-a-car, find his way to the hotel and check in. "It was a stressful situation to say the least," said Tom. "It's really difficult to anticipate or prepare for all of the travel accommodations when you have a big job interview on your mind."

He reported having so many problems with his travel arrangements that he was too distracted to focus on his upcoming interview, which, by the way, was scheduled to run for eight hours! "Once they have you out there (especially if they paid for your trip) most companies will arrange your interviews to last for an entire day if not more," said Ms. Schloss, "In fact, the employer will schedule meetings with most of the influential people within the organization and will probably require presentations or performance evaluations. By the end of the day, you'll know them as well as they will know you."

Long-Distance Interview Tip # 4: Request a Detailed Itinerary of Your Visit

Tom's interview started with a 7:30 am breakfast meeting, 12:00 noon was a luncheon with 15 potential co-workers, and 5:00 was a casual dinner and cocktails with his immediate supervisor and the Vice President of Human Resources. Somewhere in between, Tom had appointments for site tours, individual and group interviews, and a final panel interview with employees from other departments. When the day was finally over, Tom reported having a "great day" which was filled with positive meetings, friendly people, and a tour of a pleasant work environment. When he left, he felt the job offer was in the bag. The next day, before he left for Boston, he was offered the job. He negotiated for a salary that, after cost of living adjustments, was more than $6,000.00 less than his current salary. "I couldn't take a cut that large, so I had to turn the offer down. My future supervisor wasn't as friendly during these negotiations as he was the day before, and he couldn't understand how I could pass on an opportunity like this. I worked hard for my company in Boston, I was even up for a promotion soon; in San Francisco, I wasn't gaining anything but warmer weather," said Tom.

Long-Distance Interview Tip #5: Is It Really Worth Paying Your Own Way?

What about Tom's other interview? His second shot at relocation was in Phoenix, Arizona. He had to pay his own way this time, and he wasn't sure he wanted to spend $1,000 for a 36-hour visit. Tom remembered hearing many career advisors suggesting to "shell out the cash if the job is important to you" because even in the worst possible scenario, it's better to "lose" the money on a whole-hearted effort than it is to feel resentful for not even trying. Similar to the San Francisco interview, this opportunity provided a lateral move which would put him near friends, family and an abundance of outdoor recreation.

Long-Distance Interview Tip #6: Don't Expect the Red Carpet Treatment

When he arrived at the interview site in Phoenix, he was kept waiting for 30 minutes. His schedule was a bit tight, so he was rushed into and out of brief, 30-minute meetings with people who acted as if he was an afterthought to their busy schedules. In fact, he met with his potential, future supervisor for only 25 minutes before he was pushed into a group meeting where only 3 of the 7 interviewers showed-up! He wasn't given an opportunity to meet colleagues, didn't meet many people from other departments, and didn't have an opportunity to eat a meal (even though the interviews lasted from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm). When the day was finally over, Tom felt slighted because his future supervisor didn't meet with him for a quick "wrap-up". No "don't call us" speech, no "thanks for coming out here" not even a "have a nice trip home." "In fact, my potential, future supervisor went home early, so when I came out of my last interview, she was long gone. I was shown the door by an employee from the Development Office who didn't even know I was interviewing there. . . . I took that as a bad omen, but it was consistent with their less than hospitable manner," said Tom.

"A major misconception that many out-of-state interviewers have is one of expectation for the red carpet treatment," said Jackie Post, a Corporate Recruiter for Effective Marketing Solutions in Phoenix, Arizona. "Furthermore," she added, "Most of these interviewees become so disappointed when they are not treated "well" it quite often dilutes the strength of their interview presentation. Ms. Post continued by adding that Tom probably felt slighted because he wasn't certain about what to make of his experience, and it sounded like the people he met were difficult to read. She also stated, "When I interview people from out-of-state, I look for those who are excited to have an opportunity to be here. One of my biggest pet peeves is the interviewee who talks about bad airline food, flight delays, or the weather back home". If he handled himself well, especially while he thought he was being treated in a rude manner, if he didn't initiate trite conversations about his travels, and if he could handle unexpected situations regardless of his travel-related fatigue, his true sense of character will be measured.

Long-Distance Interview Tip #7: Be Careful of What You Apply for, You Just Might Get an Offer

Ironically, Tom was offered the job in Phoenix but turned it down due to a bad first impression and a non-negotiable offer that was $3,000 less than what he would need to simply survive!

Long-Distance Interview Tip #8: Be Prepared to Travel at the Drop of a Dime

George Rovithakus, a Taxation Accountant from Montreal, Canada was tired of his dead end job. Realizing that there was no way for him to "climb the corporate ladder" he started job hunting on the Net. He noticed a Seattle-based Accounting firm that specialized in International Business happened to be seeking Senior Tax Accountants, and was located near his alma mater! "Since I had computer skills, an international and multicultural background, and a few years of international taxation experience, they called me as soon as my e-mailed resume hit their computer terminal!" said Mr. Rovithakus. "When they called, they said they had made arrangements for me to be in their office in two days." Mr. Rovithakus continued, "I had to get my passport and visa in order, not to mention doing my homework for the interview. It was time consuming to say the least, so I asked the Firm's office manager if he would send me some information about the firm and the local area via overnight mail. Before I knew it I was out the door and on my way back to Seattle!" Having been a world traveler, studying and working in dozens of countries, George was a savvy traveler. He researched and studied for his interview during his long flight, and he was prepared for the mettlesome time change and jet lag factor. He was confident about this trip "because the potential of securing a promotion made the entire process worthwhile."

George impressed his fellow accountants so much, they asked him to stay another day for meetings with the Firm's Partners. Shortly thereafter, George reported that he was ironing out some negotiations which included relocation expenses from Montreal to Seattle! In retrospect, George mentioned that travel experience, information about your interview site, familiarity and knowledge of the local area, and a strong reason for wanting to relocate were crucial to his long-distance interview success.

Long-Distance Interview Tip # 9: There's More to Prepare for Than Tough Interviewers

As for the intrepid job hunter Tom, he reported that his search is progressing slowly. He is surprisingly not bitter about his past interviewing mistakes because they helped him gain experience and clarify some of his personal and career goals. "I now realize that out-of-state relocations require a tremendous amount of soul searching; your personal and career goals have to be highly focused," said Tom. "In fact, I guess I learned that my earning potential is valued more highly than I thought. I also learned that even though long distance interviewing has become more convenient and practical, you can't treat it like you would a local interview. When you're dealing with long distance relocation, you're dealing with cultural changes, cost of living adjustments, and a shake-up of your entire lifestyle. . . . there's nothing convenient about that."

Troy Behrens, MA, NCC, is Assistant Director of Career Services at Roosevelt University, Chicago.


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