How to Crush an On-site Interview Exercises: 7 Tips for Success

Onsite interview exercises are becoming more and more popular, especially in the tech world to get signal around particular candidates. So in today’s video, I’m going to be sharing with you exactly what you can do to help set yourself up for success when it comes to these sorts of interviews.

Now I want to be clear right up front that this video is targeted towards interviews that are based around particular tasks, where you have some sort of final presentation at the end of the day or some sort of technical exercise.

Tip #1: Ask questions throughout the interview

my first tip for you is that once you’ve actually been given your particular task, you need to be making sure that you are asking questions throughout your onsite interview day. This is a common mistake that I find people make when they are left to themselves in terms of solving for the particular problem that they’re trying to solve for in their onsite interview.

Time and time again, I’ve had candidates that don’t ask me any questions throughout the day, even though when I presented the problems to them, that they were going to solve for the day, I told them explicitly that they should Slack me if they have any questions, as well as gave them dedicated time throughout the day to actually ask me and collaborate with me in terms of particular things around the problems they’re solving for.

So in the case where you’re getting some sort of task-based challenge, be sure to ask questions throughout the interview process. This is true in different industries as well. In fact, in the consulting world, when it comes to the case study interviews, the interviewers will not give you information until you actually ask the right question to prompt them to give you that information.

So it’s really important that you ask questions throughout your interview and that you demonstrate that you are actually interested in the problems that you’re solving for in your onsite interview exercise.

Tip #2: Proactively manage up to your potential direct manager

The second tip that I have for you when it comes to managing your onsite interview exercise is to practice managing up to your potential direct manager. At this point in time, assuming that you are applying for some sort of a small or medium size company, they have likely introduced you to who is going to be directly managing you. So it’s really helpful for you to be giving general updates throughout the day to your potential direct manager that might mirror what you would generally give him or her, if you are actually their direct report.

It’s really helpful for them because it gives them signal as to the way that you are as an employee, as to whether or not you are going to be the team member that’s going to do a good job of managing up expectations, giving status updates as to what you’re doing really well on and what you’re struggling with and asking for help.

So in the case where you find yourself halfway through the day, and you haven’t asked questions, falling tip number one, and you also haven’t sent an update to your perspective direct manager, then try to do so before the end of the day because that will help give them some understanding as to how they can kind of imagine you being part of their team.

Tip #3: Preview your final output ahead at the end of the interview

The third tip I have for you when it comes to onsite interview exercises is to preview your final output before the end of the day or whatever your deadline is for the task. Back when I was doing an onsite interview for a leadership role at a startup, what I did was throughout the day, every few hours, I was giving status updates to my potential direct manager, who was my CEO and giving them an explanation as to exactly what I was thinking through what I was working towards as well as where I had gone since my last update.

This is really helpful to them because it gave them a preview of the core themes that would become part of my solution concept to the different problems that I was presented with. So when it comes to these onsite interview exercises, it can be helpful to do this because in the case where you’re on the right track, you can double down and get their investment into your idea.

But even in the case for your not on the right track, they can actually point you in the right direction. And they’ll willingly guide you to what is a better solution concept. This is again, especially true across different technical interviews in which oftentimes the interviewers, if they actually like you are going to guide you in the case where are going down a straight path or a rabbit hole.

This is just a general bias that even the most experienced interviewers suffer from because they like the candidate, and at this point you are at the final stages. So it can be really helpful to give this sort of preview because it essentially gives them a pre-approval of your idea before the actual final presentation.

I actually did this back in college when it came to getting A’s in writing base classes, I would just spend time with my TA’s previewing what I was about to make my thesis around so that they knew what they were going to see when it came time for them to grade it.

So every single time I would get A’s on those papers because the TA had pretty much already approved the topic, as well as the meat of that particular paper that I had been writing on.

Tip #4: Don’t assume anything about the task given

My fourth tip for you when it comes to your onsite interview exercise is to not assume anything of the task that’s being given to you. I have seen candidates go through onsite interview exercises, where they make some sort of assumption just in their head, but they don’t actually communicate that to me. And so I’m not able to correct them on that, and as a result, their final presentation is completely off base.

For example, recently I’ve been hiring for a partnership marketing manager and one of the onsite tasks is for them to go through a data export to pull out different trends and then think about ways that they can pitch new events that are interesting to the potential audience from that data export. However, what I found was that one candidate took that export being given to her as an assumption that she had to do a really thorough in-depth analysis of that particular export.

As a result, she spent half of her onsite day working on that particular analysis when she should have been spending it on the overall three key objectives that she had for the day. So it’s really important for you to keep your eyes on the prize as to what the tasks are and the criteria that going to be assessed on, and then from there not assume anything about the task that is given. If you have questions, go back to tip number one and ask them throughout the day.

Tip #5: Imagine you have less time than you actually have

My fifth tip when it comes to crushing your onsite interview exercise is to imagine you have less time than you actually have. Back when I was doing my own onsite, I made sure that I was done with my presentation an hour before my final presentation date.

And the reason why I did this was because I wanted to make sure I had enough time to take a step back process where I actually created and then make sure that I could polish things so that it was in a pretty good final state for my presentation. Assuming that you have less time than you actually have is a way better approach than assuming you have up until the very bell because in the case where you do that, what’s going to happen is you’re going to be really stressed going up to your final presentation and then you’ll have to calm down from your nerves from just having to make that deadline for the final end of day presentation.

And then from there, you’ll have to immediately segue into digging into your presentation or whatever it is that you’re submitting. So it’s really important for you that in the case where you’re doing some sort of presentation-based onsite interview exercise that you assume that you have 30 minutes or an hour less than the actual amount of time you have.

Tip #6: Mentally prepare for the hardest questions

The sixth tip I have for you is to mentally prepare for the hardest questions that you’re going to get when it comes to presenting your onsite interview exercise. If this is a presentation, you’re going to want to think about the different themes of your presentation, and then think about it from the lens of if Simon Cowell or if some sort of other hard judge out there was asking you a particular hard question about your presentation.

Assume that you’re going to get the hardest questions because in the case where you’ve already visualized that in your head, any other question is going to be a walk in the park.

Tip #7: Send thank you notes and show enthusiasm

The seventh tip I have for you is to make sure that your sending thank you notes, as well as showing enthusiasm on your onsite day. I can’t tell you the number of times that a candidate has spent an onsite day with us and then just not sent a follow-up expressing their enthusiasm for the role. Even if you feel like you crushed your interview, this can be a great signal to send to the company that you are applying for.

So in the case where you still want the role and you feel like you’ve done a pretty good job, or you haven’t done a good job, it can still be useful to send a thank you note to every single person you met throughout the day, as well as to show enthusiasm throughout the day for the role that you are applying.

I get it. Sometimes people are a little bit more stoic than others, but this is not the time to be stoic. You want to make sure that you are clearly expressing your interest in this position because you and the company have already invested so much time together, that the whole purpose of this onsite interview exercise is to make sure that it’s a great fit for both you.

There’s a ton more that goes into crushing an on-site interview exercise, but even in the case where you’re doing one of these, it means that you’re likely considering quitting your current job. So if you need help in figuring out whether or not it’s time to do so, be sure to check out this article here.

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