Top tips for an On The Job Experience interview

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment

So, you’ve had great feedback from your first interview and are on track for a final interview. Before that is confirmed however, there is the small matter of an OJE to get through.

An OJE (on the job experience) is regularly used as part of the recruitment process in the Retail & Hospitality sectors and typically involves spending anything from a few hours to a whole day, out in the field or in store, getting a feel for the role you are applying for and the culture of the company.

It can take many forms. Irrespective of the level of role you are applying for, you may be asked to work in store to see what it’s like at ‘grass roots’ level. You may be asked to go out on the road with your line manager or alternatively, with a prospective ‘peer’. Whatever the format takes, this part of the recruitment process is fraught with potential pitfalls and can cause you to come a cropper!

Drawing on our years of supporting candidates through these stages, here are some tips to help you prepare and get the best from the experience:

If you are spending the day at ‘grass roots’ level, perhaps working on the shop floor or in a restaurant, the key is rolling your sleeves up with the rest of the team. Build rapport with your colleagues and make it clear you are there to learn and find out about the company (now is not the time to share with them your thoughts on how things could be improved…).

  • Talk to customers about their experience. Talk to staff at all levels. Remember to smile!
  • Get a feel for what is done well and what the opportunities are for improvement – you may well be asked about this if you are invited to final stage.
  • You can be sure that the team will be asked for their feedback so bear this in mind. You may have interviewed well, however this is where they want to see if you can ‘walk the walk’ and apply your skills in the real world.
  • Be vigilant too. One of our candidates famously did an OJE at a funeral services company for an Area Manager role and had the misfortune of spending the day with a member of staff who had missed out on a promotion to the very role he was applying for. Such was the extent of her wrath that she took great delight in showing him some of the more ‘grizzly’ aspects of the role – he is still having nightmares to this day!

If you are invited to spend a day on the road with the line manager or someone at their level, ensure you are prepared with a raft of insightful and intelligent questions. This is an effective way of showing your interest, enthusiasm and knowledge whilst getting them to do most of the talking. You could well be with them for several hours so be prepared to maintain your energy and focus – no mean feat!

  • Chances are they will be taking you to visit key stores on their patch and this will undoubtedly include some high performing stores and some with performance issues. Your ability to assess different stores and draw conclusions from your observations is clearly part of the test. In preparation, it may be useful to familiarise yourself with the format for conducting SWOT analyses, click here for more info.
  • Remember, you need to strike a balance between giving an accurate analysis and using diplomacy, bearing in mind that the state of the area as a whole will reflect ultimately on your companion for the day! That said, missing out glaring  issues will raise questions about your operational capability so it is more about how you deliver this information.

Spending any time with a prospective peer is tricky. You need to navigate any potential political minefields and to do this, you need to assess the situation at the start of the day. By asking the right questions, you should be able to gauge how open you can be with the individual and what their own situation is. Remember that they will hopefully be a future colleague and winning an ally at this stage could prove invaluable. The rule about diplomacy applies here too – being overly critical of one of their stores will not go down well so focus on the positives and only give negative feedback if specifically asked. If you feel that you can be relatively frank, this is also a great opportunity to ask questions that you may not necessarily ask in an interview situation eg. what is the work/life balance like?

Finally, some practical points to consider:

  • Make sure you have a decent breakfast – you don’t know how long it will be before you have lunch and it may be difficult to grab a snack along the way.
  • As with any interview, plan your journey and know who you are meeting. Having their mobile number is useful too.
  • Make sure you have cash in case you want to buy your companion a coffee en route.
  • Dress appropriately, particularly if spending the day in store – you need to be comfortable and need to mirror the rest of the team. Your recruiter or HR contact should guide you on this.
  • Clear your diary for the day. An OJE can often over-run and you don’t want to be worried about getting to another meeting later in the day.

Good Luck!

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