How To Beat the Lottery

Some colleges use a lottery approach to allocating employer interview slots. This is often done due to the demand for available interview slots outpacing supply. So some colleges have answered this demand/supply problem with some form of lottery (or bid) system. Students are allocated a set number of points or tokens which are then used to bid on upcoming interviews. So at least in theory, those students most interested will bid the highest, thus securing the interviews that are most important or relevant.

For those of you fortunate enough not to be subjected to a lottery/bid system, feel free to skip this info. Or read along and thank your lucky stars that you don't have to go to such extremes to make the system work for you.

Although it may seem like there is no way around "the system"—which can often put an artificial barrier between you and potential employers—there most definitely are ways to work within the system. Following are some of the best techniques for beating the lottery.

The Best Bid Technique

What is the best bid? The best bid, obviously, is the lowest successful bid. Often the difference between the highest bidder and the lowest successful bidder is quite large, yet each person is perceived exactly the same by the interviewer. Therefore, why bid all one hundred of your allocated points when a low bid of five points could get you the same interview? But how can you determine what to bid? Several ways.

First, and most important, check the bidding from past years for the employers in which you are interested. Then immediately contact the high-bid employers to try to secure an interview independent of the on-campus interviewing system. If you are able to secure the interview (see the related section for techniques) you will have saved a multitude of points that you can allocate elsewhere. Even if you are unsuccessful in securing the external interview, the historical information of past bidding will give you the data you need to put in an effective bid. A good rule of thumb is to bid 20 to 40 percent above the previous year's low bid. Second, and also very effective, is to find out if there is any way to determine the status of bids to date. Most colleges use a sealed bid process, but some do not. Third, take an informal survey among your friends in the same major and extrapolate the results.

Another technique is to categorize those employers for which you have a passing interest in and bid just one point for each. Many lesser-known companies lack a full interview schedule when they come on campus, and for the paltry sum of just one point, you are given the opportunity to interview with them. Quite often it is these "second-tier" companies that offer the most interesting opportunities. Keep in mind that you might find yourself interviewing with the next Apple or Google.

The Efficient Market Technique

This technique applies only to schools where lottery or bid points can be sold or reassigned from one student to another (most schools do not allow this, but if yours does, make sure you use this technique). The solution is simple—make friends early with those who will be going on to grad school. Then buy up their supply of points as early as you possibly can (beginning of the fall semester is best), well ahead of the feeding frenzy (and subsequent drought of available points) that occurs later in the semester and into the spring semester. Don't worry about the cost—it will be well worth it, for two reasons. First, if you have not landed a job by spring, you will be glad to have the extra points already purchased at "pre-season" prices. Second (and even better), if you have landed a job, you can sell your points to the highest bidder when others are in greater need. I heard from one college grad who made several hundred dollars by accepting a job before winter break. She held onto her points and finally sold them after the spring break rush. She used some of the money toward a down payment on a car. What a great added incentive for securing your job early!

The Impassioned Plea Technique

One of the worst things that can happen with a lottery or bid system is that you can fall short of making the cut for a company with which you really wanted to interview. So what now? Roll over and die? No! Just because the system excluded you does not mean you have forever missed your opportunity to meet with this employer. Do some basic research and find out the name of the recruiter who is coming to campus—most Career Centers will freely give you the information (if they have it). In other cases you may have to track down the information yourself by calling the company directly. Once you have located the person, call the company and leave a message for the recruiter. Have them label the message "Urgent." If you do not get a call by the day before the recruiter's arrival on campus, call the company and get the mobile number of your contact. Alternatively, request the name of the hotel/motel where the recruiter is staying during the campus visit, and call there.

When you reach the recruiter, make your impassioned plea—you truly wanted to meet for an interview, but you were artificially (make sure you use that word!) excluded from the scheduled interviews by the lottery system. Ask if you can meet with the recruiter either early or late; during lunch, dinner, or breakfast; whenever! Even if you have to pay for the meal (usually you won't—most recruiters will offer to pay since they are on an a corporate expense account), it will be one of the best $20 investments you will make in your job search. Why? Because you will automatically stand out in the recruiter's mind as the person who was diligent enough to make things happen. One final note: if you do meet for a meal, either order light or do not order anything at all—you need to keep your mouth unoccupied and available for speaking. Let the interviewer eat while you describe why you are the best candidate for the role.

Read more:

What to Do in the Waiting Room Before Your Interview