About 130 college grads will find entry-level jobs on Long Island at Enterprise this year. In their job interviews they'll be asked how they've handled difficult customers in the past, Ronkonkoma-based regional vice president Eric Schonhoff said.

From the day they're hired, Enterprise ties employees' career advancement to customer satisfaction, said Schonhoff, whose Long Island territory, covering Suffolk County and part of Nassau, just won the company's top spot in the nation for customer service. The car rental and sales company, recognized for hiring the most entry-level college grads in the United States, intends to hire 8,500 graduates in 2015. The starting management training salary is $44,500.

Schonhoff, 44, was a recent college grad when he started at Enterprise 21 years ago. Shortly after graduating, he was waiting tables while trying to find a career job, and got into a minor car accident. When his car was in the shop, he rented a car from Enterprise and was recruited by an assistant manager in Illinois. Since then, Schonhoff has been promoted to some of the busiest locations in the country, coming to Long Island after managing the Enterprise, Alamo and National car rental brands for the bustling Kennedy, LaGuardia, Westchester and Newark airport territory.

What are your management trainee jobs like?

We target them to work 48 hours per week. You're going to be working day to day to help rent the cars, so you're answering phones, taking reservations, picking up customers and then [handling] the transactions. [You're also taught] sales and marketing ... going to accounts and making sure we're meeting [customer] needs.

Your region ranked first for customer satisfaction. How did you do it?

You have to understand if your team doesn't have good or [above average] customer service scores, you can't move forward and get promoted. When we interview people, we evaluate their competency for customer service ... We teach them how to handle tough situations, how to be flexible. It's about a choice when you're dealing with a customer. You can tell if a customer is mad and you have a choice to make: You're either going to find a way to make them happy and help them out, or you're going to choose to let them leave unhappy. We [tell them] we want you to make the best choice every time you interact with a customer, and we empower them to make those decisions.

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What was it like to head car rentals at the airports?

Running the airports is a lot of fun and it's demanding and it's challenging, but that's a piece of our business I wanted to learn. I managed all three of those brands and learned how they service our customer base. National is geared toward the business traveler, Alamo was a really value-minded price leader, and then Enterprise is high service and high value, and still a good price.

What's a money-saving tip for executives?

With businesses that use their fleets in different ways ... the money we can save them from time to time by renting a car, versus reimbursing folks for miles on their personal cars, is always interesting.

How does your internship program work?

It mirrors our management training program quite closely. We put them through ... classroom settings and on-the-job training every day in their branches with their managers. They learn every aspect of the business ... [including] a little bit about how you manage the cost and revenue of a location.

How did you keep up your energy for your airport job?

I think it's really important, personally, for work and life, to take care of yourself. So I make it a point to go to the gym at 5 in the morning probably four to five days a week, then I'm at my office by 7:30 or 8. I read a lot of books about personal motivation; I listen to Books on Tape when I'm in my car. And I have a family that motivates me.

What's your favorite book?

Keith Harrell, "Attitude is Everything."