The “traditional” job interview, Part 1: Getting ready

So the big day has arrived: your first job interview!  It is pretty exciting, scary, daunting, and exhilarating all at once.  The time you spent networking, writing a resume, crafting a cover letter, and getting it front of  human resources at a company where you would like to work has paid off.  You have a date with hiring manager.

Just like all dates, though, there is a lot at stake.  Instead of a peck on the cheek after a movie, however, you are looking for another date in the form of follow on interview or maybe a long term relationship in terms of a job.  Also just like hoping for a peck on the cheek you must make sure that you everything right, because if you don’t you will be back to square one with nothing to show for your efforts.

In order to make the best impression it is important to show up for the interview as prepared as possible – everything from how you present yourself to how you speak to how you think on your feet.  To make it a little easier, I’ve broken down the traditional interview into four segments: research, preparation the interview, the interview itself, and followup.

First off is continuing your research.  You have already submitted your resume and it resulted in a call for an interview- good job!  Now you need to refine your research into how to successfully complete the interview.  You can search the net for general interviewing tips, but you will be better served to go to a site that provides real insight into company-specific interviews.  My favorite is because interviewees post their interview experiences, including the types of interviews, questions, and how things went.  It is well worth a few minutes of surfing to see what you are up against.

You should also ask around.  Use your network to see if there is anyone who has interviewed with the company you are looking to join or who has interviewed at a similar company or for a similar job.  They can provide a lot of insight into the process – especially if their interview landed them a job!

Next you need to prepare, prepare, prepare.  You will learn some valuable information about the interview process through your research, but now you have to use it!  What kind of questions do they ask?  How do they ask them?  You must prepare for questions ahead of time, even if you do not know what the specific questions will be.  Nothing ensures a life of continued unemployment like giving the silent stunned mullet look to the interviewer because you didn’t bother to think about the questions ahead of time…

Practice answering questions.  The questions can come from your research or from the items on your resume.  After all, the company called you in because they found your resume compelling.  You should study your resume and think about what an interviewer may hone in on, and prepare for questions along those lines.  Transitioning military folks always have “leadership” in their resume, so you had best be prepared to talk about it!  Whom did you lead?  What techniques or skills did you employ to get people to do what needed to be done?  How will your leadership experiences transfer to the company where you are interviewing?

Ask a friend to go through a mock interview with you.  Give them your resume and a printout of your research findings, and ask if they will be gracious enough to spend some time helping you practice.

If you have the time, I would recommend that you do a full blown rehearsal – including wearing your interviewing suit and sitting on opposite sides of a desk.  Rehearse the whole process, from arriving at the company to saying goodbye and leaving the building.  If you practice it all once or twice you will reduce your anxiety and be better focused on the interview.  Remember, the interviewer is taking everything in from your appearance to your habits to your level of anxiety, and if you are too uptight or nervous it will not bode well.

Now you are ready for your interview.  Before you go, however, there are some basic things that you should do.

In the military, you prepare for inspections in a disciplined and results-oriented manner.  When you have a uniform inspection coming up you spend a lot of time making sure that your uniform is correct; you measure out where the ribbons and badges are placed, cut off any spare threads (Irish Pennants for you old-schoolers), and press in creases so sharp you can shave with them.  Shoes are shined and the edge of the soles are dressed to remove any scuffs.  You get a haircut the day before the inspection to make sure that your grooming is within the required standards, and then you ever so carefully get dressed and present yourself for the inspecting officer or NCO.

You should approach your job interview with just as much attention to detail.  Get a haircut the day before.   Critically look at your clothes- they should be either fresh from the cleaners or at least have all of the wrinkles pressed out.  Your shirt should fit and your necktie should be professional looking, clean, and conservative.  Shine your shoes!  Even though society has largely moved away from shoe shining as a daily task, I know of one executive who was promoted over three more qualified peers because because he took the time to shine his shoes.  It shows dedication to your appearance and the discipline to do the little things, both of which are a big plus in any line of work.

Leave for your interview early.  Make sure that you allot enough time to be at least ten to fifteen minutes early.  I recommend going at least an hour early and stopping by a coffee shop near the company’s office.  That way you will have plenty of time to spare for traffic or to take care of things you may have forgotten (like putting gas in the tank).  When you get to the coffee shop you can review your notes, have something to drink, and get your mind right for the interview.

In the next post, we’ll leave the coffee shop and head over to the hiring manager’s office…


Lessons Learned:

1.  The interview is the result of all of your hard work up to this point- don’t wreck it with a poor performance!  Follow these four steps:  Research, Prepare, Attend the interview, and Follow Up.  We talked about researching and preparation in this post, and in the next post we will address the interview and followup.

2.  Treat the interview like an inspection- get the little things right and the big things will take care of themselves.  Look at your clothing as you would your uniform and square it away as you would for your Commanding Officer.

3.  Shine your shoes!!!

4.  Rehearse with a friend ahead of time by using questions garnered through your research as well as your resume.  Be ready to answer questions by practicing ahead of time.

5.  Head to the interview early, and use the extra time before you go through the company’s front door to prepare, reduce your anxiety, and make sure you are ready.


Job Interviews: Oh, the places you’ll go…

As you depart the military and hang up your uniform you are going to be placed in a new and unusual position.  Throughout your time in the service your career path was largely determined for you by someone who worked at the manpower branch of your service headquarters, such as a Monitor or Detailer.  This individual was charged with filling open positions within the service branch with qualified individuals who had the right rank, skills, and experience level.  After reviewing the population of “movers” (those folks who had been in one place for three years or so) and comparing it to the list of openings (holes in the spreadsheet created as “movers” leave), the Monitor or Detailer would pick someone and issue them orders to their new job.

Sure, there was a lot of politics involved, particularly for jobs requiring higher rank and experience.  Sure, there was favoritism as bosses influenced the process to get “their people” into their units.  Sure, some jobs required interviews of candidates (such as serving as an aide-de-camp for a general or admiral). What there was not, however, was a free and open competition for jobs.  Even if you did not like the assignment you received in the military, you were still in the military and the paychecks still show up twice a month.  If you don’t get the job you want in the civilian world, you are unemployed.

Big difference, that.

As a transitioning servicemember you no longer have somebody in a distant headquarters telling you where to go or what to do when you get there.  Now it is up to you to do that for yourself!  We have already looked at the decisions needed to end up where you want to live as well as what industry or job you would like to pursue, and now we are going to drill down into how to actually get that job.

The last step in the job-seeking process is to go through the interviewing process with the company in hopes of securing an offer of employment.  That is what we will be talking about in the next string of posts.

Interviews come in many forms and styles depending on the type of employment you are seeking.  There are traditional types of interviews where you show up at the firm at the appointed time, go into the hiring manager’s office, and sit across the desk from the person who will determine your fate with the company.

In the modern age, however, you may not actually have to go to the office.  You may have a telephone interview or videoconference in cases where the company is too far away for a face-to-face without incurring a lot of travel costs.

You may be interviewed over lunch.  Or dinner.  Or maybe even breakfast, so that the interviewer can learn about your manners and mannerisms while asking you questions.  Maybe at a bar to see if you get hammered every afternoon.

More senior positions often require much more in-depth interviews.  Perhaps you will be interrogated by a panel of Vice Presidents, or maybe spend an entire day at the firm in order to meet a variety of people.

Maybe you will be flown into the company’s headquarters, where you will be evaluated by everyone from the bus driver who picks you up to the receptionist to the interviewer.

For technical skills there may be a test of some sort, and for other disciplines (such as management consulting) there may be a case example for you to study and comment on.

You may go through a series of interviews of different types.  For example, you may have a phone interview that leads to a Skype meeting with the hiring manager that results in a plane flight to the company headquarters where you are grilled by a panel of executives to see if you are someone they want in the company.

It can be quite bewildering!  How can you be sure you are ready to do your best?

You have already done the prerequisites: resume and cover letter have opened the door to the interview, you have updated your wardrobe and worked on your manners and hygiene.  What’s next?

Research, pure and simple.

Get on the internet and search for sites or blogs that discuss the steps others took while interviewing for a particular firm.  Use search terms like “interview preparation for company X” or “interview tips for firm Y”.  Read through them to determine trends.  Make sure to focus on the level of employment you are seeking.  Don’t prepare for a mailroom interview if you are looking to be an executive, or vice versa. Spend an afternoon surfing the net and taking notes.

Also ask around.  Use your network of friends and family to see if anyone has interviewed at the company or knows someone who has.  Pick their brain to see what they learned.

You can also perform some interviews of your own by seeking out people at the company or in the industry to learn more about the firm and to ask them about their experience   This takes a little chutspah on your part, but it may pay off in the long run.  It can be a win-win for you if it is done properly, or a guarantee that you won’t be hired if you do it wrong.  An informational interview is one in which you ask someone about the company in order to learn more about it, and the hiring process is certainly germane to the discussion.  Just calling out of the blue to ask about getting hired, though, is a non-starter!

We’ll dive into specific interviews in future posts…


Lessons Learned:

1.  Interviews are different depending on the company, position, and level of responsibility.  They are not all the same.

2.  Research what type of interview is normal for the job you are seeking.  Use the intenet, your personal network, and the informational interview to learn more about the company and their interview process.

3.  Prepare, prepare, prepare!  Depending on the type of interview you will need to polish different skills.  If it is a lunchtime interview, do yourself a favor and review your table manners.  If it is a traditional interview, make sure to take your suit to the cleaners the week before.



There and back again: Observations on China

Hello again!  It has been a few weeks since my last post, and during that time I was fortunate to travel to Asia with my MBA classmates and generally have a tremendously good time.  This is also a shameless plug for you to take advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill and pursue an education beyond your military service.  You will meet great people, learn a ton about things completely unrelated to bayonets, machine guns, fighter jets, or aircraft carriers.  You might even get a chance to travel abroad without carrying a sidearm- trust me, it is a great experience!

Anyhow, the purpose of our trip to Beijing was to familiarize us  with the business environment in China by introducing us to a variety of companies.  We also were fortunate to see some of the true wonders of the world, such as the Great Wall of China and the imperial Forbidden City.  It proved to be a very insightful and interesting trip.

We spent the duration of our stay in the capital city of Beijing.  The city is enormous, with a population of some 20 million residents, and sadly modern, with mile after mile of largely uninteresting and recently constructed apartment and office buildings set atop former villages, farms, and historical streets of ancient Peking.  Sadly, the rush for modernization comes at a high cultural cost.

It also comes with an astonishing impact on the environment, most evident by the astounding level of air pollution that blankets the city.  It is like a fog that obscures buildings from view even though they are only a few blocks away.  The air quality is so poor that many residents wear surgical masks to protect themselves, and after being there for a week and suffering from a sore throat and sinus problems it seemed to be a pretty good idea.

Pollution aside, the insights on business and government in China were very valuable.  I learned more about how China works during that one week than I did in years of reading and studying the country.  As MBA candidates we critically observed the business environment in China, and here are some impressions that I came away with (and please note, these are my opinions):

China has enjoyed tremendous financial growth largely though revenue garnered by the privatization of land (well, the pseudo-privatization of land, as all land is owned by the government but can be “sold” in the context of a very long term lease) in urban areas.  In effect, cities are growing by usurping lands previously held by villagers or farmers, with those hapless former inhabitants being relocated into towering and identical blocks of high rise apartments.  The displaced persons are compensated and provided a place to live, but the difference in the amount of compensation that is provided is a pittance in comparison to the price the land commands when privatized.

This model has a serious problem, however, in that there is only so much land that is valuable enough to generate the revenue required to keep growth at a high level.  This will result in a gradual decrease in revenue from land sales and a corresponding negative effect on growth.

We received an insightful briefing from a financial manager, who pointed out the problems with financing growth through land privatization.  He showed, however, that there exists a revenue stream that will supplant and possibly exceed the real estate market: the spinoff of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) to the private sector.

The definition for State Owned Enterprise that I am using includes those companies that are wholly owned by the government or those that receive investment in the form of capital or other resources from the government.  In essence, the SOEs are provided a distinct competitive advantage because they are the beneficiaries of the Controlled State Economy; they can receive investment from the government without the expectations that come from traditional Western investors, such as financial returns or other shareholder rights.

Anyhow, the government can earn somewhere in the realm of 30 –  40 trillion yuan (their currency, which equates to somewhere in the 5 – 6 trillion U. S. Dollar range) in revenue from spinning off these enterprises.

Or so they believe.  I don’t think so, and here is my opinion as to why:

1.  A significant consideration for the Chinese government is employment.  They have 1.3 billion people in the country, and in order to keep everyone happy they need to have jobs.  This leads to programmatic inefficiency in Chinese industry and government, with the choice to employ people over employing automation or seeking other efficiencies.  That is perfectly fine when firms are receiving investment funds from the government (which is happy to allow inefficiency as long as people are employed) but not so much when a SOE is spun off and must compete in a free marketplace.

Here is an example from a computer chip manufacturing firm that we visited during our trip:  The company, which is a SOE that receives a significant amount of capital from the government, manufactures chips that are used in mobile phones.  The facility has “clean room” manufacturing areas on three floors of the building.  The entry into the clean rooms is monitored by a young man or woman, who spends his or her entire day standing at the door and running an Electrostatic Discharge detection wand over each employee as they enter the room (this is important because any stray static electricity introduced during the manufacturing process can damage or fry the chips).  If my memory is correct I think that there were two entrances per floor, with a helpful wand bearer at each one.  Since the firm runs two shifts per day, and operates on a four day on, four day off schedule, this yields a requirement for four complete sets of employees.

By doing the math (six employees per shift times four shifts equals 24 employees) it is evident that a large number of people are doing something that in a western facility would be performed by an automated sensor.  While labor is cheap in China, the cost of labor is rising with the emergent middle class.  That said, the inefficiency is acceptable for a SOE because the costs are absorbed or mitigated by government investment.

Governmental mitigation only works with true SOEs – if the goal is to harvest revenue by spinning SOEs off into the free marketplace, then the valuation of the companies will suffer because no western investor will accept the inefficiencies of a SOE after acquiring the firm.  In the free marketplace costs must be reduced in order to increase the bottom line, and labor that can be replaced with automation will be replaced.  I believe that this ingrained level of inefficiency will devalue the companies that the government spins off.

Getting back to employment, though, is important.  If these firms are spun off and the personnel inefficiencies are corrected with automation it will result in an aggregate increase in unemployment, which is counter to the government’s goal to keep the people happy through work.  An increase in unemployment means an increase in disgruntled citizens, and the magnitude of such an increase in unemployment will be enormous if so many SOEs are spun off.  What, then, will the government do with all of the unemployed people?  I don’t know, but whatever they do it will have a negative effect on economic growth.

2.  Healthcare, the environment, and everything else.  It is ironic that capitalist societies have managed healthcare for their citizens but communist China does not.  Healthcare in China is largely a cash driven model for the bulk of the citizenry.  As the country modernizes the antiquated healthcare system, it will result in a major drag on economic growth, as will the need to clean up the environmental problems that have emerged as a result of industrialization.  The problems of pollution and the negative impact of industrialization on the environment have only now begun to be addressed in China, and the costs associated with these problems will be profound.  Again, this will result on a drag on economic growth.

China is experiencing an industrial and economic revolution in a span of a few decades that the west took over a century and a half to get through.  As such, they have maximized the ability to capture and hold market space in manufacturing due to their cheap labor and lax regulations, but as labor costs increase and the need to clean up and regulate industry grows there will be a slowdown on the trajectory of growth for the nation.  The country is plowing an unbelievable amount of money into infrastructure, with planned cities growing by millions of people per year, bullet train lines linking population centers, and road networks expanding to meet the explosion in car ownership.  These things cost money, which will only cost more as labor costs grow and the need for infrastructure increases.

So, in conclusion, I think that China has some serious hurdles to jump over in the near- and mid-terms, but I think that they will overcome the challenges and thrive in the long term.  It will just take a considerable amount of time, treasure, and collective pain to get there.  I came away from my visit to China convinced that the country is in for rough seas ahead, and I am unwilling to place my personal investment dollars on their ship of state until they weather the storm.  After they reach their nadir, however, I believe that the opportunity for investment is tremendous.

With that, I will leave my trip to China and get back to the exciting world of transition as we dive into the wonderful world of job interviews….