Interview Feedback

Two weeks ago my daughter had her first job interview for a local pizza company (she got the job). Similarly I did several hours where I was being intervewed for positions within the valley. One of the companies I interviewed with scheduled 5 1/2 hours of interviews. That’s a lot of answering questions. When I was finished I started thinking about the purpose and process of conducting interviews.

In at least two of my previous positions I’ve conducted hiring boards, written interview questions, and even trained others on a hiring process that’s was scaled by one of my previous organizations. I’ve always believed and taught that interviews should be conducted to ask questions that can’t be answered from the resume or other available material like the cover letter, resume, or LinkedIn.

All of those mediums are designed to be one way. It’s the applicant’s part to communicate about themselves using those mediums. A large part of the way our society structures the labor market process is one way. One of the first things to practice in applying for a job is the personal elevator pitch. Pitch is an interesting word to have in that phrase.

PITCH

  1. to erect or set up (a tent, camp, or the like).
  2. to put, set, or plant in a fixed or definite place or position.
  3. to throw, fling, hurl, or toss. [emphasis added]

The 3rd choice is most apt when refering to the phrase elevator pitch becuase it’s literally the candidate tossing information forward towards the audience.

The problem is, unlike a pitch at a baseball game, few interviewers bother to give feedback to the person making the pitch. Could you imagine a baseball game where the umpire lets four pitches land in the catcher’s glove before announcing the pitch count? “Two balls, two strikes,” he says. That’s a good status update, but it doesn’t exactly give feedback to the pitcher to allow him to change his behavior.

One of the requirements of learning organization is to absorb and respond to feedback. No feedback = No improvement.

I have amazing friends. We look forward to opportinities to work together. I was elated a couple of weeks ago when Sarah Maycock asked me to help do mock interviews at Columbia High School in Nampa, Idaho.

The setting was the exact one that was missing from my high school experience. A caring teacher helping his students prepare for their future created a fictional company and each of the students were supposed to apply for positions in the company. I was one of several fictional ‘hiring managers’ interviewing 3-5 students in 20 minute increments.

All of the fictional hiring managers were recruiters and others with amazing portfolios of experience. I was impressed to be in the room with them. Sarah has a great way of networking with some of the best talent the Treasurer Valley has to offer.

Teenagers are more expressive. I did my best to maintain a neutral expression and I could see they were frustrated by some of the interview conversation norms. So I started responding to their frustration by providing more immediate feedback–especially the parts they did well. After all, we needed to assess them for a grade, but not at the expense of helping them improve.

When I was designing hiring processes one of the key things I’ve brought to the table was to help those on the panel realize that their questions were actually training someone who would be joining our staff. After all, we’re going to hire someone from the pool and the questions we ask are going to teach them what we care about and what the job requires.

For the high school students I let them answer as themselves, and when there were opportunities to compliment their experience, tone, or overall communication style I did so. Nerves relaxed and their confidence grew.

There are may good reasons why I’m grateful high school is not real life, but the lesson here can be applied beyond high school. It’s ok to interview people and provide them feedback when they’re doing well. A good job, or a kind follow-up question can go a long way to help people improve. Be open to providing feedback and be humble enough to receive it.

Training for the Last Deployment

Over the years I’ve gained a wealth of experience in the military that can benefit whatever organization decides to hire me when I take off this uniform. The big question is how do I let them see my talent and desire to contribute to their organization?

Compared to life in a uniform these are new challenges, but I’m quickly learning how the military experience has helped prepare me to overcome them. I didn’t see how much it had prepared me on my own. I needed help. I love writing using first hand sources. In fact, I nearly got in serious trouble as an undergrad for doing first had research. It certainly surprised several of my teachers, but the result was I learned how to get certified to do the research and I got published in an academic journal.

For this project I contacted the local HR department at Scentsy, a privately traded company in the area and asked for a chat. They agreed, and so last week I sat down with Angie and Michelle over a ginger ale (my favorite) and had a wonderful chat.

When the conversation ended there weren’t any specific life changing oh-wow moments. That’s mostly because the oh-wows were happening in my head. Their polite conversation helped me to connect crucial topics I have read about in a way translated to a coherent plan for my transition moving forward. It was really had to keep myself from chicken scratching logic diagrams that were quickly swimming through my mind and focus instead on the conversation at hand.

When the conversation concluded I started working. While I wont share everything that clicked in one post, I can share a few things I’ve learned now.

1. It’s on you. If you’re not going to use a recruiter than it’s on you. The HR folks at most businesses are too busy to translate your military career to what they’re looking for. They have plenty of other qualified applicants that speak their language. They’re not there to hold your hand. That shouldn’t come as a surprise or a big deal. You’ve owned your PT score and everything else about your career up until this point. Owning yourself now shouldn’t be new, even though the processes are different.

2. Consider the transition a deployment. Prior to deploying the military training gets more and more intense. It includes rehearsals and rehearsals with scenarios. Rehearse for your separation and rehearse different scenarios. We often got new uniforms issued prior to a deployment. This time your new kit is going to come off the rack at a store and you’re going to get to try it on before being expected to wear it.

One scenario I’ve wondered about is where the company I want to work for has an opening, but doesn’t have the job posting I want once I become available. What I needed to own is being financially prepared for less pay for the duration in between. But I also needed to know if it was a good plan to get the job that gets me in the door. Personally campaigning to shift from one area in the Army to another is often viewed as disloyal and generally frowned upon.*

When talking with Angie and Michelle they explained how someone willing to take a job that’s available (and do it well) usually land the job they want. Sometimes rather quickly. They emphasized that doing well where they are is key. Personally campaigning (applying) for a job in another department is approved and encouraged where they work. Good to know!

3. Learn the rules of civilian life. Oh, yes. It has rules. They’re sometimes more subtle and they vary between organizations, but there are certainly rules. My recommendation, learn the communication rules first.

  • Learn something about design & typography. You’ve learned how to read and use regulations that specify fonts and formats. Study some of the design and formats that major companies use. You’ll find style guides for organizations and universities make this easy. You’ll learn a lot about the company by learning how they want to be perceived.

4. Build an amazing resume. You’ve managed to learn all the nuances of formal evaluations so taking those skills and putting them into a resume isn’t hard, but it does take work. Under your experience a good resume will have a blend of responsibilities and accomplishments. How you word it is up to you, though I will warn you of some red flags I’ve seen:

  • Using only military jargon. OCONUS, MEDCOM, NETCOM, etc., these terms don’t mean much. When you’re asking someone to read this you’re asking them to read another language. Put it in English. No one is going to Google Translate your resume but you.

  • Not getting to the point. If you’re not writing the “so what” when you’re working on your resume then you’re not writing much of importance.

  • Copying and pasting your evaluations. I literally had to read a resume where someone just copied the last 15 years of NCOERs into his resume. He didn’t get hired. Communication is so important as a scoring factor for me that the length worked against him even though he’d accomplished things worth noting.

  • Only using the web form. Lots of businesses will use a web form for hiring, but also give the applicant an opportunity to post their resume. The form version of you comes out in a terrible font and doesn’t show any elegance. Always post the resume.

  • Times New Roman. This font may be standard, but among designers and HR folks it’s known as the sweatpants of fonts. If you plan on showing up to the interview in sweatpants…

  • Only posting your responsibilities. Yup. You were in charge of something. What did you do with it? Responsibilities show the level of trust. Accomplishments tell the reader what you did with that trust.

5. Take a good professional head shot and make sure it’s on all your social media. These photos usually cost about $100, but they’re worth it.

Not everyone gets to sit down for 45 minutes with an Angie and Michelle. I imagine that there are plenty of people you know who’d be willing to help you develop your transition plan if you take the time to seek them out and ask. Friends who’ve already made the transition can be among your best resource. Once again, the military has prepared you for success. When you’ve needed help before you learned how to find a battle buddy. Finding one now is no different.

You’ve had a training plan for every deployment you’ve gone on. Now is your time to work on the training plan for your last deployment. Good Luck!

* I was entering the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill Oklahoma and while entering one of our classmates raised his hand to ask a question. He wanted the commander to approve him taking a language proficiency test. He explained that he spoke three languages used in the Middle East fluently and that crunching numbers to put artillery rounds on target might not be the best use of his talents.

His comments were met with ridicule and derision. This was 2008. I’m sure that there were folks who could have used his expertise as a linguist during the surge.