03 June 2015

Hacking The Job Search By Getting Real Life Practice

Don't let the interview with the job you want be the first one you've ever done.

I was confused. I was receiving a call on my phone, but I didn’t recognize the number. I knew it was for a follow up phone interview for some job, but I couldn’t remember which company or which interviewer. I guess I’d be flying by the seat of my pants for this one. Eh, I wasn’t too worried about it. Now how could I be so careless about a potential job offer? 

Well, I was getting this call early on in the transition process. I still had several weeks before I would start my job search in earnest. But I wanted to prepare myself as best I could before I was in a crunch to find my next career. So about a month before, I had submitted my information to one of those recruiting firms that connects veterans with employment opportunities. They have several career conferences throughout the year, and I signed up for the first one I could attend. The nice thing about doing this while you’re still working is that there is no obligation to take a job opportunity. I wasn’t being disingenuous — if I found an opportunity that I liked, I would follow through, but at this point, my priority was to learn as much as I could about the job search process. And I am glad I did. There’s nothing like the real thing to teach you what you don’t know. 

Here are a few things I learned along the way:

There are a lot of jobs out there I didn’t know about.
I took interviews with a variety of companies for a variety of positions; from pharmaceutical sales, to IT network providers, to construction project managers for a national food chain. This was the first lesson I learned. There are actually quite a few widely varying career choices available to me with my military background. As much homework as I had done on the careers I might be interested in doing following the military, there was still a lot I didn’t know, including what was out there. These job interviews were as much about gathering more information about different opportunities as it was about getting hired. 

Interviewers asked a lot of the same questions.
One thing you’ll quickly learn after doing several interviews in a row is that there are common questions you’ll be asked over and over. Sure, everybody asks you to introduce yourself, or to walk him or her through your resume. But I also got asked questions about certain aspects of my background from my resume. That told me two things: either my resume was confusing to them and it was something I needed to fix, or, it was an important aspect of my experience that people were interested in, so I should have a good explanation or story to expound upon it if the question was asked again. Little insights like these are golden for being well prepared down the line.

Going through an interview is like working on a comedy stand up routine. You throw out a story and then refine it depending on the audience reactions. As I answered similar questions from interview to interview, I would pay attention to how well I was connecting with people. I had worked on dozens of questions in preparation for my interviews, writing out pages and pages of answers, but doing it in person was the best feedback. I could see when the interviewers would nod in agreement, or laugh at an anecdote, or start to get that faraway glaze look in their eyes if I talked for too long. 

Reading the interview.
One of the things you learn from going through the interview process is a better understanding of what the interviewer is looking for. Sometimes, they would dive deep into my experience on managing projects. Other times, it was my ability to grasp technical subjects. And sometimes, it was just to see if I was someone they could get along with. I started to see how little some of the things in my background mattered, and how important others were. Depending on the position or industry, I started to have a good idea of what I might be asked, and this really helped me hone in on the types of answers I would give, and what I would highlight from my background.

All of this experience was invaluable for my next run of interviews about a month later. I was more confident, had well refined answers, and was more prepared to answer questions about my background. With the practice that I had under my belt, I landed a job in the industry I wanted. 

Finally, the issue of that phone call…one more important lesson I got out of all this — I needed a better system to keep track of what my follow up appointments would be.

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