Posts filed under Interview Prep

Ready for a Change? How to Make a Career Pivot in 2019

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I made my first career pivot when I was 19 and an undergraduate student. While I was not technically in the professional workforce yet, I consider college to be an important time of career preparation. In this case, I transferred universities and changed majors after realizing that a design degree from a small, private school did not translate to the type of career and lifestyle that I wanted. Instead, I decided to attend a more affordable, state school (Miami of Ohio) and major in business. At the advice of a professor whom I respected, I narrowed that further and focused on two of the most technical business majors available while maintaining the ability to graduate in four years.

A couple years later, in 2009 when the recession hit consulting particularly hard and I found myself in the job market, I pivoted again. This time, I took stock of what I wanted to do and what I was interested in, though it was difficult to decide. Should I find a job in consumer products, where I always thought I would work? Or in healthcare, where I’d developed an interest through my consulting work? Or, would I be better served going to business school or law school, with the hope that the economy would pick up over the next two or three years?

My indecision led me to meet with a lot of people in the healthcare, retail, CPG, and legal fields. I networked with people in retail/consumer goods and healthcare, and connected with friends who were in business and law school full-time. I learned about the reality of each person’s life - the good and the bad, the opportunities and the limitations. I also did quite of bit of research on job availability, growth predictions, and how “recession-proof” each industry was, hoping to avoid a similar fate in the future.

As I considered these different options, I realized that many entry to mid-level roles had similar skills and competencies regardless of the industry. Companies wanted people who were proactive problem solvers, hard workers who took initiative, curious and interested in learning, and excellent communicators. As I continued with my job search, I started to focus on how I had completed the tasks and the results to showcase my competencies and soft skills rather than what I had accomplished or knew about a particular industry.

After hiring over 100 people, I’ve witnessed the value of hiring people based on competencies and cultural fit rather than their direct experience. When I interview someone, I focus less on their specific ability to demonstrate that they have previously done the functional job tasks and more on their competency and fit for the role. While this varies by position, and some specialized fields require extensive knowledge and training in niche areas, many companies can benefit and thrive from bringing together people who have a diverse background of ideas and experiences that they can use and apply toward their current position.

Whether you are pivoting to pursue a passion or trying to shift to a new industry or functional area, using a few techniques can help others see you as the perfect fit:

Focus on your accomplishments and the how behind them. Interviewers will often assess your competencies by asking behavioral based questions - the ones that start with “tell me about a time…”. Your response should tell a story, starting with the situation, the actions you took, and what you accomplished (Situation, Actions, Accomplishments). Even if the question is not framed as a behavioral question, you can use this framework to respond to many interview questions and highlight the results you are most proud of. Using this framework also allows you to focus on how you went about your job (the Action portion). While accomplishing things is important, your interviewers will want to understand how you approached situations in the past, as this is the best predictor of future behavior. For example, if you used a logical, thoughtful approach to solving a problem in your finance role, it’s reasonable that you would take a similar approach in a supply chain job.

Research and learn. While I still consider myself a young professional (and I am a Millenial), I can also remember the pre-internet days of researching in the card catalog at the public library. It was challenging to find information about a company or learn about a new industry. Today, with information at our fingertips, there is no excuse to not read and review as much information about your dream company, job, or industry as possible. Learn about the major competitors in the industry, listen to thought leaders on a podcast, pick up trade magazines, and subscribe to news aggregators or alerts. Interviewers will be impressed with your initiative and capacity to learn, and will assume that you can bring these skills to your job as well.

Remember the basics. If you are trying to pivot, you may be at a disadvantage compared to other candidates with direct experience. Make sure you have an error-free resume and cover letter to demonstrate your attention to detail, and send thank you notes within 24 hours of an interview. Check out my job search toolkit here for resume and cover letter templates.

Volunteer or work a part-time job in the field of your choosing. If you are struggling to shift from finance to marketing or construction to healthcare, for example, scout out opportunities to volunteer for non-profit organizations that need help in marketing or at a local hospital. It allows you to gain some experience in a low-pressure environment, supports a local nonprofit or community organization, and shows your initiative to prospective employers. You may even find some networking opportunities as well.

Ask for informational interviews. When I went through my job search in 2009, I had plenty of available time to network and meet with people. The need to find a job usurped any shyness that lingered from childhood, and i found myself talking to people and making connections in a way I never had before. One thing I would ask for in these conversations was an informational interview with that person, or perhaps someone they knew. In an informational interview, you are learning by asking the other person questions about their career and their company. It is not a job interview, though if you position yourself well and if the company has jobs available, it could lead to one. Informational interviews are an excellent way to learn about something new, to build your network, and to show your preparation and thoughtfulness to prospective employers or individuals who can refer you to other opportunities.

Have you made a career pivot in the past? If so, what other tips would you recommend?

How To...Tell a Story in an Interview

In this competitive job market, the difference between two equally-qualified candidates may be the ability to articulate their experience during the interview process.  It has become increasingly important to prepare compelling stories about your work experience as interviewers increase their use of behavioral interview questions.  Behavioral questions ask a candidate to describe an experience related to job competencies in order to assess a candidate's fit for a job.  For example, an interview for a sourcing agent may comprise questions about experience applying certain negotiation tactics and financial results from past negotiations.  

The easiest way to respond to behavioral questions is the “CAR” method: Context, Action, Result.  

Context.  Where were you working (organization, job, university, etc)?  Why is this an important experience?  What were your goals or objectives? 

Action.  What actions did you take to achieve your objectives?  Did you do anything unique or innovative?  Focus on your contributions and use the pronoun “I” rather than “we”.

Result.  How did your actual results compare to your goals or targets?  Do you have any quantitative results?  Did you receive feedback from others?

 

Sounds simple, right?  It is, when you aren’t in the interview “hot seat” which is why preparation and practice are so important.

Prepare.  Research the job and the company to identify the important attributes and competencies for the job.  These might be things like financial analytics, teamwork, project management, or leadership.  Once you know these competencies, you can develop answers that highlight your experience related to each one.

Practice.  The approach sounds easy, but it’s easy to start talking without a sense of direction and completely lose track of your outline, consequently losing your listener.  Jot down notes and practice answering the questions aloud so you can edit your response well in advance of the interview.

 

Happy interviewing!

Posted on February 7, 2016 and filed under Interview Prep.

7 Behavioral Interview Questions (and How to Answer Them)

Behavioral interview questions have gained popularity in recent years as interviewers realized the ability to predict future performance based on a candidate's behavior in specific past experiences.  These questions typically start with the phrase “tell me about a time you,” followed by a question about skills and competencies that are relevant to the job.  Recently, interviewers have started to also ask the corollary of the question as a follow up to your answer.  For example, after answering the question “tell me about a time you accomplished a goal”, the interviewer may ask you about a time that you did not accomplish a goal and what you learned from it.

Behavioral questions are easiest answered in the “Context, Action, Result” structure.  This structure keeps you organized and helps to ensure that you cover all the relevant points in your answer.  The Context, Action, Result structure breaks down as follows:

  • Context: Introduce and describe the situation.  This is like the exposition of a book, where you introduce people, identify the location (university, employer, etc) and describe the problem or situation.  
  • Action: How you addressed the situation.  This part should be specific and detailed, as it is the opportunity to articulate how you handled the situation.
  • Result: The end result or solution to the initial problem, perhaps a grade on a project, revenue generated from sales efforts, or an improved relationship.  The more a result can be quantified, the easier it is to help your interviewer understand the magnitude and impact you had on the situation.

Below are some of the most common behavioral interview questions I’ve received or ask to young professionals, starting with the phrase, "tell me about a time you…"

…. accomplished a goal.

Purpose: An interviewer wants to know that you have a history of setting and achieving goals, because this will hopefully translate to their job.

Response: A story about achieving a quantifiable goal is best for this question.  Think of a situation when you had a specific, numerical goal; maybe it was saving a certain amount of money, completing a certain number of contracts, or selling a specific number of products or revenue. The interviewer will be interested in how you went about accomplishing the goal, so take time to explain how you planned and prepared in order to meet the number along with articulating the goal and the actual amount you accomplished.  

… persevered through adversity.

Purpose: The workplace is full of challenge and adversity, and an interviewer wants to know that you can effectively rise to the challenge and solve problems.

Response: This is a character question, so draw on your lifetime of experiences to find a situation where you were facing particular challenge or adversity and were successful.  

… navigated through conflict with someone.

Purpose: Competing interests, miscommunication, and personality rifts are among the many things that lead to conflict.  While conflict is inevitable, being a person that can confront conflict in a useful and thoughtful way is important in the work environment.

Response: Your example should show that you aren’t afraid to deal with conflict directly, while also being reasonable and collaborative in how you worked through the issue with the other person.

… led a team to complete a project.

Purpose: Good leadership means taking responsibility and holding others accountable to achieve a vision.  The interviewer wants to know about your past experience to see how you would lead at their organization.

Response: The best response will involve situations where you inspired a team to accomplish a greater vision, held people accountable if they did not meet their obligations, and took responsibility while giving credit to the team.

…were managing a lot of conflicting priorities.  How did you prioritize and accomplish them?

Purpose: The interviewer wants to see how you handle the stress that comes with having more to do than you can accomplish in a particular timeline.  

Response:  This is an opportunity to highlight your ability to delegate, align and complete priorities, and collaborate while not pawning work off on other people.  The best answers I’ve heard involve the interviewee confirming what tasks are really important and when they need to be completed, as well as elements of collaboration and teamwork by involving others to help them finish everything.  

…had to deliver bad news to a coworker or client.  How did you deliver the message?

Purpose: Effective communication is critical in any job.  The purpose of this question is to assess your ability to determine the best communication channel for bad news as well as ascertain how you delivered the information.

Response: Bad news is best delivered in person or, worst case, via phone.  A great response would demonstrate how you went above and beyond what is expected to deliver bad news in person, to provide alternative solutions, and to show empathy and ownership as it relates to the problem at hand.

…persuaded someone to agree with your viewpoint.

Purpose: People respond differently to ideas based on how they process information and how this information impacts the things that are important to them.  This question highlights your ability to identify what is important to another person and position an idea or viewpoint that resonates with them.

Response: It’s important to hit on the points in the “purpose” section; how you identified what was important to the other person and how you prepared for the conversation or communicated with them in a way that changed their viewpoint to one that agreed with yours.