Things your recruiter won't tell you.
Like many veterans during their transitions, I went to a bunch of hiring conferences as part of my job search. Set up by my recruiting firm, these events would be one day long or go all weekend. At times, I was overwhelmed at the amount of work and stress these things can entail. I had up to 8 interviews in one day, sometimes back to back, in industries as varied as energy and finance and marketing. On top of that, you are competing with your peer group of veterans, likely highly decorated with impressive educational backgrounds and professional skills. To stay sane through all this and come out successful with follow up interviews for your desired opportunities takes preparation. Below, I cover a few simple hacks that can make your day a lot easier.
1. Be the best dressed that you can be. First impressions include the way you present yourself. Don’t worry about style, but fit. The corporate business uniform is pretty standard (for men, at least — sorry ladies, not experienced in your area, but I’ll make it up in a future post if I can find a contributor). Wearing a dark suit, plain shirt, and solid tie sounds simple enough, but there are a few things that you can do that will set you up for success from the first handshake. Make sure everything fits precisely. You don’t need expensive attire, but spend the extra money to get it tailored. I watched a few Youtube videos to understand how a suit should fit on me, including the best cuts, hems, and styles. Take your clothes to a good tailor — I check for reviews on Yelp — and get them fitted for you. While you’re at it, get them to put a permanent crease in your trousers. It always look sharp and you won’t have to stress about ironing. What you’re trying to avoid is the frumpy father look.
2. Carry a handkerchief in your pocket. The temperature settings at these events are never regular. Interviews are often set up in the individual hotel rooms reserved for each company, so you might be going from Siberia in one interview to the Sahara in another. You’ll also be running around a bit and after a dozen questions or so, you’re going to feel like you’re being interrogated more than interviewed. If you’re like me, you’re going to sweat. Have something to wipe your hands and brow before each interview to keep that calm and collected demeanor you mastered while going chewed out.
3. Keep three themes in your head before going in to each interview. I went to so many interviews that by the end of the day, I had trouble keeping it straight in my head what type of company I was interviewing with next. I’d have some notecards with me and sometimes, I’d only have time to look at who it was and what industry the company was in before having to start introducing myself. Before you do, take a deep breath and think of three points that you want to bring out in your interview. This will help set the frame of mind for how you want to position yourself. Hopefully, your preparation will bring out the details. So for example, if I was going into a sales interview with a medical device company, I would think to myself that I want to highlight my problem solving skills, my interest in technical systems, and my consultative leadership abilities. That way, as I go in, these thoughts will remind me of the stories or experiences I can think to bring up as the conversation continues.
4. Pack a soft cloth or shining wipes (you can pick them up at a department store) in your bag. In keeping with the first point, give your shoes a good wipe before the start of the day. Nothing ruins a suit like a scuffed shoe toe.
5. Don’t wear a watch. This is a personal preference, but I’m picky about matching my watch to what I wear (if you haven’t noticed, I’m picky about clothes), so that’s one less thing I want to worry about. I carry my phone with me, so I use the clock off of that to keep me on schedule between interviews. I also don’t want the temptation of checking it mid-interview, giving off the impression that I’m disinterested. The interviewers are on their own schedule, as well, so they will keep track of time. At a conference, you’ll be OK to be late to the next interview if your previous one went long. You don’t need to worry about it during one.
6. Always close. Finish each interview saying that you are interested and why, preferably with something that was brought up during your conversation. Thank the interviewers for their time and explain how you see yourself excited to apply your skills to the position. It doesn’t matter if you have doubts about the position for yourself — at this time, you want options, not rejections.
7. Don’t worry about “winning”. I get it. Coming from the military, you want to beat everyone else by getting more call backs. Ultimately you’re competing for the wrong thing. The success of your job search comes when you find the right fit, for you and the company. Most people don’t get follow-ups from every company. Even if you did, you couldn’t follow up with all of them. What you want to do is improve from each interview. Realize that the world is full of open positions in interesting industries. This conference is not the end all, be all. Do well at the task at hand, and you will have opportunities to chose from.
8. If you’re doing this conference in a hotel, and most are, you will find yourself seated on the couch at some point, facing one or two or more interviewers sitting in chairs. This is a weird and uncomfortable position to talk in because they will be sitting higher than you and you’ll be slowly sinking into your seat. When you sit down, grab a small pillow or cushion to prop against your lower back. You’ll have better posture and you’ll look more interested.
9. Bring your significant other. For those of you who have a significant other you can bring along, I highly recommend it. They can remind you which room you’re going to next, review questions with you, and give you a once over before you walk into your next interview. If they don’t mind carrying some snacks and water for you, even better, because you might not have time to eat.
10. Help each other out. Yes, the other people at the conference might be competing for the same job as you. But don’t forget that you’re a veteran and you’re all from the same team. Pass along “gouge” like the interview questions you got grilled on or tips like these to each other during the conference. Like I said before, there are more positions available than candidates — you will get yours if you keep at it. What you’ll also learn at these events is that they are a networking conference. These people will all be your peers in whatever industry you all end up going into. Developing good relationships here will allow you to reach out to each other in the future. Case in point, one of my good friends in the area I live now is a guy I met at one of our follow-up interviews. We both happened to take different jobs in different industries in the Bay Area. We now confer about our careers and pass along opportunities to each other.
There’s so much running through your head at one of these things that it helps to have a few tips like the ones above to simplify your day. Develop some for yourself and you’ll get the opportunity to succeed. And ladies, if you’ve got some tips on what/how to wear professional business attire, reach out to me and I’ll put a more well rounded article together.