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Friday, November 18, 2011

Advice from an Interviewee

After my scintillating series about how employers have no clue how to hire people, this post is from the other side of the desk. I believe in interviewing every 6 months whether you need to or not to keep skills and contacts fresh. This also helps me check out if my suit still fits.

The other reason for this Always Be Interviewing Approach is that the line between the employed and long-term chronically unemployed who are getting discriminated against by recruiters is as thin as the Kardashian's credibility. That is why I will march with and donate to Occupy Wall Street even if they are a little dirty, their message is a little muddled, or their positions are not that crisp. There is no longer a lot of difference in the backgrounds of someone who logs into a corporate version of Microsoft Outlook every morning compared to someone who is soaking their bandana with apple cider vinegar to protect themselves from pepper spray.

I interviewed for a provider strategy position at a large insurance company. I don't know if I got the job or not but wanted to write the post before I was tainted one way or the other when judgement is rendered. In this post, I will describe the three things I learned which were 1) the importance of answering why you want the position, 2) how career switchers can position themselves, and 3) uh, it's um, uh, Oops (bet none of you saw that one coming.)

Why do you want this position? Of course, I came up with 3 reasons for the job. My formula is a basic one of 1) this position will allow me to participate in market trend Y, 2) this position will support my career goal of doing Z, and 3) I really admire the company for reasons ABC. What I didn't do is reinforce the message constantly during the interview. An interviewee needs to hammer that message like a presidential candidate. The interviewer is always concerned that someone won't stay in the position and this is the best way to address that concern is talk about how perfect the position is for you.

With my interview, since this position represented a new functional area, I really needed to do more than come up with 3 reasons. I need to show excitement, industry knowledge, the opportunity, why I couldn't do it from my current position, and crank it up to 11. I don't think that I threaded it into enough answers to satisfy a skeptical interviewer. I used too much terminology from my current job and not enough of the new position's lingo.

What career switchers can do? I wasn't a career switcher but within health care this was definitely a switch. Employers are increasingly reluctant to hire anyone who doesn't done a job before. Training is not considered part of the onboarding process anymore which prevents employers from filling a lot of positions. I do fault the employers for not taking the time to determine what skills can be taught, what skills cannot, and how to assess how different experiences meet the skills that cannot be taught. That's half the story behind the belief that there aren't enough skilled workers for certain positions. However, we can't hate the player, just the game.

To address the lack of direct skills that I had, I drew clear parallels from other experiences. I hadn't negotiated with providers but I had negotiated with vendors. I hadn't done statistical analysis on bundled payments but I had done other statistical analysis. I pointed out that I learned indigenous South American languages in 3 months so I could learn skills. What I should have done is been more clear about career switching that I had done in the past and how I had been successful with projects where nothing in my resume indicated that I had the direct skills.

Fancy Graduate Degrees still matter. During the interview, my fancy MBA was referenced three times indirectly. One asked if I knew her former coworker who graduated from my program, one noted my major, one asked me if I had taken classes in a specific area. As in the past, my fancy degree got me the interview since the employer probably just wanted to see what fancy MBA's look like, just like folks from Appalachia want to see if Jews have horns. Of course, it won't get me the job but you also can't get a job if the employer doesn't have a reason to interview you.

For all those who criticize graduate degrees and promote alternatives like blogging or starting websites that one claims are a business, the evidence isn't there. This blog certainly wouldn't have gotten me an interview. It's more likely to get me on a federal no fly list than it is to get an interview scheduled.

The benefits that blogging provides are a way for me to require myself to take some time and think about the interview in a way that does not involve telling myself that the smell coming out of my butt is a rose. It forces me to explain the experience to a vaguely interested third party (my faithful readers) in a way that's relevant. Most importantly, I now have a better understanding of what I need to do better the next time that I interview. The third and final thing that I learned is uh, um, uh, oops (now I really bet that you didn't seen that one coming. Hey, if Nancy Pelosi can beat this horse to death why can't I give it a few kicks!).

Monday, November 14, 2011

Understanding what to Haul off the MBA admissions process

Alex Fleming wrote a post about how "Business School Admissions needs an Overhaul" My joy increased as I read it since it gave me great material for a post of my own. There are various genre of blogger posts such as the List (i.e. Top 5 ways to give yourself a Colonoscopy), the Repost (look at this funny baby and animal video where someone makes them talk about colonoscopies), and this genre of the Disagree. With the Disagree, I simply disagree with Alex's post.

Alex's premise is that the MBA admissions process needs some innovative techniques to help schools better assess candidates and render MBA admissions consultants obsolete. He attacks the essays as being prone to ghost writing and whispering by admissions consultants His suggestions for new innovation are:

1) Group interviewing which the Wharton school is piloting
2) Stealth interviewing where everyone from the Security guard to the fellow who just clogged a toilet in the men's room is a potential interviewer
3) Personality evaluation

Personally, I think that the best approach is to combine all three and have stealth group interviewers evaluate personalities. To be able to assess Alex's approach, we need to break down the MBA evaluation process into its parts

Talent Level: This is the GMAT score, work experience, and grades. Admissions simply wants to gauge academic and professional capability. This has largely already been predetermined and there is little a candidate can do to change anything in this category other than taking a quantitative class to address a major in Comparative Scandinavian Skiing and no classes that involve numbers. The best thing that a candidate can do is use this determine their safety, sweet spot, and stretch school

Community Involvement: Extracurriculars are as much a part of the MBA experience as classes and the job search. A history of extracurricular involvement is a strong predictor of future extracurricular involvement. Blinding Case of the Obvious is the group that sponsored this research. It also is likely to indicate an engaged alumni. The insightful cultural comments that I get on the rugby team alumni list serve also give me fond memories. A candidate can't change a past history of extracurriculars that includes "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" TV marathons but it truly is never too late to start. This will separate an applicant from the candidate who never does start.

Is the Candidate Clueless: This is addressed by the variety of Why do you want an MBA and what will you do with it essays. No admission consultant can make up a reason to apply for an MBA if the candidate has no idea. I have worked with candidates who tried to pick noble MBA goals but we could never get their work experience and career choices to ever tie together. The candidate who develops a sudden passion for public health can't explain why they are not applying for a Masters in Public Health. The candidate who wants to start a non-profit can't explain how the passion started with only large corporate experience and a post MBA goal of investment banking. The candidate who can't decide if they want to work in consulting or investment banking but who really wants to work in private equity can't even meet the essay word limit in a coherent way.

Schools are moving away from this question because there are only about 6 different answers that they ever see. However, a candidate who can't come up with one of those 6 will eliminate themselves from consideration.

Does the candidate have a personality: This is where the essays and interview come in and where ghost writing is also less useful. From reading the essays, does the admissions committee want to risk running to them on campus? Will they be interesting learning teammates? Are their essays littered with passions, interests, or funny stories about their past or more mundane tales about leveraging project management resources to ensure that IT met its deliverables?

What part of the MBA application process do Alex's interventions target and what do they reveal?

Group Interviews: Some think this will produce the same environment as TV's Apprentice. However, that doesn't give a lot of credit to MBA candidates who will figure out that group interviews are intended to see if candidate can play nicely with each other in the sand box. Assholes will be easy to spot but wouldn't a 1:1 interview pick up the same trait? My main criticism is that it will reduce applicants contributions to sound bites. With less air time, there isn't time for thoughtful anecdotes about one's past, hopes, and dreams. It's speed dating rather than a candle lit dinner. How will creating an artificial social atmosphere provide new information to an admissions committee and help them figure out if they have a clue or personality?

Stealth Interviews: If someone has been promoted once in their lifetime, haven't they already figured out to be nice to everyone's administrative assistant? Unless the stealth interview involves tackling the applicant, this is about as innovative as emailing a thank you note to someone as a way to differentiate yourself. I don't see how this will answer the clue or personality question either.

Personality Test: Alex's theory is that admissions should look for the same personality traits that great leaders have in MBA candidates. My first reaction was to Google search "CEO psychopath personality test" which has 91,900 hits and links like this. This solution also addresses the Talent Level category of which there is ample information. Assessing the candidate's personality in terms of how well they get along with their classmates seems like a larger opportunity. Finally, this suggests that admissions have the data capabilities and bandwidth for social engineering which I have addressed previously in this post. In summary, this addresses a need where this is already plenty of information, there are unintended consequences, and there isn't even the infrastructure in place.

Alex's post seems to be guided on a notion that admissions consultants need to be removed from the system. However, admissions and consultants seem to be developing closer relationships. As an admissions consultant, I have a vested interest in the status quo but I also don't see a need for an internal ethical reflection. Most successful applicants use some kind of external review process since they think their own poop smells like roses. That external review can be a co-worker with an MBA, a former teacher (which is what I used), or an admissions consultant. Admissions consultants fill the same niche as mail order brides. Those who can't get the quality of service they want for free, have to pay for it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Objecting to the Objective Statement

Long-time readers might remember that this is the time of the year where I review the latest Wharton MBA Health Care Management class's objective statements on their resume book. Readers who do remember these posts are highly encouraged to get a life- er I mean commended for their loyalty but still highly encouraged to get a life.

By review objective statements, I mean make fun of them like a snarky hipster makes fun of anything that is not ironic. Now some readers might start thinking that my get-a-life comment was a little bit of a defense mechanism so here is the usual disclaimer:
  • I don't know the difference between a disclaimer or a disclosure.
  • I don't even really know what ironic means either.
  • The students who I am about to make fun of are a lot smarter and more talented me. By a lot, I kind of mean like trillion used to sound like a lot.
  • I made fun of my own classmates objective statements at our annual banquet so I would do this to the class of 2012 face-to-face. The main reason that I do not is because the class of 2012 has no interest in meeting me and playing Angry Birds is a better use of their free time.
  • Given that the students are ridiculously good-looking in their resume book photos in addition to being smarter and talented than me, no one's feeling should be hurt. While I am a cinnamon roll away from obesity on the BMI, most of these students look like they have chiseled abs in their head shots.
What did this year's objective statements bring us?

Leveraging is still the hottest activity on campus but others are catching up: Everyone is still leveraging their "business knowledge and their clinical experience", their "real estate banking and pharmaceutical experience" (which sounds like snorting cocaine off the granite counter tops of expensive condos to me), or peanut butter and jelly. However some have gone a different path and used words that actually still have their original meaning like "combining my experience." One was bold enough to announce that his experiences were already not only leveraged but "integrated". Well played, sir.

Hedging is back in fashion: The toughest thing about objective statements is narrowing it down to the one industry where you want to work. Therefore, objective statements sound like an elaborate list of qualities that guys look for in girlfriends where they are trying to not rule out anyone who might actually have sex with them. Last year some students got bold and placed a stake in the ground. This year, not so much. One student announced an interest in both "international and domestic public equities" and another was looking for opportunities in "new markets in the US or abroad". This meant they only eliminated Mars and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea from their future plans. One announced they were seeking an opportunity in "commercial management in health care". Either that's really broad or they are being very specific about wanting to work in advertising with Don Draper.

Raising the stakes: This year's class was bold and I would expect nothing less than from these millennials who don't have to spend their time watching their hair line with the same level of scrutiny typically reserved for the Pakistan-Afghan border. Besides just wanting a job in either "venture capital, business development, or innovative start-ups", they talked about transforming the health care system. Soon to be graduates had plans to "improve efficiency and effectiveness", "access and quality", "identify and drive long-term value," and "improve health care quality and delivery." They weren't just looking for a job but they were going to make big changes. To these efforts, I will salute the class of 2012 as soon as they pass me my cinnamon roll.
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