How to Ace That Interview

Posted August 8th, 2014 by Todd

As promised, here is the interview advice  mentioned in my previous post.  I have always done well in interviews.  I can honestly say I have received an offer after 80% of my interviews. Much like the resume review process, I have been on both sides of the table. First, I will give my own personal tips. Then, I will get into reasons why I was, why I was not given an offer and a reasons why I recommended and did not recommend giving out job offers.

First, preparing for the interview. Research the company you are about to interview with. You can pull up its stock history and any recent news related to the company on most internet search engines very easily.  Arm yourself with as much knowledge about the company that you can, then think of two or three questions about the company that show you have done your research.  For example, in my most recent interview, I found a relatively new product that the company had released. I asked a question about that product during my interview (full disclosure, I now work for that company).

Next, research the position. The posting will list the qualifications and requirements, but you can find more information about what the job will entail. Also look for the salary range for that position. There are salary calculators on the internet that will give you a range for a job title and years experience. It may not be an exact match (it most likely won’t), but it will get you in the ball park. That knowledge will help you at the end of the interview. I lost out on a position because my salary request was too high. For my next interview, I researched the salary range and received an offer for the requested salary.

Once you are armed with knowledge about the company and the position, you are ready to face your interviewers. First impressions will go a long way. You want to ensure you are dressed according to the job you are interviewing for. A good rule of thumb is one step above your interviewer. In today’s day and age, many interviews are given over video phone/skype/facetime. It is important to dress as you would for an in face interview. How you present yourself is affected by what you are wearing. Strange, but true. There may be some exceptions to this. For example, for my last two jobs, I was wearing the Army’s Multicam uniform for the interviews. However, I still made sure my hair was trimmed neatly and my face was clean shaven.

I won’t get in to the “typical interview questions” as those have been done ad naseaum. I will say, that you need to be honest in your answers. In most cases, the person who is interviewing you will be the person you are working for, or at least a colleague the person you will working for trusts. Trying to “get one by” your interviewer is a sure way to lose out on an offer. you want to make sure you have the knowledge required for the position. That being said, be confident in your answers as well. If you do not know something, it is ok to admit it. Say something like, “I would have to look in XYZ reference,” or “I would have to research that again.”

It might seem counter intuitive, but interviewers are impressed when their interviewee acknowledges he/she does not know everything. At one prospective job I was interviewing for, my soon to be boss asked me what my weakest engineering area was. I told him it was electrical. I even told him I was one class away from a minor in college, but I had so much of a hard time, I did not go for it. It must have worked, I was offered the job [side note: my first project was to oversee the replacement of the main electrical switchgear at the facility...maybe that wasn't the right approach after all :)].

Finally, I would encourage you to have a little personality. That can be tough for introverts like me, but a little bit of charisma can go a long way. At the interview above, they asked about my availability. As I was leaving Active Duty, I made a joke about being a “free man” on a certain date. They all laughed and were at ease during the interview. Believe it or not, your interviewer can be just as nervous as you are. I know I was nervous for the first few that I gave. Putting your interviewer at ease will help you in the long run. Be careful not to overdo it. Interviews are not improv nights at the Apollo. Still a little ice breaker, a little personality can be extremely helpful. The interviewer is most likely not only assessing your knowledge, he/she is looking at how you would interact with others in the office as well.

I do not mean to brag, but I can honestly count on one hand the job I was not offered after an interview. For one job, I asked for too much money. It’s not that I was not worth that much, but the job did not rate that much. Had I done a little research ahead of time, I could have saved the time and effort (though I did get a free steak out of it). For another, I did not have the experience they were looking for. Again, had I done a little research, I could have saved some time and effort.

Notice a theme here? Research is key! Research the job, research the company, research the salary ranges, research, research, research! There was one job I was not offered, and I am not sure the reason. The interview went well, they invited me in to do a presentation, that went well, everything seemed to go well, but I never heard back. Sometimes, no matter how well we think things go, there will be no offer coming. Do not be disheartened. I kept up the search and landed a great job!

At two different jobs I was tasked with interviewing prospective employees. I personally tend to go easier on people based on their experience. If they have experience that is close to what we are looking for, and they have a variety of experience, to me that shows they are quick learners and would be just fine. I interviewed one gentlemen who had experience that was close to what we would need, and he had a self-deprecating sense of humor. Put me at ease right away. I not only recommended him, I asked if he could be on my team (we hired him, but he’s on someone else’s team). However, in another case, I interviewed a prospective employee who had absolutely none of the experience we were looking for, not even close. I had to recommend we keep looking.

I will end with a tip to entry level job seekers: Know your stuff! If you have just graduated (congratulations!), you will not have the experience/background that a typical interview would go into. Instead, they will ask you questions about your field of study. Essentially it will be like a final exam on all four to five years of schooling. Know your stuff! I interviewed one entry level candidate and he did not even know the basics, but he still tried to bluff his way through. I could not recommend him. However, the next one I interviewed was very smart. While he did not know everything, he was open about what he did not know. What he did know, he knew. So, if you are interviewing for an entry level position, know your stuff!  Just in case it’s not clear…know your stuff!

Anyone else been on either side of the interview table? Both? Leave a comment and share your tips!

How to Write a Resume to Get Hired

Posted August 1st, 2014 by Todd

So this is a little different from what I have written before (and well overdue, if you look at the date of my last post…sorry about that!), but having been on both sides of the resume submission/interview process, I thought I would pass along a few lessons learned to help current job hunters. I realize that every situation is different and there are mountains of advice out there, so I am simply going to share what I have learned and observed in the hopes that will help someone land a job.

In this post, we’ll talk about the resume, since that is the most important step.  The resume is what gets you the interview.  It needs to get through the computer filters, HR people and finally the hiring manager.  There are lots of layers to get through and having a carefully crafted resume can help you get through all of them. Most large companies screen their resumes my running them through computer filters, which screen for keywords.  HR will then look to make sure the skills match the requirements and then the Hiring manager will look through your experience to see if you are a match for the position.

The first step preparing your resume is to read the job description thoroughly.  Then, go back and read it again. Once you know the requirements/qualifications/responsibilities being asked for, make sure you tailor your resume accordingly.  Different companies may use slightly different jargon or define terms in a slightly different way.  It is important to communicate to the prospective employer that you have the experience to match their requirements. By “tailor” I mean to phrase your experience with to match the terminology, or “jargon,” of the job posting.

DO NOT fabricate experience to match their requirements.  This is a major no-no and will be noticed immediately when you interview. It will not only hurt you at that interview, it can hurt chances in the industry as well. That being said, it is important to match your experience to what is written in the job posting.

Once you have your experience tailored to match the job requirements, you need to ensure that the resume gets through the system.  If a posting asks for specific certifications, and you have them, make sure they are listed on your resume.  That will help get it past the computer filters and HR.  What about the hiring manager?  While he gets a narrowed down selection, he can still have a bunch to read through.  You need to make sure your key experience is easy for him or her to find.

This is where the type of resume comes in.  There are two basic types I will discuss.  The chronological and the functional.  The chronological resume lists all your jobs from most recent to when you first started working (well, maybe not that far back, but you get the idea).  A functional resume is more experience based.  You place your most closely matching experience up top so it is easy for the hiring manager to see.  From what I have read, functional resumes to not seem popular.  However, from what I have experienced and have seen, I would highly recommend going the functional route. I have searched using both types of resumes, and I got far more responses when I used a functional then when I used a chronological.

A functional resume is easier to tailor.  You want to list your skills first, so all the skills you have that match the job requirements will be list up top.  You can add in one or two extra (ie. that the job listing does not mention), but don’t overdue it.  You have limited space to win over the hiring manager.  After you job skills, you want to list your most relevant job experience.  You can tweak the skills and order of jobs based on the job posting.  Make sure to phrase things as closely as you can (while still giving an honest account to your experience) to the qualifications/requirements.

Once you have the type of resume down, your relevant job skills listed and your relevant experience up top, you want to tell your prospective employer what you did to earn that experience.  This is where matching your experience to the job’s requirements comes in.  For example, if a job lists mechanical design and you have done mechanical drafting, or if the job lists mechanical drafting and you have done mechanical design, make sure to use the terminology listed in the job posting.  Place a bullet that closely matches each requirement/qualification listed on the job posting that you have experience for.  Do not plagiarize the job posting, but use as many of the words as is feasible.

There is one final tip I would like to add.  I have received mixed feedback on this, but the pros have outweighed the cons.  Try to include something on your resume that sets you apart, even if it is not relevant.  For example, I used to include my stint as an Emergency Medical Technician, even though I am an engineer by trade.  It can help break the ice or ease into the questions during your interview.

If you read this one and follow the tips presented, you have a very good change a landing an interview. Granted, every situation is different, but this has worked for me on more than one occasion. If you have your own tips that have worked for your, please feel free to comment!

Having spent the better part of two years overseas, I developed a few habits that, while making perfect sense in the environment I was in, don’t make much sense in a first world country.  I am pleased to report that I have shaken most of them, but one or two still remain.  In no particular order, here they are:

1.  Using bottled water to brush my teeth.  The water there is non-potable, and while disinfected and fine for showering, drinking and teeth brushing are not a good idea.

2.  Shaking out my shoes before I put them on.  I will admit, I have never had any spiders or scorpions in my shoes (though there a few in my CHU), but I still made sure they were arachnid free before I put them on (and still do, to an extent).

3.  Honking the horn before I back up.  Scared the bejeebees out of the Mrs. on this one.  Common practice over there…not so much over here.

4. Stop what I am doing, listening and looking around when hearing a boom.  I did this at work a few times.  Our office is right next to the shop, so booms are frequent.  It will take a little getting used to.

5.  Saying weird things.  I have worked hard to eliminate the Afghan jargon, but every once in a while, I will say something and get a look like I have two heads or asked, “what is that?”

6.  Spitting.  Let’s face it, you can taste the air in Afghanistan, and it ain’t good.  I would spit out dust all the time…now, when I smell something foul, I am tempted to spit.  Working hard on this one, mixed results so far.

That about covers it for now.  I will probably think of more later.  Anyone got anything to add?  Let me know :)

The Best Things About Being Back In The States

Posted August 27th, 2013 by Todd

All my friends know that the absolute best thing about my R&R was seeing my family, and everyone knows how excited we were to buy a house.  That being said, there were a few other little niceties that I would like to share:

1) I didn’t have to put my shoes on to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

2) I didn’t have to shake my shoes out first.

3) One word: Chick-fil-a

4) I could take a long, HOT shower…or even a bath if I wanted to.

5) I was not afraid to touch the walls of the shower.

6) I could drive more than 25 kph (about 15 mph).

7) Real plates and silverware (sorry Clay, the paper DFAC trays just don’t cut it).

8) Internet speeds faster than dial-up.

9) No more AFN commercials (though I watch very little TV either here or at home).

While I am back and hitting the ground running, anyone who’s redeployed recently, please feel free to add to the list!

Having seen both sides of how things work in Afghanistan, I thought I would share some of what I learned:

1.  Facebook is the most encompassing news source in the world.  I get all my news off of facebook.

2.  Coffee is a very broad term.  If it is hot, dark, has caffiene and is in a semi-liquid form, it qualifies.

3.  No matter what color your socks are in the begining, they will all be gray by the end (this time I cut out the middle man and bought gray from the get go).

4.  The seats of any terminal make for a good bed if you are waiting long enough.

5.  On a serious note, I have learned who I can count on and who I can’t…and I am often surprised by the results.

6.  If a Butterfly flaps its wings in the states….all flights are grounded in Afghanistan.

7.  Fried potato wedges are healthy.

8.  If there are footprints on the toilet seat and empty water bottles on the floor…move to the next stall.

9.  Obscure holidays take on special meaning…It’s Arbor Day!  Let’s have a party!

10. Leaving home really sucks…but returning is oh so sweet!

A Lost People

Posted March 22nd, 2013 by Todd

Afghanistan is a country that has known war for its entire existence. The country as we know it, was founded in 1919. In the century before that, the British fought three separate wars here. The first king of Afghanistan, Amanullah Khan, abdicated only 10 years later in 1929. His successor was assassinated only 4 years after that, in 1933. Muhamed Zahir Shah, ruled as king for 40 years until a coup in 1973.

Five years later, the communists ceased power,and a year after that, the Soviet Union invaded, starting a war that lasted 13 years. When the Soviets withdrew, the country descended into chaos. Multiple factions vied for control of the country and the governmental structure fell completely apart. By 1996, the Taliban has assumed control over most of the country and began to restore order, but the civil war continued as the Northern Alliance tried to oust the Taliban from power.

While in power, the Taliban harbored the world’s most wanted terrorist, which led to the current fighting since the U.S. and its allies launched operations in 2001. With two centuries of nearly constant warfare, the county and its people are living a very hard life. Infrastructure is virtually non-existant. Running water and electricity are scarce outside the major cities.

Poverty is a way of life. Most of the arable land is used to grow opium and the rich natural resources of the country are inaccessible due to the lack of roads and rails. The people of this nation are a proud people, but they have had to endure constant warring, ever-shifting governments, massacres, lack of formal schooling, no electricity and no running water. As a result they need a lot of assistance just to surive.

There is a way that you, too, can help!  Our command is having a shoe drive for the local children.  Our goal is 500 pairs of shoes for the kids here.  Below is an excerpt from an e-mail I received:

Our command recognizes the needs of those around us. We’ve been successful thus far in providing clothing donations to our neighbors in need.

We are sponsoring a Shoe Drive for the Children of Northern Afghanistan. Our goal is to provide 500 children shoes.

 Obtaining the shoes can be brought about in several ways:

 o    You can have family/friends/church groups send in pairs of children shoes (varying sizes) here. The shoes can be sneakers, tennis shoes, rubber boots, etc.

 o    You can go online and order shoes and have them shipped here

 o    You can make a monetary donation so that the shoes can be ordered by a DCMA POC to be shipped here

 Preferably, the shoes would be new but any and all shoes will not be turned away. The plan is to reach out and provide foot protection for the local children of Afghanistan.

If you are interested in sending shoes, please comment here and I will e-mail you the information.  Thanks!!

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Posted March 2nd, 2013 by Todd

As they are starting to draw down in theater and close certain FOBs, they are also looking at ways to cut back and save money. Someone came up with the bright idea of cancelling breakfast. Instead of going to the DFAC, soldiers pick up and MRE the night before. They did it at a few of the outlying FOBs, but mainly ones that are due to close soon.

Since this is a rather large base, they thought they could save a lot of money by cancelling breakfast here, as well. They were set to do it, too, but it caused an uproar as this base is not going to be closing. Apparently some people back home called their congressmen to ask, “Why are you taking breakfast away from my baby?”

Given that congress had recently voted themselves a raise, I guess they could not come up with a good answer. They cancelled the cancellation. Instead, they closed some of the DFACs on base. On the surface, it makes more sense: they can save money on the facilities, on the labor, etc. However, the population of the base has not gone down.  Demand for the meals has not changed.

Today three DFACs were closed down. Unfortunately, one of them was the one that was closest to my shop (and had the best soup!).  The closest DFAC is a 15 minute walk. Since I only get 30 minutes each for lunch and for dinner, it will be interesting to see how that works out. With a fifteen minute walk each way and a longer lines, I will probably see what alternatives I can come up with.

Still, at least the kept breakfast…the most important meal of the day.

The Afghan Crud

Posted February 15th, 2013 by Todd

Warning SignSo this post is a little late…well, it’s a lot late, but in addition to the normal busyness and travelling, my office was hit with the “The Afghan Crud,” a nasty bug in an already nasty flu season.  Last time, I was sick at the three week mark.  This time it took longer, but it was also more intense.

It came on rather suddenly, too.  I woke up with a slight cough, but by the afternoon, I was at death’s door.  Fortunately, I was able to get a lot of sleep the next two days.  That, coupled with some pretty high powered medication, had me back on my feet in just a few days.  The cough hung on for a while, but even that has finally faded.

When I did get back to the office, I found that many of my co-workers had the same bug, hence the sign that was put on our door.  Still, an antibiotic, lots of vitamin C, every piece of Halls in the PX and lots and lots of sleep, and things quickly returned to normal.  I was able to make my next trip and pull it off with out a hitch.

My last trip was cancelled, but that is a story for another post.  Still, next winter I plan on buying stock in Halls.

On Second Thought

Posted February 4th, 2013 by Todd

So I had planned on closing down the blog…leaving it up for posterity sake, but not really commenting any more.  Some of my friends decided to contact me (and I know I haven’t been good about responding, I promise I will), one even commented on the blog, to suggest that I keep it going.

Posting will be tough. I travel a good bit and access to the internet is iffy at many places.  However, I have already seen and done more this go round. What I may do is instead of a few short posts a week, save things up and wait for one long post when I can. This one won’t count as a long post, but when I eventually get back to my main hub, I can try to do that.

I really, really appreciate everyone’s support. I appreciate that you all don’t mind if posts are slow in coming. I’ll do my best to keep it interesting and relevant. If you all have any questions, feel free to comment or e-mail me. Thanks!

Closing Time

Posted January 18th, 2013 by Todd

One last call for a post.

I have decided to close down the blog.  I am a lot busier this go round than I thought I would be.  Plus I am travelling, a lot.  I am simply unable to update this blog enough so as to keep it interesting.

I will keep the posts up as a history, but am going to close down registration and commenting, and will not be posting anymore.  I am sorry if anyone is disappointed.  I hope you all will understand, and I do appreciate everyone’s support.