Monday, April 29, 2013

The Hunger Games

I'll start by saying that I've never read The Hunger Games or seen the movie (there IS a movie, right?).  I know very little about the book.  What I do understand is this: There are a bunch of kids who are put together and have to fight for survival.  The last person alive wins the hunger games.  Hopefully this is an accurate synopsis.

As I've mentioned a few times before, my company is going through a massive restructuring right now.  It's a six-month process that started in January.  Our entire business line is being centralized and consolidated.  As a result, we are all interviewing for jobs in the new structure.  In my case, I've been interviewing for my current role/title.  It has been a long process...11 interviews over a five-day timeframe.  Add into that the fact that I've worked for the company for six years and have been in my current role for the last four, which means a long window of successes and mistakes that are part of the equation as well.  It's a bit grueling to think about it all.

We recently had an all-employee meeting and at the end, I overheard a colleague comment that "this process is like The Hunger Games.  We're all fighting to the death."  How awful...but at the same time, I understand her take on the situation.  It's incredibly uncomfortable to "compete" with your peers and friends for a limited number of jobs.  That being said, this process has been a learning experience and I think you may find value from the knowledge I've gained.  So, here it goes.

Preparation is key. 
I spent countless hours updating my resume, reviewing the backgrounds of my interviewers, studying up on key metrics, planning for and documenting my first 6 months in the "new" role, and practicing responses to potential interview questions. 
    • I actually locked myself in a conference room on Easter Sunday and spent 6 hours putting together a PowerPoint deck that laid out my plan for the "new" role.  I didn't need the deck for each interviewer, but it came in handy for a few of the discussions.  The deck was clearly a differentiator for me and I'm happy that I invested the time into it.
    • I pulled together pages and pages of potential interview questions.  I thought through responses for behavioral, situational and traditional questions.  I practiced a few with my husband to make sure that my wording seemed positive and upbeat, even when talking about my weaknesses and failures. 
    • I'm fortunate to be a data-driven individual, so I pulled every core metric for each interviewer that I met with and created a grid "cheat sheet" that I could study prior to each interaction.  I also included key information about the interviewer's background that I wanted to remember as well as points that I thought would be relevant to the individual discussion.  For example, the president of one of our facilities went to college where I grew up.  I noted this and was able to tie it to our conversation.  I also included interesting projects that his team recently rolled out.  Finally, I included HR KPIs like turnover rates and was able to tie their rates to project success during the discussion.  It was amazing...I was able to hit on each of these items during the discussion.  We developed a strong rapport and he was impressed that I had taken the time to get to know his business. 
Confidence goes a long way.
There's a fine line between confidence and cockiness and you have to tread lightly here.  I feel like this is a difficult task for me.  I'm fairly young and I've always been an overachiever.  I work hard to make sure that people don't think of me as someone who's too focused on future career growth because the truth is, I'm not.  I'm very happy where I am.  I'm a mom and I have balance in my life.  If I continue to grow quickly in my career, I will lose that balance.  I focused all of my interview responses on the fact that I can do the job.  I talked about my successes and learning from my failures.  I was open and honest, and I think this helped bolster my confidence.  Finally, I looked at the strengths and weaknesses outlined in my last performance review and really played up the strengths.  It's empowering to see good stuff about yourself in writing.  I kept that in mind.

Dress the part.
Wear a suit, people!!  Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.  Don't look sloppy.  Iron your shirt.  Shine your shoes.  Fix your hair.  Don't wear colors that are too bright or clothes that are too trendy.  Be tasteful.  Here are a few of my outfits from the week.  I decided to mix in some trendy colors, but kept the overall look conservative.

Say "thank you."
Each evening, after normal work hours, I wrote a thank you note or email to each interviewer.  I emailed the executives and sent handwritten notes to the HR teams.  Each thank you note was personalized based on the discussion I had with the interviewer.  For example, one president shared that she felt a lot of similarities between my responses and her experience, particularly as they related to work/life balance.  When I sent my follow up email, I thanked her for sharing that connection and told her how much that meant to me.

Be nice.
For all the fear and uncertainty that you're feeling right now, there are others who are feeling it too.  Whether you're interviewing due to a re-org or just trying to find a new job, remember that everyone has been in your shoes at some point.  Be nice.  If you know your competition, don't bash them.  Understand and empathize with those around you.  Interviewing is nerve-wracking!  Treat everyone the way that you would want to be treated and you'll be fine.

If you've found yourself in a similar situation, best wishes for great interviews!

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