CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
October 16, 2018
Career Ladder
Career Ladder

Interviewing? Be prepared!

If it's been some time since you last interviewed for a management position, you might be surprised at how much things have changed.

If it's been some time since you last interviewed for a management position, you might be surprised at how much things have changed. These days, companies look for candidates with broader experience in supply chain management, an understanding of general business principles, and a stable history of success. Interviewers will ask questions pertaining to how and why you made certain career and business choices. Through the interviewing process, they will develop a profile of your leadership ability, drive to succeed, communication skills, and potential to advance, and they will consider all of that in relation to your past successes and failures. They are interested in not only what you have achieved but also why you achieved it and what you learned along the way. Moreover, they will ask behavioral questions that will help them to understand who you are and whether you will fit the company's business culture.

How can you be at your best and succeed in this new interview environment? William C. Belknap, president of the career coaching firm Performance Leadership, says it is all about preparation, preparation, and more preparation.

Your preparation for an interview should focus on three areas: Researching the industry and the company; being ready to discuss the requirements and responsibilities of the positions you have held in relation to the one you are interviewing for; and understanding the interests and priorities of the people who will interview you. Here are some tips on how to go about it.

Research the company and the industry
This is an absolute must. Just as the hiring company will use many methods to screen and evaluate you as a candidate, you must do the same to evaluate the company and position for which you are interviewing. The more you know about a company and its management, the better you will be able to interview and make your decision regarding employment.

The Internet is a wonderful place to find information about a company and its key people. Through online research, you can not only find financial information about the company but also identify changes that may affect the position for which you are interviewing. Is there new management? Is the company stable? How does it match up against the competition? Is there a pattern of outsourcing? Is there a likelihood of a merger or takeover? These are just a few of the questions to consider.

You can use online social and business networks, such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook, to mention a few, to find present and past employees of the hiring company. There you may find information about the people who are involved in the interviewing process, including professional profiles and information that could help you to develop a personal bond during the interview. For example, you may discover that you share similar backgrounds and education, which you can discuss with the interviewer—at the appropriate time, of course. Additionally, contacting past employees can give you greater insight into the "personality" of the company, the department, and even the person you would be reporting to. These contacts may alert you to information that could be of concern, such as a high turnover rate.

Don't limit your research to the company itself. It is just as important to know about the prospective employer's industry. Some questions you'll want to investigate include: Who are the major players? What challenges do they face? How profitable is the industry as a whole? Are there any products or technology that may affect its future success? Are there any safety or environmental issues that could create trouble for the industry?

Be prepared to discuss your career in detail
When interviewers for top supply chain positions ask about your career, they are looking for much more than a list of past positions and responsibilities. They will expect you to analyze not only what you have accomplished but also why and how you made your decisions. You will need to be introspective with regard to your successes and failures and be able to articulate what you have learned and how you have grown. You should also be able to talk about each company you worked for, the industries they were in, their sizes, locations, and how they conducted business. In addition, be ready to discuss in detail what your responsibilities were, the decisions you made, and what effect those decisions had on your department, on your customers, and on manufacturing and marketing. What improvements did you make that led to greater profitability for your company? What analytic process did you use to make those decisions? If you made mistakes, how did you correct them“—and what did you learn from the experience?

You will also be expected to discuss your overall career, including the changes you have made and how they relate to your personal and professional goals. Be able to show a relationship between your past career moves and successes and the responsibilities of the position you are interviewing for. It's important to do so without implying that you already fully understand the company and have all the solutions to their problems.

Understand interviewers' interests and priorities
The interviewers you meet will have different concerns and agendas based on their working relationships with the position you are interviewing for. Understanding their priorities will help you present yourself in the best light to each individual and group. There are several types of interviewers you are likely to encounter: co-workers, internal customers, human resource professionals, the hiring manager, and senior management. Here is a rundown of how these different groups typically think about potential new hires:

Co-workers want to hire a person who understands the position and has the skills to work at their level, yet does not pose a threat to their jobs or careers. Naturally, they want someone they can get along with—someone who is interesting and has similar interests. In other words, they want to hire someone they like.

Internal customers want someone who is competent, easy to work with, likable, and trustworthy. They want someone who can solve their problems and make their jobs easier, a person who will see the work world through their eyes.

Human resource professionals are interested in verifying that you are who you say you are, and that your work history is accurately described, with no unexplained breaks. They want to know whether you fit the technical parameters of the position, including salary requirement. Their agenda focuses on the future as much as it does on the present. Do you fit the department's and the company's profile for success? What is your career potential on both a departmental and companywide level? Less tangibly, are you someone they feel comfortable with?

Hiring managers are interested in bringing in talented people who will be successful in their new positions and also have the potential to learn and grow within the department. They want someone who has the right experience and the maturity to manage the position effectively. It is important to them to hire someone who is career-focused and will be loyal to the company, not just looking for more money. They will be concerned that the candidate fit the "personality" of the department and that there is good "chemistry" with other employees.

Executive management normally lets the hiring manager delve into the specifics, such as technical expertise. They will be looking for a positive personality with a history of success. Candidates' potential to contribute to the company's success, career goals, presentation skills, social and communication skills, ability to think on their feet, worldliness, and overall business awareness and understanding are all important to them.

Quickly but carefully
The only opportunity you will have to negotiate is when an offer has been presented to you. Once negotiations have been completed, you will need to decide whether or not to accept the offer. If you have done your homework beforehand, then the choice should be easy to make. Be certain the position is right for you, and that you are right for the position“—if you accept a job that turns out to be a mistake, you will carry that decision with you on your rsum. Carefully consider the offer, but don't take too long; companies normally want to know your decision as soon as possible. If you show indecisiveness you may "lose your shine" or the offer may be rescinded.

Roger Zetter is chief executive officer of Optimum Supply Chain Recruiters LLC.

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