Guide to Hiring Conferences
If you choose to use a job recruiter or headhunter, you'll end up going to a hiring conference. Here's the inside scoop, from a veteran who went through the process:
The process begins when you sign up with a headhunter, fill out an application, and email your resume. They will ask you what kind of job you are looking for — their favorite offerings are industrial project management, technical project management, technical sales, and pharmaceutical sales — and what geographic areas you are considering. Once your job and geographic preferences are established, the recruiter will plug you into an upcoming hiring conference where you will interview with several companies.
The hiring conference, which is run by the headhunting agency, is held in a metropolitan hotel and usually lasts two to four days. The agency will typically hold three to six conferences a year in each geographic area that they cover and, usually, will have a conference for you to attend within six weeks of your initial call. Usually the conference includes a one or two day preparation phase followed by a two-day interview phase. During the preparation phase, the recruiters will give you their view on the current job market as well as guidance for your upcoming interviews. They will also finalize your interview schedule. During the interview phase, you will meet with the HR managers from a handful of the headhunter's client companies. Your headhunter will debrief you on your job prospects with each company after each interview.
Most applicants will be called by two or three of the companies in the following days with second interview offers. During this time your headhunter will call you frequently to find out how you are feeling about the process and your offers. You should know that he is also talking with the HR folks at his client companies.
About two weeks before the conference I mailed in several copies of my resume and spoke briefly to the headhunter/ recruiter who would be handling my case. When asked, I told him that I definitely did not want any positions in sales or in manufacturing supervision. I was interested only in project management and consulting, though I didn't know for sure which one would be better. He said that he would be get back to me soon with my interview line-up.
Two days before the conference, I spoke to him again for my interview line-up. There were four jobs that they had me scheduled to interview for - two "project manager" jobs with wafer and chip manufacturering companies, one technical service manager job with a national telecom and one intriguing "internal consultant" job with a well-known aviation manufacterer. The last job was the only one that really sounded like something I would be interested in, but I went along with the whole program anyway.
The conference began just after lunch on Saturday. I stood in line for about half an hour while we registered. Most of the crowd were Army officers and most were still on active duty. The mood in line ranged from gregarious optimism to cautious anxiety: we were there to find jobs.
Since we had already mailed in our resumes and the other basic information, registration consisted in collecting our name tags and providing our contract information at the hotel. I can't say that I was surprised when I saw that they had mispelled my name. After filing into the conference room, they dimmned the lights and kicked off the event by showing us a ten minute long film/commercial for the agency. The commercial consisted mainly of testimonials from nervous looking junior officers. The agency promised that we would be working for companies that ranged from "local manufacters to worldwide corporations."
When the lights came up the employees of the agency introduced themselves. They were confident, young and enthusiastic. All of them were former military officers and none of them had been in the headhunting business for more than three years. They were all friendly and helpful but at no time did I ever feel as though I was in the presence of a career expert. After the introductions the conference was divided into the former enlisted side and the officer side.
The rest of the afternoon we listened to briefs covering basic interview protocol, the conference schedule, and "industry briefs" outlining the perks of various types of jobs in manufacturing and sales. They did a good job of reviewing the basic interviewing tips from the recent books and reminding us to "dress conservatively...straigten our ties before the interview...and maintain eye contact...etc." It is clear that they want us to not only be excited about our upcoming interviews, but that they actually WANT US TO GET THE JOB.
Just before quitting for the night we broke into small groups and practiced our answers for the most common interview questions. I though that this was one of the most useful events of the conference. I think that each of us were able to hone our thoughts and polish our delivery.
On Day Two we had briefs on the different companies that would be interviewing on Day Three and Four. In the morning and afternoon, the headhunters gave us briefs on the hiring practices and financial overviews of the countries. That night, representatives from the companies were allotted time pitch their positions us.
The headhunters did everything that they could to make their job offerings sound appealling. The most common technique that they used was to point to shining examples of former JMOs who had gone through them to get a job in, say manufactering or sales, and was now raking in the money. I think that we all wished for more statistical reports that measured their success and satisfaction in the client corporations.
The best part of Day Two, however, was that we could conduct as many one-on-one practice interviews with the headhunters as we desired. We had the chance to solicit advice on how to field personalized interview questions and our delivery. Like the small group practice the day before, it was very helpful. It was good training for any interview, during the hiring conference or later, in interviews that we might arrange on our own.
Days 3 and 4: The Interviews
If over the weekend, the uniform was business casual - khaki pants and button up shirts - Monday was all dark suits and "scrubbed behind the ear" crispness. So much so that if I hadn't know better, I would have suspected that President was in the building and all of us were Secret Service agents. The hotel was atrium style, with rooms opening onto balconies going up all ten floors. At 7:55 Monday morning, there were JMOs in uniformly dark suits visible on every balcony, waiting outside the suites of the client companies for their 8:00 interview. All we lacked were ear pieces and concealed weapons.
Most of us had between four and six interviews scheduled over these two days. After each interview we were instructed by the agency to go back to their operations suite for a debrief and to fill out an interview review form. The work of the headhunters was to stay up to date on the "commerce," to be there for last minute interview advice, and to keep tabs on who might be getting the jobs.
We had been instructed that it would be highly unusual for any of us to receive job offers on the spot - the goal being to make it to the second interview which would most likely take place at the corporate client headquarters. The exception to this, we were told, was the enlisted men and women; they would probably be offered jobs based on their initial interview.
The last two days of the conference were comprised solely of interviewing. After the two days of the conference were over, we were told, the agency would let us know which companies wanted to see us back for another round of interviews. The parting instructions were to stand-by the phone for follow-ups and keep them informed if we heard directly from the companies.