“Too Many Stars and Not Enough Sky“

For any passing strangers who might be vaguely aware of my career saga, I’ll give you the latest chapter – though its conclusion has not yet been written.

I just went on my fourth internal panel interview in four years. (As you read, keep in mind that I work for a huge corporation.) What my endeavors have shown me is that many, if not most, career sites and videos are going to be of limited use to someone in this particular situation. (Notice I am saying LIMITED use, not NO use – some general concepts will always apply – so nothing wrong with hitting them up for a few tips here and there.)

Large corporations have strict legality-related protocol. Counselors will argue up and down with this, but to a certain extent behaviors that may be best practices in the outside world are less likely to make an impact internally. For example, preliminary networking with the hiring manager and sending a thank-you note after the interview, while not off-limits or bad in any way, can come off a bit try-hard, and while they might make you memorable in some way, they’re not likely to tip the scales much.

Especially if you’re in a situation where you are basically attempting a mini career shift inside your current company. Meaning, you have progressed within your department to a senior position, are not interested in management, and are tasked with drawing potentially tenuous parallels between your current daily tasks and whatever it is you want to try instead. Yadda yadda transferable skills, yadda yadda dragon-slaying stories, etc. What managers are trying to do in these scenarios is find the person they think can best hit the ground running. They have just lost a valuable team member or are drowning in who knows what and do not have the luxury of faith-leaping to choose someone they need to train up. So the thing that matters most is that the fit seems intuitive or obvious to them. Anything else is window dressing and IMHO can be taken or left.

Now, as far as interview prep goes, having done this several times I have pinned down a couple methods that I like and will share sooner rather than later (and wouldn’t it be nice if I could ultimately say they were tested and proven successful!). But for now I’ll continue with the matter of the internal career shift.

It’s possible people downplay in their minds how easy it is to move around within the same industry, let alone within the same company. Mine relies almost entirely on “behavioral” or “situational” questions, which of course you can anticipate and practice answering till you’re blue – but even if you do manage to retrieve one of your “STAR/PAR” stories in the heat of the moment, wrest it out like a magician’s mouth coil, and even dwell a sufficient amount of time on the “Result”, it does not mean the connection you attempted to make between two disparate things is anything other than weaksauce. It is also likely that the mere demand of following along with what is essentially a brain teaser game distracts from the quality of your content, and it is very likely the better story for a certain question will come to you after the interview (the classic “shoulda said” phenomenon).

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good game more than anyone, particularly when I win. My aim is not negativity, but pragmatism. To do a bit of counterbalancing of those advisers who speak in grandiose terms of “acing” and “nailing” and “clinching” and any manner of conquistadorial gerund. On that note, in the interest of grounding everyone in reality, the biggest thing I want to mention here is that THESE POSITIONS CAN BE EXCRUCIATINGLY COMPETITIVE.

The kinds of internal jobs I pursue are receiving record numbers of applicants. I’ve gathered that “record numbers” means anywhere between sixty and a couple hundred. Of course they have to do an initial culling of desperate folks who willfully ignored the job description, and probably several more rounds of winnowing down, but more than likely that still leaves them with a barely manageable crop of qualified applicants to interview.

Another important point, and the one I’ll finish with, is that while no interview is perfect – and in fact perfection is not even what folks are looking for – under these conditions it is entirely possible to interview pretty damn well and not even come close to getting the position.

That said, if I end up defying the odds, believe me y’all will know about it!

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