An Interview about Interviewing

July 21, 2010

Miles Munz has a story that began much like many of yours; a student, in debt, with the vision of how to turn a simple idea into a company. An average student, Miles excelled in working to achieve what he had been told for years could not be done, starting a company from scratch without any experience. Co-founded with his best friend of 17 years Randy Bitting, Miles and Randy have grown InterviewStream from a dorm-room project to an 11 person company with hundreds of clients in 4 continents. Recently named among the “Top 30 Under 30: American’s Coolest Young Entrepreneurs” by Inc. magazine, Miles enjoys sharing his story while compelling others to pursue their dreams.

– Lisa Balbes

Download the mp3 file Download the transcript | Demonstration of InterviewStream

 

 

Lisa Balbes: Good morning.  Our guest today is Miles Munz, co-founder of InterviewStream.  This is a company that provides interviewing training and facilitates remote interviews between employers and candidates.  So Miles, thank you for being with us today.

Miles Munz: Thank you for having me.

Lisa Balbes: Okay.  Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about what exactly is InterviewStream?

Miles Munz: Sure.  Well InterviewStream actually has a pretty interesting story.  It’s actually a system, a company that was developed by two students for students initially to assist anyone who’s looking for jobs with their interviewing development.  Now I know that everyone thinks that interviewing is easy.  It’s just a conversation.   It can’t be that difficult, right?  Well unfortunately I was a part of that group as well and in some of my own personal experiences found that some of the easiest questions—seemingly easiest questions—to answer actually proved to be the most difficult.  Questions like tell me about yourself, for example.  If you don’t have something prepared for that question, it’s going to be very difficult.  So in our experience in having that be an extremely difficult question to answer, we decided to come up with and create InterviewStream which would help students like us at the time develop our interviewing skills in the comfort of our own home or apartment and really learn about what it is to converse with someone across the desk, learn about what it takes to convey who you are, above and beyond just what’s on paper, to really secure a job and that’s what we found to be most helpful and that’s why we came up with InterviewStream.

Lisa Balbes: That sounds like a great idea.  You had a need and you started a company to fill that need.

Miles Munz: Absolutely.  Kind of stumbled upon it.

Lisa Balbes: Yes.  How did you actually go about starting a company as an entrepreneur?  Did you know how to do that?

Miles Munz: Well, you know what?  That’s the challenging part, right?  And I’m convinced, you know, just in kind of doing this circuit—running around and telling people about how to start their companies and that kind of thing—I’m convinced that 95% of the best ideas in the world we will probably never hear of and the reason is, is because everyone has a great idea; everyone has kind of an inkling that they want to start a company, that they can change something, that they can make something better, but no one ever takes the first step to actually get it going, get it started and actually create something out of that idea.  Now, we were no different.  We weren’t trained in being an entrepreneur or entrepreneurialism—if that’s a word—but we just knew that there was a need, we had a problem and we wanted to get started.  So of course we came up with the idea of creating a software that would help people in developing their interviewing skills but where do you go from there?  So we shook a lot of hands.  We actually went to a small business development program out of University of Pennsylvania and we asked them, can we have your help?  We have a great idea but we don’t know where to go from here.  So they extended a hand.  They helped us by showing us what is a business plan.  I mean fundamentally we didn’t even know how to start a business so they taught us what was a business plan, what needs to be included in that business plan and through several conversations helped us create a business plan which is really essential for raising money to create a company and pay for things like employees, for example, which we didn’t really know all that much about.  So after the song and dance with a couple of small business development programs, we write a business plan in the end, we had a great idea, we went out and raised some money and then developed the software which is currently in use today.  And again, it’s helping more than just students which we had intended; it’s helping people with their interviewing development from all over the world in several different languages, helping people connect with jobs and opportunities that are available and helping those chemists that are involved with American Chemical Society not only learn about interviewing but also connect with employers that have open and available opportunities.

Lisa Balbes: Okay.  So that brings up another question.  I mean how do companies use your technology?

Miles Munz: Sure.  Well companies will use our technologies in a couple of different ways.  We facilitate both one-way and two-way interview communication.  So essentially, if a company has an open position and they would like to interview 100 candidates for that position but they don’t have the staff or manpower to facilitate one-on-one meetings either in person or over the phone, then what they can do is they can record themselves asking six questions, eight questions, that are standard for their interview, they’ll invite those individuals to conduct a recorded interview—so essentially you can do an interview or respond to those questions when it’s convenient for you, and then those employers can review your responses when it’s convenient for them, all from a hand-held device, their computer or when they’re on the road, you name it.  So that’s the first way.

The second way is by facilitating live interviewing which is very similar to Skype-like technology.  Perhaps some of us have done this before.  It’s very interesting because, you know, there’s a live person on the other end of the line but how we differ is there can be group interviews, meaning that there can be multiple candidates and a single recruiter on the opposite end of the line—you’re all kind of seeing each other—or, there can be a group interview where there’s multiple recruiters and just you.  So you can see everyone.  You can hear everyone.  It’s almost like being there all together, however we didn’t have to deal with some of the hassles associated with geographic travel and that’s how companies are using our systems to connect with people much earlier in the process.

Lisa Balbes: Okay.  It sounds great.  And how long has your company been around now?

Miles Munz: Sure.  We’ve been around since 2004 when the company first went out and started saying we have something to offer and we went out and had students at universities start using our tool.

Lisa Balbes: Okay.  And I know you’re growing and being used all over the place now so obviously you done…

Miles Munz: Absolu…

Lisa Balbes: I’m sorry.

Miles Munz: Oh, go ahead.

Lisa Balbes: I was going to say, you know, obviously you’ve done some great things.  You now know how to start a business so as a small business person, what advice would you have for other people who, you know, have a great idea but maybe don’t know how to start a company?

Miles Munz: Yes well again, I think this kind of goes back to my original point which is a lot of ideas are kind of born and die within just being an idea and not really doing anything with that idea.  So my suggestion would be to, as a first step, go out and get some help.  You know, we all go through the same paranoia that every entrepreneur has thinking that your best friend, perhaps a family member, would take that idea and use it as their own and, you know, kind of take the glory, but that’s what, you know, disallows us to go out and… and really profess what we know, how to get started.  We just keep it all in and it’s very, very difficult to start anything soup-to-nuts by yourself.  So I would recommend going out to small business development programs or several universities, perhaps your alma mater that has one available to you, speak with some professors, get some idea… bounce your ideas off of people that you know and trust.  Now, don’t go out to the world and, you know, blog about it because perhaps it would get taken.  But go out there and get some other input on that idea.  We can become so jaded very quickly and easily that we might be overlooking a few critical steps.  So get help.  As soon as you get help then learn about how to write a business plan, what it takes to put your ideas on paper, and essentially if you can have a piece of paper or document that if I’d never met you and I’d read it, I could understand what your idea does, what problems it solves and what the opportunity might be—if you can answer those very simple, fundamental questions in just a simple piece of paper, you’ve got a business plan and that’s really the first step to going out and making your idea a reality is to create a business plan that I can distribute to people who can help me in making this a reality and all without talking to me because a lot of people who are willing to help see lots of these documents every day and so write something in there that’s compelling to them, maybe you’ll get a call back and that will be the first step that you can take to turn your idea into reality.

Lisa Balbes: Great.  Great advice.  Well moving… you know, with the subject of helping people, you said you went out and got a lot of help when you were starting your company and now your company is actually helping people with their interviewing skills, so what is one of the most common mistakes that you’ve seen candidates make when they’re interviewing for new positions?

Miles Munz: Yes, that’s a great question and you know, again, I think what is so important for all of us to understand, and this is backed up by tons of statistics, is that we don’t really treat the interview as being all that critical.  Typically we’re… we focus on the resume itself.  We focus on everything on paper, on how we can go ahead and really impress this employer before even meeting this individual, whoever that recruiter might be, and so for every 10 hours that we spend securing an interview, we spend less than an hour actually preparing for the interview itself and that’s a problem.  The conversation, the interview, can prove to be just as, if not more, important than the resume itself.  The resume just gets you in the door.  The interview is actually what gets you the job.  So a lot of people go into the interview and the number one mistake is not being prepared for the interview itself.  You’ll sit there, you’ll clam up, perhaps you’ll get a question that you weren’t prepared for and that ruins the whole interview experience, right?  And if you ruin the experience then most likely you won’t get the job.  So I would say it’s to make sure that you’re prepared.  Try to create the inverse, if nothing else, so the statistic that I mentioned earlier of instead of spending every 10 hours securing the interview to one hour preparing for it, maybe do a one-to-one where it’s every 10 hours spent securing is 10 hours preparing for the interview.  You can’t go wrong there.  The interview is the final exam.  So that’s number one mistake.

Another common mistake that we see is candidates not answering the question.  You know, in an interview if an employer, a recruiter, asks you a question, make sure that you answer the actual question.  Too often than not, they’ll ask about an accomplishment that you had, for example, and you’ll spend your time speaking about a team that you were part of and perhaps with that team came up with that was… that was a great experience for you and hey, that’s awesome, but again, the recruiter asked what is your greatest accomplishment, not perhaps a team that you were a part of.  So make sure that whatever the question that’s being asked is one that you answer and if there is a question that’s too difficult, don’t hesitate to take some time.  Silence is okay.  You don’t need to fill in silences with filler words like ummm, like, you  know, I mean… I mean we’ll tend to use these overly when we’re anxious, nervous or to fill out some time.  So it’s okay, take your time, take a breath.  Perhaps ask for a clarification of that question to buy yourself time but don’t just go ahead and throw out an answer that you’re going to later have to retract or that was just an answer to fill some space.  Think about your responses.  Be very calculated, very strategic, and that’s the best way to really secure yourself an open opportunity.

Lisa Balbes: Okay.  Good.  So how does recording your answers ahead of time help you practice?

Miles Munz: Well, recording your answers, it helps you by allowing you to see how you come across to an employer.  That’s number one.  When we’re speaking, for example, like I have a problem with jingling change in my pocket.  I don’t even know I’m doing it until someone will tell me.  So until I actually saw myself on camera jingling change in my pocket, I didn’t realize that was occurring.  So once we see ourselves answering even one question—tell me about yourself—you know, often times people think they are too good to interview?  Okay, well then answer one question; tell me about yourself.  Record it and then ask yourself would you hire you with the response that you gave to that question.  Okay?  We’re our own worst critic so you once you take a look you may realize that you do need some help.  You may realize that you do need to practice more questions than just that question and then you… you know, using InterviewStream gives you the opportunity to not only review your interviews yourself but to share that with a counselor, consultant, friend, family member, brother, sister, for additional feedback.  Remember, this is a practice area.   You can practice.  You can get everything right.  I would guarantee that probably 70% of the questions that you’ll face using InterviewStream you’ll face in a real interview at some point in your life so why not practice in an environment where it’s okay to screw up?  It’s okay to witness and review your responses and see where you need to improve and go ahead and make those adjustments and improvements beforehand before the opportunity itself presents itself and you go in and flounder on some of the questions that you know you’re going to face while preparing them using InterviewStream.

Lisa Balbes: Okay.  Now, I know for people who are attending the Boston meeting, there will be interviews in person there.  There’s also an opportunity to go in and answer some questions ahead of time and to, like as you said, record those answers for the recruiters to look at.  So why is it to my advantage, as a candidate, to go in and record some of my answers ahead of time?  Aren’t I better off talking to somebody in person there?

Miles Munz: Your face time with a counselor is limited.  There are lots and lots of jobseekers like you who have probably scheduled their times, either before or after you, to meet with that same counselor.  So if you have an hour, if you have a half an hour with that counselor, that’s tremendous.  Nothing will ever replace that time that you’re spending with an actual person.   However, you want to maximize that time and what we’ve found with American Chemical Society and some of the chemists that are using InterviewStream—which is a free service available to you—is that you should go ahead and practice and prepare your interview before you meet with that counselor.  Why?  Because as opposed to having that counselor just ask, you know, 10 questions, 11 questions, which will take up half your interview time right there before getting into the advice section, you can actually bring up your interview right in the meeting.  You can show them your interview.  You can show them some of your responses.  You can show them how you felt you did so that you can make that counseling session one that’s more focused on advice as opposed to just sitting there and asking the same questions that you could have faced using InterviewStream.  So that’s really the first thing that we recommend.

The second thing is, is once you are meeting with that counselor and, you know, realizing what you’re doing in-person and they can give you expert feedback, tips and advice, then go home and take some of that advice.  Go home and take some of their tips that they were offering and go ahead and do another interview because with InterviewStream, because everything is recorded, you can actually see your interview before meeting with a counselor, you can then see your interview after meeting with a counselor and then see the difference.  See how you improve.  See… take their advice and make sure that you use it so that you don’t just hear what they have to say, you know think about it, perhaps forget it, go into your next interview just to realize that everything they were saying was right and that you should have taken the time in advance of the meeting to go ahead and prepare for it.  Too often than that people will go into an interview, fail, and then use InterviewStream and unfortunately that’s at least one opportunity that’s been wasted when it didn’t have to happen that way.

Lisa Balbes: Okay.  Well wonderful.  You have lots of wonderful advice for our members who are, you know, preparing for Boston and preparing for interviews in general so we thank you for that.  I have one final question.  How would this interview have been different if we had been using InterviewScrea… InterviewStream and if we had been doing this with video instead of just with audio?  Would that matter?

Miles Munz: Absolutely.  You know, I think it does because there’s an aura about someone that you can pick up, that you can gain from seeing them in action.  Are they animated?  Are they not?  When they say they’re a people person, are they slouched over their desk?  I mean there’s certain things that we can see and we can surmise from a video or a recorded interview that we can’t take from a telephone interview, much like the one that we’re conducting, so above and beyond me wearing a collared shirt which I would have done for a recorded interview or one that we were doing live with a webcam as opposed to this one, it would have been different because there was so much more information that we could have… that we could have gained from each other by just seeing the environments that we’re in, by connecting with an actual person.  You feel like you’re connecting with an actual person when you can see them, whether they’re on your computer screen or across from the desk.  With a telephone interview we can hear each other—which is great—but that’s only kind of half of the information that we… that we can gather.  There’s a lot of non-verbal cues that we can pick up and that’s all facilitated through the use of InterviewStream and so the reason why I recommend everyone to go out and practice using this kind of technology—and sure, it’s not as great as a real person—but why you still need to use it is because employers are using it now.  They’re using video interviews.  They’re using recorded interviews.  You must be familiar with it.  You must treat this as the best that it’s going to get, at least, you know, in the first round or second round of interviewing.  It’s coming to an interview near you so why not practice it?  Why not embrace it?  Why not get ahead of the game right now because a phone interview, much like the one that we’re on right now, which requires two people to be on opposite end of the line at the same time, might not be possible for the first level.  So make sure you get past that first level.  Make sure you can get to a real interview, if that’s on the plate, or get hired by using new technologies like the one that’s being offered to you today.

Lisa Balbes: Okay.  Well, great.  And I think on that note I will thank you very much for your time today and for all your advice for our members.  As Miles mentioned, this is a free service for ACS members so you can visit us at acs.org/careers, log in as a job seeker, set up an account and InterviewStream is free for you to use and we would encourage you to go check it out.  So thanks for your time today, Miles, and we’ll look forward to seeing you and InterviewStream at the Boston meeting and beyond.

Miles Munz: Excellent, Lisa.  Thank you for your time as well and great luck to all ACS members.  Remember, there’s lot of opportunities out there; take advantage of them.

Lisa Balbes: Okay.  Great.  Thank you so much.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).

Build your interviewing skills for the ACS Career Fair
Using InterviewStream, you can record a practice interview using a webcam, then get feedback on your interview skills from your friends, your colleagues and ACS career consultants (a free service available for ACS members). Click here for a demonstration of InterviewsStream. The InterviewStream application is part of the ACS Careers Database, log in to your account to take advantage of this free service.

Networking at ACS Meetings

July 19, 2010

The approaching ACS national meeting offers a host of networking opportunities for attendees who want to make new professional contacts: people who could be useful research collaborators or strengthen their job hunts.  The prospect of walking into a social event or a poster session full of strangers and striking up conversations can be intimidating. However, even introverts become effective networkers by following a few basic guidelines.

First impressions are important. You want to look confident and friendly. Stay upbeat in your conversations and avoid bringing up negative topics. Have a 20- or 30-second “elevator speech” ready to describe your professional interests and why you are attending the conference. This is often a great way to initiate a conversation after saying hello – just make sure it flows naturally in the conversation.

Dress neatly. Conference attire is becoming increasingly informal. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t wear nicely pressed clothes. Overdress to play safe. You can always remove a jacket or tie.

Establish your conference networking strategy

Begin by establishing your networking strategy. Job hunters should focus on engaging in conversations with hiring managers and individuals working for companies they would like to work for themselves. Newly hired industrial chemists and faculty members should focus on meeting peers with similar research or teaching interests. As a science writer, I often focus on meeting editors and other writers.

You can make these contacts at various social events at the meeting, in breaks during technical sessions and during poster sessions. Also, don’t neglect renewing contact with people you have met before and with friends. Meals often make excellent opportunities to visit with individuals that you already know. I usually schedule these mealtime meetings before leaving for the conference.

Use effective listening skills. This means letting the other person in a conversation do most of the talking. Ask open-ended questions to indicate your interest and learn from what they have to say. These should be meaningful questions. If you promise to provide information, be sure to do this as soon as possible after the meeting. Seek out opportunities to do this; it will provide opportunities to renew your contact after the conference. Active listening enables you to present yourself as an energetic individual interested in others and eager to learn.

Exit conversations smoothly. Thank the other individual. Ask to exchange business cards if you haven’t done so already. You may wish to suggest a follow-up conversation after the conference. If you do, be specific about the topic of the planned conversation.

Large social events

These events, often held in hotel ballrooms, can be intimidating. If hosts are standing at the door, greet them and introduce yourself. They may be roaming the room later and you may wish to strike up a conversation.

Don’t be afraid to approach other people alone in the crowd. They will probably be grateful to have someone to talk to. An interesting conversation can attract others to join you.

Crowded rooms often produce groups of people that are difficult to penetrate. These groups often gather around a luminary such as an ACS president or a famous researcher.

You are often more likely to find interesting networking opportunities on the edges of the room or in the entrance area. Other room locations can attract individuals who are available for conversation. Lines at the bar and at food tables are examples. Do not overload yourself with food and drink.  Don’t sit down unless you are engaged in a meaningful conversation with someone else also sitting down. Sitting lowers your profile making it harder for other people to find you. It also reduces your mobility.

ACS divisions and other groups often hold lunches or dinners. These can provide opportunities for extended conversations. When entering a meal room event, claim a chair at a table by depositing your coat or conference materials on a chair. Look for interesting people in the line at the bar or by circulating about the room. If you picked a largely empty table earlier, you can invite others to join you. Alternatively, you can move your stuff to join them at their table.

Poster sessions

Reviewing poster session programs can make it easy to locate people you would like to meet. Try to exchange business cards when talking to them. Remember, their poster session objective is to discuss their research – not job hunting. Discuss this research and try to ask at least one good question. Remember, you don’t want to ask so many questions that you put the presenter on the defensive. Contact them the week after the meeting to discuss job hunting.

Wrap-up

Remember, it is more worthwhile to find a few good contacts than to collect a big stack of business cards. Use the back of your new contact’s business card to make brief notes about the conversation and your intended follow-up activities. Follow up promptly after the meeting.

As a full-time writer, John Borchardt is the author of the ACS book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers” and more than 1,400 articles published in magazines, newspapers and online. He is also an ACS career consultant.


The Secret to an Effective Resume

July 15, 2010

The secret to creating an effective resume is to throw out traditional ideas and use a new version of that document—one that’s best described as an “incomplete record.”  Ironically, presenting an incomplete portrait of yourself is the only way you can look better than the rest of the crowd in today’s job market.

Despite its name, the “incomplete record” has all of the information provided by a traditional resume.  It is a complete description of your work experience and accomplishments, your education and training, and your professional or occupational affiliations and activities (e.g., the associations to which you belong).  This self-description must tell employers what you can do, of course, but equally as important, it must also tell them what kind of contribution you can make to their success.

The information can also be presented in any one of the traditional formats for a resume: chronological, functional or hybrid.  The only difference in an “incomplete record” is at the beginning of the document.  Regardless of the format you select, the resume must begin with a Qualifications Summary that appears directly beneath your name and contact information.  This three-to-four line section should use keywords and phrases to highlight your strongest credentials for employment.  It ensures that recruiters will see your best assets, even if they don’t read all or even most of your resume.

At a superficial level, therefore, the “incomplete record” looks just like any other resume.  So, what makes it incomplete?  You do.

In order for a resume to be an “incomplete record,” you must first become incomplete yourself.  You see, employers face two certainties in the 21st Century workplace:

Certainty 1: The skills that are necessary to make a meaningful contribution on-the-job today will be different from those required to make such a contribution tomorrow.

and

Certainty 2: Employers no longer have the resources or the time to provide the development necessary to keep workers up-to-date with their skills.
As a result, every organization now needs workers who (1) get it and (2) get it done on their own.

Proving That You Get It & Get It Done On Your Own

An “incomplete record” is designed to prove to employers that you understand the certainties of the modern workplace.  You design your resume to acknowledge—and promote the fact—that you are an incomplete professional in your field and that you take personal responsibility for fixing that situation.  In other words, you don’t want the document to perform as a traditional resume and show you as a completed person, but instead, you shape it to convey exactly the opposite impression.  You use it to describe yourself as proudly unfinished in your development.

How do you do that?

One way is to start upgrading your skills right now.  Even if you’re already an expert in your field.  And, even if you’re in an active job search.  Enroll in an educational or training program that will strengthen your ability to contribute on-the-job.  Everyone can get better at what they do, and pursuing that self-improvement is the only way to protect yourself from the never ending creep of obsolescence in the modern workplace.

Then, add that credential to your record.  First, make yourself look incomplete by adding the following information to the Education section of your resume:

• The name of the course or program you’re taking;
• The institution or organization that’s providing it;
• The term On-Going.

Then, add a key phrase denoting that effort to your Qualifications Summary.

Those simple entries will convey a powerful message to any prospective employer.  It signals that you know you can always get smarter in your field and that you take personal responsibility for doing so.  It shows you have the humility to acknowledge what you don’t know and the courage to add to what you do know.  There’s no more appealing credential to an employer in today’s job market, and only the “incomplete record” enables you to claim it.

Thanks for reading,
Peter
Visit me at Weddles.com

P.S. My new book, The Career Activist Republic, is due out in June of this year. Look for it on Amazon.com, at Weddles.com or in your local bookstore. 

Peter Weddle is the author of over two dozen employment-related books, including Recognizing Richard Rabbit, a fable of self-discovery for working adults, and Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System.

ACS Careers Job Club Webinars
Did you miss our July webinars on Job Search, Resume Writing or Interviewing Skills? Click Here to view the recorded webinars, videos and group discussion guides. And don’t forget to register for the ACS Career Fair August 22-25 in Boston!