Archive for category Career

12 Ways Dungeons and Dragons Prepared Me to be a Corporate Executive

Image Courtesy of Alex Velazquez at brutecg.comLong before I was an executive at one of the world’s largest companies, I was a blue-collar kid in Brooklyn playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in the basement with my siblings and friends. Many decades would pass before it became chic to be geek – Comic-Con, Dragon Con, Marvel, and even The Lord of the Rings have become mainstream hits, television shows around gaming and nerd culture have been developed, The Geekie Awards received a BILLION media impressions in its inaugural year, and so on. My two younger brothers, Alex and Jiovanie, parlayed our D&D experiences directly into careers in video game and fantasy art (Jiovanie’s work can be seen here, Alex’s work here). I went a more traditional route through Engineering and Business degrees to work for large corporations, including Honda, Porsche, P&G, Microsoft (Xbox), and PepsiCo.

After watching the superb “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” episode of the hit TV show ‘Community’ and the D&D segment from VH1’s ‘I Love the 80s’, I looked back fondly and began to contemplate the impact that playing D&D has had on my career. Dungeons & Dragons is the one single game from my childhood I feel can build multiple skills that can be leveraged in the “real” world, whether that’s corporate America, creative disciplines, or anything in between. So, with a nod to my childhood heroes (including Gary Gygax, R.A. Salvatore, TSR, and many of the folks at Wizards of the Coast), below are lessons I learned as a D&D Dungeon Master (DM) that have helped me climb the corporate ladder from a stock clerk in a Brooklyn supermarket into the executive ranks of a Fortune 50 global company:

Alex Velazquez - The Chess Project - The Black Hearts1) Focus on strategy – Before the start of any D&D campaign, as the Dungeon Master, I would come up with the overall concept and objectives, then I would build the world around it  (this was before the Forgotten Realms came out).  While TSR provided some pre-packaged campaigns, I always preferred to create my own (mainly to fulfill my own vision, but also due to cost, discussed later).   With the vision and objectives in mind, I would start building up the pieces to realize the overall fulfillment of the campaign.  Key milestones and plot points, major character and monster encounters, etc. As the players played the game and the campaign progressed, the tactics would have to change to accommodate the changing variables and unexpected events that would occur, but the overall theme and purpose, what we were all ultimately driving towards, would remain constant.

As an executive in the business world, the main focus is on developing strategy and aligning your resources to execute the strategy.  Strategy development begins with the vision and mission and must take into account a wide range of variables.  Once the strategy is set, the tactics that will be used to fulfill the strategy can be developed.  A sound business strategy will rarely change within its timeframe once it is set, although the tactics and execution plan may be altered to address consumer response, competitive pressures, economic changes, etc.

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net2) Build a story and present it well – I fully agree with the common saying that “Content is King” and I would add that “Delivery is Queen”.  The content created is just as important as how the content is delivered.  A mediocre presentation of great content is still mediocre, and the same is true for a great presentation of mediocre information.  The presentations I learned to give in the corporate world were directly influenced by how I learned to DM.  The story is indeed king; it will keep your players interested and committed to the campaign. How you deliver the story will heavily influence the engagement of your players.  Not only must you weave a good story, you need to embellish all the details during a game.  Compare two versions of the same encounter.  First – “You chose to attack.  Roll your D20.  OK, you scored a critical hit. The orc is dead”.  Alternate version – “Your sword is at the ready, roll your D20.  You swing your sword in a deadly arc towards your opponent.  The orc tries to step back to avoid the fury of your blade, but to no avail.  His backwards momentum causes his severed head to roll off of his back, his now lifeless body falling limply to the ground”.  These are accurate examples of when I first starting DM’ing and when I learned to deliver more entertaining and engaging encounters for my players.  Needless to say, they were more deeply immersed in the latter example.  Pacing, timing, and delivery can make all the difference as evidenced by Abed’s enactment of a gnome NPC (non-player character) in the “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” episode of Community (see here).

One of the best presentations I ever gave was for the Xbox Marketing group for a new special edition Xbox 360 console I had proposed. Leveraging compelling content with audio and the theatrics I first developed as a DM, I gave a presentation that I was told set a new bar for future presentations and kept the group enthralled on a normally tame post lunch group gathering.  Not every presentation has to be a theatrical production, but the core concepts focusing on both content and delivery always apply.

Blade Scholar - Wizards of the Coast3) Do your homework – not many things are worse for a DM than when a player calls you out on a mistake in the campaign. “A Succubus(?) can’t drain my constitution three times in one encounter… they can only use this ability once per day”.  Fenris was correct, but we had already completed the entire encounter by the time he found out this information in the Monster’s Manual.  A small detail I missed, but it had a big impact as I had to break continuity to figure out how to fix the error.  While you can’t be expected to be the expert in all matters (hence the importance of cross-functional teams), in my experience it’s always better to be over-prepared than to be caught off guard.  From then on I made an extra effort to fully study each monster I planned to use in encounters, made better use of maps to be prepared with the different types of terrain that would be traversed, learned the limitations and effects of magic spells, and so on.

I carried this lesson over into the business world.  You should know all the details pertinent to the issue at hand in the context of your overall goal, presentation, or meeting.  In general, my presentation decks had expansive appendices with back up information for most conceivable questions and important data.  All stats that I leverage in a presentation have appropriate references.  I strive to minimize the number of times I have to say “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you on that”.  And now as I lead larger teams, I appreciate it when others come to a meeting equally prepared.

Fantasy Improv4) Learn to improvise  – When creating my D&D campaigns, I made my world’s large enough and the campaign broad enough to deal with multiple contingencies.  What if the players didn’t believe the lonely adventurer in the tavern with tales of treasure?  What other ways could I devise to spur them to take on the campaign in the game world?  However, no matter how thoroughly I prepared my campaigns and how many alternate story versions I developed, the players would always find a way to get into an area or situation that could not be anticipated.  Thus, as a DM, you must learn not to become flustered when something unexpected happens and to improvise in a quick manner.

In the business world, projects will rarely go exactly as planned.  Getting flustered and losing focus in these situations is counter-productive.  You have to learn to be adaptable and use your knowledge and experience to manage unexpected changes effectively.  You’ll also come to be viewed as more stable and dependable when you can manage unexpected situations quickly and decisively, leveraging your experience and knowledge to improvise as needed.

220px-Dungeons_and_Dragons_DVD_boxset_art5) Teamwork is critical – most of the challenges brought to a group of D&D players in a campaign could not be overcome unless they all worked collaboratively.  A single elf, no matter how highly leveled, can rarely take down a dragon.

As a general rule, a single individual can rarely produce as much as a group of people.  Additionally, it’s generally impossible in a corporate setting to get anything done on your own, even if you are considered an “individual contributor”.  Being a good team player and effectively collaborating with others is an important skill.  As you advance in your career, being able to form and lead high performing teams that can work well with cross-functional groups will allow you to have a much bigger impact on your organization than sitting at your desk with your head down pumping out as much work as you can.

D&DCharacters6) Embrace diversity – a D&D campaign would be quite boring if every player was a human fighter.  In addition to making a campaign more interesting, a diversity of characters (classes and races) introduces many more ways to overcome challenges and obstacles.  For example, the Halfling thief can find the way into a secret corridor, the Elven ranger can dispatch enemies from afar, the Human wizard can do massive damage in large areas against multiple adversaries, and the Half-Orc fighter can protect the others and pick off enemies in close quarters.  Whenever I started a campaign, I would work with all the players to make sure there was sufficient diversity in the characters to make the adventure both enjoyable and successful.

In the business world, diversity is equally important.  I still vividly recall a meeting with the Xbox team a couple of years before the launch of Kinect when Nintendo Wii was eating everyone’s lunch.  The meeting was a brainstorming session to identify what we could do to get more women and younger children interested in Xbox 360.  Looking around the room at the dozen or so men pondering the issue, the one thought I had was “Perhaps we should start by including some women in these discussions”.  Ensuring that your team is as diverse as the markets they’re meant to serve is not a moral imperative, it’s a business imperative.  Studies have shown that diverse teams are more innovative and successful than homogeneous teams.  Additionally, while many people focus on racial/ethnic and gender diversity in the workforce, there are many different forms of diversity, including age and experience.  One of the best managers I knew at Microsoft created a high-performing market research team with professionals from multiple fields not directly related to market research.  It takes courage to make that kind of move, but I believe the results are usually exceptional.

DND TV Unicorn7) Deal quickly with disruptive team members – a campaign that I spent months planning on the Moonshae Islands of the Forgotten Realms was pretty much derailed by the antics of the human barbarian Fenris the Ferocious and the High Elf rouge Zandelle, as well as the human cleric Penelope Fenelope.  The real players of the characters of Fenris and Zandelle simply couldn’t get along in real life, leading to antagonistic situations in the game (such as Fenris carving an “F” across Zandelle’s face and keeping him hostage on a wagon).  And then there was Penelope, my high school girlfriend’s character, who was added so she could feel included as part of my group of siblings and friends.  She couldn’t take the game seriously and detracted greatly from the fantasy world we tried to create.

At some point, you have to make the determination whether a player needs to leave the team for the good of the collective.  This is always last resort, and forces you to think about finding ways for them to realize their mutual goals can only be achieved through cooperation.  In business you will often come across disruptive individuals, naysayers, apathetic workers, and generally unpleasant folks who can quickly sap team morale and hinder the group’s progress (not to be confused with individuals whom dissent with good cause).  Addressing these individuals right way is the best course of action, determining the root cause of their issues, emphasizing collaboration, and sometimes transferring or removing them from the team.  You can’t let it get to the point where it’s disrupting the work of the entire team.  Swift and appropriate action is necessary for the good of all.

tavern-brawl8) Build your networks – In D&D, players need to network constantly with NPCs to advance in the campaign.  You must talk to the local tavern owner to hear about strange happenings; meet with the local peasants for information that will lead you to the source of the local scourge; seek out  the reclusive mage who’ll provide the key spells to your victory or lead you to artifacts of great power; visit the local healer to tend your wounded; etc.  Every good D&D campaign involves interacting with individuals and groups beyond the core players to accomplish your main objective.

Throughout my career, networking has led to new funding for multiple projects, new business opportunities, and even new career opportunities. My jobs at Porsche in Germany, P&G in Puerto Rico and Xbox at Microsoft in Seattle all came about as a result of networking with my peers.  Within corporate America, the value of internal networking leads many companies to adopt open floor plans and central community areas where random, serendipitous encounters with other employees leads to new innovations, new product concepts, and overall workplace efficiencies.  A major global marketing campaign using technology my team designs will be launching for PepsiCo this year thanks to this type of internal networking.

treasure_dragon_by_lordhannu-d4e4jr59) Effectively manage your budget – I manage a multi-million dollar budget at work.  My first childhood examples for managing finances and building a budget came from D&D.

Within the imaginary world of the D&D campaign, managing one’s finances is a critical game play element.  When you start a character from scratch, you’re provided a small allotment of gold.  A key factor in your ultimate success or failure in the game is how well you can manage your allotment and future cash flows.  Key questions I needed to ask:  Should I spend all my gold up front or save a portion for future contingencies?  If I save, what proportion of my allotment should be spent?  How should I prioritize my expenditures between supplies, provisions, armor, weapons, horses, spellbooks, etc?  Throughout the game you find opportunities to earn more money, either through employment (i.e. join an adventuring group with associated payment) or through battle (monster and NPC encounters lead to good booty).  In addition, there were real world lessons gained from running a campaign.  With limited real money, I had to make decisions on which AD&D assets to buy – for example, should I get the Monster Manual 2, Unearthed Arcana, or Forgotten Realms Atlas?  Which asset would give me the highest ROI in terms of game play?  A Dungeon Master’s Screen would be a great productivity asset, but at $20, could I build it myself and allocate resources elsewhere (the classic build vs. buy analysis)?

It goes without saying that building and managing budgets, setting priorities, and asset allocation is also a key element of operating in the business world, as well as the real world which we all grow into.

220px-MazesMonstersVHSCover10) Learn the fine art of PR – when I was in grade school my half-sister, in a bout of religious zealotry, tried to convince my mother that D&D was the devil’s playground and she was a bad mother if she let us continue playing.  It didn’t help that the TV movie ‘Mazes and Monsters’ came out at the same time, where the young Tom Hanks goes insane by playing a D&D style role-playing game, and eventually is unable to tell reality from fantasy.  I had to get a story and arguments together to counter these attacks and had to recruit my friends and siblings to make sure we all had the same talking points and could deliver them convincingly and consistently.  Much of this happens in the business world as well.  Whether good or bad, you cannot control the news, so you have to be prepared to respond and get your organization on board to deliver consistent and compelling messaging.

knighting11) Give others an opportunity to lead – one of the most successful tactics for creating team harmony is showing a willingness to relinquish power.  Give up the Dungeon Master reins to someone else so that they can see what you go through and how difficult it is to create and manage a campaign.  It’ll teach your teammates to approach problems in a more productive manner and offer solutions instead of just identifying problems or complaining. 

In the business world, many people want to jump straight into the leadership role and feel that empowering others on the team with significant responsibilities or leadership will compromise their own position or their standing in the eyes of upper management.  Those attitudes generally lead to a road of dysfunction.  As a people manager, I want my employees to be the leaders of their respective projects, and the go-to people for key decisions that need to be made.  I feel my role, aside from the overall strategic vision and direction of our programs, is to break down barriers impeding progress and to ensure they have the resources they need to succeed.  Entrusting someone with leadership responsibilities generally leads to greater confidence on their part and their desire to rise to the challenge.

Alignment Chart12) Get to know your people/players – Your players are all unique and are generally motivated and compelled differently.  Not everyone seeks the same rewards – some people campaign for the experience and to level their characters, others for the opportunity to amass a dragon’s hoard of gold, and others lust after magical items like the +3 Sword of Flames, etc.  The same applies to your teams in the corporate world.  Some people seek recognition and awareness of their efforts, others are focused on their bonus award or base salary, others are happy with a new title.  Understanding these motivations allows you to plan projects and rewards accordingly to maintain and build morale and keep the team and projects on track.

***

When I first started this list, I had only seven items, but it started to expand the more I went back and thought about what I learned from playing D&D.  While I retired my Dungeon Master cloak many moons ago, I still hold a great deal of respect for the game and its many players and leaders around the world.

I still recall my first internship interview over 21 years ago.  When asked what my greatest accomplishment was, I told the interviewer how I created an entire D&D world from scratch, including terrain, cartographer maps at multiple zoom levels, history and lore, and much more  (mind you my only work experience at the time was being a stock boy in several supermarkets, working a deli counter, and being a butcher).  I didn’t get that job, but at least he referred me to another, better fitting job in the company focused on truck design which kicked off my career.  Looking back, I realized he probably didn’t appreciate the example I provided as my greatest accomplishment.  For you D&D players and DMs out there, the world may still not be ready to learn how you’ve come to be so capable.  You may not want to disclose where your great power comes from, but know that if harnessed correctly, you can accomplish anything!

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2013 Summer Internship Opportunities on my team at PepsiCo

Last year I created a summer internship program for the Equipment Innovations team at PepsiCo.  The program was so successful that it’s back by popular demand for 2013.  The job description stays pretty much the same from last year (click the link below to see details).  Those interested can apply by emailing our talent acquisition manager.

https://richardvelazquez.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/summer-internship-opportunity-at-pepsico/ 

Most of the work will focus on the Pepsi Interactive Vending Machine (www.pepsiinteractivevending.com) which was launched into limited test markets earlier this year.  There is a great deal of flexibility for ideation and innovation, so I’m looking forward to interviewing some great college candidates in Computer Science for these positions.

Pictured below are the 2012 Summer Interns that made the program such a huge success with a much talked about final presentation to our Senior VP and VP of Innovations (along with a host of other cross-functional executive members at PepsiCo) based on outstanding work done throughout the summer.  Many thanks to these interns for the great job they did and for showcasing the value of this summer internship program.

Picture from left to right (I’m in the center), Fernanda and Claudia from Tec de Monterrey in Mexico, Igor from The Cooper Union in New York City, and Cory from Carnegie Mellon, at our final team event at The View in New York City.

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Interview Myths – The Tricky Interviewer

Friendly Interview Panel There seems to be a big conspiracy theory on the job-hunting circuit that interviewers are out to trick you and thwart your every attempt to land your dream job.

Myth.

Here’s an article, just one of many examples I’ve seen, entitled “Watch Out! Ten Interview Questions Designed to Trick You!” on the reputable Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/02/23/watch-out-ten-interview-questions-designed-to-trick-you/, which starts off with the following ominous warning “…once you’re in the door, interviewers often put you through an obstacle course of deceptive questions with double meanings or hidden agendas.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.  As a hiring manager, I would love nothing more than to find the best-qualified candidate for an open position on my team on the first shot, and I am not an exception to the rule.  By the time a candidate gets to me, human resources talent acquisition has spent a lot of time filtering through résumés and potential candidates to line up the individuals they feel are the best fit based on the job description provided, and they usually do a great job of this.  At this stage, I’m looking for the best fit for the team, for the position at hand, a person who is passionate about working for this company and group, someone who has a proven track record of delivering results, and someone with the potential to grow into a larger role.  What I don’t want is to start my search from scratch and have to extend this recruiting process longer than necessary.

Most hiring managers and HR representatives are extremely busy people with lots of demands at work, and playing games or tricking candidates does nothing to advance our business goals.  Of course there are unscrupulous interviewers in the world, just as there are those few candidates who brazenly exaggerate their experience, but as a matter of course, the point of an interview is not to trick anyone, but to get to know them better and assess them for a fit for an open position (as well as an opportunity for the candidate to evaluate whether or not it is a company/job they want).  Sure, when I was on the job hunt I’ve had those interviewers who asked me brain-teasers (and there are still companies that do so), but I understood even then that they were not trying to trick me, but trying to see how I approach a problem and use logic to resolve it, and how that would translate into problem-solving on the job.

Many of the questions pointed out in the article referenced above are indeed asked in most interviews, and the feedback is sound, but the questions aren’t meant to be “deceptive”.  Think of it as dating.  If you are out seeking a long-term relationship (and most hiring managers are looking for candidates for the long-term), you want to get to know the other person to see if there is a fit and the potential for many days of excitement and happiness together.  It’s a two-way street.  You’re not trying to trick them into messing up so you can send them packing.

As I write this, I’m on a flight from New York to Orlando to attend the NSHBMA National Career Conference.  Hundreds of individuals will be interviewing at this conference.  If you are one of them, or have any upcoming interview anywhere else, I would recommend that you ignore the hype about the interviewers being out to get you.  Just be prepared, courteous, ask good questions, answer honestly, and feel good about the process.  Even if you are qualified for the position, you still might not get it because there may be many equally (or more highly) qualified candidates competing for the same opportunity, but at the very least you should know that more likely than not, the person on the other end of the interview has been in your position before and is rooting for you to succeed.

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Résumé Myths – The One-Page Résumé

685493348_DHpHc-O-1The MBA career resources office, websites, and resume “experts” will tell you that you need to condense your résumé to one page.

Myth.

Well, mostly a myth, there are a lot of variables and subjectivity to this one.

I’ve helped at least a hundred people in the past decade by reviewing their résumés and providing feedback based on my experience  (I was a volunteer recruiter at Microsoft for 7 years, attending career conferences and campus recruiting events, as well as a hiring manager at PepsiCo).  In a good percentage of these reviews, I’ve noted that there were major gaps in work history, a significant lack of detail, or a surprising lack of listed experience based on my knowledge of the individual.  Invariably, the reason I get for this is that they needed to fit it all on one page.

I can confidently tell you that unless the application instructions specifically call for a one-page résumé (and most do not), you will NOT lose the chance for an interview because you have more than one page, but you COULD lose the chance if you don’t have pertinent details for the position in question.  Of the hundreds of résumés I received and reviewed every year, I have NEVER passed one up because it was two-pages or more, but I have passed on many because of what looked like a lack of experience.  It’s the content that counts.

You do not want your résumé to be a graphic and verbose novel of your life, but it should be a concise summary of your relevant work experience and ACCOMPLISHMENTS.

Now, as a general rule, if you have 0-5 years of work experience, you could probably comfortably fit your experience and education on a single page.  I reviewed a résumé once for someone with only a year of experience that was two pages long – now that’s too much.  As you start getting up there in experience, it becomes more difficult to get it all on one page, so my advice would be to forget about the length and focus on the content.  If it spills over to two pages, so be it.  Now I know some MBA programs require everyone to submit a one-page résumé for online profiles or résumé books, so if absolutely necessary, squeeze it down to meet those specific requirements and bring your real-sized résumé to that all-important career fair (see separate post on career fair strategies here).

I actually used a 4-page résumé for my current position at PepsiCo.  With 20+ years of work experience under my belt, even I admit that’s a bit extreme.  There were a few caveats – it was an Executive position and I was being actively recruited for the role, so I was not sending an unsolicited résumé.  Of the eight people that I interviewed with at PepsiCo, only one person commented about the résumé being too long.  As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of subjectivity on this topic.  I still got the offer.  I know I could condense it to three pages, as one entire page was devoted to “Additional Experience” – everything from non-profit work to consulting work, which I could have comfortably removed.  However, at two pages I would lose a lot of the content that differentiates me from other candidates, so personally I’d rather take the chance and keep my résumé longer.  If you are feeling the same way about your résumé, my humble recommendation would be to go with your gut instinct rather than following generic rules about résumé length.

Do you have a story to share about the length of your résumé or feedback you’ve received?  Please feel free to share them in the comments section below, or send them via twitter to @Rich_Velazquez.

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Success Strategies for National Career Conference

2008 NSHMBA Conference Richard at Microsoft Booth In 2004, I received 5 job offers from 5 different companies in 5 different industries at the Annual Career Conference for the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA).  I ultimately decided to accept the offer from Microsoft and ended up spending seven amazing years in Seattle on the Xbox 360 team.  By most standards and my own estimation, that experience at the National Conference was a huge success.  While I was already an officer (President-Elect) of the Puerto Rico chapter of NSHMBA at that time, this experience solidified my resolve to constantly give back to this great organization so that others can reap similar rewards.  As such, I co-founded the NSHMBA Seattle Chapter in 2005 and served as President for 4 years.  In that period of time, I’ve spoken at many events for NSHMBA members to share the strategies I employed at the conference as a job seeker.  Since I’ve worn several different hats at the NSHMBA Conference, I provide feedback from multiple perspectives.  I have attended ten of the last eleven conferences as an MBA Student, an MBA graduate (some call us “industry-hires”), a NSHMBA Chapter Officer, and a Corporate Recruiter.  In that last role, I attended the conference six years as a volunteer recruiter for Microsoft, and have looked at several hundred resumes and spoken with hundreds of candidates.

With the 2012 NSHMBA National Conference just a month away (October 4-6, 2012 in Orlando, Florida), I feel it is a good time to share my tips on a broader scale so that new attendees can maximize their time at the event.  While I speak from my experience at the NSHMBA Conference, most of these tips can be employed at any type of national or local career fair.  So, without further ado, here is my top 12 list of tips for the NSHMBA National Conference.

1) Focus on your résumé – this is obviously the first and one of the most important focus areas for any job seeker.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve met an obviously intelligent and articulate candidate that has presented me with a lackluster résumé.  If you have a great résumé, skip this section and go straight to tip #2 since this is a long one.

For those that have not been on the recruiting side, here’s how it works for most large companies.  The Human Resources (HR) and Talent Acquisition teams are in attendance to coordinate the organization’s presence at the conference and “train” all of the corporate recruiting volunteers.  These volunteers are generally hiring managers or individuals employed in the fields for which career opportunities exist (i.e. managers from finance, marketing, sales, etc.) .  For the large companies, the volunteer recruiters generally outnumber the talent acquisition representatives, so the HR reps coordinate and sync with the volunteers to identify the top candidates for on-site interviews, phone interviews, and fly-backs (an in-person interview at the company’s location).

Now that you have that background, it might be easier to understand why the résumé is still critical even in a face-to-face environment like a career fair.  I may like you as a potential candidate, but I will have a difficult time selling you to the talent acquisition team if that potential is not reflected in your résumé, especially with other volunteer recruiters talking with other candidates and selling the HR reps on the individuals they felt were top notch.

In addition, of the hundreds (going on thousands) of résumés that I have seen at these conferences, over 90% from my personal experience are simply too poor to consider seriously.  I would highly encourage everyone to have friends, family members, fellow NSHMBA members, chapter officers, etc. look at your résumé before you print hundreds of copies.  There are dozens of free online resources you can use to improve your résumé.  That isn’t the focus of this blog post, but I will briefly highlight the top areas for improvement I have seen:

a) Be clear what you are looking for.  Don’t make the recruiter guess what position you are seeking, because with so many candidates, most people won’t take the time.  Many MBA students have lots of experience in lots of different fields, and some (like me) are career switchers.  Therefore, clearly state your objective at the top.  If you are looking for opportunities in different fields (i.e. both marketing and corporate strategy), make a unique résumé for each objective and be selective which one you hand out.

b) The majority of résumés I have seen list “Responsibilities” with no “Accomplishments”.  Any person in your role would have your set of responsibilities, what sets you apart is what you’ve accomplished in that role.  As a general rule, you should have one MAJOR accomplishment for each year that you’ve been in a role.  Plus, never start off with “Responsible for..”.  That is a passive voice and there is always a better way to say something in an active voice.  For example, instead of “Responsible for managing a team….”, just say “Managed a team….”

c) Spelling and grammatical areas.  Some recruiters don’t care, most do.  It is more than once that I’ve seen someone’s strength listed as “Strong attention to detal [sic]”, having misspelled “Detail”, or listing “Manager” as “Manger”.  Once again, have a fresh set of eyes review your résumé.  The résumé is a reflection of you, so don’t give the impression that you didn’t take the time to proofread your résumé

d) For some, forget the “One Page Rule”.  This is a controversial one because so many people insist on compressing your résumé onto one page.  If you have a ton of experience, don’t sell yourself short by squeezing it onto one page.  I’d rather see a full list of accomplishments across two pages, than a short list of responsibilities on only one page. (See my other post, “Résumé Myths – The One-Page Résumé”)

2) Apply for interviews online on NSHMBA’s conference site well in advance – Most companies will close their online application process for the conference at least a week or two before the start of the conference to allow themselves time to review all the resumes and applications submitted and decide whom they will reach out to for an on-site interview.  It is a lot easier to get an on-site interview in advance than it is to get one at the conference (although not impossible, and I write about that below).  You want to get your interviews on-site, since the process from on-site interview to job offer is much faster than waiting for a follow-up call for a phone interview after the conference.  Also, more companies are starting to move to making offers directly at the conference, so securing that interview schedule in advance will allow you to better prepare for that all-important interview.

3)  Prioritize your list of companies and do your research – there are over 200 organizations at this career fair so it can become daunting.  It would be impossible to visit or do research on every company at the conference, so don’t bother.  Do some homework only on your top 10 companies.  Look for recent news articles, know the CEOs, understand their products and/or services, get a rough idea of how their business divisions are set up, understand their priority global markets.  For your top three to five companies, go even deeper.  What is their most recent stock price and how has their stock performed in the past five years?  What are their top strategic priorities and most immediate challenges?  Who are their key competitors and how are their products/services differentiated?  Find out the names of their key officers, especially in the field to which you are applying (for example, if you are applying to marketing, who is their CMO?  For finance, who is the CFO? etc.)  When you have an opportunity to speak with a recruiter or representative from that company, ask intelligent questions based on your research of that company.  I can tell you that leaves a lasting impression, because so few candidates actually do this.  I had one conference attendee ask me (no joke), “So, what does Microsoft do?”.  You can take a guess as to who was not even in the consideration set after that question.

4) Arrive early and visit your top companies on the FIRST day of the career fair – There are a few reasons why I make this recommendation.  First, you will have a better opportunity to spend more time speaking to the representatives of the company of your choice early in the morning on the first day.  Things don’t pick up until later, at which point you will find very long lines at the top tier companies (it is not unusual to wait an hour to speak to a representative during the “rush-hour”).  Even if you want to “practice” talking to representatives from companies you are not that interested in to get rid of the jitters before talking to your top choices, make sure to talk to ALL of your top companies before noon on the first day.

Second, you will set yourself apart by talking to your top tier companies before your fellow job seekers (aka “competitors”).  The recruiters are all fresh and eager to get started on the very first day.  By the end of the conference, many folks are tired and want to go home.  Get them while they’re fresh.  Also, being first shows you’re eager to speak with someone from that company, which always comes off as a positive attribute to these representatives.  If you wait until the last hours of the last day of the conference, the reps will tend to feel that you are not as serious as other candidates, and are just there as a back-up.  No one wants to feel like someone’s last choice, especially when they have options of people that made them their first choice.

Finally, many companies will keep a portion of their interview slots open to give to high potential candidates that they meet at the conference.  They will generally tend to fill up these open interview slots on the first day of the career conference.  I received four of my seven interviews at the 2004 conference by asking for them at the career fair on the first day or the corporate receptions (more on this later).  As mentioned, your goal should be to get an interview at the conference.  If you wait until the second day (or even the end of the first day), all of those open interview slots will likely be filled.

5) Prepare and practice your elevator pitch – every MBA student knows what an elevator pitch is, but many don’t have one.  If you don’t, you can find a ton of online resources to help you generate one.  Create your personalized elevator pitch and then practice it, OUT LOUD, in front of a mirror, fellow student, colleague, parent, or pet.  You must feel comfortable with it and it should come out as second nature.  However, be flexible with it so that you can adjust to the changing circumstances of your environment and audience.  As mentioned, for most of the top tier companies, there will be long lines of potential candidates that the company representatives need to go through.  You may only have two minutes to make your impression and speak about why you are a good fit for the company.  A bit of preparation goes a long way in making that first impression.

6) Always be prepared for an interview – it has happened to me at the conference, and I have done it to potential candidates.  One second you’re giving your elevator pitch to a company representative, the next minute you are squeezed into an interview slot for that same company.  In the 2008 conference, I met an outstanding candidate at the career fair, but our company ran out of formal interview slots.  So I went to a quiet area of the career hall and gave her an interview on the spot.  I will continue to emphasize that your goal should be to get that interview, so if you get it, you might not have time to prepare for it.  Prepare in advance!  If you followed tip #3, you already know something about this company, but perhaps it wasn’t a company for which you prepared to interview.  No matter!  The vast majority of interviews you will have will be behavioral interviews, so you should prepare answers for these types of questions in advance and know them cold.  Standard questions such as “What is your greatest strength/weakness?”, “What is your greatest achievement?”, “Give me some examples of your leadership/teamwork/communications skills”, etc. etc.  Once again, there are plenty of online resources to help you identify the most common behavioral interview questions.  Type each of these questions into Word document, then type out multiple answers for each question.  Read these out load BEFORE the conference.  The point is not to memorize these answers, but to bring to the top of your memory examples from your prior work experience that you will be asked about.  I have interviewed many candidates with these standard questions, and can easily tell those that prepared versus those that did not.  Some people will argue that if you practice these in advance, it will sound pre-fabricated and the recruiter will know.  That does NOT matter.  I know when someone has prepared answers for these questions in advance, and I can tell you that I far prefer to speak to someone who is prepared than to someone who has to take five minutes to think about how to answer “What is your greatest strength”.  Be prepared.

7)  Attend the Corporate Receptions – most companies will throw a reception, party, or small get-together for interested candidates.  Many of these will be open to all conference attendees, some are by invitation only.  If you are interested in a company that is throwing an open reception, you should absolutely attend.  This is the opportunity to speak with representatives away from the chaos of the career fair floor.  You will have more time with less pressure to speak with them, and you will get to speak with many more representatives than you could at the career fair.  Don’t miss out.  Please remember that the companies are there to hire people, so even at the receptions, we are looking for talent.  So don’t forget to bring your résumé and DON’T GET WASTED (even if the recruiters do).  You should treat these events as a large group interview, so behave accordingly.

8) Build Rapport – HR reps, hiring managers, company representatives, and recruiters are all just people. It’s important to build rapport with them, because many times they are thinking “Is this the type of person I’d want to work with?” and “Are they a good fit for our corporate culture?”  Building rapport takes time, so this is difficult to do at the career fair booths because of the long lines and time constraints.  Therefore, try to do this at the corporate receptions, lunch meetings, dinners, etc.  If you are at the career fair booth during a slow time, feel free to take your time with the recruiters to build rapport.  Also, don’t hesitate to check back on your top companies to see if the lines have died down and ask the reps how they are doing.  As long as you don’t overdo it (see tip #10 below), you will be more memorable and they’ll know that you are truly interested in the company.

9) Ask for an Interview – As I mentioned earlier, many companies will keep a small number of interview slots open for high potential candidates that they meet at the conference.  I specifically asked for an interview for the majority of the on-site interviews I received at the conference in 2004.  As a speaker at a breakout session at a NSHMBA Conference, I once mentioned the fact about interview slots and my success in directly asking for interviews, and the results proved to be disastrous.  I had a couple of candidates come up to me at the career fair and, before even introducing themselves, directly asked me for an interview slot.  I naturally told them no.  They missed the basic point that these are reserved for high-potential candidates, so just asking for an interview without an elevator pitch (tip #5) or building rapport (tip #8) was absolutely the wrong way to go about doing it.

There are two main times when you will have an opportunity to ask for an interview.  The first one is at the career fair AFTER you’ve given your elevator pitch and AFTER the representative seems to be done with the conversation (see tip #10 below).  If they have not offered to interview you on-site by this point, you can then state your great interest in working for the company and the desire to be interviewed should they have any slots open.  If they do not, ask them at least for an invitation to their corporate reception (if it is not public).

The second opportunity is at a corporate reception AFTER you’ve built rapport with a representative.  If things seem to be going well, once again, express your desire to be part of the company and ask if they have any open slots for you to interview at the conference.  If things do NOT seem to be going well, try to move on to another representative and repeat the process.  You will have greater success getting an interview slot with someone you’ve made a positive connection with, but if you ask prematurely, you may have used up your options.  Be selective about when you ask.

10) Observe visual and verbal cues – When speaking to a recruiter, don’t be oblivious to visual/verbal cues that your time is up.  Representatives are there to network and meet as many high potential candidates as possible, so don’t monopolize their time.  Take enough time to build rapport (tip #8), but if there is a line forming or you see the representative fidgeting/looking around/checking their watch, etc., it’s time to move on.  This is especially true if they directly tell you that they have to speak to other candidates.  I’ve had candidates take up an inordinate amount of my time, and trying to be direct without being rude, I have told them that I need to move on.  They have literally refused to let me go because they have one or two more things they want to say.  That certainly does not leave a positive impression.  Thank the representative for their time, ask them if it is ok if you can contact them for questions and/or advice, then move on to do some more networking of your own.

11) Network with your peers – your peers and colleagues are a valuable resource at the conference, so don’t overlook them.  They may have heard about an opportunity that is not of interest to them, but may be of interest to you.  When I was an MBA student at one of these conferences, I met someone who knew someone who was an intern at P&G in Puerto Rico.  I asked them to point her out to me, I met with her and talked about her experiences, and she connected me with the recruiter that hired her the previous summer.  I followed up with that recruiter and ultimately landed a position at P&G in Puerto Rico.  One of the many advantages of being at a conference versus applying for positions online is the sheer number of people you can meet in person.  Take advantage of this available network and don’t forget that networking is a two-way street.  Pass along information and opportunities to others that may benefit.

12) Don’t get discouraged – I had a professional career recruiter (not associated with any company), look at my resume and tell me that I would have a tough time finding another marketing position since I had relatively little marketing experience (even though it was with P&G) compared to my technical experience.  I had a total of seven interviews at the conference and turned down two requests for fly-back interviews since I was crisscrossing the country interviewing at my top five companies (all for marketing positions).  Needless to say, she was completely off the mark.  Stay focused and stay positive.  It is not as hard as you would think to set yourself apart from thousands of other candidates.  Little things go a long way to make you memorable to the recruiters who are there to hire top talent.  If you are truly excited about the opportunity and the company, that comes across and you will achieve your goals if you are qualified for what you are seeking.

Feel free to leave any questions or feedback in the comments section below.  For a more rapid response, you can ping your questions through Twitter to @Rich_Velazquez and I’d be happy to address them for everyone to benefit.

For those seeking a new career opportunity at the 2012 NSHMBA National Career Conference or any other career fair, I wish you the best of luck.

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Summer Internship Opportunity at PepsiCo

I’m creating two summer internship positions starting right after Memorial day 2012.

PepsiCo Equipment Innovation Summer Internship Positions
The Equipment Innovation team at PepsiCo is seeking two undergraduate internship positions for Summer 2012.
PepsiCo’s Foodservice Equipment Innovation group is dedicated to developing unique and transformational consumer experiences across all of PepsiCo’s marketing equipment, which includes fountains, coolers, and vending machines. For an example of the type of equipment being developed by our team, visit:
http://www.pepsico.com/PressRelease/PepsiCo-Introduces-Social-Vending-System-the-Next-Generation-in-Interactive-Vend04272011.html
We are seeking two summer interns to guide the development of unique digital experiences leveraging our new platforms on prototype marketing equipment. This summer, expect the following:

  • Understand the vision and strategy for new marketing equipment platforms that leverage emerging technologies to engage our consumers
  • Participate in and drive brainstorming sessions to identify and prioritize new experiences and applications
  • Storyboard and flowchart the user interaction process
  • Develop rapid prototypes for evaluation and user testing
  • Interact with a cross-functional group at PepsiCo to identify and understand limitations and constraints of developing applications and experiences
  • Manage and track multiple projects simultaneously
  • Participate in special projects
  • Lead meetings with contractors for final software development
  • Network within PepsiCo to understand the business and explore future career opportunities
  • Weekly meetings with manager for project updates and career development

Qualifications:
The ideal candidates should have experience or training in many of the following:

  • Software development, especially Adobe Flash, HTML5, and/or mobile app development
  • User interaction design and user interface development Cross-functional team experience
  • Leadership experience Microsoft Office experience (Excel, PowerPoint, Word, Project)
  • Self-starter comfortable in a loosely structured environment with little direct supervision
  • Multi-tasker with excellent organizational and communication skills

For those interested, contact me on twitter to get the conversation started: http://twitter.com/Rich_Velazquez

PepsiCo is an Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/D/V

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SHPE Region 1 Leadership Development Conference 2011

The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) Region 1 Leadership Development Conference held in San Francisco, CA at Stanford University and Sheraton Palo Alto just ended a few hours ago.  I must say that I was very impressed with the entire event, which was the first SHPE conference I’ve attended in over a decade.  Attending the conference brought back a lot of fond memories of SHPE.

SHPE provided many first time experiences for me.  I was one of the original members of the SHPE Cooper Union Student Chapter in 1991, serving as the Student Treasurer in 1993.  That was the first professional organization I had ever joined and my first true leadership role.  SHPE was also responsible for kicking off my career upon graduation from the Mechanical Engineering program at the Cooper Union in New York City. I received three job offers from the SHPE National Technical Career Conference (NTCC) in 1995.  The offers were from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Rhode Island, Raytheon Missile Systems near Boston, and Honda R&D in Ohio.  When I chose Honda, that set the path for my career as an Automotive Design Engineer that would eventually lead to working in Germany for Porsche AG on the Carrera, Boxster, and Cayenne.  While at Honda, I served as a Vice-Chair of the SHPE National Student Affairs Committee (NSAC) and later founded the Columbus Ohio Chapter of SHPE (which unfortunately didn’t survive after I moved to Germany).  Finally, it was the SHPE parties that inspired me to want to learn Salsa dancing – which would eventually lead me to my future wife 🙂

Based on all of this, when I found out that there was a regional conference in San Francisco at the same time that I was going to be in the area for business, I made it a point to attend.  I reached out to the event organizers to see how I could participate, especially after reading that for the first time, there would be a Business Plan competition as part of the conference.  Fidel Hernandez and Edgar Roman were in need of a main prize sponsor for the competition, so I was able to sign up Microsoft as an event sponsor.

IMG_1319 I was impressed by so many things at this event.  First was the speed and flexibility in which the event organizers were able to add Microsoft as a sponsor and update the full program.  Additionally, having three separate tracks for Undergraduate Students, Graduate Students, and Professionals, along with all of the high caliber presenters for each of these workshops was nothing short of amazing. The keynote lunch speech by Raul Vazquez, Executive VP of Walmart was one of the best executive keynotes I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.  Meeting and hearing from the first Latina in Space, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Deputy Director of NASA Johnson Space Center was a special treat for me given my childhood dream of becoming an astronaut.  The Business Plan competitors certainly did a great job of bridging the engineering and business disciplines and I was honored to have been asked to serve as a judge for the competition.  And finally, the finalists for the Xbox prize at the Regional Breakout Meeting this morning (Sunday, 4/3/2011) shared some truly inspirational and moving stories of what this conference meant to them and how they are going to apply what they learned going forward.

I’m glad to see that SHPE has grown and flourished in the two decades since I originally joined the organization.  Thanks to everyone who takes the time to be leaders and to make events like this happen.  Until next time!

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