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Let a Veteran Save You…from Another Bad Job Interview

June 1, 2014
If you’re having trouble picking logistics talent amidst a field of blooming millennials, take an R&R break with a couple veterans.

Pretend you’re one of those hiring managers screaming that you can’t find good logistics help these days. Your search is dragging on because interview after interview involves a candidate who couldn’t spell forklift, let alone operate one.

Then that day arrives. You find the one. In this person’s last assignment he oversaw the operation of 2,000 warehouses and was responsible for a $1 billion in transportation spend. You think that’s huge, but he says he’s used to a much grander scale.

This person also happened to be a logistics officer during the first Gulf War in the early 90s.

It’s Lt. General Gus Pagonis, and sorry for you, he’s not available. Remember, you’re pretending, after all. But in the real world Pagonis is happy to offer advice based on what he did for General Norman Schwarzkopf during that era as well as what he did afterwards for Sears when he entered the private sector. And although he’s not available to fill your slot, he knows a lot of young people who can. They’re among the scores of young veterans returning from service and hoping to resume their lives in the private sector.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Pagonis for an article to appear in MH&L's June issue. He listed the qualities these veterans bring to logistics jobs:

“First, you get a young man or woman who’s capable of handling stress in difficult situations,” he said. “Second, they can handle multi-functional tasking without difficulty and no turf battles. In the civilian sector your biggest challenge is that warehouse guys don’t talk to transportation and transportation guys don’t talk to the inventory managers. They end up sub-optimizing and you can’t do that in a military environment. These kids come in from the military with those walls broken down—‘let’s just get the job done.’ They give you the tremendous assets of handling stressful situations and more than one thing at a time.” 

I shared the transcript of that interview with Al Will, who was a lieutenant colonel in the Marines during the same period that Pagonis served. Al is now doing what Pagonis is doing in the private sector: helping civilian logistics managers cultivate talent and put it to work. He's now president of PWG Distribution Solutions, LLC and a member of MH&L’s Editorial Advisory Board.

When it comes to characterizing the current state of the civilian talent pool, Al isn’t afraid to be blunt about the Millennial Generation making the rounds after graduation. He cites the research of consultant Dan Boos, BCS, LLC, who summarizes some of the chief characteristics of this generation: they don’t understand cause and effect, they feel everyone is their peer, that happiness is guaranteed, that they should be able to work their own hours, yet they tend to have poor communications and personal skills, and a poor sense of teamwork.  

“These shortfalls in performance are detrimental to manufacturing and logistics environments,” Will says. “But the military takes such young people, and for the most part, instills the opposite.  Now the military is not profit/loss oriented and will spend whatever it takes in terms of materiel to protect its personnel so there is still some ‘culture training’ required when these people come back to civilian jobs.  But the basic clay is there 95% of the time, and that’s what employers are seeking.”

Fine, you say, where is this clay that I may shape it to my needs? You may find more and more of them responding to your want ads as operations in Afghanistan continue drawing down. In fact this ramping down of logistics is just as challenging as ramping up, and those involved in the process are gaining mighty logistics experience. It involves reducing inventory to meet current operations and to cut costs. The US Army Materiel Command (AMC) is working with the civilian side to do this, engaging Oliver Wight Americas, whose Integrated Business Planning (IBP) program is expected to help them save $4.5 billion on inventory by the end of the year.  According to the announcement carrying this news, this project revealed a potential overspend of billions of dollars, plus a ten-year inventory backlog. The IBP process addressing it was designed in five days and was fully functioning within eight weeks.  AMC’s target is to reduce inventory by 22 percent and backorders by 30 percent by the end of the year.

So if one of the people involved in this or any military logistics project ever shows up in your office responding to your want ad for logistics help, pay close attention to what they have to say during your interview. Whether you hire them or not, you’re bound to learn something from their experience.

While you’re waiting for these great interview experiences to start, take a look at some not so great ones in our new gallery, “Job Interviews from Hell on Video.”  Some of these situations are real, some are dramatized, but all are just plain funny—or disturbing, if you’ve experienced them firsthand. Enjoy…or cry, your choice. Click here to WATCH...

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