Interview Preparation for a Logistics Career

logistics-interview-preparationAt face value, I’ve never found interviews for logistics jobs to be difficult. No surprise or strange questions. No complex questions beyond the norm. In fact, I would say that compared to other fields, logistics industry interviews work in reverse: the employer spends more time trying to "sell" itself to the job seeker than the job seeker needing to “sell” himself to the employer. Given what I have just said, can it be that easy? Am I oversimplifying the interview process? Well, its depends who you are.

 

The logistics field spans a lot of occupations and competencies so one catch-all conclusion about its interviewing process will not be adequate to prepare you for an interview. But I've alleged that logistics interviews are not hard. Why? I think it’s primarily an issue of competition. Some fields attract hundreds of applicants – the “cool” companies that offer wacky benefits and try to create a college dorm life atmosphere. Logistics isn't one of them. So, with fewer applicants, employers are more direct in how they select, interview, and hire.

 

In general, the logistics field encompasses the areas of distribution, transportation, warehousing. It is considered a part of supply chain management. Generally speaking, it has been known as a low-tech industry, that is, a slow adopter of information technology. But that’s has all changed. One of the greatest staffing needs of this industry are IT professionals who can produce the technology to support efficiency and productivity: capacity management, collaborative planning, and real-time load tracking, to name a few. Of course, sales people are always in demand and logistics sales reps are as well.

 

I have found the difficulty level of logistics interviews depends on not only the type of logistics’ company, but also the type of person. Let’s start with the latter. If you expect that your work situation will be a rerun of college life, you will probably not find immediate success in “ace-ing” the logistics interview. If you send out non-verbal signals that you are “playing a game” or will jump ship as soon as the next opportunity comes around, you’ll be weeded out by this practical-minded, somewhat conservative, stable industry. If you are the type who goes to Google to find answers to interview questions and memorizes canned answers, you won’t be fooling anyone. So, what appears to be an easy interview for one person could very well turn into a waste of time for another. Now, let’s turn to the type of company.

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As far as the difficulty level goes, I’ve found that transportation, logistics, freight forwarder, and/or trucking companies interview quite differently than a Fortune 500 company that’s interviewing for its logistics/shipping department. This difference primarily has to do with size, resources, and culture. Logistics firms like a freight forwarder are generally smaller with fewer resources and doesn't have all the extensive HR processes in place that a Fortune 500 would have. In fact, some of these logistics companies have a skeleton workforce that manages independent drivers and agents. Conversely, a Fortune 500 company such as a Target, Wal-Mart, Ford Motor, etc., with large logistics and distribution resources has structured processes in place to support more extensive hiring processes. Plus, the Fortune 500 companies can attract many more applicants, which requires more screening and interviewing.

 

I have also found that the interview process in the logistics field heavily relies on detailed, pre-employment screening applications and/or questionnaires. For logistics jobs in the Federal government, I have seen pre-screening questionnaires as long as 85 questions. For public/private companies, I've seen questions as long as 40 questions, but typically there are 10 to 20 questions. So, these screening tools serve as the first filter. They check skills and the type of experience. They will even go so far as asking about a candidate's type of logistics experience: truck, rail or air. For many of these jobs, they are looking for as close to exact matches as possible. So, once you are called for an interview, the difficult questions have already been answered. What remains are the standard and behavioral questions.

 

Answers to the standard questions can be found just about anywhere. These questions include:

 

  • Tell me about yourself?
  • Why did you apply to this company?
  • What types of jobs are you currently seeking?
  • Can you handle stress?
  • What are your good/bad points?
  • What's are minimum salary?
  • Where did you expect to be career-wise in 5 years? 10 years?
  • Why should we hire you?

 

Of the standard questions, the last one -- Why should we hire you? -- is perhaps the most difficult. It's the classic elevator or sales pitch question – a 1-minute monologue that explains who you are, your business skills, your goals, and what you can do for them (your value). (As an aside, the Harvard Business School has created an interactive "elevator pitch builder." Go here to view it: http://www.alumni.hbs.edu/careers/pitch )

 

Behavioral questions will always be used at large companies as a way to determine how a potential job candidate will behave or perform at a job based upon past experience. Now, these questions are not always easy. I recall a previous customer of mine who interviewed at The Home Depot and was given 25 behavioral questions over a 2-hour interview. I think that's a rare example. Typically, expect around five questions. Here are some examples:

 

  • Describe for me an instance when a project deadline was changed to earlier than you anticipated. What did you do to meet the deadline? How did your work change as a result of this change?
  • Give me an example of when you disagreed with your supervisor and argued for a better way to do the job? How did the supervisor react? What was the result?
  • Describe your most noteworthy accomplishment. What were the context, the challenges, and the results?
  • Give me an example of how you solved a problem in a creative way?
  • Describe an example at work where you caught yourself from making a big mistake? Describe to me what you were thinking and how you prevented it.

 

Even these questions are not so difficult that you would lose sleep over trying to answer them. But you have to do some prep work. Write down well thought out, truthful, unique answers and memorize them. You don't want to "ah" and "um" while reciting the answer. Rather, you want to focus on a confident delivery style, which usually seals the deal with a job offer.

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