MeetingsNet checked in with 18 high-level corporate and independent meeting pros to find out what they’re looking for when they sit down for interviews with top candidates for entry-level positions. While the sampling of execs is small, the themes were consistent. We’ve compiled their comments on the qualities that they see as key to a promising planning career. Candidates with a degree in meeting management might have a leg up on the crowd, but without some universal skills such as communication, problem solving, and organizational know-how, they won’t get far.
Here are the eight qualities we heard about most often:
1. Start Humble
Entry-level candidates should expect to “earn their stripes before advancing.” Employers want a novice planner to be patient and “not have an expectation of immediate gratification and immediate promotion.” As one executive said, “To find a millennial who does not project ‘entitlement’ is difficult.” Candidates need to know that “meeting planning is 10 percent textbook, 90 percent experience. Although kids are coming out of college, learning from tenured peers will elevate them quicker.”
2. Cross Those Ts!
Again and again, meeting executives said successful candidates are organized and detail-oriented. “We go through a three- or four-step interview process designed to assess their organizational skills,” notes one. And being organized (or even “hyper-organized” for one hirer) means good time management and handling multiple priorities at once. During the interview, one independent planner asks candidates for “examples of situations where they have managed multiple projects, the challenges encountered, and the end results.”
3. Whatever It Takes
Meeting planning can be all-encompassing at times and many executives noted they look for a candidate “who accepts that the job comes with unconventional hours and demands.” They want “flexibility, understanding of long hours, and a whatever-it-takes-to-make-it happen attitude.” Putting it plainly, one executive said, “it isn’t a nine-to-five job that allows your social life to be a number-one priority.” Complementing that work ethic, execs looked for “initiative” and “a sense of ownership” of the work.
4. Know How to, Like, Talk to People?
Almost across the board, meeting executives said they look for good communication skills—written and verbal—in the planners they hire, people who “express thoughts clearly, concisely, directly, and willingly.” And that includes phone skills, which are “especially important for millennials who feel more comfortable on e-mail than with verbal communication,” noted one exec. Another stressed that he wants to hear “proper English” that’s not constantly punctuated with “um” and “like.” And don’t forget the post-interview thank-you note: “Candidates who value written correspondence (thank-you notes, a proper letter, etc.) capture my attention. I appreciate and embrace technology yet believe relationships, handwritten notes, accuracy, and effective communication skills are staples; when these skills are present, the individual tends to be good at outward communication overall.”
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5. Experience Counts
Executives don’t expect entry-level candidates to have specific industry skills (“If we find the right person, the skills can be easily taught”; “We can train them on the job, but you can’t train nice!”), but they do value the experience that comes from internships, opportunities, education, and jobs (especially jobs with a customer-service or budgeting component).
Several employers echoed this comment: “What I look for is what type of activities they’ve been involved in. Have they had leadership roles in school or volunteer organizations? How have they been networking and working to find opportunities? Do they belong to industry associations?” Another felt work experience of any kind is a positive: “A sense of entitlement isn’t the case with every 20-year-old, but [those without it] are harder and harder to find. If I see a résumé that looks like they actually had a job when they were 16 (or younger), I will typically interview those candidates first.”
6. What’s the Problem?
Many employers are looking for a planner who can think creatively about challenges that come up: an “outside-the-box thinker,” “a problem solver, solution-oriented,” and someone who “leverages creativity and innovation to find solutions.” One executive says he uses interview questions such as ‘How would you go about renting an aircraft carrier?’ to get a sense of how a candidate will approach a challenge. “It is not important they actually know,” he says, “just that they have a logical process to figure it out.”
7. Play Nice
Many meeting execs said they’re looking for candidates with people skills and emotional intelligence, who can “effectively interact with clients, vendors, and associates.” They used terms like “positive,” “charismatic,” “team player,” “outgoing,” and “optimistic” to describe the person most likely to be successful on a planning team. As one exec puts it, “I have zero tolerance for drama; we work hard, trust one another, and love what we do.”
8. Jump In!
Planners stressed that candidates need to be “self-confident, think on their feet, and not afraid to ask questions.” They need to “know who they are and not what they think others want them to be,” and “maintain their composure and professionalism in stressful situations.” Putting it another way, one executive said, “In planning, no one wants to work with a wallflower. A take-charge attitude is a must. Even if they’ve never done something, they can’t be afraid to jump in and figure it out.”