HxGN RadioPodcast

Location Intelligence: Landing your first geospatial job

In this episode of our ongoing podcast series about geospatial careers and professional development, we talk with Mike Lane, Global Education Manager of Hexagon Geospatial Division and Elliott Ferguson, Vice President of Geospatial at Hexagon US Federal, about landing your first job in the geospatial industry.

RM: Hi, and thanks for tuning in to Location Intelligence on HxGN Radio. I’m your host, Rob Mott. In this episode of our ongoing podcast series about geospatial careers and professional development, I’m talking with Mike Lane, Global Education Manager of Hexagon Geospatial Division and Elliott Ferguson, Vice President of Geospatial at Hexagon US Federal, about landing your first job in the geospatial industry. In previous episodes of this podcast series, which you can find on HxGNSpotlight.com, we touched on jump-starting your geospatial journey, finding your career path in this field and building your network within the geospatial community. All of that, which leads us to this point where the rubber meets the road. The actual process of getting a first job. Today, we’ll talk with Mike and Elliott about what key characteristics companies and government organisations look for in today’s candidates, preparing for an interview, techniques for effective interviewing, and more. Let’s begin with you, Mike, first welcome and thanks for joining us today.

ML: Yeah, thanks for having me. It’s always great to join everyone on the podcast.

RM: All right, well, let’s start by taking a trip down memory lane. Please tell our listeners, Mike, about your interview for your first job in the geospatial field and how you prepared for it.

ML: Sure. So, my story is maybe a little bit different. I took a year off after school and didn’t do really anything with geospatial during that time. I travelled, explored a little bit. But when I came back and was ready to go ahead and start interviewing process, I sent out for a list and then was sending my resume, my cover letter and so forth to a lot of people on that list. At that time, obviously after a year I was needing a job pretty quickly, financially and so forth. So, I took a job very quickly through a company that wasn’t exactly the greatest fit. It seemed like a good job on paper, a steady paycheck, insurance and so forth, but it wasn’t actually what I expected. So, when I went for my second interview, which was with ERDAS, what I did was I approached it a little bit differently. I already had the first job, so, I wasn’t quite as, let’s say as nervous, and I approached it with more of an open approach. So, in preparation, what I did was I definitely looked at the company and understood more what the company did and my needs not necessarily taking a job out of just something that I needed right then, but more of a long-term strategic, good fit. So, I did a lot more investigating about the company, what its goals were and what it was all about, which I think ultimately led to my longevity in this company and what I’m happy with the company. So, in preparing, I asked some friends to put together interview questions. I looked online to see what type of questions I may be asked. I think you’re always going to be asked, why do you want to work for this company? So, that’s always a great question to have prepared, not just necessarily in the geospatial industry, but for this company in particular. I also think that it is important to look at the role itself and be very honest in your answers and in preparation for those answers. So, you want to make sure that it is a good fit and you don’t have to jump around like I did and, and kind of live and learn that way. That was kind of my experience and it worked out very well, even though the first interview and the first job wasn’t the right fit. I think that that helped me in the preparation for the next interview and my role and the position where I am now.

RM: That’s a great story, Mike, it seems like you learned some great lessons going through that first process about yourself and that really did help position you for a better choice in your next step and your career. Thank you. So, now let’s hear from Elliott regarding a perspective from across the table. So, welcome Elliott, and thanks for joining us today.

EF: Yeah, thanks Robb. Good for having me.

RM: So, we heard from Mike about interviewing for her first job, and I’m interested in hearing your perspective from the hiring manager’s point of view. So, can you tell us about a recent position you were working to fill and what you were looking for in the ideal candidate?

EF: Yeah, absolutely. So, as geospatial continues to sort of transition away from desktop applications and more to cloud and enterprise applications, we’ve been on the hunt for some dev ops engineers and software engineers. And, as always, when interviewing a candidate the first thing that I listen for is just excitement about the job and a better understanding of what that candidate’s looking for in a company and in a team more holistically. I was over here giggling to myself about Mike’s story because mine was identical finding my first job, which was out of desperation and I don’t even know if I knew what I was doing when I left to move to Alabama for my first job. So, I can understand her position exactly. But when looking for new candidates and finding somebody to interview, the big deal is just hearing why they want to be part of your team and why they think they would be additive to that team. Some excitement and overall curiosity, those are always good first traits. And then obviously getting into the hard skills about what it is that they’re going to do to actually help that team forward. If there’s things they need to learn our continuing education, as well as goals and longevity with the company and their expectations for that. So those are some of the key things I look for right off the bat. And if the energy of the individual isn’t moving the conversation forward just because of nerves or something, I’ll try to get some of that out of them, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. So, it’s kind of hit or miss on some of those things.

RM: That’s a good point you mentioned about the excitement and the passion and doing what you can to put the interviewee at ease and make it more conversational. I think once you then can get somebody to be a little bit more comfortable in that environment, you really get to learn more about them. So, what actually stood out to you in some of the top candidates that you made even selected for positions in your group?

EF: Yeah. So, I mean, recently the folks that we’ve brought in, it was exactly sort of what I mentioned. A couple of the folks came in very high energy, excited about the career path, looking for opportunity to grow their skill sets and looking to be on either a smaller team or part of a team that’s doing a more agile development specifically for this. But even getting away from like the software developers and maybe looking at geospatial analysts or other folks on the team, programme management will have you, a lot of those candidates were very professional, came very well-prepared, lots of good questions about what the role would entail for them and how their prior experience or if they’re entry-level how prior education would help them to be additive to our team and to meet our mission and our customer’s mission. So, those are the key components. Outside of that, the hard skills really aligning well with the role and the requisition that we put out there. I think one of the biggest learning experiences for me over the years has been as we write requisitions, being as thorough as possible about what that role will mean so that we can weed out candidates early and candidates can even weed themselves out early because like Mike said earlier, it’s all about fit for the company and for the individual as they go on this journey together.

RM: Great. Thanks. And you providing that kind of perspective from the interviewer that really does help our listeners, I think, better prepare for their interviewing process. So, Mike, in today’s environment, some or maybe even all of the interview process is done virtual, it’s by phone or video versus in-person. Would you have any tips or advice that you pass along to our listeners regarding that virtual interview process versus the in-person?

ML: Sure. So, yeah. Times have changed definitely. And even before COVID because we work in a global team, oftentimes when I interview, the first interview will be via phone for a discovery call to see if we should take it a step further. One thing you can do on phone interviews or even video interviews is you can put something behind your computer. If you tend to get nervous, maybe some answers to some questions or some bullet points that you don’t want to forget, kind of have a little cheat sheet, behind of your computer screen, if you’re on video or have some notes that can help you out a lot, especially if you’re someone that gets nervous for an interview. I would also say, even if you are not going to be seen, even if it’s via phone, I would say dress for success. I know that it may sound silly, but sometimes when we put ourselves into our professional uniform and our professional status, we feel more confident. There’s also several, let’s say Ted Talks and other presentations that demonstrate and prove that when you stand up, when you stand tall and you to stand proud, you’re also more confident in yourself and you may appear more confident over voice. So, just these little tips and tricks can maybe help you come across a little bit more confident in the interview and may help you in building your confidence and not being so nervous.

RM: That’s great advice, Mike. A lot of those intangibles really do come into play and can benefit that interviewee regardless of the type of position that they’re seeking. So, back to you Elliott, for a question regarding what could be an important stepping stone for some towards landing their first geospatial job in a full-time environment. And that is internships either a part-time internship or a full-time internship. What’s your take on the value of the internship from the hiring company’s point of view?

EF: Yeah, I think from a hiring companies perspective, internships are a fantastic way to bring new candidates into your pipeline and also help to give them some on the job training so that they’re better prepared when they become a full-time candidate for a potential hire. So, I think from a company side of things, it genuinely helps to produce a pipeline of people who are well-prepared and you know, you’ve already sort of done the test drive that they’re a good fit for the company. When it comes to the other side of the coin with somebody coming in to do an internship, it gives them the ability to feel out whether or not that job is right for them, or it’s something that they’re genuinely interested in. As Mike said, I think all of us at one point or the other have been part of a career or a path on the career that wasn’t the right fit for us. And it takes some time to figure that out. And so, I think an internship is a great way to fill out those things for both sides. Additionally, it brings in new perspective as well and new trends that may be on the rise that the company may not be familiar with. The education field and how a lot of folks are being trained within education and more specifically what classes they’re taking, technologies they’re adopting all of those sorts of things. Companies can get behind at points, we like to say that we’re not, but at times it’s possible. And so, bringing in new folks that are learning these things fresh and looking for ways to apply their skill sets to problems within the company that can add a lot of value to any perspective company looking to do internships. So, I’m a huge fan.

RM: Great. Yeah, it does absolutely sound like a win-win and good tips there for companies that are looking to establish some internship programmes, as well as candidates looking to get into the field, maybe break into it and that sort of mode. So, Mike, in a previous episode, you and Elliot spoke about establishing and growing a network within the geospatial community. So, now that we’re in the actual process of interviewing and going through the steps there, how does that network actually come into play?

ML: Yeah, so, the geospatial industry is very small and once you are part of the industry you will start to see the same names pop up over and over again. It’s very cool and it’s interesting because you get to know a lot of different people. I would say we talked about the network and really establishing and creating good relationships, powerful relationships, those that you’re not just using to get ahead, but actually wanting embrace those relationships. And once you have built that network, use those relationships to ask questions, are there roles in your company that you work for that would be a good fit for me? Is it on your website now or is it something that you are looking to hire in the next year? And ask a lot of questions, you’re never going to know what answer that you’re going to get until you start putting yourself out there and just asking around. So, leverage those relationships that you have built and that you’re nurturing because people want to help people, it’s just something that we all want to do. So, ask around and really use and leverage your network. Definitely talk to those people about the organisations that you’re a part of. So, we talked about that. What different, AAG, USGIF, all of these organisations are great way to look on their sites, see who’s a member of those organisations, who you can ask about what positions are open. And, even conferences are a great way as well to continue to network, ask more questions and go around to the different exhibition booths and exhibits and ask what’s happening. Do you guys have any positions open, any internships open to see what is out there. So, it’s not all just website searches. You can definitely use the people in your network and people that you’re meeting and ask a lot of questions.

RM: Great. So, in an earlier question about your first interview process, you talked about doing some practise interviewing, some practise Q & A. Did you take advantage of your kind of network or was that family members that you use for that part?

ML: So, it was typically friends that were in IT that had been in their industry a bit longer. So, those that were already managing and interviewing people themselves, I took advantage of using those relationships in terms of my first interviews. It worked out well and it’s always good practise to say things out loud, even if you’re just practising by yourself. If you make up some interview questions by yourself and practise them out loud, it’s a great way to practise what you’re going to say, how that comes out and how you come across your tone and so forth. So, I leveraged friends and family but you can also do that within your network of people in geospatial that you’ve met along the way.

RM: Fantastic. All right, Elliott, now that the interview is finished or interviews, what are some important next steps that candidates need to consider?

EF: Yeah, so, a lot of times from a company perspective, it’s not as fast as making a decision right after the interview. Usually there’s several candidates, a lot of different candidates, you’re considering budget and salary ranges and when people can start and how people will fit into the team and where you need them. So, a lot of it is just staying in touch with the recruiter, the HR staff, or the hiring managers themselves. It’s always a really nice touch when folks send thank you letters or follow up via email and just comment on their thoughts about the interview, what they’re looking forward to, summarising sort of what they said, or what we talked about in the interview. All those things have always been helpful for me, as it’s a really nice way to look back and it also leaves a very positive impression even after that discussion has been had. Because there are days when hiring managers will go through and have a full day of interviews back to back and so discerning those folks from each other when the skillsets are comparable, that can make a lot of difference in many respects. So, I think just follow up and follow through are big deals. And then also being just very clear about what your timelines are and expectations when it comes to start dates and salary and all that sort of thing, it can be very, very helpful when a hiring manager has to make a decision. So, I would say overall, when you complete an interview, don’t consider it over, just consider that you need to continue to reach out until you either hear a positive or a negative. And then if it’s a negative, just move on and keep on going because the interview process is usually not a one and done sort of thing.

RM: Great advice there, Elliott, especially when candidates consider that they are not the only one that’s interviewing for a position. So, keeping in contact and I know from my experiences in the hiring role it’s never a bother to hear from a candidate, so, candidates really should feel comfortable in reaching out for that follow up for the next step. Thank you. All right. So, I’d like to end this episode by asking each of you a question that plays to your current roles. So, let’s start with you, Mike. In your current role as Global Education Manager for Hexagon’s Geospatial division. What should candidates keep in mind when interviewing for a position that’s global in scope?

ML: As a global role, it’s definitely important to consider that it’s a fantastic role and it is very rewarding and it’s exciting to work with other people from all over the world, learning new things and so on. It’s important to keep a very open perspective of different cultures and learning etiquette, what is proper and what is culturally okay in one country may not be that of another. So, it’s very interesting, but you also have to be very open and willing to learn about the differences in different cultures. So, that’s something that you need to consider. Another thing is time. So, although global roles are very fun and sometimes you get to go out of the country and travel, time zones are always challenge. So, you need to have that work-life balance and understand that sometimes you will have business meetings outside of normal business hours, sometimes your travel maybe on a weekend to get to someplace overseas. So, although I love working in different countries and having a global role, it’s something that I really find exciting and fun, it may not be for everyone. If you’re someone who enjoys family time in the evening with your kids or enjoying some other volunteer or some other things on the weekend and travelling over the weekend is not an option, then it’s always good to find that that fit, that’s going to work with your personal life and your business life and your career as well. So, it is exciting, but you have to be open to adapting to new cultures and how different countries do business. Obviously tourism and working and business is very, very different in terms of just going on a trip and visiting somewhere versus business etiquette, and then taking into consideration time zones. And the fact that you may be working very late at night to have calls or very, very early in the morning. If you’re willing to make those sacrifices, then it is very fulfilling and I love working with people from all over the world at Hexagon.

RM: That’s great. Some really good tips there, Mike, and it does play back into your telling us of your experience, starting out your career in the geospatial field and being true to yourself and knowing what you really want out of that position. So, thank you for sharing again. All right, now let’s turn to Elliott to bring us home. So, Elliott, what are the key differences that candidates should be aware of when trying to land a job with a company that primarily services government organisations such as Hexagon US Federal or maybe even working for governments themselves as compared with geospatial positions in private industry?

EF: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. There’s definitely some differences I’ve serviced both customer bases and the government has quite a bit of nuance. And so, the first thing I would say is a lot of times you should be prepared for the question during an interview or the potential requirement for a clearance of some type or the other. So, a lot of places because you’re accessing government networks or privileged information, you may have to be able to hold a clearance and go through that process. And again, that’s a very personal choice and something that folks need to consider whether or not that that’s something they want to do. Going through that process isn’t painful just long, like most other things, when dealing with the government it can be slower than you would like, but it will happen and it will get done. That would be, I guess, number two, as a segue. Things when working with the government, dealing with bureaucracies and dealing with folks that have cyclical, budgets and timelines, and those types of things can be a lot different. Large organisations, large companies have those things as well, but governments have a lot more process, procedure, compliance that they have to deal with. And so, a lot of those things can slow down a project or just make things difficult on both sides. It’s not anything that anyone wants to be there, it’s just part of procedure. And then lastly, I would say dealing with government specifically, there’s a very specific set of needs that the government has when it comes to geospatial. They’re usually looking at very large enterprise problems over specific niche workflows, where a lot of times in the commercial space, you can take an application and provide a demonstration and show folks sort of how something would work and they have an IT staff or development staff of their own that they can mould their workflows around or fit in your technology. With the government they really want a full-fledged solution and something that they can push a button and start working so that they can meet their mission. So, I wouldn’t say they’re totally disparate, but there are just some different points of view to be aware of. They both come with their challenges and I really enjoy working on both sides of the fence. You can learn a lot from both sides. Government has a lot to apply to the commercial and vice versa. So, just be prepared for some nuance and be ready to roll with the punches. That’s for sure.

RM: Great. Actually, great closing points from both of you that really underscore some of the most appealing aspects of today’s jobs in the geospatial industry. So, I’d like to wrap up this segment by giving a big thank you to Mike Lane Global Education Manager of Hexagon’s Geospatial Division, and Elliott Ferguson, Vice President of Geospatial at Hexagon US Federal. We look forward to continuing the discussion on geospatial careers and academia with both of you in future episodes. So Mike, Elliott, thank you.

EF: Thank you.

ML: Thanks.

RM: And, thank you listeners for tuning into Location Intelligence on HxGN Radio. For more great stories and podcasts, please visit HxGNSpotlight.com.