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Helping military veterans nail that interview

Interview coaching startup Candorful helps veterans transitioning to civilian life prepare for job interviews.
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Candorful uses video conferencing to facilitate mock job interviews between volunteer coaches and military personnel to help prepare them for civilian job interviews.
Candorful uses video conferencing to facilitate mock job interviews between volunteer coaches and military personnel to help prepare them for civilian job interviews.
Image: Candorful

The military is great at teaching soldiers to accomplish objectives under stressful conditions, work as part of a team, and lead groups of people. Those skills are useful in business as well as combat, but many veterans lack experience communicating their skills to recruiters or hiring managers in job interviews.

As a result, many veterans struggle to land a good job after their service — a critical factor for a successful transition into civilian life. Now the startup Candorful is working to change that. The nonprofit facilitates video mock interviews for veterans with volunteer coaches to help them put their best foot forward with employers.

“Veterans rapidly gain experience managing teams and projects, making an impact, working with minimal resources,” says Candorful co-founder and executive director Pat Hubbell SM ’91. When competing with civilians during the interview process, veterans “may be better prepared for a job, but civilians typically know how to talk about their experience and personal impact more effectively,” she adds. “In the military, it’s all about the team, so veterans are not comfortable talking about their individual impact. They often talk about what their team did instead.”

Thinking about their accomplishments at the individual level is just one of the many mental pivots veterans must make as they learn to sell themselves to hiring managers. Candorful aids in that process through live interview simulations and feedback. Veterans accessing the company’s platform choose three coaches from Candorful’s pool of experienced interviewers. They then conduct three one-on-one mock interviews via a video conferencing platform, each lasting about 30 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of verbal feedback. After the session, veterans receive a full report on their performance from each coach.

The company was started in 2017 by Hubbell and co-founder Peter Sukits, who served in the U.S. Army for five years. The founders celebrated their 1,000th training session in November and are planning to dramatically increase the number of veterans coming through their platform this year.

“Our clients can be actively deployed or in a transition program,” Hubbell says, noting Candorful has even helped a soldier serving in a war zone. “They can be anywhere in the world.”

Giving back

As a captain in the Army, Sukits served as a platoon leader and head planning officer for a 400-soldier battalion in Afghanistan. He decided it was time to pursue a civilian career in 2011.

At the time, Hubbell was working as a consultant and advisor at Cornell University, where she was running mock job interviews with students and alumni. That’s where she met Sukits.

Sukits had attended Carnegie Mellon University as an undergraduate prior to commissioning as an Army officer, and Hubbell was impressed with his qualifications and charisma. But she also noticed his discomfort with elaborating on his personal experience.

“Veterans have amazing skills, [such as] leadership skills, and rich experience, but the experience of selling yourself during a job interview doesn’t exist in the military.”

Sukits was accepted into Cornell University’s MBA program and went on to land a great job at Procter and Gamble. But his desire to help others drove him to call Hubbell in 2016 to brainstorm business ideas around offering career services. It didn’t take long for them to focus on conducting mock job interviews for veterans transitioning back to civilian life.

Hubbell had already measured the impact of mock interviews at Cornell. She found that students who participated in the interviews were twice as likely to land their desired job, and they did so sooner than students who hadn’t done the practice interviews.

Although it had been 20 years since Hubbell was a student at MIT, she had kept in touch with fellow alumni and staff members. The founders received support from MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service early on, which Hubbell says gave the business legitimacy and helped them hone their story. Three of Hubbell’s former classmates at the MIT Sloan School of Management began serving on Candorful’s board of directors, and when it came time for the newly formed board to meet, Rod Garcia, the assistant dean of admissions at MIT Sloan, set them up with a conference room on campus.

The startup began as a for-profit venture, but it became clear that securing nonprofit status was essential to gain the trust of partners like Hiring Our Heroes and the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program. Hubbel says being a nonprofit changed the founders’ approach to fundraising, and it took about 18 months to be granted nonprofit status, but the founders didn’t let the wait prevent them from helping veterans.

Easing the transition

In the summer of 2017, relying on volunteers, the founders began coaching a small number of veterans. By 2018, they had partnered with veteran transition assistance programs and had a steady stream of veterans using their service.

Hubbell credits a few large companies for providing assistance early on, including Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Amazon, PWC, Keystone Strategy, East Boston Savings Bank, and Ernst and Young. Some of those companies put Candorful on their internal volunteer opportunities lists, which helped establish a pool of highly qualified coaches. Volunteers come from a variety of fields, the one unifying factor being that they have extensive experience conducting job interviews.

“Our volunteers are people who want to give back to veterans,” Hubbell says. “And it’s easy for them; they’re able to do it from their desk at lunch or dining room table after dinner.”

Following the interview and verbal feedback, each volunteer fills out a scorecard that provides the veterans with grades on everything from their physical appearance to their response structure. Veterans, in turn, rate their coaches.

Of the people who have gone through the Candorful process and left the military, Hubbell says 98 percent had landed their desired job as of the third quarter of 2019.

As the founders work to update their numbers, Hubbell can happily report that Candorful has helped almost 500 veterans prepare for and land jobs, some of whom have even returned to Candorful as volunteer coaches.

“The vast majority of our clients have worked in the military for 10 to 20 years,” Hubbell says. “By the time civilians are reaching the 10-year point of their career, they’ve had experience with interviews, learned, and gotten feedback. The military community  doesn’t have the same experience, so we want to close that gap. Not to mention, if they’re eight to 20 years out of high school, they probably have kids. There’s a lot on the line when it’s time to get a good job.”

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