As part of ELGL’s expanded offerings, we introduce you to our newest feature, “Josh’s Job Search (JJS).” See related article: New Blog Feature: Josh’s Job Search. Josh will be conducting informational interviews with key figures in the region. Read his first entry at Josh’s Job Search Interviews Olivia Clark, TriMet
An Informational Interview with Teri Bankhead
City of Milwaukee Assistant to the City Manager
For my second informational interview I sat down with Teri Bankhead, the Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Milwaukie. Teri has been with the City of Milwaukie for a little more than a year and previously held a position with the City of Oregon City.
With a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and a Master’s degree in applied sociology from Northern Arizona University, Teri’s background is primarily research oriented. Teri did research work for Northern Arizona University, The RAND Corporation, as well as the University of Arizona. The research Bankead conducted ranged from studies for the military to assessment reports for university faculty so they knew how students felt about their classes.
Teri took some time away from work after she relocated to Portland because of a family situation. She said she eventually fell into the Oregon City position.
Teri’s Transition into City Government
How Teri made the switch in career paths a successful one.
Teri Bankhead (TB): I came into city government in an unconventional path, in the sense that I had never done it before. There was a position open, I applied for it, and they hired me.
Joshua Gregor (JG) : Did you ever see yourself doing city government work before that?
TB: No, it was not on my radar.
JG: Do you enjoy this type of work?
TB: I do! I do enjoy it. When I first started it was a position in the planning department for Oregon City. I did a couple years in planning and then moved into the city manager’s office in Oregon City which got me to where I am here.
JG: How well did your college experience prepare you for this job?
TB: I worked throughout college so I learned the importance of balancing various things. My work, my personal life, my studies, the professional organizations I was in during college. I started as an undergrad and throughout my entire grad school I was in this research center. What I learned in that job was the importance of being able to multitask and keep a ton of balls in the air, juggling all of them. So in the research center we would have 15 various projects going at the same time and they all had their facets. They all had their own staff and they all had their own deadlines. I did that as a grad student, while doing school work, and by then I was already married with a child so I had to balance all that as well. So all of that prepared me for what I do now.
JG: What skills and personal qualities contribute most to your success with the City of Milwaukie?
TB: I will tell you that what has helped me across my entire career, that really helped me get into this position, is a skill set. A skill set that is applicable and transferable no matter what industry that you are in. Project management, personnel management, being resourceful, and being able to come up with a concept and really implement it.
JG: Do you have any skills or personal qualities that you learned, picked up, or honed when switching to city government work?
TB: Well you know municipal work is kind of it’s own unique beast in terms of budgeting the finance aspect of it and learning to work with a manger council type of government. It is different than when you’re in the private world. I think a big component of working in the public sector is working with the public. It has required the ability to balance your daily tasks and responsibilities along with being able to provide customer service, so to speak, for your residents.
I asked Teri a few questions about her experience hiring people. My goal is to learn as much as possible about both sides of the hiring process so I can be comfortable in future job interviews.
JG: Have you done any hiring in the past?
TB: I have. Before my city jobs. When I ran the research center at the university I did a lot of hiring.
JG: During the interview process did you stick to standard interview questions or did you ask any unique questions to see how candidates dealt with being caught off guard?
TB: Well, I think it is important to have your set questions because you want to be consistent when you are interviewing multiple people. But it is also important to have some flexibility in there, so that you can really be interactive with the person. If someone says something and you want to follow up on it more then I think it is important to have that flexibility to have more of a conversation about what you just heard.
JG: How many minutes into an interview does it take you to decide if the candidate is right for the job?
TB: I think you can often get a feeling for someone even before they are in the room. It is a combination of looking at their resume, their application, how they wrote their cover letter, and talking with them on the phone. If you are in fact the one who is calling them to set up the interview you oftentimes get a sense for somebody. Sometimes it can flip completely the other way when you sit down with them in person. I honestly think within the first ten minutes you kind of have a feeling for that person and whether they might be a good fit in terms of style and personality.
JG: What are your thoughts on questions the interviewee asks (“Do you have any questions for us” question)?
TB: What can you as an organization offer me as a candidate and an employee? I want to make sure it is the right fit for me as well as for the organization. I think it is really important if you are interviewing that you make sure it is the right fit for you as well. You should be asking them, what can you offer me to encourage me and make me want to work for this organization. How do you foresee this position working out in the next 90 days? What do you see as the top responsibilities for this this person coming into this position?
JG: How important is post-interview follow up?
TB: Very important. It shows me how interested and excited they are. It shows me that they can do follow through. What really catches my eye is if they’ve taken the time to look up the people’s names, spellings, and titles of the folks who interviewed them. And I’ve seen interviewees actually ask for business cards or, after the interview, go and grab business cards so they have that information handy. I have also received thank you cards which I think are a nice touch as well.
The Dynamic Duo
I’m curious to know how each person I interview responds to the following questions. I believe the answers provided to these questions contain highly valuable and diverse information for job-seekers.
JG: How important is building your professional network?
TB: I think it is critical. I think it is very critical. That is why things like ELGL are fabulous for new folks who are just getting out there. I want to say that it depends on your industry but I don’t know that it does. For instance, at the university level I worked at a number of different departments because I was able to establish relationships with various people in different departments at different levels of authority. When it was time for me to look to switch positions, I had already established a relationship with them as well as a reputation, so they knew me by name and by face. It is easier once you have the ground laid and people get to know you and they know you on a professional level, but even on a personal level you can’t write off the networking. In government work in particular, we all work so closely together. We have regional partnerships, we have professional organizations like ELGL where we come together many times in a year, so knowing somebody in another city who has a position open and they know me… I think it really helps open that door because they have 100 applications and haven’t met one person from all those resumes.
JG: Do you have any advice for current job-seekers or those looking to expand their professional network?
TB: My piece of advice would be to not discount any opportunity. What I mean by that is … let us say I want to work in a specific field. Let’s say you want to be a government employee but you are having a hard time. If there is another position that catches your interest I wouldn’t discount it because it isn’t a government position. These days you have to be a multi-faceted person. You have to be able to do time management and project management and finance and have the ability to build and work with teams. And those are the skills that you’ll pick up even if you’re not in that particular job. Keep your doors open and keep your opportunities open. Don’t disqualify something because it isn’t in the exact basket you want it to be in. I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t done a lot of what I’d done in the past. When I came up here I was told by the hiring manager in Oregon City and the hiring manager here in Milwaukie that the reason that they hired me was because I had such a broad breadth of experience. They didn’t hire me because I had 20 years of city experience, they hired me because I had been able to do all these other types of things.
Oh, and always be willing to learn.
JG: What was your first job?
TB: When I was a senior in high school we had one of those half days where you could work and go to school. I actually worked half of the day at a local pharmacy that had a restaurant and gift shop.
JG: Do you have any strange job interview experiences?
TB: Not really. But I will tell you, when I interviewed for this job, Bill Monahan who is my city manager, who has been in the city government world for a while, at the very end of the interview he very seriously looked at me and said “What was the last book that you read?”. It completely caught me off guard because we had this very professional/serious interview. Fortunately, I was able to rattle it off. It happened to be a local author, Phillip Margolin, who is an attorney here in Portland who writes mystery fiction. Bill looked at me and asked “You read serial killer books?”, so I had to make sure he wouldn’t hold that against me.[laughs] But that was definitely one of the oddest questions I’ve been asked.
A Quick Message from the Author
I wanted to take a minute and thank the ELGL for giving me the opportunity to publish my informational interviews on its blog. I am extremely glad I connected with this organization and that it has shown such positive support to me from the get-go. I have already learned so much from this experience and hope to inform and inspire fellow job-seekers.
Ideas where JJS should head next? Email them to Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org.