Tuesday, June 28, 2016

DC Interviews - Overview and Recommendations

NUPOC Applications are processed on a rolling basis by recruiters throughout the country in coordination with our office at Navy Recruiting Command and the Office of Naval Reactors in Washington DC.  Assuming that your application is accepted at all levels and you meet the medical and security clearance requirements, you will travel to DC for a series of technical interviews with Engineers at Naval Reactors and a final interview with the Director of Naval Reactors (Currently Admiral James Caldwell).

Each month I assess the pool of applicants and assign phone technical interviews to those we plan to send on the next interview trip to DC.  These phone interviews are an internal screen by our office intended to make sure you are in a position to be successful at NR.  Several factors come into play when making these selections:

  • Completed Application - You cannot attend an interview unless the following are complete:
    • Medical Approval (obtained via physical at MEPS)
    • Security Investigation Scheduled (at a minimum)
      • Requires submission of Fingerprints and "SF86" paperwork
    • All application paperwork submitted, and approval to interview given by Naval Reactors (called a "Professional Recommendation" or "ProRec")
  • Number of available interview spots (typically 25-35/month)
  • Graduation Year (all other things equal, preference will be given to graduates or those near graduation)
  • Positions Available
    • We will only bring you to DC if we know there is a job for you if you pass
  • "Needs of the Navy"
    • If there is an acute need for a specific position we will give preference accordingly
  • Academic Merit
    • When we have more applicants ready to interview than available positions, we will give preference based on academic merit, as determined by:
      • Caliber of University
      • GPA and Major/Course of Study
      • SAT/ACT Scores

** A side note regarding interview assignments: We usually interview more people than we have spots initially to end up with the right number after attrition due to late scheduling conflicts or phone interview failures.  On rare occasions the final number is too high and we must push a couple of applicants to the subsequent interview, but we attempt to minimize this and will always ensure that such cases have a spot reserved the following month


The trip to DC involves three days of travel during which we cover lodging and meals.  On the first day, all applicants meet with escorts from our office to discuss an overview of the schedule, answer questions, and perform introductions. Afterward, we go to dinner, and then you're free for the rest of the evening.

The second day is a study day which is held in a conference room at the hotel (you will be staying at a hotel within walking distance of Naval Reactors).  On this day you will receive a short interview from one of the escorts, and a personal interview with the Director of Nuclear Accessions (currently CDR Joseph Campbell).

On the third day, we walk to Naval Reactors and you complete your technical interviews in the morning (two for SUB/SWO/INST applicants; three for NRE applicants), we take you to lunch and then you prepare for and complete the Admiral's interview.  If you do marginally on one of your technical interviews, you might be given an additional interview prior to seeing the Admiral.

A few general recommendations:

1. Study.  In addition to the list of study topics linked to the right (Khan Academy, etc), there is a lot of study material for NUPOC available online.  If there are students at your school who've already been through the process, it may be worthwhile to work with them on preparation.  Also, using video guides to walk through problems can be helpful (you can find many technical interview practice problems on YouTube, for example).  The way such questions are walked through in the videos roughly approximates how you will be expected to answer questions when you are interviewed in DC.

2. Acknowledge that no matter how much you study you might get stumped when you get there. Then accept it and move on. The Engineers who are interviewing you are attempting to assess your ability to be successful in power school and prototype, and to handle potentially stressful situations in a reactor control room later on after your training is completed. Perfection isn't the goal --- but they want to see your problem solving and problem recognition skills.

3. Relax. Meet your fellow applicants and socialize some. You want to be productive, especially during the study day, but aside from some brushing up on weak areas you're not going to have many epiphanies in DC. Get a good night's sleep while you're there, and do the best you can. Leave everything on the field. Don't give up on any problems. If you're stuck -- explain why, what you've done to that point, what you'll do once unstuck, etc. Don't say "Damn, that's a great question you really got me with that one" and then shrug your shoulders --- wrong answer. Perseverance is needed.

4. If you get a 3rd/4th interview don't worry. Most people who are given one end up passing. It's possible you won't be accepted of course, but keep things in perspective. About 75-80% of 3rd interviews get a "yes" from Admiral Caldwell.

5. Be respectful to everyone at the Office of Naval Reactors.  (For the record, I strongly recommend extending this to everyone else you meet in the course of your life)

6. Admiral Caldwell reports to the President of the United States, the Secretary of Energy, and the Chief of Naval Operations -- who used to be the Director of Naval Reactors less than a year ago. No one in the Navy out-ranks him. He's a good guy, but he's not your "bro". When you interview with him, be confident and speak clearly. The interview is short by necessity, but he wants to see that you want to be part of his program, that you will dedicate yourself to doing well and that you bring value. Do your best to convey that without coming off as pretentious or cocky.  He can and has said "yes" to applicants who were not recommended based on their technical interviews, and said "no" to others who were recommended based on this short interaction with you.

7. If there is a blemish on your record (an atypically bad grade, for example) or something out of the ordinary that you get asked about while in DC, be forthright but be sure to take responsibility.  For example, saying that the reason you got a C in Thermodynamics was that your Professor was out to get you or was foreign and you couldn't understand him is a profoundly wrong answer because at the end of the day you are responsible for your performance.  Accountability and responsibility are highly valued in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program (and, to my knowledge, most other places as well).  A better response would be one that notes the challenges (time management? heavy courseload? focused on a job to pay for school? family issues? etc) but also highlights what you learned from the experience and how you have used this to be better since (along with - hopefully - the ability to point to improved performance since then).

Feel free to look at some past interview descriptions on Glassdoor.

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