How to Become a Business Liaison at Amtrak
By Zara Kessler | September 1, 2016

Cheat Sheet, a regular series, gets inside the hiring process. This week: If you're interested in spanning business and tech—and never got over your childhood love of trains—there's an opening at Amtrak that might be right for you.
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Interview Cheat Sheet #26
The Job
  • Position:
  • Senior Principal Business Liaison
  • Hiring Manager
  • Jeff Schappert
  • Senior Director Business Liaison, Information Technology
  • Salary:
  • $86,000-$156,000
  • Description:
  • Serve as a liaison between the business and information technology worlds, focusing on the customer experience at stations and on trains. Mostly strategy and innovation, plus some maintaining of existing systems, including work on outages and small improvements. “Understanding the technology and the business process is what makes this role so unique.”
  • Qualifications:
  • Flexible depending on candidate availability. Eight-plus years of work. Experience in relevant technology and business areas (marketing, sales, customer service). Bachelor’s degree; master’s degree preferred. A good communicator who is very strong technically and less adept at business—or someone who’s great on the business side, with an average grasp of tech—could be molded into the position over time.

The Method

First Round:

Online application and Culture Fit Assessment.

Second Round:

30- to 45-minute phone interview with a recruiter who examines whether the candidate is qualified.

Third Round:

Hourlong phone interview with Schappert, who asks about marketing, sales, and customer service, and makes sure you understand the business. “When’s the last time you rode the train? What was the customer experience like at the station? How would you improve that? What did you like or dislike?” He might also ask about specific situations, such as how you handled not being able to meet the full scope of a project, and perhaps just a little bit about software platforms Amtrak uses.

Fourth Round:

 3 or fewer candidates

Hourlong on-site interview with a panel of three to five people who ask a half-dozen questions using the STAR method—Situation, Task, Action, Result—which is also used elsewhere in the process. You’ll be asked to describe a certain kind of situation you were in, what you had to do, how you acted, and what resulted. “Be specific in your response. Generic responses to STAR questions are unfavorable.”

The Score:

The panel’s questions are in categories such as putting customers first, maximizing business results, and delivering with accountability. Panelists enter scores and notes in the recruiting system. They discuss and land on a candidate, occasionally two. Their recommendation is relayed to the recruiter and Schappert, who is responsible for the final decision.

How to Ace It

Do highlight your ability to collaborate and communicate. “I need somebody that can speak business, that can translate technology to the business, that understands—or can over time understand—why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Do be on top of technical trends. “Don’t come in and talk about technology from 30 years ago, 20 years ago. Understand the new technologies that are meeting these customer-experience needs.”

Do your homework. “I would look on the Internet for information about where our stations are, about our business lines. ... And, if possible, visit one of these. Ride the train if you haven’t.”

Do wear business formal. “And don’t expect to be dressing like that every day afterwards.”

Don’t pose generic questions on Amtrak. “You only have about 10 minutes at the end of that panel interview or that one-on-one interview with me. Don’t waste it by asking questions that you can find on the Internet in five seconds.”

Don’t forget Amtrak is unique. “We get some of those folks that come in and think, ‘Oh, just because I worked at the cruise line or the airlines or the hospitality industry, you must be the same.’”

Don’t be needy. “Folks that usually start with how much does this job pay and how much travel ... because I coach my daughter’s soccer team, and I have to be home every Monday at 3” probably won’t do well.