It’s Veterans Month, and this episode of OneHaas welcomes a special guest and a special guest host. Last month’s guest, Cassandra Salcedo, MBA ‘21, speaks with her former classmate and military veteran Joseph Choi, an account executive at Amazon Ads.
As the son of a Korean military vet, Joseph grew up always wanting to go into the service. After attending the Naval Academy, he landed one of the few and coveted spots with the Navy Seals and spent nine years in the service before enrolling at the Haas School of Business.
He and Cassandra discuss his parents’ journey to America from Korea, the intensive training he went through with the Seals, lessons he brought from the military to business school, and his current role at Amazon.
*OneHaas Alumni Podcast is a production of Haas School of Business and is produced by University FM.*
Common misconceptions people have about military service members
“One big misconception is that those who decide to join the military are very close minded, narrow minded, and not very intelligent people…Or sometimes that it’s troublemakers who decided to join the military.”
What inspired him to go to business school
“I’m going to be real honest here. A lot of military folks when they get out of the military have no idea what they want to do. And I was one of them. I had no idea what I wanted to do. However, thankfully, because of a lot of those ahead of me who got out were great mentors in this sense where a lot of them do go to business school. So it’s not uncommon to see a lot of military folks go to business school.”
His advice to prospective business school students
“I think what’s more important is, you know, instead of taking that depth and trying to dive into academics, use that time to get to know your classmates, to try new things, expand your reach, do things that you wouldn’t have done normally because I think it’s also a safe time to take risks.”
Insights he’s taken from the military and business school into his current job at Amazon Ads
“The job in itself is usually quite simple in comparison to people. People are the hardest. Human relations are the hardest thing to work with, to navigate around and deal with. And I think that is something across the board that I’ve seen consistent. In the military, with my last role, with the current role, is that in anything and everything, humans are the most complicated, and hence that’s why communication is so important, having empathy is so important.”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00] Cassandra: Hello, everyone, and welcome to our November edition of the OneHaas Podcast. I’m your host for today, Cassandra Salcedo, Haas full-time MBA, class of 2021. For anyone who tuned in on last month’s episode, I was Sean’s guest for Filipino Heritage Month, and this month, excited to celebrate Veterans Month.
And to do that, I am joined by one of my fellow Haas MBA classmates and great friend, Joe Choi. While his day job is an accountant executive at Amazon Ads now, he’s also a Navy SEAL veteran, water polo coach, children’s book author, salsa dancer, and much more.
Great to have you here, Joe.
[00:52] Joseph: Thanks, Cass. Appreciate it. Happy to be here.
[00:56] Cassandra: Awesome. Well, let’s get started. And so, now, tell us a little bit about your origin story.
[01:02] Joseph: Yeah, actually, let me take a step back and start with my parents first, because I think that ties well into, obviously, why I’m here. My parents actually did not meet in America, so they both were born and raised in Korea. And my mother moved to the U.S. with my grandparents in the early ‘80s. And then, similarly, once my father was done with his mandatory military service — all Korean males have to serve in the military for a little bit of time — he decided, and I actually don’t know the exact details of this, but he decided he was going to move to America. So, he only had enough money. And this is why he’s crazy or brave or a combination of both. He only had enough money for a one-way ticket to the U.S. So, he flew to New York for whatever reason. He took a Greyhound bus from New York all the way to Los Angeles. He was broke. He had no idea what to do. And our family’s Catholic. So, he went to a church and just spoke to a priest. And that’s how he started his life in America. From there, him and my mom met through a mutual friend. And then, fast-forward X many years, my older brother was born, and I was born, and we all grew up in Los Angeles. So, that’s a little bit of the backstory of how that all happened.
[02:17] Cassandra: I actually didn’t realize that your father was also had a military background. Does the military background go deep past that as well? Or did it start at your father?
[02:25] Joseph: No, no, so, all Korean males have to serve in the military. So, think of it as it’s, whereas in America, it’s all volunteer service. In Korea, there’s mandatory service. So, it’s about two… I believe, two to three years of mandatory service. So, what you’ll see a lot of times, actually, from what I know, and I could be mistaken, is most males, once they graduate from high school, if they’re not going right into college, they go right into the military.
And if you’re a celebrity, you get a little bit of wiggle room before you have to serve in the military. If you go to college, there’s options of what you can do. But there has to be some semblance of military service that occurs if you’re a Korean citizen male.
[03:02] Cassandra: Got it. Okay,
[03:03] Joseph: So, from there, so grew up in Los Angeles. And around junior high, my parents decided it would be a good idea to move to Orange County, main reason being is because private school is super expensive and the public schools are much better out in Orange County. So, we decided to move out there, or I should say, they decided to move the entire family out there.
And from there, grew up, for the second part of my life, in a small city called Fullerton. A lot of Asians. Grew up there. Went to junior high. And it was in high school where a few things happened. I started to play water polo and swim. And it was through there where another classmate of mine, he decided he wanted to go to the Naval Academy.
Now, for me, if you asked me during that time, I actually wanted to go to West Point. Now, what I didn’t mention, which we can backtrack on, the reason why I decided I wanted to go to West Point, which is the U.S. Army Academy, for those that are not familiar, my godfather at the time when I was in fourth grade, we’re at some church picnic. And being young, being impressionable, we just started chatting and he just told me, “You know what? You look like a good fit for West Point.” And I say, “Wait, what’s West Point?”
A little background on him is he, I believe he went to the Virginia Military Institute. And he just started just throwing out, “Oh, yeah, you’d be a great fit for it. You’re going to get a great education. You get to serve your country. You get to travel the world.” He just sold me on this idea. And being young and not really knowing much of what he was saying, to be honest, I just said, “Sure, that’s what I’ll do.”
And it started to become a self-fulfilling prophecy because, when people would ask me, “What do you want to go to college,” I would say, “Oh, I’m going to go to West Point.” The more I said it, the more I started believing it, and the more people validated it by saying, “Oh, that’s a great college. It’s very hard to get into, this, this, that.”
So, now, fast-forward to high school, my mind has said, “Oh, I need to go to… I’m going to go to West Point.” But in order to get there, it’s really difficult, so I got to make sure that I’m getting good grades, being well-rounded with sports and all that stuff, and once again, back to water polo now. That’s where one of my teammates went to the Naval Academy.
And so, what ended up happening was, the more I… I did a little bit more research into all the service academies. The one underlying factor that I knew I wanted to do was I wanted to play water polo at a competitive level on top of everything else that service academies and graduating from there was going to bring in the future.
And so, I decided I wanted to go to the Naval Academy. Funny story, I actually got rejected, initially. So, West Point accepted me when it was time for college applications to come out. And West Point accepted me. Naval Academy actually rejected me. And it was through the water polo coach who had, I believe, one slot left open for recruitment. He gave it to me eventually, because I think somebody else above on the roster that he wanted to recruit decided to opt out. So, he got me in and went to the Naval Academy. Had no idea what I wanted to do in the Navy. All I knew I was just happy to be there.
And it was through my short time on the water polo team. I wasn’t even there for a season. Unfortunately got cut at the end of it. But that’s okay. Still was able to maintain the friendships and all that with across the board. Now, it was all the seniors and the juniors. There was a history in the Navy water polo where a lot of them would go SEALs. And I remember looking up to them and thinking, “Okay, if this is where the legit guys go, this is where I want to go, too.” And that’s what inspired me, secretly, to want to become a SEAL. I didn’t want to say it out loud because, frankly, there was fear that, oh, what if it doesn’t work out? What if I don’t get picked up? Because there’s only so many slots.
Come senior year, after going through the different requirements, we get to the final interview portion of it, where we’re interviewed in front of a bunch of SEALs. And thankfully, I picked up those 26 slots for 49 candidates who went for it. So, I did that, and from there checked into San Diego once I graduated from Annapolis and started SEAL training. It took me a little bit to get through. It was rough. And we can talk more about whatever that aspect of it was. What I can say, honestly, it was very challenging, very difficult. But certainly, lifelong bonds and friendships were formed even through that, I would say, relatively short period of time.
[07:19] Cassandra: Yeah. So, it sounds like this, both your friend and your water polo coach were very influential in your decision to even have a desire to even apply for the Navy SEAL program. And would you say that there was any familial influence on that as well? Or, was it simply from those people you mentioned?
[07:41] Joseph: Yeah, I would say it’s the latter. Actually, in fact, my parents were terrified when I told them that I got the slot to go to SEAL training. And they were quite nervous. And I just said, “Hey,” being in my early 20s, I said, “Well, I’m going to do what I want to do. So, either you can support me or not, but I’m going to go and do this.”
[07:59] Cassandra: Would you say that they were supportive throughout the process?
[08:02] Joseph: I think they were just more hands off. I think they were just always concerned at what was going to happen, because honestly they don’t even know what the training entails. They didn’t really know much of anything. All they knew that it was really hard and really difficult and potentially dangerous. So, I think, if anything, the way that they supported me was just not by really asking too many questions or prying into it or probing into it.
[08:23] Cassandra: Yeah. And tell us more about the process for joining. You mentioned it was one of the most more challenging parts. And I can only imagine what it was like. So, I’d love to learn more.
[08:34] Joseph: Yeah. So, from the academy, it’s pretty competitive to get a slot. Like I said, we have 26 slots our year for 49 candidates ultimately at the end. The Navy decides how many slots that they’ll be giving out. In my case, your junior year, you start off with… they put you through a one and a half to two day mini hell days where you’re just running a lot, you’re cold, you’re carrying around a pack with you, and you’re just doing a whole lot of that. And based on how you perform on there, because there’s a lot of people who try out for it, and they’ll whittle it down to a certain number who then get to go to a SEAL team for the summer and hang out with them, learn from them. And that’s just part of what we call your summer cruise. So, every summer at the Naval Academy, you do a different type of training. So, if you did well enough at this, in the screener, this test screener, that was over two days, you get to hang out with the SEAL team, which is usually pretty indicative if you have a chance of getting an actual slot, because if you didn’t do well enough and you didn’t go get to go to a SEAL team and yet you still try and apply, chances are you’re not going to get it come senior year when you’re going for the actual slot.
So, you do that. And then your senior year, or very early, you basically do one last physical test, which is the standard SEAL physical screener, which comprises of a 500-yard swim, max push-ups in 2 minutes, max sit-ups in 2 minutes, and max pull-ups. And then you do a 1.5-mile run afterwards for time.
So, that’s the last check-in-the-box, if you will, before you go into this interview round. And they change it up year to year, but when we did it was six seals. It might’ve been eight. You go in one by one and they just ask you a series of questions.
Now, based on how you did, holistically, after everything like that, once again, depending on how many slots there are, you have picked up. Thankfully, for me, I’m glad I got picked up because it’s always competitive every year. Now, the actual training of itself sucks. And I could go into that as well. The training is rough.
[10:35] Cassandra: Yeah, I only hear how just competitive and challenging the process is. So, that’s a great story and very educational for me to learn as well. And so, now, this month we’re celebrating Veterans Month. And so, in business school, I had the opportunity to meet, not only yourself, but a lot of the other fellow veterans. And there was a lot of misconceptions that, not only myself, but a lot of other classmates, and I’m sure some of the listeners have.
So, what would you say are some of the biggest misconceptions about people who join the… we can keep the scope to U.S. for now, but if there’s any, on the international scope that you have thoughts on as well?
[11:15] Joseph: Yeah, to sound as blunt as possible, I feel one big misconception is that those who decide to join the military are very close-minded, narrow-minded, and not very intelligent people. I mean, just putting it like how it is, I think that is a huge misconception that people have. Or, sometimes, that is troublemakers who decided to join the military. And I know those all sound negative, but I think, when we talk about misconceptions, the first thing that pops in my mind is, what are some of the regular negative things that I do here, or the feelings, I guess? I would say those are probably it.
[11:51] Cassandra: One of the things that I learned was just I had this vision that everyone was running around doing certain things, but just depending on what your actual responsibility is, a lot of your time is actually just spent, not necessarily going off fighting and doing all these things, but you’re just hanging around and doing other type of things. And so, could you share a little bit more about your experience there and maybe some your perspective?
[12:20] Joseph: Yeah. So, to your point, for example, at a SEAL team, there’s not just SEALs. There’s a lot of what we call support personnel, where you have your administrative department where they take care of all, essentially, the paperwork regarding whatever’s required in order to move around, to deploy overseas, down to pay, all that stuff. And then, you have your intelligence department who’s in charge of basically informing the entire SEAL team, hey, what are the current events? What are the insights that are coming from them? How does that relate to where we’re going to deploy to overseas? How does that relate to any ongoing conflicts? Are there any insights that we can draw from this, things that we should be aware about, careful about, looking forward to? There’s that.
And then, there’s the supply department, because we still need equipment. We still need ammunition. We still need all that.
And then, there’s a medical department that takes care of us, day to day, thinking like a clinic, and especially when we’re deployed overseas as well.
And there’s even a communications department that is in charge of all of our communications equipment when you talk about radios. And even down to the training department, because in order for us to deploy overseas, we have to make sure we’re well-trained. So, there’s even a training department.
So, there’s a lot that goes into this. And to your point, it’s not just we’re just going overseas or we’re going to war and fighting. There’s a lot of planning preparation that goes into it. Then, the next portion is we get together as a, what we call platoon. So, think of it as a team. So, there’s around 18 SEALs. And we get together, and we train together in the core SEAL requirements. So, when you talk about, okay, scuba diving, land warfare, being out in the desert, knowing how to clear buildings within a city, knowing how to drive all the different vehicles that we will when we’re overseas. So, there’s a whole slew of… even skydiving. There’s a whole slew of different training goals that we have to achieve prior to deploying.
And then, finally, there’s a little bit of time where there’s more specialized training, depending where we’re going. So, in the case, if you go to Asia, you have specialized training. In my last deployment, we’re training to go to Iraq. So, there’s a four or five-month portion where you’re training for that. And then, you finally deploy overseas and you align with whatever mission that you’re given.
And so, to your point, there’s a whole lot of preparation that goes along with it, that also includes not only just SEALs, but a lot of support as well.
[14:39] Cassandra: Definitely. And can you talk a little bit more about how long you’re doing it for and where you were deployed, some of the different locations?
[14:48] Joseph: I was in the Navy for nine years — so, from 2009 to 2018. And I was a SEAL for seven of those years — so, 2011 to 2018. During that time, I deployed to the Philippines, Guam, and Iraq. Philippines was a seven-and-a-half-month deployment. Guam was a short one. It was four and a half months. And Iraq was about six and a half months.
I think, across the board, throughout my entire Naval career, one thing that I did learn is the importance of communication, both up and down. Yes, I think, and it boils back to empathy, how do I communicate something in a way where the recipient is going to not only understand but also be, especially if it’s a request or asking for permission, being willing to say yes?
So, maybe, in some ways, being diplomatic, maybe that’s a nice way to put it. But at the end of the day, I think it’s just really learning how to talk to people, because you have people from all different walks of life. And I’m not just talking about U.S. personnel. I’m talking about international as well. When we’re in the Philippines, we’re working directly with the Filipino forces. Iraq, same thing, we’re working directly with the Iraqi security forces. So, I think a lot of it boils to empathy and just having that broad scope, that broadened mind where you’re keeping culture in the back of your mind and just being very understanding, okay, hey, we all grew up differently, but we have a mission to do. How do we all get to yes?
So, I think that’s probably the biggest learning I got from all of this. Or, if anything as well, throughout my SEAL career, just calm breeds calm. If you start panicking, especially as the leader, everyone’s going to start panicking. So, even if you don’t feel comfortable or feel the best about a certain situation, just pretend to be calm. Because, that way everybody else will help stay calm as well. And it’s very infectious, in the good way. If you’re calm, everyone else will stay calm as well. So, that’s probably another big lesson I learned.
[16:43] Cassandra: Yeah, that’s so true. To go back to the empathy point, that reminds me of one of the things that you’re working on is the children’s book. And I know empathy is a potential theme, from what I’m hearing. Could you talk about the goal of the children’s book?
[17:01] Joseph: Yeah. The goal of the book is to teach empathy. Little bit about the book is this. Yeah, actually, one of our classmates called out the title, because the title is called “Empa and Thee.” So, if you combine the two characters names, it’s Empathy. It’s a story about what seems like a classic bully versus bullied character tale. But the twist that I put into it is that the first half of the book tells the story from the bullied character’s perspective. And I use animals, like cute animals. I always think that’s a nice touch for a children’s book. And I make sure it rhymes.
And then, the second half of the book actually retells a story, but this time it’s the perspective from the bully. And so, I just thought it’s very important, because I think sometimes we live in a world that seems too polar, black and white, zero and one, right, wrong, that I think sometimes we forget that there’s a gray zone in the middle. And that’s what this book tries to help, at least teach, that, hey, there’s no clear… it’s not like one person’s a good person, the other person’s a bad person. No, there’s more to it than what it seems. So, empathy is the theme of the book.
[18:09] Cassandra: What’s the title, Joe?
[18:11] Joseph: “Empa and Thee – A Tale of Understanding and Kindness.”
[18:14] Cassandra: Great. Can’t wait to read it.
[18:16] Joseph: Thanks for the plugin there.
[18:20] Cassandra: I’m going to back up a little bit. I’d love to hear a little bit more about your journey. And so, what inspired you to go to business school? And specifically, why did you choose Haas?
[18:30] Joseph: Yeah. Okay. So, what inspired me to go to business school? I’m going to be real honest here. A lot of military folks, when they get out of the military, have no idea what they want to do. And I was one of them. I had no idea what I wanted to do. However, thankfully, because of a lot of those ahead of me who got out, were great mentors in this sense where a lot of them do go to business school. So, it’s not uncommon to see a lot of military folks go to business school, for two reasons. One, we talked about misconceptions. I think, someone coming straight out of the military and trying to find a civilian job is quite difficult. Even coming out of business school, to be honest, it is difficult.
However, I think a lot of that comes from not understanding the job role that the person has done, that the service member has done, because a lot of times I think a lot of these skills are transferable. But once again, it comes to ignorance, misconceptions, and misunderstanding. So, I think business school, in and of itself, is a great way to… and I hate using the word, “pivot.” I’m not going to use that word. It’s a great way to shift into setting yourself up to get into the civilian sector.
So, that’s the reason why I picked it. I thought it would be a good launchpad for me to be able to have another school under my belt that has clout and shows like, “Okay, hey, this person has a unique life background and can also got into one of the tougher institutions in nation for business. And so, okay, we’ll take a chance at them.” And I think a lot of vets share that same sentiment — not knowing what to do, knowing that business school is a great way to shift careers into something in the civilian sector, and, also frankly, to have a whole lot of fun, because business school is a lot of fun.
[20:11] Cassandra: And so, to any prospective students listening out there, what would you say? I guess, could you share some of your top highlights from business school and now looking back now that you’ve gone through it, any words of wisdom there?
[20:26] Joseph: Yeah, top highlights. Oh, so many. If I could just narrow it down, it’s this. As funny as it sounds, the suffering that we went through together with academics, the traveling that we did together, and honestly, all the networking, just the different events, the parties, I think business school. If I could redo it, I would just say this, just do the bare minimum for academics, because yes, you are going to learn there, but it won’t be to the depth that you’re going to need because everything will be on the job training.
I think what’s more important is, instead of taking that depth and trying to dive into academics, use that time to get to know your classmates, to try new things, expand your reach, do things that you wouldn’t have done normally, because I think it’s also a safe time to take risks. We had classmates who came from consulting who tried startup. We have classmates who came from finance who tried, you name it. They’ll go to just completely different industries and just try it out, because I think it was a safe time to try it.
And I don’t know about your experiences, but I’m sure maybe it was something similar. You’re like, “Hey, I’m just going to take these two years and try new things. And if I like something, great. And if not, then at least I gave it a try during this period where I do have wiggle room. And now I have a clear idea of what I do want to do.”
[21:44] Cassandra: Yeah, I personally know, because I was in your class, a lot of the awesome things that you did, but for the listeners out there, could you share some of the… because you talk about risks and just some of the occurrences. You were doing so many things, could never keep up with you. What were some of the risks that you did during business school to try out that were new for you?
[22:05] Joseph: Yeah. So, we can talk about extracurriculars first. So, I volunteered with the UC Berkeley men’s water polo team. Shoutout to Kirk and Jeff and the team out there. Love you, guys. I had a great time doing it. I mean, you remember this cast. I was there for at least 20 hours a week. So, it was a pseudo part time job, but I love doing it. And on top of that, I was on travel with the team too over the weekends. So, in some sense, it was a job. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I thought to myself, “Okay, if I don’t do this now, I’ll never get a chance to do this again,” especially in student status and just being able to really just mesh and be a part of the team.
So, there’s that. On the other side, two things I knew is I did not want to do consulting and I did not want to do banking. So, I didn’t go to any of those functions. However, what I did find myself trying was startups. So, I had a startup idea that took many different shapes and sizes. Ultimately, where we landed on, it was supposed to be an app that was supposed to help first-time soon-to-be dads navigate the pregnancy.
Now, honestly, since then, yes, the project is still alive, but it’s moving very slowly. So, if that’s any indicator, that was also one of the things I thoroughly enjoyed, took the risk, took the chance, learned a ton from it. And even with my role here at Amazon and my role prior to this, I was at a virtual reality music concert startup.
There were so many lessons I learned from going through that unknown and trying something new, where I just learned a ton. I know that certainly helped translate to what I’m doing today, in many different ways.
[23:41] Cassandra: So, you touched a little bit how you worked at a VR company, and then I know now you’re at Amazon. What were some of the things that you took with you from both your prior experiences in the Navy as well as business schools that you take with you now in your current job, as well as just the overall transition, what was that like?
[24:01] Joseph: Yeah, I know some veterans have a hard time transitioning. I actually did not have as hard of a time, aside from trying to find a job. I think that was the hardest part. But as far as meshing with people, not too much of a problem. But maybe, that boils back to empathy. I don’t know. I’m not saying I’m some expert in it by any means or a pro. But maybe it’s because it was something that I always took with me, just try and see the world from the eyes of the other person that you’re trying to communicate with or people you’re trying to communicate with.
I would say the common theme that I took with me from military to now is, obviously, communication. That was one. And always trying to improve, always learning better, because us as humans are very complicated. And I think that was the second lesson that I learned as well, is that the job in of itself is usually quite simple in comparison to people. People are the hardest. Human relations are the hardest thing to work with, to navigate around and deal with. And I think that is something across the board that I’ve seen consistent. In the military, with my last role, with the current role, is that, in anything and everything, humans are the most complicated. And hence, that’s why communication is so important, having empathy is so important.
And also, just being able to mesh with people. When I look back, I know there’s certainly people who are quite ambitious, but sometimes that ambition can be selfish in some ways. And I think what I’ve learned is those that thrive the best in the long run, in the long run, not maybe in the short term, but in the long run, are those were the selfless individuals who really put themselves out there for the team.
So, I think those are common themes that just stuck with me. And so far it’s been working. Hopefully, they don’t change, because maybe I have an existential crisis if those turn out to not be true anymore. Man, who am I? What am I?
[25:49] Cassandra: I can confirm it’s still working, Joe.
[25:51] Joseph: Whew!
[25:52] Cassandra: You mentioned, Joe, the difficulties in finding jobs. So, I think that’s something that myself and a lot of listeners can relate to, especially coming when we’re doing these pivots into any type of career. Do you have any advice for anyone listening who is currently trying to pivot into a new industry and ways to really make your experiences, because to your point, the communication, empathy, all of that stuff is amazing, extremely relevant, but it might not be as obvious to certain recruiters, right?
[26:26] Joseph: Right.
[26:26] Cassandra: And so, how do you, and what is your advice for making it relevant for example… you’re at Amazon now. What’s your advice there?
[26:34] Joseph: First, use ChatGPT to help you with your resume. Something that I found helpful, and this is more tactical, copy that, whatever that JD looks like, and paste it into ChatGPT. Then, paste your resume in there, bullet by bullet, and just be like, “Hey, how do I make it sound relevant to what the JD is asking for?” So, that’s more tactical advice. Some people may not that, but hey, whatever, I think leveraging technology is a good idea in simplest form.
I think being your genuine self and being able to show that on the resume is certainly helpful. And I’ll give you an example from mine. I actually got this idea from one of our classmates. But there’s a hobbies and fun facts section. And this is your opportunity to showcase a little bit of humor and personality. So, on my resume, I actually have due written was part of the only dual, comedy magic show at Haas. I like to perform magic. I’m a breakfast burrito connoisseur. What else did I write in there? Dad joke extraordinaire, but I’m not a dad. So, those are ways to…
And take it for what it’s worth. Hey, if you like to do that, do it. If not, but that’s actually what helped me get my job at Amazon. Because what happened is this. And this ties into another point. Any job you want, even if you’re not qualified for it, just apply for it. Because this Amazon job, on paper, I was not qualified for it. So, if there’s any role you’re interested in, just do it, because you never know what’s actually on the hiring manager’s mind and what they’re looking for.
So, in this case, it turns out that my boss now, she loved my resume because she saw that last portion and she thought it was hilarious. And she was like, “Okay, this guy’s got a personality. I like him. Let’s at least talk with him and see what it’s about.” Fast forward, after so many interviews, when I got the job, when I onboarded onto the team, and this is why I say just apply for any job because you never know what they’re looking for, is this, what I found out were two things. A lot of times, those JDs are antiquated, as in the people who are looking to hire are so busy, they don’t have the time to scrub through it and change things. That’s why they just tend to just leave it as is. “Oh, you need six-plus years of experience, blah, blah, blah.” Nine times out of ten, at least from what I’ve seen at Amazon and talking to my bosses, they’re just so busy, they just say, “Sure, just post it. And we’ll figure out later through the interviews who’s the right fit.”
When I got hired, they actually told me that, “In Joe’s case, he fit the perfect mold because we were looking for three things. Someone who had zero Amazon experience, because what we were coming to realize is, we are hiring too much internally and we started to think that we’re just falling into this group think mentality. So, we wanted somebody out of the Amazon circle. We want somebody who had no experience in media, ads, let alone sales, because once again, we started thinking that we’re still falling into this circle of just group thinking. We wanted outside perspective. And it tied into the third thing where we wanted somebody who had unique life experience and background, because we think that that’s of great value, not only to the team as a human being, as a teammate who could share different life experiences, but once again, just that out-of-box thinking of maybe this person has a thought, has something else that they can bring that we’re not thinking about right now.”
I didn’t know this at the time, but that’s what got me hired. So, that’s why I say, use ChatGPT to your advantage and apply for anything and everything. And just try and stay true to your own genuine voice, where, at least, you could showcase some personality. So, take it for what it’s worth. That would just be my two cents on it.
[30:13] Cassandra: Good advice. And that’s great to hear that Amazon was actually specifically even looking for people to think out of the box, because I still remember coming out of college. It still seems like there are a lot of companies today that are a little bit more rigid in how they’re thinking, but it is great to hear that company, especially at the Amazon level, do think about hiring people who think out of the box and not so rigid.
And so, now, let’s pivot back to some of the fun hobbies that you do. What made you interested in water polo? Because that seems to what have led you to your Navy SEAL experience that led you to other things. So, what led you actually in the first place back to water polo?
[30:54] Joseph: I swam a little bit when I was eight years old for a public club team. So, that was my introduction to the water. I remember, every so often we would play water polo, very rarely. But back then, I was so small, didn’t know what to do. I actually hated it.
Fast-forward to high school, it was actually my friend, one of my buddies who I swam with, he was actually the one who convinced me, saying, “Hey man, this is so much fun. You want to give it a try.” Not that I was traumatized, but I still reflected back on my time earlier when I was eight years old and sure how much I disliked it. But he’s a very convincing guy. So, I said, “Okay, sure. Why not? Let’s go for it.”
And actually, what got me to stick with it was this, because I remember first year was so bad. It was hard. And our team, our first soft team, at least, lost almost every single game. And I think this is where the competitiveness inside me came out where I said, “Okay, we got to start winning.” So, in order to do that same thing, I was thinking I have to get better.
And I think it was because it was so challenging and I was so bad at it and our team was so bad at it, that’s what motivated me to stick through it. And it started to turn from something that was a challenge to something that I really, really, really, really enjoyed and still follow to this day. And in fact, I still keep in touch with all the different coaches that I’ve played for and have worked with, almost all at least.
[32:19] Cassandra: Love that. And to go even further back, when I asked you about your origin story, you mentioned, so it starts with your parents’ origin story. And so, is there anything that you’d like to share that comes to mind on some of the life lessons that you’ve learned from them?
[32:37] Joseph: Yeah. Action-wise, my father’s not the type to really complain much. So, that’s why that’s something I certainly admire. He’s just one of those guys who just works and he doesn’t really complain. So, I certainly try to be like that, because I think that’s a very strong quality he has.
Something he’s told me, though, which I do agree with and I add more and more now, more so back then, was in my mid-late 20s, he once told me, “Hey, look, listen, it’s important, yes, you should plan ahead, but don’t plan too far ahead, because you never know what life’s going to throw at you and how much life is going to change. So, try and enjoy the moment. Be present. Yes, plan for the future, but don’t plan too far ahead, because things can change in an instant.”
And he didn’t mean that to be doom and gloom. He meant that to say forget things for bad things, it’s just unexpected things are going to happen. So, if you focus so much in the future, you’re just not going to enjoy the now. So, that’s something that I’ve taken on board as well.
[33:34] Cassandra: That’s so true. And so, now, knowing that, so you recently started at Amazon, and taking your father’s advice, though, how far in the future have you planned for, if at all? And what’s in store for the future, career or non-career-related?
[33:51] Joseph: I’ve already planned a year ahead. To be honest, my thought was, hey, I enjoy the team. I love the team and the leadership. I think they’re solid. I think they’re great. I think there’s a lot of upside potential to be in this role. And so, I’m going to ride it. I’m going to ride the wave and see where it takes me, but for sure, at least the next year, I’m going to be on this team, unless something changes. But that’s the plan. And beyond that, haven’t really planned too much. On a personal level, yeah, same thing. Just enjoy while I have it here. If there’s an opportunity to move to New York, I already told them, yes, let’s do it. And so, that’s just where I’m at right now. So, nothing planned too far ahead.
[34:28] Cassandra: Is there any specific goals that you want to achieve in your life? Not necessarily a plan, but something where you say, and it could be career, non-career, anything, honestly, that you’re like, “By the time I die, I want to have achieved this.” And it could be something super simple.
[34:47] Joseph: I think it’s just two things, is, have a beautiful family and however many kids that means or doesn’t mean, all good, a beautiful family. And coach water polo. That’s it. Those are the two things.
[35:02] Cassandra: Is there anything else, Joe, that you’d like to share with the audience, whether it’s Veterans Day related or not?
[35:10] Joseph: I think, going back to misconceptions, is hopefully through this conversation, for those who are not friends with many veterans or don’t know many, that you come to find that there were quite normal people. And I say that in the good ways, as in like, “Hey, we’re just you’re normal every day, some fun loving, some more relaxed than others, just just normal people.”
So, especially for this month, something that I always keep in mind is, if I ever find that anybody’s a veteran, I always try and just say something nice to them, because at some point in their past, or during their time while they’re in the military, there is… not to say they’re owed it because we did volunteer for it and we do volunteer for it, but there is a lot of sacrifice that goes along with it to include a whole lot of time spent away from family.
So, that’s what I would probably part with. Just say, if you want to, say something nice to a vet.
[36:01] Cassandra: Great, simple action that everyone listening can definitely take part in. Well, really enjoyed chatting with you, Joe. Looking forward to the next time. And thanks for being on the show.
[36:12] Joseph: Yeah, thanks for having me. And I hope I’ll see you soon. It’s only a matter of time.
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