Show me you love me: 5 ways to show a hiring manager your commitment and passion

Happy almost Valentine’s day!

In honor of the excessively commercialized Hallmark holiday we celebrate this week that will fill overpriced restaurants and heart-shaped chocolate boxes to the brim, The Distracted Goldfish brings you tips on how to show a hiring manager that you love them — and want to marry them.

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“Love them? Marry them?!” I hear you saying, “But I hardly know them!”

Ok, so maybe not love exactly. But if you’re hoping for a job offer from me, I need to see your sincere commitment and passion for my company and our vision to change the world. This is a universal truth across start ups. Don’t worry, though, you can skip sending me a box of chalky, heart-shaped candy embossed with romantic phrases.

Commitment is carving time out of your day to have a proper phone interview

Let’s start with the basics, because I’m always surprised how many candidates either don’t pick up their phone or seem startled that I’m calling them.

One Friday afternoon at 5pm, several months ago, I was eager to head into the weekend. I called my last candidate of the day, Melissa, and waited through a few rings. She answered enthusiastically, clearly expecting my call, and then said “I’m actually on my bike about 5 minutes away from home. Can I call you back?” 

I’m sorry, what?

The Distracted Goldfish: “No, unfortunately I have a meeting in 20 minutes” (true story)

Melissa: “Ok, let me see if I can get my headphones to work.”

What she didn’t say — but what I quickly deduced — was “so I can talk to you while I continue to ride my bike.”

Hmm. Phone interview while riding a bike. That’s a new one.

Melissa fussed around with her headphones (unsuccessfully) for a minute while the wind from riding her bike made a loud whooshing sound in my ear. Fortunately, she eventually declared defeat and hopped off her bike to talk to me.

Here’s something to keep in mind before your next interview. Start up recruiters and hiring managers want to work with team members who are genuinely over-the-moon excited about what the company is building and how it’s going to transform the world. Enthusiasm is critical sustenance when it comes to late nights and the myriad of frustrations that plague start up employees on a daily basis, not to mention that start ups simply can’t pay as well as the Googles and Facebooks of the world. But you can’t fake it. Great hiring managers have the noses of drug-detecting Beagles when it comes to sniffing out candidates who care more about the paycheck than the company’s mission. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve seen candidates rejected because they just didn’t seem that interested in what the company was doing.

So, dedicate the time. Answer the phone. Don’t seem surprised when the recruiter calls. And keep in mind that start ups care a lot more than big companies do about your passion for their mission and vision.

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Passion is overlooking inconvenience. Passion is sacrifice.

Like most hiring mangers, I always save time for 2-3 questions from the candidate during a phone conversation. I distinctly remember one that went like this:

The Distracted Goldfish: “Do you have a question or two I can answer?”

George: “So, your office is in Palo Alto?”

The Distracted Goldfish: “Yes, and we’re opening one in San Francisco soon, too.”

George (said very seriously): “Oh good, because I would have had to cut the conversation off right there. I don’t do commutes.”

I’m 100% with you, George. Commuting sucks. I know this because (at the time) I was spending 3.5 hours a day commuting to and from work. I hardly saw my husband. I almost never saw my friends. And I certainly never did anything “fun” on a weeknight.

I understand that this kind of start up schedule isn’t for everyone. It’s completely reasonable to drop out of an interview process if you’re going to have an insane commute. But be careful about how you drop this bomb on your recruiter. For all George knew, we had the most incredibly flexible work from home policy and a second office close to his home. But, he let the cat out of the bag. He just wasn’t that into me, the company, or the role. We weren’t even interesting enough for him to continue the conversation.

5 great ways to show a hiring manager your commitment and passion

Here are a few simple ways to demonstrate how excited you are about the company, role, and team you’re interviewing with.

1. Ask excellent, informed questions

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s nothing that impresses me more than a fantastic question or two. Start by investing a significant chunk of time to research the company you’re interviewing with. Use what you learn to craft nuanced questions about the company and role. And make sure it’s clear from how you phrase your questions that you’ve done research. This shows me that you care enough to dedicate the time.

2. Give specific reasons why you’re interested in the role, company, and team

At some point you’ll probably be asked “Why <this company>?” or “What are you looking for in your next role?” Next time you get one of these questions, tailor your answer very specifically to the individual company you’re talking to. Your answer should imply that the company, team, and role is exactly what you’re looking for! The more precise you can be, the more your passion will come through. Don’t just say that you’re excited about healthcare and so working for a healthcare start up would be great. Say why you’re passionate about healthcare; what impact do you want to make in the healthcare industry?

3. Write a thank you note

After you talk with the hiring manager, send a quick thank you email. I’m always surprised how few candidates take this easy step. Writing a quick note is an opportunity to emphasize your excitement. Reference specifics from the conversation you had with the hiring manager or follow up with an idea helpful to the company. More on thank you notes another time.

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4. Be responsive. Follow up if needed

Rightly or wrongly, I interpret delayed responses to my emails as you just not being that into me. So, stay on top of your inbox and reply in 24 hours or less — preferably less. And if a lot of time passes without you hearing from the hiring manager, be proactive in reaching out to him/her.

5. Go above and beyond

There are plenty of other ways to demonstrate just how interested you are in the company you’re talking to. Here’s an email I once received from a candidate —

“I’m actually in the airport now about to head to the east coast for a wedding this weekend. If you think there is potential for me to move forward in the process, and you think there is also possibility for that to happen before Friday afternoon, I can switch my flight (I have flight insurance- and I am very interested in this role and will do what I can to show that). Otherwise I won’t be back in town until Sunday night.”

Wow.

No, of course I don’t want you to rearrange your travel plans! Please go take your vacation and enjoy yourself. But the fact that you would even suggest this demonstrates an incredible level of passion and commitment. Noted.

How will you demonstrate your excitement and passion in your next start up interview?

Yours,
The Distracted Goldfish

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What hiring managers look for when they ask about your background — and what you should say first

The world’s most common — and seemingly most innocuous — job interview question is the one that asks you to describe your background.

I know, I know. It’s your least favorite question as a candidate.

“Ugh really?” you’re thinking, “Can’t you just look at my resume? I spent hours on it! Asking me to tell you about my background is a total throwaway question. It’s a waste of precious interview time.”

But is it really?

Not in the slightest. If you want to nail your interview, preparing the perfect description of your background will take some serious time and thought. In fact, if you only have time to prepare one thing before an interview, it should be your answer to this question. It sets the stage for the rest of the interview.

As you start to think about your answer to “Walk me through your background,” first assume the hiring manager knows absolutely nothing about you. Never ever start by saying, “Well, you’ve seen my resume, so I’ll keep this brief.”

Second, make sure you hook the hiring manager’s attention right off the bat to make sure he or she is giving you their full attention.

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What does a hiring manager look for when you describe your past experience?

Why do hiring managers ask candidates to describe their backgrounds, anyway?

They might be lazy.

(Why look at a resume when I can ask the candidate?)

They might be insanely busy.

(No time to review this resume!)

They might be distracted.

(What resume?)

Or they might be all of those things.

But there’s actually a lot a hiring manager can learn from your answer to “Can you walk me through your experience?”

Personally, I look for two things.

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Communication style

Excellent communication will be critical for us to work together productively in a fast-paced startup where there isn’t time to spell everything out in detail.

I want to know that you’re a structured communicator — that you organize your thoughts into a framework or logical sequence. This could mean starting with a high level summary to frame the conversation before sharing detail. I shouldn’t wonder where you’re going.

Similarly, please get to the point quickly and share only what’s important. I’m detail oriented but, if you’re joining my team, I don’t want to worry about all the details. So, be succinct without leaving out essential information. It’s a tricky balance!

If you can’t communicate your own background clearly and in a compelling way, that’s a big red flag for me. After all, you lived it.

Skills and areas of expertise

The other checkbox I’m looking to tick off as you describe your background is “fit.” Are your skills and past experience a good match for the role and company?

Take this opportunity to use buzzwords and keywords relevant to both your background and the role; show that you’re a good fit. But don’t be too obvious about it.

When I was interviewing to fill a marketing operations role, for example, I wanted to hear candidates reference specific technologies and tools, metrics, data cleanliness, and process.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that nailing the description of your experience is critical. So where do you start?

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Start with an executive summary

One candidate I spoke with recently started her answer with, “I graduated from Rice University in 2008 with a degree in economics” and I knew immediately that the conversation was doomed.

Don’t start at the beginning. Instead, start with an summary of your background and experience. Tell me the highlights.

What are you an expert in?

What themes tie your background together?

What do you want me take away or learn about you?

Do you have a core philosophy that governs how you work in your role?

Starting with a summary gives me the conclusion first. It’s a huge opportunity because you can significantly influence the hiring manager’s perception of you. And the more you can tailor your answer to the specific role and company, the better.

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Here’s what I mean:

“I have 10 years of experience in marketing, most of which has been building compelling brands for mid-sized tech companies. In the early days of my career, I was in the trenches and created a lot of content and visual brand assets. Now I have a team of people who do those things and I focus mostly on content and brand strategy.”

This is awesome. It tells me your area of expertise, the kind of companies you’ve worked at (which is important for context), and prevents me from doing math.

“My background has been entirely in start ups, anywhere from four employees to 250 employees. I’ve worked in a variety of functional areas from marketing and sales to product and operations. So, I’m an operational generalist and mostly an expert in learning new things and getting things done.”

This also works well — at least as a starting point. Again, it gives me context and a sense for what you’ve done in the past at a high level as well as what you think you’re good at.

“I’m extremely passionate about making things work better. For me, it’s all about people, process, and tools — in that order. Making sure that I have the right people on board and then improving processes creates the first layer of efficiency. And then leveraging automation tools takes that efficiency to the next level. Oh, and I always measure my success quantitatively with metrics.”

What I like about this description is that it tells me a little bit about how you operate — your core philosophy for how you approach work. It doesn’t tell me your core expertise, but that might be OK if you highlight various skills as you dig into the details of your background.

There’s no one right answer for how best to describe your past experience or background to a recruiter or hiring manager. But, start with a summary to provide a framework before you slot in everything else. After all, you can’t build a home without a solid foundation.

Yours,
The Distracted Goldfish

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