I interview about ten people a week when our company is in hiring mode and two people a week during periods in which we are not hiring (these are people who I have in mind for future hiring periods). I've heard a ton of really great answers to questions I've asked in the past, and I've heard a lot of bombs. S'all good. Everyone on earth makes mistakes, and it's totally cool. I make like 100 mistakes a day. I record them in my mistake-o-meter.
Here is one line I absolutely hate hearing. It is usually stated in a way in which the person thinks he/she is the only one on the planet who has this gift. And it typically follows a question from me such as "Why are you awesome? Why should I hire you? What makes you the best at what you do? What would you describe as your core skillset?"
Answer I HATE hearing from candidates: "Well. I am a really good people person."
What the HELLLLL does that even mean?!?!
You can talk to people? You're a really nice person? People like you? Dude. I expect every single person on earth to be a "people person." It's an expectation of mine. Human beings should be GOOD human beings. If you don't get along well with people, something is seriously messed up with you, and I don't want you working at my company. Period. I get seriously concerned when someone describes themselves as a "really good people person." It's a flag that that person either does not have a discernable skill set, thinks he/she is god's gift to earth, or interviewed for the wrong position at the wrong company. Especially if you personally don't impress me / are rude / arrogant / sloppy / whatever. Massive turnoff. Never, ever, ever say this line. I expect every person I ever hire to be phenomenally great at dealing with people. In particular, in dealing with themselves. The only person who will ever be able to tell you you are good or bad with people are other people. Let them determine for themselves whether or not you are a "good people person."
#4 Prepare your Sunday's Finest: Wear a suit / female equivalent.
I don't know what it is about the jeans / tee-shirt infatuation in startup America. It blows my mind. I simply don't understand it. A significant percentage of people I speak to about startups always seem to comment on the fact that entrepreneurs are "soooo lucky that they can wear jeans." What the hell does that even mean?!?!
Now. I like jeans just as much as the next guy. They are definitely comfortable. If you wear them when falling off a motorcycle, apparently they'll protect your entire shit from somewhat getting torn to pieces. They're fairly difficult to light on fire. And you can wear them days, if not weeks, if not months (cough, cough Mike) in a row without washing them. But, for interviews, call me old fashioned, but I believe you should rock a suit. With a nice bold tie. And a white shirt. Women, same to you but in female words. Show me that you can carry yourself with confidence. Show me that someday I can see you on my executive team, LEADING the company. I don't care if you're interviewing for a position on the business side of startups, or on the technical side. Developers. Wear a suit. Designers. Wear a suit. Business gangsters. Wear a suit. Look good. Make all of the people at work that day look at you and say: "Damn. That gangster looks good. Kid looks like he runs the company. I wish I could look that god damn good."
What a suit / female equivalent shows me:
1. You can take care of yourself and can exist with structure.
2. You feel comfortable with yourself in dressing up just as much as you do dressing down.
3. I can bring you to dinner parties with executives in Boston outside of the entrepreneurship world (most nonprofit events we sponsor are "suit required", most military and political events I've gone to are "suits required"). Jeans are great in the office on a day-to-day. So are sweatpants. So are no pants. Errrrrr. Maybe scratch that last one.
4. I can see you leading as an executive in my company and commanding the respect of the United States.
I have been wearing white vnecks for the past 3+ years of my life. Every single day. And many days I rock jeans, dress pants, shorts, cargos, a snuggie, whathaveyou. But, when I go to weddings, I wear a nice white collared shirt, tie, and suit. When I go to funerals, I do the same thing. When I go to graduations, I do the same thing. When I go to nonprofit events in Boston, I do the same thing. And if I ever interview at another company again in my entire life, I will do the same thing. To me, interviews are in the same class as all of these events in terms of proper attire. One phenomenal interview can determine the next two, three, five, ten years of your life. Rock a suit. Look good. Feel confident. And put yourself in the best position to getting that job you want.
#3. Research the startup you are interviewing DAYS IN ADVANCE. Study up!
Here's the real reason why. Remember in college when your professor handed back that graded test of yours and you looked at it, and it said "98%," and you're friend looked over your shoulder, and said "Man! 98%! Holy shit. You killed it. How'd you do that?!?! Wowwww." And you replied with... "Thanks man! I really studied hard for this one. Thanks!"
Remember that?!?! Yep. Same goes for interviews.
If you have an interview on a Friday, don't just go onto the website on a Thursday to research what the company does. If you do, you'll likely hit that 80% - 93% range, but to NAIL IT, to beat that puppy UP, you need to put the time in. Read up on the company a few days in advance and let that info sink in, day after day. Allow your mind to get to the next level of thinking: where you go beyond simply repeating back information and actually begin to have your own thoughts on the subject.
When I ask someone a question like "Have you been on our website? What do you think about it?" and they respond with something that either repeats something directly from the website or simply just scratches the surface, I immediately dig deeper. My goal is to see if the person has pieced anything together in their head that I find interesting. Something I haven't thought about, or better yet, something I think about daily and still don't have an answer to. I'm looking to see if that person can think on their toes and has their own opinions.
Winners take an extra fifteen minutes a day to study the business they are interviewing at and try to offer their own insights that are memorable. A+ players go for 98%. Perfectionists go for 100%. But no one is perfect.
Spit knowledge in your interview. Don't just scratch the surface. Give some insights you took away from all of the studying you did. Ask questions as to where you see holes and how you think you could improve those holes. Dive in a bit deeper than the stuff you know any average Joe would ask / talk about. Remember that no one is perfect. But 98% is attainable. And if you want the job over the others applying, it's better to be at 98% than 80-93%. Put in the time to research the company you are interviewing at days in advance. And be proud of the work you put in when you get the job.
#2. Find a warm connection you know within the company you'd like to work at.
I love warm showers. I love them way more than cold showers. Cold showers are miserable. They make me uncomfortable.
The next time you're getting ready for an interview. Remember. Warm is always better than cold.
I will never, ever, ever apply to a job in which I am going in cold. And by "cold" I mean not knowing someone within the company. Going into interviews "cold" is putting yourself at a significant disadvantage. It's uncomfortable. And it doesn't allow you to appear larger than life.
Think about this for a minute. I am responsible for all hiring at my startup. We're at 21 employees right now and will be at 25 within two months. If we hit our goals, we'll be at over 50 employees by end of year. I have 25+ positions to fill in my company over the next twelve months (and if we KILL it, even more). I lean heavily on my fellow employees to source candidates. So much so that over 100% of our hires have come DIRECTLY from our own employees. Think about that. 100+%. Not 50%. Not 75%. Not 90%. Not 95%. Not 98%. Not 99%. 100%. 100-freakin-percent. Not one hire we have hired has come in through a job listing alone. Not a single one. And if I were a betting man, I would bet that not a single one will come in through anything but a warm intro for the next 25 employees we hire.
Many startups in Boston are very, very similar. Why? Because they are constantly recruiting top talent and constantly in "team building" mode. If I find someone I want to hire, and if now is not the right time for whatever reason, my view is that at some point down the road, I will get that person. We will make it happen.
SO. Mr. / Mrs. "send my resume to anyone and everyone at startup companies in Boston / NYC / the Valley," do you think you're spending your time the right way? I think you can tell what my viewpoint is. But, instead of just pointing out what I think, here's what you should do tactically to find a mutual connection:
1. Go onto Linkedin and sync your Likedin account with your Gmail account. Do this once every month. Many, many people forget to do this often. And it's really important. Why? Because it will show you the ouple hundred new connections you have as a result of past inbound emails from new people in Gmail.
2. Now, go to the Team page of the business you are interviewing at. Take each existing team members' name and type them into the Linkedin search box in the top right. One at a time. And go to the "How You're Connected to X" box in the right column. Recognize any names?
3. Call up the people you know recognize, and get some info on that employee. Then, ask for an introduction to that person if they rock. Tell him/her that you are going to be applying (and hopefully interviewing) at their company and you'd love to talk to him/her about what their company is like on the inside.
If a fellow employee can vouch for you, or if a mutual connection of yours who is an awesome person can vouch for you, make sure they get that chance to do so. Do you have a friend who knows the most recent hire at the company who is right out of school? Do you have a friend who knows the CEO well? Whoever.
The reason this shit is important?!?! You will not only get inside information that will help you learn about whether or not the position and company are good fits for you, but I'm sure that person would happily voice how good you really are to the company looking to hire you (if you impress them).
Next time you apply to that job, remember: WARM SHOWERS. It will make you feel way more comfortable and it will help you close the deal.
I've decided to write a series of 10 posts dedicated to Getting Hired at a Startup. I believe I have experience on both sides of the table (having been hired by a startup, and now responsible for hiring). I also believe through the hundreds of stories around jobs, interviews, etc I have heard from young and old people alike, that I am qualified to talk on this. But I'm also qualified to ride a motorcycle, and most people I know would never want me driving one. So read with caution.
Here we go:
#1. Decide where you want to work and then go get it
"For the day I die, I'ma touch the sky." - Kanye
When I was in college I heard a story that really impressed me. I was a freshman at UMass Amherst and sitting in a Finance Society meeting. Finance society was a group on campus for anyone interested in Finance. I certainly learned a ton while there, but what I think kept me coming back was the air of professionalism / get it done mentality that eminated from the leaders of the club. These kids were real energetic, productive, motivated kids. Their attitude: "We can outwork anyone. Period. Give me a challenge and I'll punch it in the face. Nothing can stop me."
The story goes like this. A group of Finance students wanted to work on Wall Street. But no Wall Street firms came and interviewed students at UMass Amherst. UMass simply wasn't on their radar at the time. They went to the Ivy's. They went to Amherst College (right down the road). But they didn't step foot within our business school.
90% of students didn't see this as a problem. 9% saw this as a problem. And 1% did something about it.
That 1% of kids did something that really impressed me. They bought crisp suits. They printed off 1,000 copies each of their resumes on nice egg-white card-stock. And they hopped in a car and drove their asses down to Wall Street.
They'd proceed to go on handing out their resumes to thousands of people. In the pouring rain. Any man or woman in a suit walking into Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, CitiGroup, UBS, got a resume. At least one, if not two or three. The students told every person walking by that if they hired them it would be the greatest decision they ever made in their entire lives. They wouldn't disappoint them. They wouldn't regret it. They'd shine to the occasion. They'd be the best employee ever hired by the firm. They'd prove their worth.
99.99% of the people the students spoke to turned them down. But 0.01% didn't. And that upcoming summer a couple of UMass Amherst students worked on the floors of Wall Street, through pure, undeniable determination. And a winning attitude. 0.01% looked at these students and saw one of the most unbelievable stunts to get a job they had seen in a long, long time. And for those few students, it paid off.
At the end of the day, you have to be willing to stand in the rain to get what you want. You have to be willing to suffer, with a smile on your face. It is the #1 most prevailing reason I can attribute to who gets jobs over those who do not. Determination. Not giving up. Deciding what you want and going for it. And conveying this to every single person around you.
Everything else is tactical. And everything tactical can be taught. Even determination can be taught. But all tactics don't matter unless that prevailing determination is evident first.
You want that job at that company you just applied for? Go stand in the rain outside of their office until they give you the interview. Hold a sign that says "I want this job. I'll prove it to you." Don't leave for lunch when you get hungry. Don't leave to go home to sleep when you get tired. Stay there. Sleep there. Then greet them the next morning when they come into work. Don't leave until the cops are called to take you away. And when they do, do it with a smile on your face. And the next day, go back.
My name is Ryan Durkin. I write so that I will never forget where I came from and what I stand for. I hope that this will motivate young people to realize their potential and become more productive than they ever imagined. That would make me truly happy.