Navigating the Hiring Process

Insights from Katie Hughes, Head of Talent @ DFJ

Here at Tradecraft, we spend our time obsessing over traction. How can we deeply understand customer needs and design a solution to satiate them? (UX) How can we digitally distribute our product? (growth) How can we build and maintain the human relationships necessary to grow our business? (sales & bd)

Yesterday, we thought about a different form of traction with the help of Katie Hughes, Head of Talent @ DFJ.

Imagine a job seeker’s set of skills & competencies as a product; how do you manage the complex sales process of getting that product distributed? Or in other words, how do you get hired?

Below are some of the key takeaways from Katie’s talk:

What are you optimizing for?

Before you start interviewing, you need a target list. To prioritize that list, you have to decide what you are optimizing for. Below are five key traits that should figure into your equation:

Brand halo — Stanford & Harvard give you good brand halo; so does working at certain companies like Dropbox, Uber, Square, etc.

Learning — The people you’ll get to work with and learn from, formal and informal training in the environment, exposure to how businesses get built

People network — Often but not always connected with Brand Halo. Will the people that you work with become assets in your professional life?

Equity — Do you have significant (risk-adjusted) potential upside in the company?

Role — Often but not always connected with Learning. What you will be responsible for day-to-day and what notches can you put on your belt specific to your function (i.e. in sales, are you developing your own prospect list, do you get to go after different types of buyers, are you closing deals, etc.)

There is no one right way to stack-rank these factors, but realize that they are often in competition with one another (i.e. you may have to take a less exciting role in order to get into a company with brand halo; your risk-adjusted equity stake in an early-stage company will likely be lower, but your potential for learning may be greater because you have more autonomy).

How to get the interview

Once you identify a set of target companies (based on sources like Crunchbase, AngelList, VC websites, or Mattermark), the next step is to reach out.

Beyond obvious tips like researching connections to the company via LinkedIn, here are some additional tips worth noting:

Be Specific — If you’re applying via an intro, be specific about what job you are interested in. Larger companies like Twitter and Box have dozens of internal recruiters, and you might not necessarily be intro’d to the right one; being specific about what you are qualified / interested in doing helps to avoid getting lost in their system.

Anticipate Needs — Be proactive and anticipate your target company’s needs. For example, if a startup has recently introduced a pricing tier for a SaaS product that is high enough to support an inside sales team, reach out to them before they post a job opening and tell them how you can help sell their product. Companies are looking for self-starters and demonstrating needs-anticipation is a great way to stand out.

Smart Outreach — When you contact people at target companies:

  • Cold email response rates are 2-3x higher than cold LinkedIn messages
  • Keep your emails 3-4 sentences long; max length is ~80 words
  • Use a light-weight CRM like Streak or even a simple Google Doc to track outreach and make sure to follow up

Managing the Interview Process

For many job candidates, the interview process can be frustrating & opaque. Below are some ideas of what might be going on within that HR black box.

Company Stage — Your process will be quite different depending on the size / stage of the company:

  • Early-stage — Things are oftentimes chaotic. Follow-up on your part is crucial.
  • Mid-stage — There is a complex swarm of recruiters + hiring managers working together to fill job recs. The process can slow down during the transitions from one stage in the process to the next.
  • Pre-IPO— In the year before a company goes public, headcount growth slows significantly, so the hiring process may move more slowly than you’d expect.

As an FYI, companies start building HR infrastructure around 50 people, though there is now a trend toward bringing recruiters in-house earlier in the company life-cycle because of new data sources like LinkedIn which make it easier to identify and vet top prospects.

Hiring Team — If you are joining a mid-stage firm, you will likely be interacting with a number of different people from the organization.

This image came from a presentation that Katie liked, and has been repurposed here. Thanks to the original anonymous creator!

Hiring Flow — In a mid-stage firm, you will have multiple steps in your hiring process, which might look something like:

Throughout this flow, you should get business cards and send thank you notes to everyone that you meet. Also, don’t be afraid to connect with someone you meet during the hiring process for coffee; creating internal advocates is an important part of the process.

Getting to the Endgame

As you’re moving through the process and toward an offer, here are a few things to keep in mind to improve your chances of success:

References — Assuming that you are more than 1-2 years out of college, your ideal reference mix is 2 previous managers and 1 previous peers.

A pro tip for references: prep them!

As you kick off a job search, confirm that your former colleague / boss is willing to be a reference. Then when a recruiter asks for references, be sure to circle back and tell them what company you are interviewing with and the top 3-4 points about why you think you’d be a good fit to work there.

When a recruiter calls, the reference will be able to better advocate for you, and the recruiter will know that you are engaged / interested in the interview process.

Leverage other offers — The single best thing you can do to move the process toward a conclusion is to have other offers pending; this induces FOMO in your target company and can help your internal advocate / recruiter accelerate the decision-making process in the org.

To put yourself in this position, run your job search process in parallel, not serial.

Be Patient — Candidates often wonder why the process is taking so long. Commonly it is because the recruiter:

  • is still waiting to get feedback from the hiring manager
  • is busy with another open jobs req and hasn’t gotten around to scheduling yet
  • needs to talk to more candidates

This is cold comfort when you’re in the middle of a drawn-out job search process, but it should hopefully give you some comfort that a slow process is not necessarily a knock against you.

Miscellaneous FAQs

Some other interesting tidbits that came up during Q&A:

Q: I hate the question, “What are your salary expectations?” How should I handle this?
A: Often this question is not a negotiation tactic; it’s a qualifying question early in the process to make sure that you (as a candidate) are a qualified lead that roughly fits into the budget allocated for that position.

Q: What are pros and cons of working with external recruiters?
A: Pro — They know about companies you might not know about. Con — They might stay in the middle of the process, preventing you from building a relationship with the people at that company.

Q: I finished a lengthy interview process, didn’t get the job, and then also didn’t get any feedback. Why?
A: Could be because of legal concerns, especially at larger companies. More generally, if you really wanted the job, and I give you reasons why we didn’t hire you, you will probably rebut those reasons, and I will spend a lot of time going back-and-forth with you, which is a time suck.

Q: If I’m not super-excited about a company, should I keep going through the interview process with them?
A: The candidate-centric answer is yes: take processes through to the conclusion. It gives you valuable experience with interviewing and negotiation while the stakes are low. Also, the job search process is self-revealing; you might find that you are more interested in the company the more you learn about it.

Q: The person I’m interviewing with doesn’t seem to know much about my role. What should I do?
A: If you are interviewing with an HR person or CEO instead of a hiring manager, you have to educate them on what a good sales person / growth hacker / UX designer looks like.

Thanks for your time and insights Katie, we really appreciate you sharing them with us.

Reader: If you are an HR practitioner and have additional tips to share with us — or are looking for great traction talent — drop me a line:

Sketch notes by Tradecrafter Molly Inglish