The Other End of Sunset

Monday, February 01, 2010

Meetings and interviews, with me, anyway

As a friend,
as an old enemy

Hiya Otherenders....

Mark Suster over at Both Sides of the Table inspired me to dig this post out of the dredges of my files. I started writing it a long time ago, when I was still at Google, so please forgive the fact that it's reasonably Google specific.

Also, forgive me for changing the OtherEndofSunset ground rules -- I have begun to talk about work on my blog, against my "never talk about work" rule. However, this is, I think, the first post that is entirely about work; this feels like the right time to point out that I'm apparently changing my rules slightly. I will still overwhelmingly post about personal, humorous things, but I'll add some work topics as well. Today is a totally work post. Hope it's fun anyway!

She moves
in mysterious ways.

I've spoken at loads of conferences for vendors and startups. I consistently get questions on "how do I reach you to pitch you" or "what should I say to sell to you," etc., or questions like "I want a job at Google, what do I do?"

I have interviewed a lot of job candidates in my career, and had lots of meetings with vendors of one sort or another. Here are my set of principles, first, for meetings, and second, for job interviews. I am trying to be specific, and thus, am in danger of sounding arrogant or snotty. That's not my point, I just want to highlight what works for me.

Note: I'm not a Googler anymore. The world has changed since I was. I still interview, and still take meetings with vendors, but things have changed at the Big G in the sky. These guidelines may be completely irrelevant. Your mileage may vary. Past success is no guarantee of future returns. Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate. And so forth!

Another industrial ugly morning
The factory belches filth into the sky
-- The Police

In no particular order, if you are meeting with me…

1) Show up on time. I know, this sounds pretty basic, but you'd be amazed how many folks get it wrong. I allocated time for you, and I'll try to give you all that time and focus on you while I'm doing so. Please do the same for me. At the least, if you're going to be late, let me know -- everyone who meets with me has (at least) my admin's contact info. Don't be afraid to use it!

2) Do some research. My background is easy to find. Look it up. You might want to use an analogy that is close to some company I used to work for. And, in a few cases, that's turned out to be embarrassing for the vendor. One of my personal favorites was a vendor who explained to me how Google's IPO worked. And got it wrong. I didn't buy from them, by the way.

3) Don't pretend to know me if you don't. I know, this is somewhat contrary to principle #2. Just because you know my background doesn't mean you know me. Don't pretend that we've met before, or had coffee, or dinner, or whatever. I have a good memory. If I don't remember, I apologize, but if I do remember, and you pretend to know me, I'm going to start checking my email while you talk.

4) Be professional. Really, I don't want to fist bump with you. I don't care how much you drank last night. I don't care that you know the best club in Vegas. I promise. You're here to sell me something. Just do it. Which leads to…

5) Make your pitch. I'm not expecting that we're meeting to discuss world peace. I'm not going to buy from you just because you mention Best Friends' Animal Society. Just ask me for what you want.

6) … And be clear in what you want. The mark of Douglas Doom: When I say "ok, what's the ask here". That means I don't know what you want. If I think you're smart, I'll listen to the answer, and try to work with you to clarify. If I don't think so, I'm probably out of the meeting in a few minutes to take an urgent phone call. It's ok to ask for money, for me to buy something, for me to invest in you. I might say "no", but I can't say anything if you don't ask.

7) Don't show up in the meeting, and start out with "What are your goals for ?" I have goals -- probably -- but that's not what you're here for. You're here to sell me something. Just tell me what it is, how it works, why it's better. If you engage me, I'll talk about my goals, hopes, dreams, and concerns. But starting there is a pretty bad way to engage me.

I don't wanna work,
I want to bang on the drum all day.
--Todd Rundgren

OK, let's assume you aren't a vendor, but rather are a job applicant. (I've tried to update this after leaving Google, so the verb tenses and conjugations are probably inconsistent. Again, sorry)

1) Do some research on the company. If we are public, go read our last 10k. Do a news search on us, find out what's up at the moment. Try to figure out what's our core business and core technology. If I ask you what Google does for a living, I want you to answer something like "world's best search and advertising company". I probably want you to know that we don't sell placement in organic search, and that we sell ads for most of our revenue. Which forces me to point out that I want you to know what organic search results are. Knowing this stuff at a high level -- not in detail -- shows me that you cared about this interview, which means a lot to me.

2) Listen to the questions carefully. You might even want to repeat back to me your understanding of the questions. I'm partly listening for whether you are listening, because, to me, one of the most important signals of being smart is that you pay attention to others around you. I may like/respect/hire you even if you don't really listen to me, or don't show me you're listening, but it's a higher bar.

3) Don't misrepresent yourself, your skills, your abilities, or your resume. Really. As SL says, regularly ,"Eventually, everyone knows everything". If you start there, and don't try to hide stuff, you're better off with me. I already think pretty well of you, or else I wouldn't be talking to you for an hour or so; there's no reason to materially misrepresent yourself.

4) Don't malign your previous employer. No matter how much you hated your boss, coworkers, clients, office space, whatever, don't complain about them. I might know your boss -- and I may feel differently about your boss than you do! I might have been a consultant to your employer. Who knows, I might like their logo, whatever. The momentary joy of insulting them is just not worth the risk. Now, I prefer people who are honest and balanced. There's probably a reason you're interviewing with me; tell me that. But try to avoid badmouthing others. It's a small world, trust me.

5) Ask me questions. Definitely ask me during the obligatory "do you have questions for me" period. But probably even more than that! I like candidates that ask me questions throughout. I've made some good hires over my life. One of the best hires ever was a engineering manager at Google, who engaged me in a conversation about one of my questions (after answering the question). He asked me if his answer was good, and, if not, what would have been a better one. He seemed genuinely interested in my thought process and in getting better. That person is going to go in search of ways to do better and better over time. A great sign. I hired him as quickly as I could.

6) Don't assume I've read your resume carefully. I have almost certainly read it, but I might have rushed through it, and I might have missed the most important parts. I don't mean to be disrespectful, really I don't, but I might not have read as carefully as I should. Have a 1 minute version of your background. Hit only the high points, the most important ones (and see #4, above!!) Rehearse the version. But don't deliver it like an automaton. Most of us aren't world class actors, we like to engage in conversations not listen to recorded speeches. So, if you have a script memorized, it'll be hard to get your audience engaged. Give yourself a bit of room to be yourself. I might interrupt you to ask a question. Answer it, and then get back on track of your story. But make sure I get the high points, what you want me to know about you.

7) And, last… Get some rest the night before. I know, this seems silly, but it matters. It's hard to think and focus when you're exhausted. If you're going to be terribly jet lagged, try to stock up on sleep, or caffeine, or Diet Coke. But, whenever you can, be rested when I talk to you. You'll do better overall.

I'm sure there are dozens of other things I believe, but that's my short list. I'm sure I'll add things over time, and look forward to talking to you about the list!

Sign, Sign,
everywhere a sign
--Five Man Electrical Band

See you all soon, in a taxi rushing past, with me on my way to try to sell something.