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Interviewing: Come Bearing Gifts

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
3 min read

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while and Tristan Walker’s latest post on how he got his job at Foursquare inspired me to take the plunge this weekend.  Interviewing is a necessary evil in our society and we all need to go through the process at some point in our lives (unless we’re born entrepreneurs).  There are countless books written about the topic and thousands of self-proclaimed experts who try to prep us so we’re ready to handle any conceivable question.  There are even entire MBA courses devoted to the subject.  Those types of resources have certainly helped hundreds of thousands if not millions of job candidates around the world land the job of their dreams.  The reality is, however, that jobs are more competitive than ever before and the traditional interview is changing, especially in the startup world.  You’re not going to land the perfect job by just having a solid resume anymore, you need to find ways to differentiate yourself.

Throughout my career, I’ve learned, first hand, that the best resumes don’t always win.  The people who win interviews, more often than not, are the ones who run through walls to demonstrate that they’re deeply passionate about the role and the company.  They go the extra mile.  The winners track down colleagues and acquaintances who are connected to the company and hiring managers.  They also send catchy and convincing emails like the one that Tristan sent to Dennis and Naveen.  Most importantly, they bring gifts to the interview and shower the hiring manager with confidence.  What do I mean by that?

Gifts, in an interviewing context, are the things that resumes will never be able to communicate.  They’re the ideas, the relationships, the execution, the intangibles that are impossible to capture on paper.  There are a variety gifts that a candidate can bring along to an interview and here are some of them based on my experience.

  • Be a power user: Over the weekend, I was enjoying a cold beer with “Mike Karnj” Founder and CEO of Skillshare, and he explained that he would rather hire one of his teachers or community members over a random candidate. “You know they’re already passionate about the product and engaged with the community which is a huge advantage, he told me.”
  • Come with prospects: If you’re in Business Development or Sales and interviewing for a role, you should prepare a high level sales plan, develop a target customer list, and be prepared to make introductions to high quality prospects. In the last four months, I’ve seen several startups hire VPs of Business Development who brought customers in the door during the interview process. That’s how competitive it is our there. In fact, when I was going through the Lerer Ventures interview loop, I connected the partners with several entrepreneurs who weren’t on the firm’s radar.
  • Share fresh ideas: When prepping for an interview a candidate should spend at least twelve hours studying the company, the market and the product. Seriously. It takes that much time and more. At the conclusion of this deep dive, you should have a solid understanding of what the company does well, where they need to improve, how they’re vulnerable and a sense of what the short-and long-term strategy should be. You should then pull together a handful of PowerPoint slides which includes an analysis of the product / business and provides actionable recommendations. This will demonstrate to the hiring manager how you think about their business. You’d be shocked how few candidates actually do this.
  • Demo your work: Come prepared to show your demos, code, and / or portfolio of work. Paper and ink can’t and will never be able to bring your past projects to life (unless you’re Steve Jobs), so compile your best work and let it stand on its own.
  • Offer a free trial: Following the interview, ask the hiring manager if you can help him or her with a small project to demonstrate your competencies. For example, when I was interviewing for my role at The Kraft Group, I asked Mr. Kraft and Jonathan if I could analyze an investment to show off my skills. Without much haggling, they agreed. The opportunity that I analyzed and recommended was Quattro Wireless which was acquired by Apple last year.
  • Become fluent: Learn how to speak their language. For example, Zynga works in “Zynga time” and there are hundreds of other examples. I particularly liked this post by Adam Ludwin who touches upon this point.

If you take anything away from this blog post, do everything in your power throughout the interview process to prove that you can do the job better than anyone else starting immediately.  Show you can deliver value even before you leave your first interview. If you’re successful in doing this, the hiring manager will have confidence in you and you’ll make the hiring decision more difficult.  As you can see from above, there are many different gifts (and probably many more) that you can offer to separate yourself from the pack.  The next time you’re gunning for your dream job, bring gifts and you’ll be at an advantage.  Good luck!

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Steve Schlafman Twitter

Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.