As Seen & Written on Mashable: 4 Steps to Landing an Interview with a Startup

25 04 2013

Link here:

We’ve covered how to search for your next start-up gig using some traditional and not-so-traditional methods. But once you have a potential position in mind, the battle has only just begun. Now, you have to figure out how to score an interview.

In the start-up arena, there’s much more room to be creative than the typical “submit and cross your fingers” method. Actually, standing out is basically required in order to land an interview.

1. Get Referred

“No surprise, the fastest way to an interview is when someone I know makes a referral or recommendation,” says Raj Aggarwal, founder and CEO of Localytics, a quickly growing mobile analytics startup. Aggarwal meets with hundreds of candidates in the process of filling an open position, but those who were referred by current employees or trusted contacts get first dibs.

And that’s pretty true across the board: Getting recommended is by far the easiest way to connect with a startup. So, if you have contacts who can refer you to a job or introduce you to a hiring manager, by all means, spend your time and energy there—it will have the greatest payoff. If not, take a look on LinkedIn and connect with a start-up recruiter, who can likely refer you to a few entrepreneurs.

2. Network Your Way In

I’ve talked about the importance of networking when you’re looking for an open position to apply to, but these founders say that it can also be the direct route to an interview. “Seek out members of the team, befriend them, and then ask them for an intro to the hiring manager,” says Aggarwal. “It’s fairly simple if you have the initiative.”

Where to find these people? Growing start-ups will often present at conferences or speak on panels in order to gain exposure and promote their product, so, once you have a few startups in mind, seek out these events and attend. Try and grab some time with the speaker after his or her talk, or follow up with an email the next morning with something interesting related to the topic.

3. Provide Value

A very unique way to get the time and attention of start-up leaders is to offer a suggestion for the company or present an interesting perspective of the business that they hadn’t thought of before. As Aaron White, CTO and co-founder of Boundless (a booming startup for free online textbooks) says, “Coffee is cheap. Ask to meet with me over coffee, and then provide value to me by offering some sort of valuable feedback on my product. I’ll gladly give you my time.”

Aggarwal agreed, stating, “If someone reaches out to me with a new idea about trying X or Y on my site or product because she’s seen it work well in the past, she’ll get my attention immediately—because I’ll know she’s an idea person.” In other words—coffee may be cheap, but ideas are not.

Once you’ve grabbed the founder or hiring manager’s time, if you have competencies or skills that he or she is currently seeking, you might find yourself in an interview without even realizing it. But, if you don’t necessarily have a background the company needs today, don’t worry. Your new contact will surely remember you because you did something different than the rest—and hopefully give you a call once a need arises with your name on it.

4. Apply, But With Pizzazz

If you haven’t found a way to network your way to the interview, you may still have to apply via the traditional route. But don’t just send your resume to and hope for the best—to get noticed, you’ll definitely need to go above and beyond. Our experts suggested two approaches:

Have an online presence: “If I can’t find you online, you don’t exist,” White says. “I’ll search the web for you. I’ll find you on LinkedIn. I’ll find you on Facebook. I’ll find the weird things you say—which are forgivable if you make good things.” In other words, not only do you need a solid online presence, but it needs to be a strategic presence that shows off your skills and represents how you can make a difference in a startup. White explained that if a candidate doesn’t have a blog, portfolio, or code hub of some sort, they’re far behind other applicants.

Don’t focus on the resume: We’re taught that resumes are important, and that’s still true. But for a startup, a resume is only a small piece of the puzzle. Aggarwal says he’d prefer to see an application that includes information “about an interesting problem or thought leadership around my industry.” Along the same lines, White says he’d “rather read a really well thought-out cover letter that outlines why you want to work for us and what you’re passionate about, versus just a bulleted list of stuff, like a resume.”

In addition to a resume, create a killer online blog or portfolio and a passionate cover letter, and send it all directly to the leadership team or hiring manager. And if you haven’t heard back after a week, follow up. Being passionate and excited about the business (and refusing to take “no” for an answer) will only help your case.


3 Year @Compete Anniversary. Aligning with a Company I’m Proud of.

28 03 2013

I spend a lot of my days talking to people about their careers, their desires for their future professional life, what makes them tick, what motivates them to spend all day using their brain power to strategize and execute for a singular company. Is it money? Is it the ability to advance? What about major mental challenge? Once figuring out these factors, I quickly pivot into why someone might want to work at a company like Compete. I think about our @Compete story constantly (yes, even in my dreams): what do we have that is special? What keeps people here? Why do people leave? When people do leave, do they actually find something better?

Compete is different. We aren’t the “coolade” drinking place where you have to fit a specific mold to be part of the team. We’re a set of collaborative, thought-provoking individuals with unique characteristics, who all tend to bring something different to the table, all while working towards a set of goals. We solve crazy problems that have literally never been approached before. We’re always building new product. We’re always on to the next big thing. Really, as a 10 year old company, the innovation still flows. It’s quite fantastic.

We’re at unique revenue level for Boston. Most Boston based companies are start-up, or massive monopolies, but very few are in-betweeners, like us, trying to make it to that UBER success through our people, innovation, and laser-focused progress. Looking around, I see a fantastic combination of entrepreneurship, innovation and secure revenue.

Our leadership works tirelessly to figure out what pivots we need to elevate us to the next level, and I can see their minds churning when they’re walking through the halls, but they still smile and polite hello.

At the end of every single day, I leave with the same feeling: Compete is special, challenges and all. I’m so proud of what our company does, and how we’re changing. We still have a ride ahead of us. I’ve been here for 3 years, and not one day has been boring, dull, or left me with a feeling that I haven’t been able to add value. I’m genuinely proud to be a Competer.

Today, for the first time in a long time, instead of starting out by asking everyone else why Compete is a good choice for them, I asked myself.

When it’s Time to Break Up With a Job Opportunity (written for The Daily Muse)

2 11 2012

We’ve all been there. You interview for your dream job—two, maybe three times. You nail it each round, you send A+ thank-you emails—and then you wait. A week (or two) goes by in between each interview. No word. You follow up. You don’t hear back. You’re left wondering what’s going on, and what, when, and how to communicate.

Now what?

I myself have fallen into the trap of an unhealthy interview process (yes, even as a recruiting professional), and have since made it my mission to pinpoint to others when it might be time to consider breaking up with a job opportunity.

There can be a multitude of reasons why a company isn’t pulling the trigger on an offer or communicating with you: There’s not funding for the role, the job isn’t actually open, the hiring managers don’t know what they want, or possibly, they’re just “not that into you” and don’t know how to break the news. You may never know what the reasons are, but if you start to see any of the below signs, you may want to think about moving on.

Signs That Should Make You Go “Hmmmm”

They Constantly Re-schedule Your Interviews

If you have one, maybe two interviews rescheduled (through an entire interview process), that’s not necessarily uncommon. But if the company is constantly emailing you to reschedule because of this or that, it’s a big red flag. It can signal that filling the role isn’t very important to the company, or it can show a lack of respect for your time—either way, not good.

They Don’t Know When They’ll Make a Decision

If no one is telling you when the company is looking to hire for the position, this is questionable behavior. If the role is important and they’re really looking to fill it soon, someone will tell you about the timeline for the hiring decision and the start date during the interview process. If they don’t (or if they dodge the question when you ask), there’s definitely a lack of urgency on the company’s part.

You Get Hurried Up to Wait

You get asked to interview immediately, then interview again within the next few days, all the while being treated like a queen. Then suddenly—you find yourself at a standstill. What are you supposed to think? It could mean that the company is interviewing other candidates for the role, you didn’t meet all the requirements, or they’re searching for someone “better,” none of which is a good sign.

They Don’t Call When They Say They Will

If the recruiter or hiring manager doesn’t contact you when he or she’s supposed to, that shows a lack of respect for your time or candidacy. If they really want you, they will be coming after you, calling you right on time, or emailing you when they’re running late.

You Don’t Hear Back Within a Week

Has it been over a week and all you hear is radio silence? On its own, it may not be the worst thing in the world—let’s face it, people get busy. But if you’ve followed up and don’t hear anything at all, and especially if that’s combined with any of these other signs, it’s time to move on.


Tips for Taking Control

Now that I’ve mentioned some key warning signs, I want to give you some tips to keep control of the decision-making process as best you can on your end. You can’t control the hiring manager, but you can control your own actions—and these steps will make sure you have your interviewee bases covered.

Set Expectations Yourself

Before you finish that first phone call or interview, ask when the company is looking to make a decision. This way, the hiring manager is required to answer with a time frame (plus, he or she knows you’re serious about the opportunity). Ask this question after each interview, with each key decision-maker, and make sure you know where everyone stands at all times.

Follow Up

It’s perfectly acceptable to follow up and inquire about the status of your candidacy. After each interview, send a nice thank-you email (no hand written notes—snail mail takes too long!) within 24 hours. Then, if you haven’t heard anything when you expected to (or within a week), pick up the phone or fire off an email. People are overloaded, and things do fall through the cracks. Don’t be afraid to reach out. It doesn’t hurt, and heck, it may even help!

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

My most important advice for this process: Interview with multiple companies at the same time—yes, even if you have one particular “dream job” in mind. Why? When you have one offer, it’s much easier to get another offer from other companies.

The way to navigate this is to keep the company posted about your other potential offers. I suggest, as soon as you get word from another company looking to move forward with an offer, that you kindly let all other companies you’re interviewing with know. But also let them know that you’re extremely interested in an opportunity with them—and ask if they are looking to make a decision in the near future.

Let them respond. If they want you, they’ll respond very quickly. Keeping companies posted will not only keep you fresh in their mind, but it will also allow them to get the ball moving if they do in fact want to make you an offer.

The waiting period can be extremely frustrating, but all we can do as job seekers is control our own actions. My best advice to anyone feeling neglected throughout the interview process is to keep interviewing, cover your bases, and know when to break up with a job opportunity—so you can find one that actually deserves you.

Timing is the #1 Reason Companies Lose Candidates They Want.

22 07 2012

I surveyed over 100 Boston-based hiring managers in startups and mid-sized organizations (CEO’s, VP’s, Recruiting Directors, Recruiters – basically the people with the highest stake in hiring); I asked them the main reasons they’re losing the candidates they want in today’s market.

I’d like to share the results of the survey, which did not come as a surprise, to say the least.  I asked why hiring managers lost candidates because of the following areas:

1. Timing
2. The ever-so-lovely “Counter Offer”
3. Higher Salary Offered
4. Better Equity/Options
5. Better Environment (bulked in is better product/service for candidate)
6. Better Location

Below are the results.  Anyone surprised?

Why do we lose candidates?

First of all, it’s hard enough to hire the people that are a perfect match, but if you throw timing into the mix, you have an uphill battle with almost every single hiring situation.  I’ve personally seen candidates go off the market in 2 days.  Talk about a competitive market!

I have a simple process that has been helpful to startups in the area, and I’ll be teaching at - and after that, I’ll summarize a simple process that will be helpful.  It is vital to think about timing during every step of the recruiting process.  The market has already turned back to a candidate market, so don’t wait, or you’ll be behind the game.

You’re a What?! Decoding Today’s Job Titles (Written for The Daily Muse)

17 07 2012



You just told your parents you’ve accepted a new position as a Community Manager, and they immediately respond with: “You’re a what?!” Or, better yet, “When did you apply for a job at the community center down the street?”  

Job titles in the digital age don’t always look or sound a lot like traditional positions. Community Managers are innovative marketers who bring a brand’s community together—and managing a community, online or off, is a critical piece of many fast-growing companies. But, well, if you haven’t looked for a job in a few years, you might be wondering how exactly that works.

If you’re job searching and mildly baffled by the options you’ve been presented with, or just wondering what exactly a Product Manager does—we’ve got your guide:

Social Media Marketer

With the booming world of social media, most organizations now have a specific person (or two or three) dedicated to creating buzz online. These Social Media Marketers manage their company’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest—but that doesn’t just mean playing online all day! They’re also creating great content, executing contests and marketing campaigns, engaging with their users, and staying closely tuned-in to emerging trends in social media.

Sound like the job for you? You can jump-start your career as a Social Media Marketer while you’re already in the marketing or communications function by asking to help out with specific social media sites. If you’re in college, a degree in marketing or communications, plus a solid internship that gives you hands-on social media experience, is a great path.

Also known as: Buzz Builder, Social Media Evangelist, Online Brand Ambassador


Community Manager

In decades past, companies had a storefront, a place for their customers to congregate. Now, most interactions with a brand happen online—but creating that sense of community among your customers or users is still just as important.

Enter the Community Manager, who focuses on creating and growing these communities, getting people involved with the company’s brand or cause, and building new relationships with consumers and stakeholders. Some people consider Community Managers the same as Social Media professionals, but this isn’t entirely true. Yes, a Community Manager can communicate through social media, but her responsibilities don’t end there—she’s also blogging and creating communications materials to reach her audience, planning and attending in-person events, and seeking out strategic partnerships.

That said, it’s not uncommon for Community Managers to start their careers in social media (or other online communications functions) before expanding into full-scale community management.

Also known as: Online Community Strategist

Product Manager

With new apps, software, and technologies being developed at lightning speed, a Product Manager (or several) is a must-have for companies. At a high level, this is the person focused on launching a particular product or service into the market and overseeing its growth—everything from defining features and what order they’ll be built in to analyzing the product’s effect on the market to figuring out how to translate it into sales. In most companies, Product Managers also manage a team of people.

Generally, Product Managers come up through engineering or marketing functions, when they become interested in how a product gets from conception to launching in the market.

Also known as: Product Marketing Manager, Product Owner

User Experience (UX) Professional

In today’s market, customers have plenty of options—so if your product or service isn’t user-friendly, they’ll turn elsewhere. And that means it’s increasingly important for companies to create products that customers love to use.

This is the specialty of someone in User Experience, or “UX.” A UX professional essentially creates the “experience” for the customer, ensuring that a product or service is easy to use and interact with, behaves intuitively, flows well, and has the right look and feel.

User experience is so vital these days that there are many specialized UX degree programs and certifications. If you didn’t go to school for UX, you can come up the ranks through front-end development or graphic design, which are both pieces of shaping the product “experience.”

Also known as: UX Designer, Information Architect, User Researcher, Interaction Designer

Data Analytics Professional

Data is priceless: Numbers, metrics, stats, and data are how companies quantify their success and plot their next moves.

And to do so, companies enlist the help of data analytics professionals, who gather up all the company’s data—from online campaigns, traffic numbers, user interactions, customer trends, and more—as well as external numbers, then analyze it and turn it into useful metrics and reports that will help the company make decisions.

People who end up in this field come from all types of careers—engineering, market research, search marketing, statistics, mathematics, economics, and more. Because data analytics is all about using data to find solutions, people with an innate curiosity to problem solve will naturally fit well in the data analytics field.

Also known as: Web Analytics Analyst, Data Mining Analyst, Data Guru


Scrum Master

As technology continues to change, so does the methodology surrounding software development. In recent years, there has been a mass movement from slow, deliberate engineering to rapid and agile development that gets products and services out the door quickly. One of the most popular new development methodologies is “Scrum.” And a Scrum Master is exactly what it sounds like: someone who manages and facilitates Scrum within a development group, keeping the team on track and working within the Scrum framework.

Want your job title to be Master? People who end up in this role normally come from the engineering or project management ranks, and should also be great at keeping people and projects on track.

Also known as: No other titles apply. Master does it. 


There are plenty of additional types of jobs in the ever-changing world of technology and new industries, but these are a few of the main new staples in today’s world. And if you’re planning on going in to any of these fields (or already are there)—you might want to shoot this link over to the ’rents for a quick read, before you have that “You’re a what?!” conversation.


Hiring Software Engineers in Today’s Market? Vital Data For You.

20 06 2012

I’ve recently had some interesting conversations with senior level leadership about how they go about hiring software engineers (and also the reasons they come up with for not being able to hire those engineers).  I had an inkling that many leaders approach “selling” their opportunity to engineering candidates somewhat backwards –  selling the glitz and glam, the vision, the CEO, the parties, or the allure of Options/Equity, while they should be discussing completely different factors.  So, being my typical inquisitive self, I set off on my own to piece together some information from the ‘horses’ mouth perse, and asked my network why they (as software engineers) actually chose their job.  We all know hiring a great software engineer is one of the hardest things to do these days, so being able to tell a story that is actually compelling to a developer could be game-changing for any company. 

I surveyed ~50 startup and mid-sized company developers at well-known Boston based organizations, and found interesting data that should be useful to any of you trying to hire your next engineer(s).  The survey was scaled, inquiring about the importance of the following categories when choosing a career:  challenging problems to solve, cool products/services to work on, good team atmosphere/collaboration, solid engineering leadership, career growth potential, salary, equity/options, location, “must be a startup”, overall leadership of company (outside engineering), fun environment (happy hours, beer), and flexible working hours.

 I’ll make this simple and list the data in sequence from what’s not important at all to what is most important (this was an average taken from all responses).

The following areas were widely ranked at “Not Important at All” or “Not Very Important”: 
Leadership of the company (outside of engineering)
“Must be a startup”
Fun environment (beer, parties, etc)

The following areas were widely ranked as “Average”:
Career growth potential

The following areas were widely ranked as “Important” and “Most Important”:
Solid engineering leadership (most commented on the desire for leaders to have strong technical aptitude)
Good team atmosphere/collaboration
Flexible hours/work from home days (many said this was mandatory)
Cool product/service to build
Challenging problems to solve + cool tech stack

Feel free to interpret the data as you wish.  But if you REALLY want someone to choose your company over multiple others, I’d suggest focusing on the cool problems they’ll be solving, showcasing the strengths of your engineering leadership (and what they can learn from them), what challenging problems they’ll be solving, hopefully having some flexibility, and the cool product/service they’ll be building.   It seems all the others pieces are a bonus for most, but the bright and shiny objects don’t seem to be at the top of the list for an engineer’s decision making process.  I, myself, was shocked when folks whom I consider pure startup engineers didn’t rank “must be a startup” as important.  I learn something new every day!

 I (and all the engineers surveyed) just took the time to put together a way to outline an opportunity that could actually mean something to an engineer you’re hoping to hire (possibly at this very minute).  So, you’re welcome. 

*Please note this was all based on an average, not the opinion of every individual surveyed.     

I Spy: How to Scope Out a Company Before the Interview (as seen on The Daily Muse)

21 05 2012

It’s the day before your interview, and your mind starts racing. What is the company going to be like? What types of people will you meet? Will you fit in?

Stay calm, dear interviewee. To ease your pre-interview jitters—and to give yourself a leg up—throw on your Angela Lansbury hat and do some spying on the company. The more information you have ahead of time, the better you can plot your strategy, go in feeling confident, and rock your interview. Believe me, most interviewees don’t do much of this research—but you can, and it’ll give you an extra edge.

Step 1: Ask the Right Questions

Before your interview, get a list of the people you’re meeting with from the company. Hopefully, they’ll give you this information without asking, but if not, don’t be shy—it’s completely normal to request it.

On top of that, if you’ve built a good relationship with the recruiter or the person scheduling your interview, use that relationship to your advantage. Ask her if there’s anything you should know about each of your interviewers, or “what is (insert interviewer’s name here) looking for in the perfect candidate?” She may not share all, but it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Step 2: Spy—er, Do Your Research

Now that you have some details, it’s research time. The week before the interview, spend a few hours learning everything you can about the company and its people—from as many sources as you can.

Company Website (and Blog)

This is a no-brainer, but the trick is to look beyond the “About” section. Troll the entire website (especially the blog) to educate yourself on a company’s branding as a whole. The way a company presents itself online—to its employees, customers, and the public—is often a telltale sign about the overall culture you’ll experience as soon as you walk in the front door.

So, use this to your advantage as you prepare for the interview. For example, if the content is all business and no play, expect that you may have a serious interview where the people you meet with have checklists to evaluate you. In this case, rise to the challenge and be as professional as possible. On the other hand, if the site has a modern and fun tone, the probability of your interview being less rigid and more personal is high.


This is an obvious one, too—but believe me, not everyone uses it to its full potential! Read through the profiles of all the people you’re interviewing with, and see if you have anything in common. Do you share any professional groups or past experience? Do these individuals have recommendations that speak to their characteristics as a manager or colleague? Also see whether you have shared connections. Is there anyone who can recommend you for the position, or even just give you insight into your interviewers? (If so, call them—stat.)


This site is like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow for any interviewee: It provides telling reviews about companies from current and past employees. Consider it a, well, clear glass door that lets you check out the inner workings of a workplace (including the information they don’t really want you to see!).

That said, I always advise people to take the information here as a guide, not fact. As we all know, negative news spreads faster than positive. But reading enough reviews can reveal some common themes, which can help you come up with insightful questions to ask (and get a sense for whether the answers you get are legit).


If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth—a million? Log onto YouTube and check out any videos the company has put out, either official ones, or videos made by employees. Watch and learn how people act and what kind of lingo they use. Then, when you go into the interview, be yourself, but use what you’ve seen in the video as a guide to how you carry yourself.

Social Media

Go ahead, follow them on Twitter. Actually, take it a step further and talk to them on Twitter. Start a conversation—something simple like: “@companynamehere excited to talk to you today! Looking forward to learning more about your company.” (Though, don’t worry if you don’t get a response, especially if the company is overly active on Twitter.) Then, definitely read the content the company has pushed out to get any additional relevant information or news you may not already have.

Also log on to the company’s Facebook page and dig around the comments, the “who’s talking about this” section, tags, pictures, and content to get a read on the company tone. Many of the larger brands, like Hyundai and Microsoft, have dedicated employee or Career Pages, in addition to their main page—so do a quick search for this sort of page to make sure you’re not missing out.


Yes, I said Google. Google both the company and your interviewers and review all of the latest news—not just the news from last week or on Page 1. Often, candidates just look at the information a company is pushing out via the website and social media, but fail to look more in depth at what others are saying. By doing so, you’ll get the larger picture about the company (along with any negative press). And when you really spend the time doing a Google search, you may be surprised at what you find out.


Being a cultural fit is the #1 reason companies hire someone. So, at the end of the day, the more information you have about your interviewers and the company, the more you can speak their language and fit in during your interview. Do your spying, increase your confidence, and then go rock your interview!


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