I met with young professional several months ago who was looking for advice on the Atlanta startup scene as well as to share that she was in the market. She, like many others I’ve met, start out describing how they liked new challenges, feel a part of the company, work with a team, etc. If you read that and were wondering, “so what?”, you’re not alone.
What many people describe in their “next job search” are table stakes today. Why wouldn’t you want new challenges? Why wouldn’t you want to feel a part of the company? There needs to be specificity.
I liken this to the oft-written online dating profile. If you’ve been on any online dating site or app, many profiles read the exact same – “I’m nice, funny, love to travel…” You don’t say?.. Everyone says the same.
In fact, here are a few excerpts of actual submissions to a job requisition when asked, “Who are you?”

  • “strengths lie in developing customer relationships with my energetic personality”
  • “I am a well organized, enthusiastic, coachable professional”
  • “I have a proven track record of success”

Much like seeking a job opportunity or other partner, seekers should be more specific. What really drives the seeker? What type of challenges? What challenges do you notlike? What have you actually accomplished?

These are better examples:

  • “sales leader with a diverse background in Inside Sales, B2B Sales, Digital Advertising Sales, and Sales Management”
  • “After spending the past three years working as the Marketing Manager for an eCommerce SEM agency”
  • “They don’t always pan out, but constantly innovating and reinventing everyday activities in our lives has certainly made my life more interesting”

These share more details and are much more specific. They illustrate traits that the prior examples just list.

Think about the specifics.
As my journey through consulting, post-grad education, entrepreneurship, and startup leadership continues, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for my co-op experiences at a big corp more than 12 years ago.
Especially now as I’m recruiting, oftentimes, less experienced candidates than in my past, I’m realizing the value of spending more time at a big corporation.
At Georgia Tech, I was a co-op for four semesters at a major 3rd-party logistics provider in Atlanta. I remember falling asleep at my desk more than a few times that first semester. It wasn’t the most exciting as I was the spreadsheet analyst at first. Over the semesters, my projects became more complex, and I earned my stripes with my own special projects.
It was some of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and laid the foundation for things to come. Here are some lessons now looking back at what I’ve learned.
  • Politics – Implementing changes at a big company is like steering a massive ship – it takes time, and a lot of effort. There’s a lot of personalities involved. There will be proponents and champions as well as blockers and gatekeepers. Knowing how to speak with executives while tactfully navigating the cluster of people is imperative. Politics and risks are huge facts of life that cannot be glossed over.
  • Structure – Big companies come with big structures. As much as you may jump and grimace at “structure”, structure gives us balance and the ability to prioritize. As a co-op, I learned the value of structure through workflows, time management, and simply, how to build an analysis.
  • Professionalism – I’m hiring in a startup. Yeah, you can wear a t-shirt, if you want. We’ll throw a stress ball around and crack jokes, but you can bet we will be professional with each other and with everyone we encounter externally. Too often candidates think professionalism is just “thank you” and “yes, sir”. Professionalism is about communication – both explicit and implicit. It can be silent communication through your body language. Professionalism is how you receive feedback, speak on the phone, and write an email. Too often candidates rely on what they think is good to him/ herself but fail to recognize what’s good for others.
  • Connections – Humans are social creatures, so relationships are vital to us. In the business world, relationships enable sales, recruiting, etc. I didn’t do a great job of connecting and forming good relationships with the full-timers. I did, however, form very good relationships with my fellow co-ops that later led to all sorts of opportunities. This is where I strive to better everyday in daily interfaces.
  • Reality – This sounds simple, but it’s not. Reading the best practices in books and learning about case studies is one thing, but reality sets in in the real world that toss much of what we hope and dream for out the window. That’s not to say things can’t be better, but there are details that make businesses so much more complex. Striving for better is always the goal, but failing to realize the holistic picture of yesterday, today, and tomorrow’s business can lead to disaster.
In 1914, Ernest Shackleton wrote a job posting for his ship’s crew members for his voyage to Antarctica. It read something like this –
(photo cred: http://seamlessbrand.blogspot.com/2011/01/hiring-like-shackleton.html)
Ernest received over 5,000 applicants, and eventually hired 26 men (+1 stowaway) for his voyage to the icy continent.
The incredible part of this story isn’t how many applicants would wantingly apply. Instead, it’s that the ship never made it to Antarctica. 10 months after setting out, the waters around the ship turned to ice, trapping the ship and its crew. The crew split to seek help, and extraordinarily, all 27 crew members survived and made it back two years after they launched! That’s incredible.
I bring this up as the follow-up to my last post — Interviewing 101 – No Hypotheticals and Go Deeper. Having read the Shackleton story (“Endurance”) in Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, I’m integrating a similar idea in my hiring process.
Sales is hard. It takes 6-8 touches to reach a prospect these days. That number has potential to grow given the number of sales tools in the market. Read: there’s a lot of noise to get a prospect’s attention.
Also, working at a startup is hard. You wear many hats, and you can work long into the night and on the weekends. Success isn’t guaranteed. It’s not as glamorous as others make it out to be.
Couple sales at a startup, and the intensity and difficulty amplify. As a sales rep, you’re challenged with prospects’ uneasiness of viability of the company, low brand recognition, a nascent product (or you have a substitutable product in a highly competitive space), etc. You don’t have the benefit of marketing and sales ops teams tinkering to make success even more successful. Maybe the startup hasn’t even hit product-market fit… It’s tough.
In terms of sales, working at an early startup can be akin to traversing to Antarctica in 1914. To that point, I want to dig into what drives candidates. Why do them want to be a sales rep at a startup? I want to know if the candidate is financially motivated. I want to know if the candidate is purpose motivated. I want to know if the candidate is competition motivated. Does the candidate hope to use this experience to build her own startup one day? I want to know the candidate can not only can handle the pressure and the difficulty, but I want to know she wantsto. Does she embrace the challenge?
The key to all this, too, isn’t just about hiring and finding someone who will be a sales rock star for the company. The co-key, if you will, is being a company where the candidate will be successful. A candidate is investing his time and energy with us. The candidate could be forgoing higher pay and simple life. Burning out or leaving after 3 months is not good for any of us. The candidate will be an integral part of the team. When I hire, it’s not just about company. It’s about the candidate. It’s about how we, as a company can help the candidate achieve his WHY and his PURPOSE. It’s about how I can enable him to be successful.
Lesson #20 from last week’s post 24 Lessons I Learned from Meeting 100 Strangers Over 100 Days had a subtle “opportunity” moving forward, not necessarily a lesson – the role of perspectives.
I debated making this the 25th lesson. I believe there are other ways to slice outcomes from journeys such as #100Strangers100Days by looking at what the journey enables moving forward. Like reading a book and sharing take-aways, one can gain perspective from a journey.  
Perspectives enable…
  • Understanding and empathy. Instead of asking how could someone vote for XYZ candidate, and asking in a negative, shocking way, consider the same question with intrigue. Ask to find out why – did you miss some valid point? Instead of jumping to a judgement, ask to learn why.
  • Expertise.You can gain a deeper perspective in your field. You can read a host of books that support your research. You can go on a journey to meet 10 Strangers to help you cope with social anxiety. You can deepen your knowledge, and become an expert.
  • Adaptability.Adaptability, athleticism, fungibility… all words one of my former bosses said all the time to me when recruiting. Now, those words are some of my favorite. I’ve taken them to heart. I hear often from others who struggle to translate prior experience to some amazing job opening. Well, many lessons and examples from your experience, the interactions, the best practices, you can port to new companies. Perspectives allow you to adapt and apply a possibly foreign concept in a new, novel way.  
  • Some kick-ass conversations. This one was for fun, but so true. Perspectives can bring about change. Perspectives can bring fun and laughter. Perspectives can lessen burdens.

Perspectives can shape the way you think about otherwise static thinking. Perspectives can open opportunities from “completely” different worlds. The beauty, too, is that perspectives just take curiosity and patience.

(Deep, right? I know. I can hit that note every once in a while.)
I received a question recently from an entrepreneur about working part-time/ contract work as her startup continues to build momentum. She wasn’t sure how to talk about her company with potential head hunters. Head hunters advised her that employers could view her startup as a “conflict of interest”.
In the employers’ minds, the entrepreneur would be “taking advantage” of the company. The entrepreneur (read: “worker”) would be taking a higher rate, and leaving soon to work on her company.
My response is that there’s no “advantage” here. Instead, there’s mutually beneficial relationship. 
Some quick thoughts on this:
  • The employer is hiring a part-time/ contractor for flexibility and expertise. The employer does not have to pay for benefits, taxes (in most cases), and any severance packages. Meanwhile, the employer gets a skilled resource to address an exact business problem. It’s an beneficial arrangement for both parties.
  • A clear scope of work and deliverables ensures the entrepreneur is meeting expectations. It’s up to both parties if those expectations are exceeded (or not).
  • The entrepreneur should be upfront in her passions and what she wants to do. There is not a finite period of work at this point. It’s up to both parties to find a mutually beneficial arrangement. Again, the employer is looking for part-time/ contractor work anyways.
  • Big companies do, in fact, value entrepreneurial mindsets. These days, companies of all sizes realize the potential of more agile competitors. As such, companies are looking for capable, creative, and ambitious resources. These resources enable agility for companies.
  • Cultural fit is key. The right companies will realize fit with the entrepreneur, and vice versa. Some companies will leverage the entrepreneurial skills to bring a new product to market. Others may want the worker to augment a team and execute. In any case, it’s down to people on both sides to enable growth on both sides.

Entrepreneurial ventures can enable some of the best experience anyone can ever have. Through entrepreneurship, founders can learn all facets of the business with a real-world MBA. They’ll learn through the ups and downs of why corporations operate today. (Corporations exist and create structure to scale early success, after all.) For the entrepreneur, be confident and honest with what you’ve done. Be honest with what you want to achieve. Realize the right opportunity will enable both parties to benefit.