In a corporate environment, the focus of a job interview has long been demonstrating your match to the skills and experience outlined in the job description. In my experience with startups, that is still necessary, but not sufficient. Today’s business world has become totally customer driven, so customer-centric and people abilities really make the difference between winners and losers.
I found these required attributes outlined well in the classic book, “Customer Service the Sandler Way,” by customer care expert Anne MacKeigan. This book is focused on strategic customer support jobs in every company, but I believe the hiring rules apply equally well to every job in a startup since customer focus has to be pervasive from the beginning in modern new companies.
As a job candidate for any highly desirable position in a startup, here are ten key attributes that will give you the winning edge over other candidates:
- Bias toward action. Today’s business landscape is constantly changing, dealing with many unknowns, and the amount of data available on the Internet is overwhelming. Customers and competitors won’t wait, so every new business is looking for people who can make a decision and get things done. Talk about results, not job assignments.
- Sense of personal responsibility. When problems arise in a startup, blame is a useless tool. People who can demonstrate that they take responsibility for required actions, with no excuses, are extremely valuable in any position. Show that you have done in previous jobs more than you were paid to do, without anyone watching.
- An ability to step outside the process. Stepping outside the process means you need to recognize the need for a process, but also be willing to go beyond it when the process fails or is incomplete. Winning job candidates show that they have used good judgment to handle process boundary exceptions, based on a high level of customer sensitivity.
- Success in building business relationships. If you don’t show your people skills during the interview, you probably won’t show them later with customers and peers. Startups know that hiring employees who build good relationships will result in higher internal morale, less burnout, and higher customer retention. Highlight your good relationships.
- Tendency to question and qualify. In a startup, it’s everyone’s job to more fully understand requirements, competition, as well as customer satisfaction. In an interview, be sure to show your curiosity, ability to ask good questions, practice active listening, and the analytical ability to ferret out the relevant meaning behind the data.
- Persistence with tough challenges. Smart interviewers will be checking for candidates that are not resistant to hard questions, and are quick to dig deeper into situations they are not familiar with. No candidate wants to be viewed as an inflexible management challenge, or a potential turnoff to customers. Highlight your record of persistence.
- Ability to quickly “read” a situation. People-smart candidates, meaning good communicators, socially intelligent, and skilled at reading body language or emotion, are invaluable on small teams as well as customer-centric activities. Things are rarely black and white. Don’t let your ego bias your reading of interviewer expectations.
- Low need for approval. Candidates with this attribute are always confident and business-like, friendly but not necessarily best friends. Use examples of achievements that required initiative and determination, without orders from above, to show your ability to handle tough startup situations and customer requests with minimal support.
- Strong empathy for others. This attribute is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to see what they see, and feel what they feel. When you display deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy depletes and their positive energy rises. Show how you have changed a confrontational situation to a positive and relationship-building one.
- Good manners and etiquette always. Good manners are a two-sided positive tool; they not only convey respect to everyone with whom you interact, but they also command respect from those people. Good etiquette contributes to personal presence. Make sure you are really present and engaged with your interviewer, and watch your manners.
Good resumes and LinkedIn profiles may get you an interview, but they won’t get you the job, in a startup or a corporate environment. Entrepreneurs and investors have learned that success in the marketplace today is usually more about the people focus and customer focus of the team than the quality of the product. How many of these attributes can you highlight in your next interview?