I’ll not be a bozo to lie to you & tell that what I had done in my job interview(2 years ago) was totally preplanned. Most of it just happened. However whatever happened was precisely the way I think now, it should be played. It was my first successful pitch to a company to whom I promised I would definitely leave them in 10-15 years time to go setup my own company… 😉 And now two years after acing the interview & getting that job, I will be now vain enough to tell what I think I had done right then…
This was first on campus job interview I was appearing for, and I was competing against the best minds in my class for the job. On paper I never had a chance, not one in a seventy. My grades werent spectacular and I was a Computer Vision Technology student who was sitting for the recruitment drive of a Database company. I was not even on the outliers factually speaking. But the end result was I made it. The reasons why I think I could is what the remaining part of this post consists of. However, that leaves me one simple conviction. It never hurts to dream big.
Play to your strengths
I always am/was a hardcore C/C++ guy. Java never was my cup of tea. It is now but again I cannot do it with the same raw passion I have for C/C++. But I knew that the recruiting company majorly recruited Java guys, C/C++ ones had almost no chance. I even actually started to prepare reading up on Java and started working on it. It was only after struggling for one full day with a new language and after a peptalk with my friend did I realise the truth: trying to play to the company’s questions was never going to help me.
The only best way to survive was to completely leverage my own strengths. All I did during the interview was to be careful to never let the interviewer step out of my core areas of strength. I made it a point to make him interview him in my areas of expertise(C,C++,Data Structures) and never let him move into a field I had no inkling about. That just about saved my day.
Every startup is in a searing hurry to make its inroads into a specific area and learn about it as much as possible and do work on it. Its not uncommon to find that the founders try to work out of their areas of expertise. And hence a startup with technology guys at its helm will lose its mark if it makes its core area of business as commmodity market or finance, when actually its strength is in providing the technology. Now just imagine how long it would take for a pure finance or pure commodity market startup to come and just kill you? Not long.
Its personal; Not business
Why do you think customers love people that take personal care of them? Why do you think a low cost airline like Paramount Airways with its cost almost twice as its nearest competitor Deccan Airways have good occupancy rates? Its simple, the higher cost is made up by the personal attention given to each and every passenger. As in the Pinko Marketing, they say, Markets are Conversations. Markets are about conversations between sellers and buyers. Any startup that can understand this simple concept has already won half the battle. The ability to be able to make meaningful conversations with your customer, understanding their needs and necessities just about concretizes their survival.
Inspite of it being a job interview, I was carrying on a conversation with my interviewer(s), they never were Q&A sessions… learning about `their` own experiences in the company, `my` role in the structure, et al which actually made the process for each of us much easier and of course brownie points for me for looking like an excellent communicator. yay!
Its not about what you can. Its about who you are
When getting funded VCs dont fund the ideas, they fund the founding team. Have a compelling business plan, amazing revenue projections, virtually virgin market, have a lousy team and 10/10 the team will never get funded. No business plan will ever make up for a brilliant, excellent founding team.
There was never a chance of me succeeding if I looked to my potential employers as just another guy with a skillset. If that was the value I was bringing to the table, I was making a rookie mistake, 30 other guys in that same room could boast of better credos than me on the spot. Instead I presented myself as a self motivated team player with no fear of learning new technologies or skillsets. They were not looking for my skillsets; they were looking for me.
No competitors; No money
Every startup guy dreams of capturing a virgin market virtually unexplored till now. They spend all their savings and considerable amount of time just developing this product in stealth, and finally after 9 gruelling months, they get it out and all they know no one’s interested in this product. Where did they go wrong? Though the product had great IP value, it did not solve any issue the target market had. They frankly never had a chance there; there wasnt no market at all. More startups fear only one thing more than the ‘stealing’ of their ‘world-changing idea’; of having to deal with competitors. They rightfully should be too; but nothing more is gratifying than the the jostling rush of competitors into your market because it validates your one single conviction: you are making a product for a market that exists!
I was in for a shocking treat when I learnt that every bigwig in my class was shooting for the company. Before them I definitely didnt stand a chance, but then it validated my one simple conviction(to not to appear for two previous companies’ recruitment drive): it was now a job `worth` fighting for.
Exceed Expectations Consistently
For a startup to survive it is extremely important that it exceed expectations consistently everytime. A startup is no place for mediocrity atleast never in its early formative years [after IPO of course its a different story altogether ;)].
My strategy to the interview was simple. To impress my interviewer, I followed only one directive: Prove consistently that I knew my subjects substantially much more than he expected me to. It was a simple strategy, but it worked wonders.
Evangelise your vision/plan/idea
When asked about to tell about myself, I insisted regularly that my aim was to setup my own company 10-15 years from now which was my long term goal and my short team goal was to learn everything i can from the organization. It was baffling to them atleast to listen from a fresh graduate speaking of his own company when he was actually appearing for their job interview. It was a jolt but it was a vision that helped translate positive feelings towards my candidature.
There is no point in having a startup if you yourself dont belive in your idea. Even though evangelising is a tricky business, if you yourself dont evangelise it better shut shop and go back to momma.
Never Give Up / Keep Adapting
In my fifth round of my interview I was asked a question I barely remembered having done 4 years ago. Though I could not get the answer right, I had refused to give up, I used up all possible strategies I knew I could to arrive at a convincing solution. It was a simple answer, but Im vaguely sure the interviewer did notice the fact that I was sticky as gum when it came to leaving the problem and going to next.
A VC loves a startup that never gives up easily in the face of adverse situations. Also every startup that faces difficulties must change its course of strategy as per the new demands of the situation. Only these mercurial startups survive the onslaught of the market.
There are a hundred other things that I did right there and of course a million mistakes that I was lucky to not to be thrown out for ;). This definitely is not a post in vanity but just some lessons I thought that can draw on the analogy between two high stake, highly tense situations.