Being Interested Makes You Interesting
In my last column I implored interviewers to step down off the corporate stage and act more like people meeting casually in a coffee shop who are pleasantly surprised to find themselves in the same business and carry on in a positive, enthusiastic manner. The nature of this open and disclosing conversation is much more likely to predict the prospect of a fit than a stiff arm in the form of an application handed over at the reception desk in a cold windowless room with two chairs. Just add cigar smoke, a spotlight, and a two-way mirror!
In defense of employers, perhaps candidates shouldn’t make them work so hard to get the information they need to determine capabilities and fitness. I heard a classic description during a recent interview debrief, “It was like he had an anchor on his tongue.” So, why be nervous?
We’re in the formative years of the data center and mission-critical facility growth markets. Every company has a new and unique story to tell, and everyone who works in the market has unique experiences to bring. So endeavor to learn more about each other and not only understand, but embrace the amplitude in each other’s respective and likely complementary experiences.
So the #1 piece of advice to offer prospective candidates truly interested in a career opportunity with an aspiring company in the data center industry is brought to you by Ryan Buhk, CFS Partners’ very own research director. Every day it seems, Ryan comes up with an unassuming but piercing poetic quip. One particular day was better than another when he simply stated, “Being interested makes you interesting.” I couldn’t agree more.
Sales professionals get this intuitively. They know that the more they get their conversation mate to talk with a few carefully placed questions, the more they learn to sight and target the proper entry point for their own organization’s value proposition. The carefully placed questions result from pouring through a pile of research on the target prospect and slimming down to the CliffsNotes. There is no secret recipe to the research. Just be interested in the company and the people you are meeting with.
You don’t need to be a certified Ryan Buhk to obtain this information. A simple run through the first two pages of a Google search and a scant perusal of LinkedIn should suffice for starters. The first stop is navigating the company’s website, history, products and services, executive bios, and the most inconsistent of public disclosure, the press release section. The second stop is LinkedIn, where you should extensively read the professional histories of the people you will be meeting. Don’t look for rote memorization. Look instead for familiar references that you can relate to or better yet, bookmark what you don’t recognize or understand about his or her history and ask about it. Chances are, if it’s unfamiliar to you, it’s unique to the person. and they are likely proud to share. You can count on them remembering that you noticed and cared enough to ask.
After 20+ years of more than five interviews a day, I can confidently state that the early stage nature of the data center industry makes this a playground exercise. There’s no such thing as a traditional career path. There are very few professionals in this business with more than five years direct experience. Those who do marvel at their fortunate situations to simply know more than others by virtue of watching the industry evolve in front of their eyes. The rest are being exposed to a technological petri dish.
I’ve never seen such a crooked path from biz plan v1 to positive cash flow to transition event. This speaks less to the immaturity of the industry than it does to the opportunities for growth and zealous nature and capabilities of those who finance and run the companies. So just ask, “How exactly do you find yourself in the position that you’re in, with this company, at this chapter in your career?” You’re asking to be in the same boat so you better know and trust each other.
But don’t stop there. It is one thing to know how a company portrays itself on its website. It is something else entirely to understand the context of where that company is situated in its respective market in terms of size (revenue and employees,) whether it is trending up or down relative to the competition, and what others have to say about the company. In the exposed media world of Twitter, Facebook, Vault, and YouTube look for objective views on the culture and integrity and character of the company, its people, and its business dealings. There exist paid market research sites that only a trained professional like Ryan Buhk should endeavor to navigate.
But save this for the second interview, when you will be all the more interested and therefore, all the more interesting.
Now you are at the stage to dig deeper with the “Who? What? Where? and Why”… and then follow each with another “Why?”
What was the company like when you joined? What was compelling about the company then and how has it changed for the better or worse? What were the early successes of the company that has led to the current growth path? Why is it you are doing business with the companies you are? Was this strategic or reactive and opportunistic? To what do you attribute the company’s success to? What were the alternatives to the current strategic plan? Who do you consider your most relevant competition? What is your positioning against each of them? What do you do that they don’t and vice versa?
Why things happen is much more interesting than simply reading or hearing what transpired but you have to be interested in knowing more, which guarantees that you will in fact, be all the more interesting.