How to Be a Product Manager with a Portfolio of Thoughts

I spoke with someone today about being a product manager. He is completing his MBA soon and has little work experience. “Without much experience, how can I get a job as a product manager?” he asked.

Here is what I told him.

Companies want to know if you have the right mindset, critical thinking skills, and culture fit. If you don’t have the work experience, you can do this with what I call a “Portfolio of Thoughts.”

Just as designers have portfolios and developers have code samples, product managers can demonstrate their skills with a collection of essays on how they think through the development of a product. This can be as simple as a blog.

For each entry, I would recommend topics such as:

  • Picking a particular problem and proposing a solution for it, in as much detail as possible. Go through your thought process and rationale.
  • Picking an existing product and offering a balanced critique. If you love this product, why? And if you don’t, why?
  • Picking an existing product and proposing how you would make it better. Again, offer your rationale.

Those three topics ought to provide you with enough material to accumulate a portfolio of thoughts. A recruiter who reads this will get a great sense of your product sensibilities and thought process.

After you have a long list of posts, don’t worry about going back and revising old entries. Feel free to add updates though. Include a note indicating that you have updated the post too. Everyone’s skills grow and evolve over time. What you have written about a product in the past may differ from what you would write now, so an archive of your thoughts can serve as a demonstration of how you have grown as a product thinker.

Also, take the time to follow and read the blogs of other product managers. Read books on being a good product manager. Meet and have coffee with experienced product managers. Pick their brains. Study good products. Study bad products. Study this craft. And keep up your portfolio of thoughts.

In lieu of a job, doing all of this will grow your skills while providing recruiters with a fantastic way of getting to know you.

As an added bonus: This will be a great way to build your personal brand too.

How to Find Developers for Your Edtech Startup

Are you an educator with a great idea? Need a developer to help you build your product?

Note: This article is written for educators who are interested in creating a startup, though aspiring founders from other fields may find it useful as well.

You are unfortunately part of a large sea of people with great ideas. The startup world is littered with more idea people than implementation people. Being an educator, you probably aren’t exposed to many developers. But don’t worry, there are still ways you can find developers.

Look through your own network
Start with people you know. You may already have a developer or two as a 2nd or 3rd degree connection. The closer the connection, the better. This person doesn’t need to be an experienced developer with a Computer Science degree; someone who is willing to learn can be just as good. Building out your idea could be a great way for them to grow their skills.
Partner with technical students
If you are a K-12 educator, your school may have a computer class or workshop with budding technical geniuses. Some of the best developers started out programming at a young age. The chance to make a web or mobile app could be very enticing. However, be careful not to take advantage of a young student’s eagerness. As an authority figure, they will listen to you, perhaps even at the detriment of their homework and studies. Some may need some technical guidance as well. Though it’s not easy, try to find an edtech developer who is willing to mentor your student. If you are in higher education, your university may have programming classes. College students make better partners than high school students, since they have more life experience, need relatively less guidance, and may even genuinely be interested in starting a company with you. Their project with you could be bundled as a class assignment as well, and they have the added benefit of potentially bringing other students into the team.
Work for an edtech company
This isn’t a viable option for everyone. A colleague with whom you’ve worked is always better than a smart stranger. The only way to have technical colleagues is by having worked at a company with them. This method could mean a long journey however, as you can’t just work at an edtech company, than leave in a few months and expect to have formed deep relationships with their developers. (Not to mention potential bridge burning and non-compete clauses that some states carry.) It’s a small industry and you could lose a lot of goodwill that way. It may take at least a year at an edtech company to create meaningful relationships there.
Go to a Startup Weekend EDU
Startup Weekend EDU is a weekend-long “hackathon,” where various people come together to build a website or mobile app. It is an intense adrenalin- and caffeine-fueled event. The audience includes idea people, marketers, designers, and developers. The first day starts off with all the idea people pitching their ideas to the whole room. Then everyone is free to walk around to learn more about each idea. The best ideas eventually attract teams – which hopefully includes developers too. It’s not easy to attract developers, but it is possible if you know how to appeal to them.
Go to edtech meetups
Meetups are informal gatherings of people facilitated by the site Meetup.com. Some cities, though not many, have a large enough edtech community to host edtech-specific meetups. Silicon Valley has one, but not many others do. These meetups tend to attract more entrepreneurs than educators, including some developers. Ed-Tech Meetup is one of the more popular ones in San Francisco.
Be an inspirational champion for an cause
Build up your personal brand both offline and online. Get involved in relevant organizations and volunteer groups. Become a recognized leader. I know of one charismatic individual who has done this on Quora, Twitter, and guest blog posts. He doesn’t have a technical background, but his passion and charisma is very apparent. This isn’t a guarantee of finding developers, but it can make it easier to convince one to join you.

These tips can also help you find a technical cofounder, though knowing whether or not someone will make a good cofounder is an entirely different topic. At the very least, these can help you find developers to help build an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) and get your edtech startup off the ground.

This article was originally posted on the Edtech Handbook and modified for this blog.

How to Find Great Software Developers

I’ve been asked by at least ten people in the last two weeks how to find great software developers. Skills range from CSS & JavaScript to Python/Django & Ruby on Rails. Wherever they are in the technology stack, the plea has been the same:

“How do I find these people? I need more of them TODAY!”

I consider myself damn lucky to know a strong network of great developers. But no, you can’t hire them. Practically all of them have fantastic jobs already. The rest are starting their own companies.

So instead of turning this network over to these hiring managers, I’ve been telling them how I found the developers in the first place. Here is what I told them.

  • First, it helps that I was a developer too. My programming skills have waned a bit, but I understand the programmer mindset and lingo. If you don’t have such a background, have a developer be a part of the technical recruiting team, either as an evangelist & advisor, or full-time member. They will be able to communicate with potential candidates better than non-developers can. This is a key differentiator for your company over other recruiting teams.

  • Next, craft an enticing job description that includes your technical vision describing how you plan on accomplishing the overall vision of the organization. Developers care about the success of the organization because they want to be a part of something great, but I have also found that having a grand technical vision is key. Just stating that the developer will work with XYZ technologies isn’t enough. Draw them in with the technical challenges and lofty aims. This technical vision has to sound immense enough to be daunting, yet exciting enough for candidates to say, “Holy crap, I could never do that myself. I need to be a part of the team that will do that!”

    If you don’t have a technical background, ask your developers to help you write the job description. In my experience, many will give you a plain & straightforward job description. They won’t include any of this visionary detail. To get it, ask your developers to describe the most exciting parts of their jobs. Then ask your technical architects and senior developers about their grand technical vision. You can take this material, edit it for clarity, submit it back to the technical contributors for a sanity check, then publish it as your official job description.

  • Third, search through typical developer hangouts. Github. StackOverflow. Various StackExchange sites. Hacker News. Developer mailing lists. Developers’ blogs. Developers’ Twitter accounts. There are dozens upon dozens out there. Or perhaps someone enterprising enough will build their own way to scour these sources.

    Ask your developers which communities and blogs they frequent. Visit each of those sources. If it’s a blog or Twitter account, check out who they link to, who they respond to, who they mention, who they write about, and who they quote. Blogrolls and Twitter lists can be especially helpful. Not all of these people will be interested, or even qualified, but they make up the peer group of your target audience. Through them, you will be able to find lots of promising candidates.

    For the online communities, it is important to pay attention to their rules. Some frown upon job listings, some welcome them, and many now have job boards. Use those job boards. For an extra bonus, keep track of the number of candidates coming from each, the number that get interviewed, and the number you actually hire. Not all communities are created equal. Some will give you a better return than others. You can use this data to make your searches more efficient.

  • Fourth, identify which candidates are worth interviewing. Like I said, not all will be qualified. If you have a technical background, you can look through their public code or ask for code samples. If not, have the developer on your team help you. The goal at this step is to identify who is at least worth a phone call. Your organization’s procedures may differ, but I generally prefer code samples first, phone call second, in-person interview last. All of this is possible within a week or two if you hustle, depending on the speed of the candidate’s responses.

    For some roles, I have also sent candidates an at-home exercise. If you do this, make sure the exercise looks fake enough that the candidates don’t think you are trying to get free work out of them (and, it should be said, DON’T try getting free work out of a candidate) – while at the same time make sure the exercise effectively tests for the skills you seek.

I should note that this entire process is time-consuming. It is not for the faint of heart. I had a busy schedule while doing all of this hiring, but made it a priority anyways. Other tasks had to fall off my plate. Investing time into an effective recruiting process is worth it if you want to find great developers.

Biz Idea: Software Developer Sourcing Tool

12_resume Here’s an idea I’m surprised doesn’t exist yet. At least, I haven’t heard of one. If you know of one, please let me know!

Back when I was a technical manager at Yahoo! (YHOO), I had to wade through hundreds of resumes given to me by our recruiters. After feeling desponded about the poor quality in the candidate pool, I started looking at the people behind the developer blogs I read. If the person was awesome, I sent that person an email to try attracting him/her to Yahoo!. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I failed. But when I succeeded, that person often became a fantastic hire.

I later discovered that this is called sourcing in recruiting parlance. And it was not something hiring managers do regularly, though they perhaps should. However, many are too busy. After all, that’s why there is a recruiting department, right? I was busy too, but I realized that great hires made my work easier. If I spent more time up-front hiring great people, then I could better optimize my time downstream.

To be fair, the HR team at Yahoo! noticed me doing this, then had a dedicated recruiter follow my techniques to scale them across the company. This recruiter and I spent a lot of time fine-tuning our sourcing & evaluation process. She is now a rock-star technical recruiter working for an amazing startup, and I have no doubt she will help them find incredible people.

Target Market

The actual users of such a tool would be recruiters and hiring managers. The buyers will generally be within the HR organization, as they own the vendor relationships for such tools.

Source Inputs

This tool would focus just on software developers. It’s possible this can be extended to other roles though, such as visual designers. More on that later.

There are some great online communities for software developers. A recruiter could look through these communities and pick out a few based on their contributions and participation level. It’s important to note that a developer’s reputation score in a specific community isn’t a direct correlation to being a good employee; many of the best software developers I know have a low profile on these communities. But it’s still a fair criteria. The communities, or inputs into this tool, are:

Then there are some more generic inputs that can flesh out a candidate’s background and personality:

Primary Inputs

This tool would go through these primary inputs and filter out a list of potential candidates using broad filters such as programming languages and location. Further filters could be applied to improve the relevance of the list.

The first input is GitHub, a social code repository popular for hosting open source software. Developers who participate in open source projects have their code and commits shared publicly. This means anyone can look at and evaluate their code. Whenever I evaluate a candidate, I always ask for code samples. GitHub saves me the time spent in asking and waiting for a response. Instead, I can look at a developer’s GitHub account and easily examine examples of their work.

The fine folks at GitHub realized that recruiters & hiring managers were doing this and built the GitHub Resume, an easy way to view the highlights of a developer’s contributions. This snapshot is nice, though it’s still important to dig through a candidate’s code.

There is some debate as to the value of the number of followers a developer has on GitHub. I would use the follower number sparingly. The quality of the code is still my top assessment priority.

The second input is StackOverflow, the most popular question & answer network for software developers. Again, a developer’s reputation on StackOverflow may not map directly to his/her value as an employee, as some great developers don’t put in the time necessary to cultivate a high reputation. Instead, look at the quality of individual answers as an example of written communication and concept clarity. It’s tough to explain complex code, but doing so well is a great sign.

The fine folks at StackOverflow know their value to recruiters & hiring managers and have a great job board. They are also working on a resume builder, similar to GitHub’s.

There are other niches within their StackExchange family, such as ServerFault, Programmers, Mathematics, Web Applications, Android Enthusiasts, Game Development, and more.

Syncing up a members’s profile on both GitHub and StackOverflow would be key. Not all members use the same username, however, so it would take some thinking to map a single member. I would start by trying to match the username and then website. There are also other profile elements, such as profile image and location. This is a tough enough problem that it arguably will be a barrier to entry for competitors.

Secondary Inputs

Once a list of candidates has been sourced from GitHub and StackOverflow, each profile can be fleshed out using information from LinkedIn (LNKD), Hacker News, Quora and Twitter. I personally don’t find Facebook as useful, though other employers may.

LinkedIn can provide a candidate’s education and previous work experience. Getting to this data would require authentication, so some thinking behind the user account structure of this tool would be required. For example, is there a master account that grants access to others? Or does each user create his/her own account? My gut is to have a master account that pays for a certain number of seats, though there are many alternatives.

Hacker News is a forum created by Y Combinator. This community originated around programming and startup topics, though some long-time members argue its focus has widened, bringing down the quality of the overall community. Whatever the case, many non-developers are members here, which is why HN is a supplementary resource rather than a primary one. Once again, a member’s karma on Hacker News isn’t a direct correlation of employee value, but that member’s answers may be useful.

Quora’s value is similar to StackOverflow and HN’s – the member’s answers may provide some insights into the candidate’s communication prowess. Since Quora covers a wider range of topics, this source can also offer a peek into other areas of expertise (if the candidate has many answers) or interest (if the candidate has many followed topics).

Finally, there is Twitter. For me, Twitter provides a glimpse into the candidate’s current frame of mind. All of your research could be for naught if you see the candidate tweeting about leaving this career behind to become a monk. It’s also possible to discern the candidate’s interests via Twitter. For some employers, Facebook can provide similar data if it is publicly available.

Other Sources

If the candidate has a self-hosted blog or hosted blog on Tumblr, Posterous, WordPress, etc, that would be relevant as well. Bonus points if that blog contains lots of entries on programming.

And last, but not least, is the candidate’s contact information. Somewhere amongst all of this information should be a way to contact the candidate directly. Sometimes their email address will be directly visible. This tool should harvest that email address. Other times, the email address will be hidden for either privacy or spam reasons. To reach those candidates, you may need to send them a message via LinkedIn (as an invitation request or through a LinkedIn Premium account) or a contact form on their blog (if one exists). I wouldn’t suggest a public venue such as Twitter for contacting a candidate.

Just about every developer I’ve sourced offers some way to contact him/her. This tool should be intelligent enough to find that information.

Final Output

The final product should be a list of potential candidates. A relevancy score could be added, though I’m not sure about its accuracy. I don’t believe the inputs paint a clear picture of a candidate – they only offer a fuzzy image. But say you build such a tool and notice some patterns of quality. It’s certainly imaginable that a relevancy score could be constructed if you have enough data. This, I would argue, should include data on your organization’s particular needs as well, since every company is different. As is every team. In other words, a good relevancy score should mean: this particular candidate is XX% relevant to this particular hiring manager within this particular department of your particular company.

From this list, the hiring manager can view more details about each candidate. The details would include:

  • Name
  • Current location
  • Contact info (direct email address or link to a contact form)
  • Sample code from GitHub
  • Repository membership on GitHub (own or participating repositories)
  • Programming languages used on GitHub
  • Answers from StackOverflow
  • Topics participated on StackOverflow
  • Answers from Hacker News
  • Answers from Quora
  • Education details from LinkedIn
  • Current & previous work history from LinkedIn
  • Personal website URL (and most recent blog posts)
  • Twitter account (and most recent tweets)
  • Reputation scores on all community sites

These listings could be emailed to the recruiter & hiring manager while the position is open. Ideally, this tool would hook into HR’s existing candidate management tools, such as Taleo (TLEO), Kenexa (KNXA), SuccessFactors (SFSF), Peopleclick Authoria, Bullhorn, Zoho Recruit, Recruiterbox, Resumator, etc. Yes, this is a huge market. There are a lot of players, big & small, old & new, that help manage candidates & employees. But they are all relatively weak at sourcing, especially for the niche of software developers.

Business Model

This sourcing tool would work well as a premium subscription. A free query with limited results could be offered to test drive the product, with carefully placed upsells to promote a subscription.

I touched upon this briefly, but having a master account holder for an organization may be the easiest model for users, since it’s generally a single buyer within the HR organization. The buyer can then purchase a monthly subscription based on the number of seats, or additional accounts, he/she wishes to give out within the company. There should be an easy upgrade path – like a single click – in case the account hits the seat limit.

I would experiment with this model a bit. It’s possible a seat-driven model drives some users to share accounts, thereby avoiding this payment system. I would highlight the benefits of individual seats though, because knowing an individual hiring manager’s needs can aid in the relevancy of the candidates as well as the potential relevancy score.

There are other payment models to consider too, such as number of search results and number of saved searches & positions.

Enhancements

Other inputs could be added, such as GitHub competitors Bitbucket and CodePlex, or social coding game coderwall. Other developer forums could also be added, such as SitePoint, Dev Shed and CodeGuru, as well as niche communities for specific programming languages, like the Android Developer Forums, Apple Developer Forums, Ruby on Rails: Talk, jQuery Forums, etc. The list is vast.

The candidate profile screen can be continuously tweaked and optimized for hiring managers as well. Perhaps they’d like a photo of the candidate. Or not. A/B testing is our friend here.

Other Markets

I don’t have the market size of software developer recruitment handy, but there are many other professions to consider beyond this one. The value of this tool is its ability to use very niche and relevant inputs, sync a profile across all of them, and return the necessary criteria for evaluating a candidate. For software developers, this means code samples and answers in related topics.

What are other roles that have rich online communities and profiles? How about those in the creative disciplines? For visual designers, possible inputs could be portfolio sites such as Dribble, Carbonmade, deviantART, Creative Hotlist, AIGA, Behance Network, Coroflot, etc.

Question and answer sites may not be as relevant for creative professionals, so repurposing this tool for this discipline would require significant customization on the candidate profile UI. But the underlying platform would be the same.

Although professions with definitive online outputs are easiest to source with this tool, others could be aided as well. For professors and researchers, this tool could fetch their research papers. For lawyers, this tool could fetch their previous court cases. I’m not sure what could be fetched for a truck driver, but with more and more information being recorded on the web, such a platform could become a very powerful recruiting tool.

Photo by: wisdomandwonder.com

How to Hire Rock Stars

I’m sure you want them. Rock stars, I mean. Whether you’re a start-up or a large corporation, you need the cream of the crop on your team. So how to you find & hire these elusive stars?

I don’t mean to brag, but…

<brag>
While I was an engineering manager at Yahoo! (YHOO), I was constantly involved in recruiting activities. I did it before I was formally a manager, I did it as a hiring manager, and I did it to help other teams. I quickly realized that I had a strong fascination for the art of recruiting. Who knows, maybe I was a recruiter in a previous life.

During that time, the developers I hired won Superstar awards (an internal award given to only a select few every year) and became managers, directors, & architects. Some even went on to form start-ups.

I devoted a lot of time studying the process, and art, of recruiting. So I think I have a fair bit of knowledge about how to hire rock stars. Looks at fingernails, rubs them on shirt. Ahem.
</brag>

UPDATED 5/5/2010: I’ve turned this entry into the first part of a series.

The Rock Star Series:

So how does one find and recruit rock stars? Here’s how.

Rock stars usually hang out with other rock stars
This is no secret. Like-minded people tend to associate with each other. That’s why employee referrals are so powerful. But when referrals aren’t bringing in enough candidates, look at where your rock stars spend their time. If you’re hiring software developers, do your rock stars frequent particular forums, mailing lists or open source projects? Check them out for more potential rock stars.
Rock stars aren’t always the best judge of rock star quality
In direct contradiction to the previous tip, sometimes rock stars aren’t able to reliably tell you if other developers are true rock stars too. This isn’t always the case, but on occasion, likability usurps actual abilities. I’ve known a few stars who’ve highly recommended their friends, only to find that their friends aren’t that great.
Rock stars may have particular personality patterns
Get into the heads of your current rock stars. Interview them to understand their temperaments, core values, points of view, motivations, backgrounds, etc. Look for broad patterns. These findings can be a template from which to do your candidate evaluations. But be careful not to follow such patterns strictly. For instance, the rock star developers I hired tended to have strong analytical dispositions, yet have artistic hobbies. Many were also introverts, though I didn’t make that a pattern to follow, because I’ve hired extrovert rock stars as well.
Rock stars already have jobs
You’ll rarely find a rock star posting a resume on Craigslist or some job board. Rock stars are almost constantly employed. So you’ll have to find a way to woo them from their jobs, which isn’t easy – especially if the rock star is loyal and excited about the current position.
Rock stars need to be wooed by other rock stars
If you are a recruiter or middle manager, you’ll have a hard time attracting rock stars from their current jobs. What you need is a rock star from your team who can speak the same language as the candidate. Rock stars need to be impressed by someone they respect. Exceptions exist, of course. Well-known industry visionaries can have a lot of clout over candidates of any background.
Rock stars can be expensive
This isn’t always the case, but the law of supply and demand, coupled with small social networks within industries, means rock stars may constantly be getting offers. Be prepared to pay them well enough so competing offers don’t lure them away. Money isn’t and shouldn’t be the main reason they are coming to work with you, but you’ll need to compensate them competitively.
Rock stars need to feel passionate about their work
Some of the best rock stars I know really care about their discipline. That’s why they are rock stars. More than money or stock options is the promise your company offers. It has to match their passions on some level. Learn about the candidates, read their blogs, and find out what motivates them. If you’re trying to attract a social media rock star to your internal banking product, for instance, then you may want to spend your resources elsewhere.
Rock stars are the sum of their talents & their environments
It’s true. Rock stars are so good at their jobs not just because they are talented, but because they’ve optimized their workflows for their current work environments. If you’re lucky enough to attract a rock star, don’t expect them to hit the ground running. You’ll need to work hard to set up a similar environment and be patient while they learn about your company, your people, and your processes. Do this while you’re waiting for the paperwork and background checks to be completed.
Rock stars need to be hired right away
So you’ve found a rock star who’s willing to come work with you. What are you waiting for? Cut through whatever red tape is in your way and get the star into your office now! Start-ups will have an advantage over large corporations here, though if you know the right people, it’s possible to get the star into your corporation quickly.

What have you done to hire rock stars?

The Rock Star Series:

Do Your Homework Whenever Meeting Someone New

Admit it, you’ve Googled someone before. Maybe it was someone you were dating. Maybe it was someone you had a crush on.

But how about when you have a sales meeting and are about to meet a new prospective client?

If you are an experienced salesperson, I’m probably preaching to the choir. For those like me who are in the consulting & services business and relatively new to the sales role, I have this to say:

Do your homework whenever you meet someone new.

This applies all around the sales cycle. From following up on leads to meeting other stakeholders to getting their team introduced with yours. Throughout this process, you are likely to meet several different people (or one person fulfilling all of these roles):

  • Primary stakeholder – the person with the budget
  • Influencers – other stakeholders who have a say in this decision
  • Project manager – the person who coordinates the work between your client and your team, also often the main point of contact
  • Workers – employees from your client’s team with whom your team will have to interact

Do your homework on each of them. For a service organization, all the members of your client’s team are important and critical to your success.

Why?

The goal isn’t to stalk the person. It’s to find meaningful connections. If the person likes the San Francisco Giants, and hey, so do you, then bring it up. If you’re not a fan, then keep your mouth shut. Don’t be insincere with these connections. Use them only if they honestly exist. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a TV sitcom where you’re trying to lie and squirm your way out of a totally alien discussion. And all without a laugh track.

If there are no connections, consider identifying a key achievement that person has made and offering congratulations. Perhaps the person started a company that launched a successful product in the past. Perhaps the person wrote a book or article you’ve read. Again, don’t be overtly insincere, though a little flattery can get you a long way.

It also helps to understand the person’s background. If he/she comes from a technical background, then you can tailor your sales pitch to a more technical audience. If he/she comes from a marketing background, then emphasize potential branding and identity benefits. Use key terminology from their background.

So far, I haven’t had a case where a person has been offended or frightened by this research. In fact, many seem to be flattered by it, even expect it. Some don’t care though; they’re more interested in the deal and how it can help them.

All of this assumes you’ve already done your homework with the company, their department, and their needs. Don’t even bother researching the people if you haven’t researched their business.

Ultimately, you want to form a connection with these stakeholders. If they feel they can relate to you on a personal level, and they feel you can sincerely understand them on a professional & personal level, then they are more likely to sign a contract with you.

How?

Here’s what I do:

  1. Google (GOOG) – I start with a good, old-fashioned Google search. This usually gives me most of the information I need, such as links to a blog, Twitter account, resume, etc.

    I always start with the blog, if one exists. This gives me a good overview of the person and his/her personality & interests. Does the person have a sarcastic sense of humor? A dry wit? Does the person have any hobbies or interests with which I can relate? Has this person done anything notable that I want to call out?

  2. LinkedIn.com – If the previous search doesn’t turn up a LinkedIn profile, then I perform one specifically on this site. Most people in my industry have a LinkedIn account.

    This gives me an overview of the person’s education and career path, which tells me the language he/she speaks (technical, marketing, design, financial, etc) and how I should tailor my sales pitch.

  3. Others – I know some salespeople go further and check out Facebook, MySpace, and other similar sources. Personally, I don’t. If you aren’t a member of that person’s Facebook network, then you won’t be able to see deeper details. Also, the interests and photos included on Facebook don’t help as much as a blog or personal website. It’s tough to form a connection on a favorite TV show, especially if you don’t know how much they like it, or if their profile has been updated recently. My experience, anyways; some still do this research all the time. And practically no one in my industry uses MySpace (that I know of).

Once you have this information, share it with your team. Help them to understand the client better. This can strengthen the relationship on both sides.

There will be a few cases where such web research doesn’t help because the person keeps a private offline life. That’s fine. That’s where you’ll need to muster up your interpersonal skills and form a connection the old fashioned way. These tips just offer an extra advantage. If the information is out there, why not use it, right?

Photo by: fazen

Online Searching in the Interview Process

You’ve gotta read this if you are interviewing or hiring somebody.

According to Heather Havenstein at ComputerWorld, “One in five employers uses social networks in hiring process“. And “CareerBuilder.com says one third of hiring managers rejected candidates based on what they found,” states the subtitle.

The top areas of concern found on social networking sites include:

  • Information about alcohol or drug use (41% of managers said this was a top concern)
  • Inappropriate photos or information posted on a candidate’s page (40%)
  • Poor communication skills (29%)
  • Bad-mouthing of former employers or fellow employees (28%)
  • Inaccurate qualifications (27%)
  • Unprofessional screen names (22%)
  • Notes showing links to criminal behavior (21%)
  • Confidential information about past employers (19%)

The study did find that 24% of hiring managers found content on social networks that helped convince them to hire a candidate. Hiring managers said that profiles showing a professional image and solid references can boost a candidate’s chances for a job.

Interesting statistics.

When I was a hiring manager, I always looked up my candidates online. First, I’d use Google (GOOG). Then LinkedIn. Then Facebook.

The people in my industry, the Internet industry, are typically web-savvy and tend to have some kind of web presence. So it’s easy to find out more about them.

But even if you’re not in the Internet industry, I think every employer should consider doing this. You are already doing a background check. This is just another form of a background check – a check on a candidate’s personality, culture, interests, and values.

You may be thinking, “Isn’t this an invasion of privacy? How are the stupid things I’ve done in college relevant to me now that I’m thirty? Why should my outrageous partying be a factor of my qualifications?”

Sure, those are fair questions. Here are my answers.

Isn’t this an invasion of privacy?

I admit that there’s a creepy big-brother-ish quality to this. But if your information is online, then it’s already public. It’s not private. So if you want it private, work to remove it.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible or easy to remove harmful information from the Web, especially with the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and Google’s cache.

But fortunately, if you’re tech-savvy enough, there are things you can do. You can prevent the Wayback from archiving your site and get Google to delete pages from their cache. Ah ha!

The other thing you can do is to police your online personal brand closely. Monitor it and shape it. It takes some effort, but it can be worth it – especially if you’re in the Internet space.

Otherwise, you should consider searching for yourself to see what comes up. If you like the results, then you’ll be fine – because that’s what your interviewer will see. If you don’t like the results, however, then you’ll have to do some damage control. See if you can remove or revise what’s online. Buy your friend a drink so he’ll take down that photo of you with the keg and “Party Nekkid” t-shirt, for instance.

How are the stupid things I’ve done in college relevant now?

They are and they aren’t. They are, simply because some interviewers will see it and make a judgment call. Some believe that that past behavior is an indicator or predictor of future behavior. So if you’re prone to streaking across your college campus, your interviewers might assume they’ll see your ass running down the hallway (no pun intended).

They aren’t because, really, who didn’t go a little crazy in college? This is more of a message to hiring managers than candidates, but don’t forget that college was a different time and a different environment.

Personally, I like to see a candidate with some kind of fun side. I don’t mind someone who parties hard, as long as he or she works hard too. In fact, hiring someone who knows how to let loose and have fun can be a desirable thing. It adds to the culture of the company, shakes things up, and makes the office more fun.

Also: if an interviewer dings you for being a fun person, then maybe you don’t want to work for that company.

Why should my outrageous partying be a factor of my qualifications?

If you were an outrageous party maniac in the past, that’s one thing. If you’re still an outrageous party maniac, then that’s a reason for an interviewer to hesitate. As a hiring manager, I’d have to wonder if you’re going to show up to work late and hung over. Or call in sick often. Or be sloppy about your work.

Seeing this kind of behavior wouldn’t necessarily weed a candidate out for me. I’d still want to meet the candidate and see how they present themselves in the interview. If I’m still unsure, I’d test them somehow to try to gauge how well they can do their job (probationary period, in-house exercise, take-home exercise, contract-to-hire, etc).

It’s not that being an outrageous party maniac means you’re a bad employee. It means there’s a potential red flag about your work ethic. That red flag could be totally unfounded – you could be one of those people who truly works hard and parties hard. But it will still raise a red flag. You may think that’s unfair, but that’s how many hiring managers think.

What really does matter

You know what would really hurt you? If I found examples of one of these, then I’d ding you and drop your resume in the trash:

  • Inaccurate qualifications – This is huge. Don’t lie. If I catch you in a lie, then I’ll know I can’t trust you.
  • Unprofessional behavior – If you publicly bad-mouth your former employer, fellow employees, or display confidential information, then I’m going to assume you’ll do it to me too.
  • Poor communication skills – Good communication skills is very important to just about any job out there. If you can’t articulate yourself well, please consider a communication class.
  • Information about alcohol or drug use – Alcohol is fine, alcohol abuse isn’t. Drug use isn’t at all.
  • Notes showing links to criminal behavior – Well, duh.

I should add that I’ve made lots of exceptions before. If the candidate demonstrates tremendous ability and can assure me that he/she is dependable, then I’ll make significant allowances to their background. After all, we’ve all made mistakes in the past. If we’ve learned from those mistakes, we shouldn’t be shackled by them.

The Do’s and Dont’s of Cover Letters

I’ve seen some truly horrendous cover letters. Awful ones. Ones that make me want to lather it with ketchup and feed it to a stray dog.

Here are some tips from my experiences as a hiring manager on writing an effective cover letter.

  • DO: Be polite and respectful
  • DON’T: Be arrogant and demanding

    Some hiring managers see hundreds of cover letters a week. If you start off with, “Give me a job, I’m the best in the industry,” you’re going to be the best crumpled-up cover letter in the trash can.

  • DO: Highlight notable achievements in previous roles
  • DON’T: Repeat what’s on your resume

    The cover letter is a place to go into a little more detail about a previous job. If there was an especially relevant accomplishment, write about it and provide some extra details.

  • DO: Personalize the letter to the company
  • DON’T: Use a generic template

    Some hiring managers are impressed with candidates who’ve done their research about their company. Generic cover letter templates usually sound dry and, well, generic too.

  • DO: Explain why you’re qualified for the role
  • DON’T: Explain why you want to work for the company

    This might be contrary to what you might think, but it’s already obvious that you want to work for the company. So don’t waste the hiring manager’s time explaining that. Instead, explain why you’re a good match for the role without being overly arrogant.

  • DO: Be accurate
  • DON’T: Lie

    Hiring managers often ask questions about the information you put in your cover letter (or resume). If you lie, you’re going to get caught. Some background checks are more thorough than you think.

  • DO: Keep it concise
  • DON’T: Write a novel

    Since hiring managers see so many cover letters, a long one is a sure way of getting tossed aside. Don’t write a one-liner, but don’t write a ten-pager either.

In short, a cover letter is a way to explain why you’re qualified by providing some details about specific accomplishments you’ve made, without repeating what is already in your resume.