Life at a Startup

I’ve been networking with a lot of job seekers lately who have expressed their frustrations about finding good jobs in corporate America. Some of them have considered working for startups even though they know that sometimes working with a startup could be unstable. Others have even considered starting their own. Regardless, many of them were curious to know more about life at a startup to determine if it was the right choice for them. Luckily, I have recently connected with an individual who lives in Silicon Valley and has worked in different startup environments. She was happy to provide useful information about this.

Jocelyn Aucoin, who currently works at WorkSimple in San Francisco, has been kind enough to answer the following questions about startups. Here are some details to help give a realistic idea about it:

Ashley Perez (AP): How did you get involved with startups?

Jocelyn Aucoin (JA): “A good friend of mine originally approached me about helping him out with a startup he was working with, knowing I had a background of running my own business and knowing how key an autonomous work ethic is to working at a startup.  I was immediately hooked. Startup life really feeds my love of building and creating.”

AP: What are some of the most interesting lessons you’ve learned?

JA: “I’ve learned to be just as proud of my failures as I am my successes. If I’m not pushing myself, if I’m staying comfortable, then I’m probably pretty safe, right? But if I’m working to constantly do more with what I know, challenge the status quo, and think ‘sideways’, then I’m going to fail. It’s inevitable. And I’m totally fine with that. I’d rather try and fail then never try.”

AP: What are some examples of things that go against common belief in terms of starting a startup?

JA: “I think there’s a misconception that people ‘settle’ for working at startups. This is just not true. The brightest, bravest, most creative people I’ve met in my working career are the ones working for startups. If you want to be inspired – daily – it’s where you want to be.”

AP: What are some of the challenges that startup employees face?

JA: “The biggest challenge for me personally is the extreme ebb and flow. The work pace is unpredictable and things happen fast and without warning. That means you have to be on your toes at all times, ready to go. And whereas that’s difficult in terms of planning out a week or a month, it’s a catch-22 because it’s also what keeps me from getting bored.”

AP: What are some realistic situations that employees can deal with when accepting a position with a startup (i.e. lack of benefits, lack of stability?)

JA: “Well, there aren’t always a lack of benefits. That can be the case – but not always. It depends on the type of work you’re in and the level of the startup. But yeah – it’s realistic to expect a bit of instability. Again I’d say that’s what makes it exciting. It’s a bit like walking a tightrope. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

AP: What is the difference of a startup environment vs. an established company?

JA: “Established companies typically have ways that things have been done and they require things be done in this way. Startup culture is built around innovation – and that shakes down to every level. They will generally welcome new ways of thinking and new ideas which breeds energy and creativity. You notice the difference from the moment you step foot inside a startup. You can feel energy.”

AP: What is some advice you can give to job seekers who are considering working for a start up?

JA: “Practical advice? Identify the companies where you can see yourself and start connecting with the people who work there via in any way you can. Don’t send a blind resume. Instead, say you’d like to chat and share ideas. Remember, startup culture is about collaboration and ideation. And things move fast.  Also, these places don’t have big HR systems in place, so don’t expect process to move in an overly processed way. General advice? Buckle. your. seatbelt!”

I was thankful for connecting with Jocelyn because this seems to be a hot topic out in the working world. Her answers proved that startup life can be exciting. Also, working for a startup can have an equal share of failures mixed with successes. If your personality and work ethic match some of the things Jocelyn had mentioned, I’m sure you will find your experience rewarding no matter what the outcome may be.

 More about Jocelyn: Jocelyn Aucoin is the Community and Social Media Manager at San Francisco and Minneapolis – based startup, WorkSimple. Find her at Blue Bottle Coffee or on Twitter at @jocelynaucoin.

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What Your Online Presence Can Do for Your Job Hunt

When I thought about the ideal job hunt, I always had believed that to be the most professional and proactive hunter, it was best to update your resume often and simply upload them to career websites. In addition to this, I was led to believe that the best way to get my resume in front of a recruiter was to apply to jobs online through job boards and applicant tracking systems. After all, these systems were put in place to help our resume be re-routed to the appropriate person, right? That used to work just fine until everyone else started to resort to this option. Now I realize that job seekers need to do something more to really set themselves apart. Over the course of the last few months, it became apparent that creating a personal brand via online can really help you during your job hunt.

I always assumed that doing anything online or on social media was typically considered something personal. I also heard the stories about how companies Google candidates to find these sites to do a quick “background” check before considering them for an interview. When I was in college, many teachers and guidance counselors told us to keep our online presence private or to delete anything that can potentially cause us to lose a job. With all these warnings, I never felt that having an online presence would help me land the job that I wanted. But after months of searching and being unsuccessful, I decided to give it a try.

To play it safe, I decided to keep my personal social media accounts private but then decided to create separate accounts strictly for business and maintaining a professional appearance. Of course, I decided to focus on LinkedIn first because that site is all about networking business professionals. It didn’t really pick up steam, though, until I invested more time into it. Putting up a profile with your experience isn’t enough to catch the attention of recruiters. You really need to participate. Here are some things I did on LinkedIn that helped me get more job interviews:

  • Update profile content and headline. Use keywords relevant to what you’re searching for so recruiters can find you easier.
  • Join groups. Joining groups are great but you must make sure you take time to participate in order to really allow yourself to get exposure. Comment on members’ discussion posts in a way that can show you are knowledgeable about a subject. Even post your own discussion questions on there to welcome interaction.
  • Keep the conversation flowing. In order to network effectively and build relationships, you must invest in time to keep the conversation going. If you comment on something or post a discussion question, make sure you respond to those who are also commenting. This flow of communication can help people get to know you better and open up an opportunity to connect.
  • Post interesting articles. Spark up some further conversation by posting online articles, publications, blogs, etc. This could grasp people’s attention and also display the fact that you keep up with industry trends.
  • Get personal. If you plan on sending a message or an invite, be sure to add something personal in the message. If you’re adding a recruiter, you could even mention that you’ve applied to a specific position at their company and wanted to talk more about it. This could help them pull your resume from the pile of hundreds they get regularly.

After I got LinkedIn up and running, I decided to take it a step further and see what Twitter had to offer. I used to use Twitter sporadically since 2009 and never really thought it could be useful for anything more than personal use. I was SO wrong. After using Twitter in a professional capacity, I ended up receiving more job offers, interviews, and assistance to find a job than I ever did when I used to just apply to online job boards. I couldn’t believe it. Here are some ways I effectively used Twitter during my job hunt:

  • Add people that are relevant to the industry you’re trying to get a job in.
  • Add recruiters that work at the companies you are interested in working at.
  • Write thoughtful responses to their tweets to help open up communication.
  • Tweet links to relevant online articles, publications, blogs, etc.
  • And most IMPORTANTLY, join Twitter chats(this was the easiest way I was able to get interviews.) Twitter chats are amazing. It opens up real-time communication and could help you get exposure to the right people. Some TweetChats I’ve joined that were really great for my job hunt were:
    • #JobHuntChat – Mondays @ 10PM EST
    • #TalentNet – Tuesdays @ 7PM EST
    • #TChat – Wednesday  @ 7PM EST
    • #GenYChat- Wednesday @ 9PM EST
    • #HFChat – Friday @ 12PM EST

These chats are either geared towards connecting job seekers with recruiters or the chats are HR related which means you can easily connect with HR and recruiters. Of course, these are just a few chats of the many that are out there. I would suggest researching chats that are relevant to the industry or job type you are looking for.

After a while, I really started to enjoy the results I was getting from this and decided to take it even another step further. I created a blog that was relevant to the industry I was targeting (Human Resources) and started to write on a regular basis to help extend my online presence even more. I promoted it via LinkedIn and Twitter. This blog has helped recruiters to see my competency, knowledge, and even get to know a little more about me. They were able to see how I could fit in with their company. If you are able to do something virtually that is relevant to the industry you want to work in, give it a try. It could really help you stand out even more and add something extra to your candidate profile.

Having an online presence can really help you if you do it right. Keep it professional but also keep it YOU. Your online presence can help hiring managers, recruiters, and companies really get an idea of who you are and what you could potentially do for them. I was happy to see that investing time in this has paid off. After committing time to this, I was able to get job interviews, internship offers, and guest blog post offers. I felt that I made more progress doing it this way than the months I spent just dedicating time to job boards and online applications. Give it a try, it could make a huge difference.

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Assessments to Find the Best Candidate/Job Fit

Over the course of the last month or two, I was networking with a contact I met via LinkedIn named Bob Gately. We had connected through a discussion post I had started on the LinkedIn: HR group. This post talked about some of the issues that candidates experience during the interview process. One of the main issues I had brought up was: whether or not the rigid interviewing process was potentially causing companies to lose quality talent. After months of commenting on this discussion, Bob introduced me to an assessment called the ProfileXT.

As the discussion post grew longer and longer with comments from various HR professionals, it became apparent that there seemed to be a lot of conflicting views and practices. Although there was a lot of great information, it also became clearer that no one seemed to be on the same page. Everyone seemed to have different interview criteria and practices. Also, no one could determine the most effective way to interview in regard to pinpointing the right candidate/job fit.

And then Bob chimed in.

Bob had mentioned an assessment that he had been using for several years called the ProfileXT. Because I was sincerely intrigued, I spent time discussing the details of this assessment and I was completely blown away. This assessment measures candidates’ personality traits, and their math and verbal competencies. It then takes the results and compares it to the criteria that a company determines to be the qualities that lead to higher success rates. Basically, the assessment works like this:

• Company determines their current best employees for each job function and has them take the assessment. Assessment results will give a range of certain qualities and traits that these employees have. This sets the bar for what would make a future employee successful at this job.

• Candidates going through the interview process take the assessment. The assessment involves a series of questions that measures their personality traits, as well as their math and verbal competencies.

• After the assessment is completed, a report will be generated that shows where the candidate falls on a scale of 1 to 10 for each criterion (there are a ton!)

• The scales can then be deciphered against some literature that explains what each criterion means and what their score translates to in that regard.

• Once the scores are translated, they can be compared to the company’s “Successful Employee” range and determine if the candidate possesses the necessary qualities and traits that the company believes would make a nearly-ideal employee.

Although this explanation is extremely general, I’ve attached some documents that Bob provided to give more detail on how this assessment works. Some of the main benefits of this assessment are as follows:

• The assessment can identify the talent that is ideal for the job and company.

• It allows candidates to find out their strong/weak qualities so they can determine which jobs would be best to apply to.

• It can help candidates understand themselves better so they can sell themselves with supporting documentation.

• It can reduce turnover.

• It can make the selection process less biased and can conform it in a way so that everyone’s on the same page.

I really thought this was a great tool. I was able to test it out and felt that the results were very accurate. It was also amazing to see the success percentages that were generated when I compared my results up against jobs that I’m interested in doing. Mind boggling!

I suggest that companies consider giving this assessment a trial run. I’ve attached more information on it and also Bob’s contact information so you can get additional insight on how it would work for your company. If you’ve used it (or are planning on using it) I’d love to hear how it’s helped you during the talent acquisition process.

PII Case Study SOS Reducing Turnover

PII PXT Users Guide

Finding a Company Fit through the Interview Process

For those who have read some of my previous blogs, I’m sure you can see that I enjoy writing about finding a fit between candidate and company. I strongly believe that job seekers can find what will make them happiest if they spend time determining their values and what they truly want out of an employer. If they have the luxury of time, I typically urge people to hold out for a company that can offer them the closest to their ideal. If not, then I suggest for those who need to take a job for financial reasons to still continue to search for their perfect situation. Although this information is all fine and dandy, it does not give suggestions or tips for what happens once you land an interview.

So, let’s fast forward a bit. Let’s say you took the time to dig deeper into your inner self and were able to determine what you really wanted out of a company and job. After a little soul searching you were able to find a few companies that seemed to be aligned with your requirements and decided to apply to an open position there. Well, it was all smooth sailing up to that point but what happens when someone actually calls you in for an interview? How do you prepare for the interview to ensure that the company is how you perceived it?

My best suggestion is to have well-thought out, structured questions. Unfortunately, candidates in this economy have shied away from asking questions for fear of turning off the interviewer. Contrary to popular belief, most interviewers actually enjoy speaking to candidates that ask solid questions. This shows that the candidate did their homework, was genuinely interested in learning more about the company, and actually took the time to think of ways to contribute to the interview rather than it just is one-sided. Good questions can not only impress the interviewer but also help you get a better feel for the company before deciding to accept a job offer that might come your way. The interviewer may also get a better feel for you, too.

To prep for your interview, re-research the company by doing a deep dive. Get down to the nitty gritty and find all the legitimate details you can in regard to the company. Once you’ve compiled all the important information, compare those notes against the things you want out of a company. Connect the link between the two and take the time to formulate some intelligent questions. If aren’t sure where to start when it comes to creating these questions, feel free to look at the link at the bottom of this article written by Jacquelyn Smith from Forbes.com. She had some great questions to ask, as well as questions to avoid.

I’m sure you’ve done your research before committing to anything big, pricy, or long-term: buying houses, moving, purchasing a car, deciding on a college, and so on. Why should a job be any different? You spend a good portion of your life at a job and typically, most people try to find a company they can commit to long-term. Try to get the most information you can before making that commitment. That includes asking questions and getting informative answers from someone on the inside. It pays to take this extra step.

Take control of your employment choices and continue on the path of finding that perfect fit for you. Don’t let it all fall apart once you get to the interview stage. After all, you’ve made it this far in your career goals- don’t give up on what you want now. Best of luck!

Ideas for interview questions:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2012/07/06/the-questions-you-should-and-shouldnt-ask-in-a-job-interview/2/