If you're at a point in your career where you're interviewing with a company's most senior leadership, the conversation won't focus on your hard skills. When I meet a candidate for a critical, high-level role, I want to get a feel for how that person's mind works and their overall attitude.
Startup cultures are especially sensitive, and bringing on new members of the executive staff is a delicate operation.
We're very careful to look for candidates who share our values, are motivated by our company mission, and know how to keep us on a path of healthy growth while also being good at rallying the troops and maximizing team productivity.
They need to assure me they'll be leaders who will represent the company in a positive way and align with my vision as CEO.
To uncover a candidate's truths organically, I want our meeting to be a conversation--not an interview, per se. Getting out of the office, talking over a meal, and meeting in a non-work environment helps us evaluate each other and determine if there's a good connection.
It's important not to confuse an easy, free-flowing chat or good chemistry with suitability for an executive position, but I find traditional interviews too confining when I'm getting to know a potential member of our e-staff.
I try to listen more than I talk during these meetings, and there are a few things that raise red flags for me. Here are a few missteps to watch out for when you're talking to a startup CEO about joining their team:
1. It's all about you
I don't care how senior you were in an organization; there are very few things you achieve on your own.
Saying "I" more than "we" suggests you may not fully appreciate the contributions of others or you think it's a badge of honor not to delegate, neither of which will fly at a startup.
I want to hear stories about how you led teams and inspired employees to go above and beyond expectations. I want to knowhow you bring out the best in the people you work with. I don't want to get questions about the size of your potential budget or how many new hires you'll get to make.
Candidates who ask those questions early in our relationship come across like they're more interested in building a personal empire than working toward our shared company mission.
2. You don't use our product
It seems pretty obvious that we want everyone on our team to be Udemy students or instructors. Our marketplace has been designed for and by lifelong learners, so it's important new hires at all levels possess a growth mindset and share our passion for expanding access to high-quality education resources around the world.
I want to hear excitement when someone talks about learning something new. It's even better if they've gone ahead and created a course for our marketplace.
I also want to get real, honest feedback on our product. That gives me insight into what you consider priorities and how you develop a customer-centric experience. If you're joining a company in a leadership position, you'd better be able to show you're ready to live and breathe what they do.
At Udemy, all of our senior leaders arrived with a love of learning and for sharing knowledge, which helps them empathize with our customers. It makes them great motivators and mentors, too.
3. You play the game
I hate politics in the workplace, and I'm proud of the culture we've nurtured at Udemy to ensure every employee is valued and treated fairly.
When we're discussing your accomplishments, I don't want to hear about political maneuvering; I want to understand how you innovate and solve real business problems.
People coming from large corporations are more likely to make a misstep here, and I understand how they might assume their ability to navigate political situations is a point in their favor. But I'd rather hear about initiatives you're proud of and what drives you.
How are your interpersonal skills a strategic asset, not just a personal one? At a fast-moving startup like ours, new executives don't have the luxury of playing politics in order to demonstrate impact; they're expected to hit the ground running and focus on real results.
None of this is revelatory, and your mileage may differ depending on the company and CEO you're talking to. But in my experience leading a high-growth startup, the best leaders are those who know how to collaborate, inspire, and adapt to change.