Everybody is in Sales

My role in job interviews

A year or two ago I had the opportunity to shadow somebody who did partner recruitment for the company I worked for at the time. After listening in on a few calls, he asked me if I had any feedback. I answered that I didn’t. I felt quite unqualified, “what you do really looks like a sales job.” “Heh,” he responded, “ultimately every job is a sales job.”

While my initial intuitive response was: cool story bro’, if you’re in sales, everybody else’s job looks like a sales job too — a when you have a hammer kind of thing — but this statement stuck with me.

I thought back on many aspects of the jobs I had, especially the management ones, and realized: boy he’s right: I’m constantly selling stuff. And I realized I like this part of the job a lot. I’m a salesman too.

While many consider sales tricking people into buying stuff they don’t necessarily need, I think the best sales people don’t do this. They will try to understand their customer (audience) as best as they can, and figure out how solve their problem. Ideally involving their product, but not always.

So what do I mean with “sales” in a management context?

Example: job interviews.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been involved in about 3–4 interviews per week. By now, I’m quite far from the daily reality of an engineer, realistically I haven’t coded anything significantly over the past few months. So the question is: what should my role be? For sure, there are other people more qualified to do technical interviews, so in general that’s not my part (although I’ve done some for Go engineers).

The part I generally handle is the “potential” interview, and my favorite part of that is — wait for it — the selling part.

The product I’m selling is the job and the environment.

Some companies spend all their candidate’s time hammering and questioning, ending with “we have 2 minutes left, do you have any question for us?” “Yes, one: what do guys do here?”

In my view interviews ought to be a two-way streets. We’re not just checking them, the good ones are checking us too. Honestly, I think there’s a huge correlation between those asking us a ton of questions during interviews and our best hires.

For this reason I reserve the majority of my part of the interview for two things:

  1. Poke around in the candidate’s history, but especially in how they see their future. Why are they even talking to us? What do they not like in their current job? What are they missing or looking for? Basically, what are their hopes and dreams? (Understanding your audience.)
  2. Figure out if this is the type of candidate that we want, and assuming yes, create a specialized story of what we’re doing at OLX. Note: this is not about bullshitting, this is about focusing on the aspects of the job they will love given what they said as part of #1. For instance, some people need autonomy, so then I tell them how we give teams autonomy. Some people care more about the scale, so I will give them some numbers and some of the scaling challenges we’ve faced recently. Some care about the product, so I focus on that part. Selling bullshit during recruitment is a terrible idea, they will find out the truth eventually, and at what cost…

My goal is to make every candidate go home with the feeling of “wow, this is a place where I would love to work.” And they should :-) Both for the people we end up giving an offer, but also the ones we reject. The world is small. Especially in a relatively small city like Poznań, people talk.

Selling the job is essential in a competitive landscape.

My ideal scenario for a rejected candidate is that they still recommend interviewing with OLX when asked. “I didn’t get in, but it sure sound like an awesome place to work. Give it a shot!”