CS Hiring and Interview Guides

Samma Hafeez
Samma Hafeez Member Posts: 24 Thought Leader
Second Anniversary
edited August 17 in CS Org Conversations
Hi GGG fam!

Reaching out to this resourceful community for input on how you currently manage your interview and hiring processes for critical CS roles such as: Chief Customer Officer, VP of CS, CS Ops, and CSM. CS means a lot of different things at a lot of different companies so eager to learn and listen! 

I'm specifically looking for input around:

1. Key Competencies by role
2. Prior Experience (must haves vs nice to haves)
3. Job Description Do's and Don'ts
4. Lessons Learned (Good, Bad, Ugly)
5. Candidate Scorecards/Frameworks
6. Interview Question guides/templates
7. Assessments/Case Studies

I think we have a huge opportunity to fine tune talent search and hiring practices within CS especially as many of us scale our teams and operations. 

Thank you in advance and feel free to reach out to me 1-1 too!



  • Sarah Bierenbaum
    Sarah Bierenbaum Member Posts: 7 Seeker
    edited September 2020
    I have so many thoughts about this!

    But first and foremost, I think exactly 0 of these jobs requires a college degree or MBA. Certainly fine to list as "BA or equivalent work experience", or similar, but not a requirement. There is so much great talent out there that has followed alternative paths, and I want to make sure they apply. 

    I'm running to a meeting but wanted to share that thought first. I'll add more later. ?
  • Ashton Liu
    Ashton Liu Member Posts: 30 Expert
    Second Anniversary 10 Comments
    edited September 2020
    A lot of it comes down to what your intended end result is and planning out how you want to get there. 

    For example, the question of prior experience varies will depend on how much domain expertise is required. Certain verticals are so specialized that in order to be effective in CS you must have years of industry experience (fields like cyber security and tourism/hospitality, which I'm more familiar with, come to mind). In cases like that, roles that are customer facing and have to discuss strategy/best practices probably need that level of expertise. Others such as CS Ops and CCO arguably do not need this. For senior CS management roles, you might prefer to have people with richer CS backgrounds instead of domain expertise, as they will want to focus on best practices and KPIs specific to a CS organization. It will always be a delicate balancing act. My organization focused a lot on industry/domain expertise early on, and had to go back and build a lot of the core CS capabilities later on in our development. 

    For scorecards, we used to have everyone rate a candidate on a numerical scale for things like intelligence, drive, etc. The problem is that it was so subjective that it wasn't useful for me as a hiring manager. Others will disagree and will swear by it; I would just state that to make this format successful you need to standardize the questions that will answer how intelligent and driven this person is. It would also be useful to define things like intelligence and why it's useful (someone with a phd is very intelligent but does this mean they'd be a better CSM). I opted for something more simple, to prompt interviewers to answer pointed (and standardized) questions like: does this person have the skills to do the job, would this candidate perform well in our work environment, what strengths does this candidate bring, what concerns do you have, etc. I personally found these much more useful when evaluating interview notes for multiple candidates. Most important is to standardize and streamline everything to make sure that you know what you're looking for, that the questions your team asks help you get to what you're looking for, and the follow up questions/evaluation forms reflect this. 

    For lessons learned, this may not apply to everyone but in the past I made the mistake of having too many people interview a candidate. The process took longer, was unstructured/unclear, and from the perspective of the candidate it dragged on and on. Plus, eventually everyone asks the same questions. I changed this to be very specific when hiring CSMs: first interview is by junior CSM and peer from another dept. (culture/fit), second is from senior CSM/CSD (case study), and third is manager interview, plus an option in case the VP of CS wants to speak to the candidate. I surveyed people who went through this before and after the changes and everyone appreciated a clearer and more succinct structure. 

  • David Ellin
    David Ellin Member Posts: 169 Expert
    100 Comments Second Anniversary
    edited September 2020
    @Samma Hafeez, sorry for the long post but I'll try to provide a bit of insight to each of your 7 areas. First, I couldn't agree more with @Sarah Bierenbaum's comment about educational background. Almost every job post I see says MBA preferred and very few of those jobs will be done better by people with an MBA versus 15 years of hands-on experience.

    Key Competencies: start with desired outcomes and work backward to what competencies are most likely to make the person successful. For example, if a key competency is 'building executive-level relationships', you likely want someone who has a track record in the customer C-suite. If you're looking for a 'renewal specialist', you'll want someone with commercial (IE: pricing and contract negotiation) skills.

    Prior Experience: Must-haves and nice-to-haves are great. Just make sure your 'must-haves' are just that (IE: you know the person won't be successful without those). I saw a post not long ago for a VP of Customer Success where the must-have was "Salesforce Database Administrator" experience. This wasn't a small company where the CEO was making the coffee! Really? Wouldn't 'passionate about customers' be a more beneficial 'must-have'?

    Job Description 'Dos' and 'Dont's': Don't put travel <10% if you really need 25%. You likely won't retain the hire to their one-year anniversary. Do include 'proficient at PowerPoint' if you're a small company where the person has to do their own decks. If you can't be specific here, don't include the item.

    Lessons Learned: Anyone whose been in the workforce for a while should have great war stories. It's a great interview question for two reasons. First, you want to see how the person thinks on their feet. Second, the quality of the story (and lesson) will tell you something about the person.

    Candidate Scorecards: I love @Ashton L's answer. You need to avoid subjective scoring because it's often impacted by unintentional bias.

    Interview Questions/Guides: I'd recommend these, especially for younger people who do not have much interview experience. An interview can go south quickly if an inexperienced person doesn't know how to conduct an effective interview. Truthfully, very few people get training around this. Also, if you want to probe the candidate in specific areas, best to have questions prepared.

    Assessments/Case Studies: Be careful with assessments and make sure you know what you're looking for and they align with the job. You don't need to do a Wonderlic test on an entry-level DBA. Case studies are good but proceed with caution. My daughter is a social media strategist at a large non-profit. She went through 11 interviews, had to complete a case study, and write a presentation. BTW, she was 26 at the time. Crazy, right. The cast study (for a live project) started with (and I'm paraphrasing), "all contents of the document and your submission are the property of the company". Which means, 'we want (and may use) your ideas even if we don't hire you'. My daughter got the job. After starting, she was given the ideas of all the other candidates so she could combine the best ideas for her actual work. This left a very bad taste in her mouth and has impacted her perception of the organization.
  • Samma Hafeez
    Samma Hafeez Member Posts: 24 Thought Leader
    Second Anniversary
    edited September 2020
    I love this and couldn't agree more. Appreciate you weighing in and reminding us to look past the veneer and focus on the substance.
  • Samma Hafeez
    Samma Hafeez Member Posts: 24 Thought Leader
    Second Anniversary
    edited September 2020
    This is really helpful feedback - thanks Ashton! I especially appreciate your point around simplifying scorecards. Ensure that the inputs and outputs are meaningful by creating a consistent and structured process from the get-go.  I've seen really complex, convoluted scorecards that end up creating more noise than clarity during the interview process.

    And yes, never-ending interview cycles are exhausting for everyone involved.  Don't put anyone through a process you wouldn't be willing to go through yourself.
  • Samma Hafeez
    Samma Hafeez Member Posts: 24 Thought Leader
    Second Anniversary
    edited September 2020
    @David Ellin Thank you so much for these digestible inputs and for taking the time to meaningfully respond. Lots to learn from you! I appreciate your seasoned perspective on this topic, particularly your point around case studies. What I'm hearing from you is that it is important to maintain integrity during the interview process. Definitely agree that companies need to stop putting candidates through the ringer to poach ideas (very Uber-like!). What an exhausting and grueling experience for your daughter. 

    Curious, how have you coached or trained your teams to effectively interview candidates beyond providing guides? Role playing? Have you brought in any third party resources to support this mentoring/training process? 

    Thanks again for your valuable feedback. Lots to marinate on here.
  • Karen Werner
    Karen Werner Member Posts: 2 Navigator
    edited October 2020
    When I go about hiring for a Customer Success Advisor role, I look at the core competencies they will need to be successful. In our team that means: Customer Success experience, industry experience, everyday productivity tools experience, internal processes (ie are they an internal or external candidate), product knowledge and emotional intelligence. Each candidate comes with a subset of these competencies and varying levels of experience. I am looking for what kind of contribution will they make and how long do I think it will take to realize that contribution. Will it be hard on me and my team to train this candidate and is it worth the effort?

    So my questions in the interview process will typically dig into the areas where that candidate is less proficient to see if I can find parallel competencies that tell me they have the smarts to learn quickly. For instance, they likely do not know our product, but maybe they administered a similar product or a similarly complex product. Or if the candidate has account management experience but no customer success experience, I might try to land on whether they have a good grasp on the differences and similarities between the 2 functions. 

    In the second round we ask the candidate to prepare a 10-15 minute customer success plan. This has been super successful and a good weed out tool. It also helps review their presentation skills and when we intentionally throw them off their game it highlights their resiliency. There is no right or wrong answer and we do not provide nay further detail. The hope is they will do their research if they have no idea what a success plan is. 

    Team balance and diversity are super important for our team as well. So far so good - these methods have worked for me.