Episode 0034 · April 13, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

Mailbag Interview

[Unedited Transcript]

Rich Ziade: [00:00:00] You know what I wanna rename

Paul Ford: What do you wanna rename? Rich?

Rich Ziade: inbox.

Paul Ford: Why

Rich Ziade: I want to call it in bag

Paul Ford: in bag?

Rich Ziade: or mail bag.

Paul Ford: mail bag. Oh, I seek, oh, cuz we’re doing a mail bag episode.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Hey, I didn’t see anything in my bag.

Paul Ford: you open up, uh, you.

Rich Ziade: in my bag?

Paul Ford: No, I get it. I get it. You open up your Apple mail yura client and uh, it says mailbag. That’s nice. That’s nice. And

Rich Ziade: bag

Paul Ford: know, the nice thing about a mail bag

Rich Ziade: in bag zero?

Paul Ford: mailbag zero. Um,

Rich Ziade: an also another idea. You can call the trash scumbag.

Paul Ford: Uh, now don’t do that. Do you know the actual origin of the term scum?

Rich Ziade: I don’t,

Paul Ford: No, it’s used it. It’s used condom.[00:01:00]

Rich Ziade: Oh, I, I know that.

Paul Ford: Oh, okay.

Rich Ziade: that, Paul. No, I

Paul Ford: Oh, okay. Well there, well,

Rich Ziade: We can keep this in cuz it’s 2023 and we’re turning

Paul Ford: I know. It’s okay. Everybody’s kind of like everybody’s done with us, right? Like,

Rich Ziade: Well look at these two SC bags.

Paul Ford: yeah, we’re not on the chopping block anymore. And they’re just like, all right, give us your advice. So look, okay, we’re, we’re being elliptical here. Let me play the theme song because we actually do have a great mailbag message.

And, uh, somebody asking for straight up advice, we’re gonna give it to ’em. Uh, let’s go.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: All right, rich, so I, I know

Rich Ziade: this person a name. Paul, humanize this person for me. Give this person a name.

Paul Ford: Um,

Rich Ziade: Stewy.

Paul Ford: I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna do like [00:02:00] Jeff anymore. I’m tired of Jeff. Um,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: uh, Fred.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: All right. So Fred

Rich Ziade: quite a leap there from Jeff to Fred.

Paul Ford: listen, my, my brain is slowly atrophying as I get older. I can make smaller. Smaller jumps, and also, frankly, again, 2023. Every possible name is a huge risk except for like really bland Anglo names.

Then I can, I can get away with that.

Rich Ziade: you know what was blue? My, I, I watched ban cheese of in Sheen last night.

Paul Ford: Oh, yeah. How is it? How’s that movie?

Rich Ziade: Uh, it’s not, it’s not a feel good Christmas film, I’ll tell you that. Um, uh, but the names blew my mind. It’s like old Irish names and it’s like, calm som Larry.

Paul Ford: Utterly.

Rich Ziade: spaces.

Paul Ford: It is the least pronounceable. Cuz you see Irish people. I’m Irish, and you, when you meet people from Ireland, you’re like, oh, you, you look like a a Greg. No, no, no, no, no. There’s gonna [00:03:00] be so many vowels. You’re gonna be driving through the OS and around the eyes to get to the end of that name.

Rich Ziade: Let’s, let’s give this, uh, let’s actually, um,

Paul Ford: Well, let me be, let me, let me ask you the que Yeah, Shiv. Okay, so Shiv.

Rich Ziade: Shiv

Paul Ford: we’re watching. We’re watching succession. All right, so Shiv,

Rich Ziade: Shiv

Paul Ford: she gets in touch and she says, Hey, hey there advisors. Shiv works in data science. Okay, data science, pretty senior, has an advanced degree smart person. And Shiv says, I’m in the middle of a series of interviews and I’ve.

Everything wrong. Short of using a racial slur in the first two, how do you prepare for interviews and how do you course correct in the middle? And I’m like, okay, wait, gimme in a sense of the mistakes. Okay. And so mistakes were made. Biggest unforced error, Paul, is that I had one interview on Thursday technical.

I got the tone wrong. I was going for friendly. The counterparty was there for [00:04:00] gladiatorial combat. Then I got nervous Thursday night, couldn’t sleep, panicked myself awake for hours, and was wrecked the next. Which led to poor performance in the coding exercise, which I usually am really strong at, and basically I just panic myself into worse and worse outcomes.

Pretty amazing. This is an adult bow. This is someone who’s been around for a while. Ironically, Schiff says, I think I did better on the leadership interview. Uh, because I ran out of, I, I, I stopped caring. I ran out of, we don’t swear on this podcast. We don’t use the F word anymore. So I ran out of F’s. Boy, I feel like a 13 year old doing that, uh, and was just yapping. So, okay. So give your reactions to that. I, I, we’ll, we’ll switch. I’ll stop being that person. Okay. So this is someone who, let me just summarize. Senior in their career. I’ll take another job. And, uh, she goes, does the interview, and it just, [00:05:00] uh, it just goes, it seems to all go wrong. Can’t get the tone right.

Lots of, lots of stuff going on and just like, just doesn’t seem to be able to get control of the process.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Um, yeah, so I, I wanna step out of the interview room for a minute, just to give. People, kind of a sense of, of what’s going on. I’ve interviewed, I’ve interviewed people probably. 200 times more than I’ve been interviewed myself, like I’ve interviewed maybe 500 people in my career. I’ve gone on like six interviews.

I think I walked out on three of them. I’m not a great interviewee. Generally speaking. Let’s just get that out of the way. So the advantage of talking about this here is that it’s worth thinking about the moments and the days before the interview for the other side and where they are and who they are

Paul Ford: Uh, you mean for the person who’s doing the hiring for the, the [00:06:00] interviewer.

Rich Ziade: Exactly, exactly. You rarely interview with the c e o. You’re always interviewing with someone who is themselves on in an environment and are a product of a culture where they are worrying about power dynamics with which have them at a disadvantage. Right. Um, so they, they’re coming into that. In a particular setting.

Now, look, in the very beginning, it sounds like the person was trying to come in warm and friendly, and I think you said she, she said it was a gladiatorial battle, blah, blah, blah. Right? Um, really pro Look, I was, I, I can fully admit this. I am a very, very tough interview. Like I’m a really tough interview.

Paul Ford: Gladiatorial Combat probably shouldn’t worry you. The, you and I if, if someone has done tons and tons of interviews, you and I did tons and tons of, I. Then you actually get really polite and formal and structured. [00:07:00] You are a very tough interview, but often the person on the other side didn’t know that they were being grilled.

Rich Ziade: It’s a series of questions, right? If, if you’re finding, look, let me sit, put a warning signal out. We don’t, I, I, I, I, I’m consciously trying to do this. I know people are anxious in an interview process. Don’t disrespect the person. Don’t flex. Don’t show your power over them. Obviously there’s a power, a terrible power imbalance in that moment, right?

But can you ask self questions and Yeah. It’s an uncomfortable moment when the. Clearly has been cornered and really doesn’t know what to say next. I actually often give them an out, like, it’s like, okay, let’s move on to this other thing. It’s, it’s a rough, rough setting. You can have a tough interview without making someone feel terrible.

Paul Ford: If you’re talking to someone senior and it’s going pretty well and suddenly they’re like, Hey, it says here that you have a couple cats or where, you know, where’d you, um, did you ever go to

Rich Ziade: trying to give you a

Paul Ford: to Lake Geneva? And that’s how you knew [00:08:00] it’s over.

It’s not, it’s not that they’re gonna like cut you. They’re gonna start just sort of chatting cuz you gotta use the time up. God forbid an interview ever end early.

Rich Ziade: that’s right. That’s right. Yeah. That’s tough. Right? And so I, you know, the, one of the questions I would ask Shiv is, Did it go gladiatorial cuz they’re mean, or, and, and they love to show power and they, they’re enjoying themselves. Or is it going gladiatorial because they’re truly trying to understand what you’re about and there’s still respect in the room and, and, uh, and, and, um, uh, and appreciation for you to come in and do the conversa.

It could still be hard and not be.

Paul Ford: I also just feel that is a typical type of engineering focused interview. There is a, a personality profile that gets rewarded in that culture where it’s just like, I’m gonna ask the tough questions. You’re not gonna be able to bring aloud anything, and that person gets sent in to do the interview.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, I, you know, I think, I think people view interviews like, you know, in a very binary way, did I [00:09:00] get the job or did I not? Right? And, and, and what they, they, you know what, when someone asks for advice about an interview, it, you know, it, there, it presupposes that there is a like, Airtight formula to get you through to the job offer.

And there just isn’t, right? Like there’s so many components to it, so many factors in play. Um, they, you may do great and the person after you might be like a one in a thousand rockstar and they have a tough decision to make. Like we’ve been in that situation like, man, those are three great candidates, but we’ve got budget for one,

Paul Ford: It’s also just it’s risk reduction, right? Like we would, we would bias, we were, especially as an agency, you bias, direct ability to communicate to clients over some incredibly strong technical skills, sometimes.

Rich Ziade: Absolutely.

Paul Ford: Now look, I, let’s go back to something you were, you were saying something earlier about like, let’s get into their heads a couple days before the interview.

[00:10:00] Right? So, and there’s a power differential. They’ve got their own bosses, the interviewers are living their own lives. Where were you going with that?

Rich Ziade: Uh, where I was going with that and is, uh, to effectively, you ever see on Google Maps when it can’t really tell where you are. It sort of draws a big circle and says, I think you’re in this area, or in like, find my friends or whatever. Like it

Paul Ford: You ever see it too? I love when it tries to get you out of a parking lot and it’s just, it’s, it’s forgotten everything about reality. You just, it doesn’t know which way to go

Rich Ziade: Oh, like, yeah, yeah, yeah. Uh, the, I, I’ve circled the price chopper parking lot here, upstate in upstate New York seven times before I found the exit.

Paul Ford: It’s, it’s not just that. It’s basically what I love is it falls back to cardinal directions. So you’re like in price c. And it, and you’re like, I want to go to the bookstore. And it’s like, go north as if

Rich Ziade: Through the

Paul Ford: discovering this country. Yeah. Yeah. Like look for bear.[00:11:00]

Rich Ziade: Yeah, I guess, I guess what I’m getting at here, look, it’s all very quantitative. There’s pattern matching to get you the interview. You got the interview, you have some skills, and you have some experience that made made it worthwhile for you to come in. They know more about you than you know about them, meaning the interviewers.

You know about the company, but you really don’t know what you’re going into, right? You don’t have a good, you don’t have good intelligence yet they have very good intelligence. You don’t ask an interviewer for their. Right. You, you, they have yours. And so they have a backstory. They have, like, they have essentially, they’ve triangulated already on you and you haven’t done none of that.

And so the first thing you should do when you get in there is, I, I like to, I, I like it when an interviewee asks around for a minute, like, so how long? Basic stuff, just so you can sort of draw that. On the geography. In the geography, so you can, you’re not gonna pinpoint exactly what the heck’s going on, but put me in the neighborhood.

How long have you been in this [00:12:00] space? Wow. You guys grew pretty fast. It looks like that is, that starts to

Paul Ford: for people. Here’s what’s hard for people. What’s hard for people is actually setting up that conversation. So let me give you a strategy, because you go in and it’s, it’s usually it’s moving along pretty quick, or like somebody’s like leaving the room and another person’s coming in the room and so on.

So you literally look at them and go make eye contact and say, I am fully prepared for all kinds of gladiatorial combat. Or like, I’m ready to be grilled, but do me a favor. I just wanna get my bearings. How long have you. Right. Like, just because they’re gonna come in and they kind of don’t want to interview you.

Nobody likes to interview. It’s, it’s uncomfortable, it’s painful. They, they’ve already made decisions. Now they’re, you know, they

Rich Ziade: They have other things to do. Nobody’s a full-time interview.

Paul Ford: You have to fill out a form afterwards. You gotta get people ratings with smiley faces. It’s horrible, right?

And so, like, they’re already, like, they kind of just don’t want to see you. And so if you come in and you [00:13:00] say, and you basically imply, look, this is gonna be a human conversation, even if the outcome isn’t great and I’m ready for that because I’m part of that, I, that actually, it’s not just you saying like, okay, let’s, let’s balance this out and I’m gonna learn some stuff and so on.

That is actually you auditioning for the role of person they want to spend time with every day for the next five years.

Rich Ziade: I mean, obviously you should feel relaxed. You should, um, you know, this, these are classic sort of, if the posture seems.

Desperate. It doesn’t help you even though it’s an, and that’s tough to say to anybody who’s in an anxious situation, they may need the job. This is human nature and human dynamics here. Unfortunately, by the way, if you seem too relaxed, [00:14:00] we’ve had some people who couldn’t believe they gave us the gift of their time for 30 minutes in an interview like we’ve had that.

Paul Ford: they’ve got the wrong lesson, right? So I, I. People do. They, I mean, look, it’s been a long 10 years. There were moments where there just weren’t that many product managers to go around, right? And so that you could walk and, and the, the memo was, go on in and tell ’em how valuable you, you, you are, because then, you know, and then you decide if you wanna work there or not.

There’s some truth in that. But when we get that attitude, you’d be like, all right, well then go, go work at Facebook. God bless. Like, you’re not gonna be happy with us.

Rich Ziade: I, I will say something else Shiv gave a clue about, you know, she couldn’t sleep the night, you know, it was two days of interviews, which by the way, that’s a good sign. They called you back. They could have easily said, sorry, we’ll, like we’ll be in touch. But they called you back. And you know, she said that the second day she did, she cared a lot less and was more relaxed cuz she’s like, okay, it’s hopeless now, so why don’t I just be myself?

Here’s the advice I would give anyone that feels like it might be going down if they’re on a sec, like [00:15:00] you can share what’s going on. You say, look, I really like this place. I’d love to be a part of this. And I was, I just didn’t get much sleep last night. I was thinking a lot about it and, and I might not be my sharpest.

Okay. That sounds like, oh my God, is this person gonna fall apart it? But let me tell you, that is a wonderful test for them because if they’re jerks and they’re like, oh boy, uh, who wants to deal with this? You, you’re actually humanizing yourself a little bit. And believe me, nobody is at the top of the hill.

Very few people are right. And they may connect to that. They may say, okay, let’s

Paul Ford: Oh, I, they’re, they’re gonna say, I get it. I was really anxious before I, you know, got this job too.

Rich Ziade: Exactly. Exactly. And you know it, it

Paul Ford: It is important too, related to that, it’s actually what you do. The, the Judah move there is, you can use that to communicate enthusiasm. Like I’m actually, I’ve just been thinking about it, you know, there’s a lot to do here. It’d be really cool to talk about what we’re gonna be doing every day, cuz that’s really what I’m thinking.

[00:16:00] You know how to interview, you’ve done a lot of it and you’ve done very little interviewing. Okay, fine. But the reality is we used to sell services to enter enterprises, and what’s the secret to selling services to enterprises? I’m not, I don’t wanna set you up and, and go through q and a, so I’ll give you the answer.

Talking to lots and lots of enterprise.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, sure.

Paul Ford: so the critical thing is that you talk to multiple companies or that you do at, at which point you start to pick up the vibes and you figure out where you fit, and that’s okay. That’s a process. The first interview, Is rarely good. And in fact what would happen, I, I would see this would happen with people all the time.

They’d be like, Hey, I, you know, I’m gonna quit this job and then I want to come interview with you cuz I think that I want to come work for your company. I’m like, that’s great, but I think you should. And it was a really weird thing because even if I was [00:17:00] enthusiastic about them, I’d be like, you know, you should probably talk to five or six companies and figure out what’s right for you.

Because invariably, if once or twice people would come over and in about six months they would kind of burn out. They, they hadn’t figured out what they really wanted. They were looking for an easy out.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. I mean, if you are hanging it on one conversation that you want to, like, you’re coming up and you’re just gonna swing for the fences, that’s, you’re already not in a great state. You’ve put all your chips in one. Like you gotta get out there and.

Paul Ford: a disservice. That’s right.

Rich Ziade: Exactly. Exactly. Look and, and look. We have to acknowledge, I think, you know, the job market’s getting a little tougher out there.

A lot of technical people have been let go. I, I don’t know that, you know, I don’t know the macro picture, but tens of thousands of people that are very skilled in technology have been sent home over the last three months, five months, six months. So there’s, you know, [00:18:00] you can’t help but feel anxious. About the outcome if you really need that job, right, and, and you’re not, you know, the interviews aren’t pouring in like they used to.

I think that’s happening in the world. And I want to, em, I wanna sympathize with that a bit. Um, which leads to my, my, my kind of my final point here is, um, and this is gonna sound kind of zen and corny, but I think it’s really important. Um, you, there you have very little control. Embrace that you may absolutely nail it and they may waffle for a dozen other reasons.

And once you embrace the fact that you just don’t have total control, your whole posture, your demeanor, everything will start to be different. And I know that’s not easy to do, but

Paul Ford: Oh yeah. No. When I think of you, I, I think of you, I think of you [00:19:00] as someone who’s really good at giving up control. Just your number one quality in.

Rich Ziade: It’s my fatal flaw it’s something, you know, I have to kind of work on for the next 300 years.

Paul Ford: Oh, my field will, but it’s, it’s hilarious cuz I’m the opposite, right? I’m like, oh, you want control? Absolutely. You should have it. And, and, and they’ll be like, I was just trying to sell you a pretzel. And I’m like, no, no, no.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: house now. Um,

Rich Ziade: Think about talking to your friend afterwards. How do you think you did? I think I did the best I could. I, I liked the, the response in the room, but we’ll see. That is, if you think about that conversation before you go into the interview, you’re already starting to embrace the fact that you control about 20% of this whole thing you just do.

Paul Ford: It’s real. I, I think also just you and I had so many, literally hundreds of interactions where people rejected us over the last 10 years and that [00:20:00] it, so that the idea of reject. It’s, it’s very comforting. Like, I don’t care. Like, you know, we, we’ve talked to people, we’ve talked to tons of VCs about our startup, we’ve talked to tons of people about all kinds of things, and they frequently say, no mo, most likely they say nothing.

Um, And if you take that personally, you’re actually just kind of wasting your own time. They’re just where they’re at. And so, yeah, you do the best you can. You tell your friend about it, you, you’re allowed to feel a sense of mid-level resentment towards an organization that doesn’t hire you for the rest of your life.

You really are. So enjoy that.

Rich Ziade: I say hate ’em all. You want, I mean, to me, and maybe this is unhealthy and probably shouldn’t fall under, you know, the advisor’s, uh, banner, but, um, rejection doubt. Um, Unsolicited advice from people who don’t want anything to do with you cuz they don’t think you have it right, is probably the single most motivating thing [00:21:00] in my life.

Like more than like, you can do it Rich, I believe in you. Uh, which is exactly, uh, the wrong way to be. Let me get that out of the way. That was an anti advice

Paul Ford: Oh, no, no. Pause. Let’s be honest. And that, that’s let’s, let’s be clear here, Richard. That motivates everybody. Nothing is more motivating than the doubt of others.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Um, there’s a great line from a moderate song I love moderate.

Paul Ford: It’s

Rich Ziade: That sticks in my head, especially after I had a bad phone call or somebody was like, there’s nothing worse. I’m gonna sound arrogant for one lousy second. Can I do that? Or maybe, ha, okay. There’s nothing worse than getting advice from dumb people,

Paul Ford: You know who loves to give advice? Rich people who probably shouldn’t be giving advice.

Rich Ziade: exactly. And, and it’s, this sounded arrogant and now you’re gonna unsubscribe from the podcast, whatever the line from the Mara song is, burning Bridge’s Light My way.

Paul Ford: [00:22:00] Yeah. Yeah. It’s a good feeling, right? Like just poof.

Rich Ziade: Um, hang in there shiv. You did good. You cared. Hopefully they saw that you cared about the opportunity and you really wanted it. And that’s a good thing, not because you’re greedy or you want more money, but because you wanted to connect to them. And if they see that, then that’s a good place.

Paul Ford: I respect this person because they are trying to professionalize how they’re interacting with these companies, right? Like they’re, they’re, they’re doing the best they can here to be a good advocate for themselves, but also do well in this part of the process. And

Rich Ziade: This sounds like a decent person, by the way. Like there’s a lot of arrogance in this world and this sounded like I could, this sounds like the kind of person that’s gonna care about their job if they get it right, and hopefully the other side’s. Hopefully the other side sees that right, and doesn’t actually minimize it or make them feel terrible about it just because they’re in a power position.

Um, uh, and so hang in there.

Paul Ford: [00:23:00] You know what, if that’s the case, that’s really good information to get before you take the job.

Rich Ziade: Exactly. Exactly. You can be, and we started the podcast with this and we can end it with this. You can have a tough conversation and peop people still be respectful and kind cuz that’s gonna be, you’re gonna go live with them. If you get that job offer and you take it, you’re gonna probably spend more t time with them than with your family.

Like that’s reality. And so find that out.

Paul Ford: look, and, and just to set the standard, I remember once we had an interview with a person who was, they were like almost talking about squirrels, and then they asked us if they had the job and they wanted to like run the company. Like we had a few where people were not well, and we still would find that hour and you’d listen respectfully and you’d take notes and then you’d be like, okay, not for.

Good luck so people should be polite.

Rich Ziade: also giving them a

Paul Ford: Cut this. We were, we were in a good place to end. Pause. We were in a good place to end. So well, rich, I

Rich Ziade: this is helpful. There is [00:24:00] no silver bullet. I think we gave some directional advice, maybe

Paul Ford: well this is, why do we feel comfortable advising? Because between the two of us, we’ve probably done, you know, 700 interviews.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Um, yeah, and, and look, be, be wary of the, like, 10 steps to nail the interview. Like, you know, the Twitter thread or the, the, the listicle on the web or

Paul Ford: Oh, there’s nothing. There’s no resume magic. There’s no, you can’t become a different person. It, it just is what it is. Go in, present yourself. Well,

Rich Ziade: Shiv, best of luck. God speed to you. Um, hang in. Yeah. Um, ziti ford.com. There was a Reddit thread that said, what podcast should I listen to? And I went in and I wrote, ziti ford.com,

Paul Ford: Did you

Rich Ziade: whatever. Sue me. I don’t

Paul Ford: cool.

Rich Ziade: I don’t care. It was all like drunk history and all the same podcast from 10 years ago.

Um, so

Paul Ford: given advice in Reddit. That’s, that’s cool.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. I like, yeah, I use, I [00:25:00] use a, you know, Reddit for AV exchange. Sumi, uh, anyway.

Paul Ford: All right.

Rich Ziade: have a lovely week. Everyone. Hit us up at hello@zitiford.com. We’re enjoying the mailbag. We’re gonna stay at mailbag zero until you and you guys just keep filling it up.

Paul Ford: mailbag. Zero.

Rich Ziade: have a lovely week.

Paul Ford: Bye.

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