Category Archives: recruiting

Tips on Recruiting Executives Part II [On Atlassian]

Daniel Freeman who runs product marketing and Jay Simons, new head of marketing, chatting with Mike Cannon-Brookes (back) in our new SF office. That’s Jay’s weimaraner named Sydney, also a great API developer.

In May, we completed the search for a vice president marketing which I wrote about last year. I promised to blog about the search when it was done, so here’s Part II on tips for recruiting executives and senior people.

1. The best candidates are referred by friends.

Our new head of marketing Jay Simons was referred by Kathleen Reidy of the 451 Group, a really bright industry analyst I had the pleasure of meeting last year. Analysts can be a great source of information because they frequently get briefed. James Governor of Red Monk gave me advice more than once.

VC’s are another good source. Some are protective of their network, so it helps to have good relationships. A VC we trust referred our director of product marketing Daniel.

All but one of our best candidates came from referrals. One came through Linkedin. Your network matters, but it requires more than blasting referral emails out to hundreds of people.

2. Use Linkedin as chum.

Think of Linkedin as a big bucket of fish heads, or chum. Chumming is when you throw a big bucket of fish heads and guts in the water to attract fish to your boat. You probably won’t find the candidate through Linkedin, but it’s a great way to announce your intentions. Kathleen Reidy learned of our intentions through my Linkedin email blast.

We received 50-75 resumes for each ad. The problem is filtering these is rough: marketing people are Pro Bullshit Throwers, and their resumes look very professional. Reading these resumes requires a healthy dose of Mike Cannon-Brookes-style skepticism.

I targeted a few candidates by doing People Searches on Linkedin and sending blind emails. I targeted some companies that were in transition. Always be thinking of companies who might be going through a transition. Coincidentally Jay came from BEA/Plumtree, which was being eaten by Oracle. Munch Munch.

3. Best athlete trumps best functional fit.

It’s easy to get wrapped around the axle about candidates meeting all the tick boxes on your list. Silicon Valley executive headhunters can be obsessed with candidates meeting every functional requirement, and to a fault. One problem with executive search is that because they get paid so much, they have to do this to earn their pay. Within reason, of course, you don’t.

The best candidates were not necessarily the best on paper, and did not meet every wish we had. For example, at Atlassian finding business people who have experience with highly technical products like our developer tools is tough.

An analogy is when an American football team goes into a draft looking for a Tight End [Tall guy that can catch passes and run short routes]. If presented with a top athlete in another position and who could be a game-changer, it may be foolhardy to pass. Coincidentally we ended up hiring the youngest of all the best candidates.

4. Interview intensely and spend considerable time.

You can’t spend too much time interviewing key hires. I sat down with the best candidates three times or more. Once I interviewed for a CEO job in a six-on-one interview format that lasted over two and a half hours; CEOs should be able to handle this. Any critical hire should. We interviewed one candidate three-on-one in Sydney.

In another case, Daniel who now runs our product marketing took three of us through a case study of another company to determine any lessons for Atlassian. Not a typical interview format, yet a great way to learn how someone thinks.

5. Source your own references, and get the most senior ones.

Find out who were the VCs on the person’s board at his or her last company. Always ask to talk to the CEO. Board members and CEOs tend not to suffer fools. Start checking as soon as you start to like a candidate, while carefully observing the person’s confidentiality. This may mean checking former execs at the company, or someone you know and trust. If the person is in a senior business role, find out what the senior engineers thought of the person. Good business people should command the respect of technical staff.

6. Always have an executive search backup.

There’s a reason why VC firms use executive recruiters. They don’t want to waste time. If you find yourself wasting time, be ready to hire a strong executive recruiter. I had one on alert from the start.

How to Write a Bad Resume

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There are three surefire ways to write a bad resume:

  1. Make it too long.
  2. Obscure your background with your interpretation of your strengths and skills.
  3. Give a vague chronology.

Kicking off our search for a VP of Marketing this week made me ruminate about bad resumes. For this role, the problem is that marketing people can make anything look good, or more accurately: they can talk at length about anything, even if it’s irrelevant. So, the primary problem is long resumes that put you to sleep. I thought this a good opportunity to get crabby about resumes in general.

The three best ways to write a bad or a good resume:

1. Length

Most mortals can fit their background on one page. After about ten years of experience, you might merit a second page. Maybe. But think hard first. It might take 15 years before we need to hear it all. I have seen some resumes that creep onto a third page that are well written, but these are people with 20 or more years of experience.

Four pages are uncalled for unless you are from a foreign country where the sheer weight of your resume is part of the Feng Shui and culture. In spite of this habit overseas, it is a practice that is doomed in a world of impatient, ADD Type A’s who spend more and more time on the Internet. Get over it. Practice using that delete key, Champ.

2. Identify Your Background, not Your Skills and Strengths

Let the facts speak for themselves. Nothing is more annoying than resumes that start with a half page or an entire page summarizing someone’s background and skills. Your experience is what counts, not your interpretation. I have seen good resumes that start with three pertinent bullets highlighting key experience, but unless you merit a two or three page resume, try to skip this. Your work history and specific accomplishments are what matters.

Here are two actual examples from resumes I received today:

  • “I am a marketing master that can develop unlimited campaign ideas from the fertile right side of my brain.” I kid you not. A Master with a Fertile Brain. Save me.
  • “Strengths (Source: Gallup Clifton Strengthsfinder): Maximizer, Ideation, Strategic, Self-Assurance, Activator.” Is this necessary? Aside from being very unclear on what a “Maximizer” exactly is, or for that matter an “Activator”, what God-Help-Me is the Gallup Clifton Strengthsfinder?

3. Specific, Clear Chronology

If you have ever interviewed with Heidrick & Struggles or any of the major executive search firms, you know that competent, highly paid recruiters are exacting about chronology. Even if you are a CEO, these recruiters will carefully go through every crevice, so no stone is unturned.

That means month and year, start and end to every job. Yes, the month matters. It demonstrates you are a concrete, specific person. Remember, this is your career. Here in swashbuckling Silicon Valley where folks go through jobs like hot knives through butter, a string of jobs all less than two years is not uncommon. Therefore the month becomes material.

Always show the year you received a degree. Vagueness can make one wonder what you are hiding. Did you get lost at a Dead concert for a few years? (There’s an appropriate way to describe this career move.)

If you can get these three things right: 1) brevity, 2) background not strengths/skills/functional nonsense, and 3) clear chronology, you are off to good start.