General Assembly Essentials of Getting Hired, Jonathan Basker, VP of People, Betaworks
Jonathan Basker did a talk on getting hired in the startup world. It was very different from what I expected. This was his first talk at General Assembly. The meeting ran past the allotted time of 8:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. to a bit past 10:00 p.m. The talk was both excellent and sold out. I forgot my notebook so I am going to write what I saw and heard from memory. As always, this is my interpretation of events.
I arrived at the General Assembly building on the 4th floor of 902 Broadway, a little bit past 7:00 p.m. and took a short walk around the neighborhood. I came back at 7:45 p.m. The meeting was held in the media room. The last meeting at General Assembly I attended was in the library.
I was one of the first people in the room and had a chance to ask a few questions before the session started. I learned that Linked In was the tool Jonathan Basker used the most to find people.
The talk started with Jonathan Basker giving his background as a recruiter. He worked for a recruiting company in Seattle recruiting for small startups, then moved to becoming a recruiter for Etsy, and now is the VP of People for Betaworks which is a recruiting and angel investing firm.
In a way, I can relate to this. In 2000, I worked for the Globix corporation as a sourcer finding people in an internal recruiting department for a year. It was a very different. I learned a lot about how the internet worked and how people connected to each other through the internet. It is not something I would want to do again, but I can relate to the experience. There are librarians who work in some of the larger recruiting and outplacement firms. Many of them are members of the Executive Search Roundtable.
The talk was very much an open discussion with the audience asking a large variety of questions. There were developers, an intern, some people from the banking industry, a person who worked at Neverware, an internet community manager, an iPhone app developer, some people seeking to get into product management, and a variety of other people. The room was completely full.
I liked how Jonathan Basker described many different aspects of the hiring process. Some of his suggestions like simply saying hello, instead of a formal introduction on your cover letter were a bit different. He described how startups were very personal because of their small size. The best way to get hired was to know people inside the company. The first choice was to know someone who worked in your company of choice, the next best way to apply was to network your way into a company, and the least desirable way to apply was to apply through a resume sent in blindly.
One of the reasons for me going to these things is to see people who might be in a similar situation to my own. When I cover the computer lab, I sometimes help people apply for jobs. One of the things that happens is that people who are looking for jobs share job openings with each other. A group opportunity opens up more opportunities to find things and get feedback.
On a personal level, Jonathan Basker said he never got a job through using a resume. This is very different from my own experience. I applied directly to the jobs I wanted and got the positions. I have been wondering for a long time the best way to get a job without using a resume. I am not seeing the kind of job I want on a job board. Jonathan Basker describes the hardest kind of job to get is one that you create yourself.
At the beginning of the discussion, he asked how many people were actively looking for a job in a startup. Quite a few people raised their hands. Some people were considering working in a startup. It was different. I feel a bit ambivalent, I am interested in entrepreneurship, specifically social reading and social publishing. Things like Librarything, Shelfari, Goodreads, Red Room, Red Lemonade, Copia, and other places. I like reading the Tools of Change for Publishing linked in group and the Digital Shift from Library Journal. I am just not quite sure how to approach this. It is all very new and a bit disconcerting.
There were questions about how people can prepare for going from being at a bank as a developer to being a developer at a startup. Jonathan Basker suggested that developers join the various Hackathons at General Assembly and through Meetup. It was very important to go to Meetups and events to meet people with similar backgrounds.
Jonathan Basker suggested that we use the PAR method for interviewing. PAR stands for problems action results. We should go back through our career and write down where we succeeded in solving problems. This would help us tremendously with interviews. He also suggested that we take the time to relate our experiences to the job we are applying for. Take the time to write it all out.
Meetups are something I can relate to very well. I was at the New York Librarians Meetup last night talking with Stephanie Gross the leader of the meetup. Jonathan Basker is absolutely correct in saying that recruiters are going out to meet people at events more than just looking at resumes.
One of his suggestions was to read a lot of online magazines and news sources on technology. Jonathan Basker suggested Tech Crunch, Mashable, and a few other sites. This was a way to keep on the same page as everyone else when you went to meetups, cocktail parties, and classes.
There was a technical writer who was asking about blogs. His response was to put as much as you can on the internet. People in startups want to see your Twitter, blog, and any other thing which you might have including Linked In. Internet startups want to see that you are using the internet.
The talk seemed to cover the full gamut of places around New York. I even heard about New York City Resistor being a good place to meet developers. New York City Resistor is a place which I have meant to visit for a long time. I am interested in the relation between the Maker movement and libraries. There is a connection there.
There was also some talk about places to learn about applying for jobs. The book What Color is Your Parachute was mentioned by Richard Bolles. I also mentioned the Five O'clock Club books. I think the people in the class were much more focused on reading online blogs and news sites than books. This of course is a bit different than the library setting. There was some mention of the Oreilly books being an excellent place to learn about programming. I follow Oreilly media closely, especially Joe Wikert's blog, Publishing 2020.
Jonathan Basker talked about how there was a different set of expectations in hiring sales people than technical people. Sales people are expected to be much more forward thinking. I could relate to Jonathan Basker talking about how a person visited Betaworks unannounced. At one point, I went to New Work City to see how it worked. I also stopped by General Assembly to see what the space was like before I started taking classes.
Another subject which Jonathan Basker touched on was cover letters and thank you notes. He said that you should send a cover letter of usually about two to three paragraphs. The cover letter should talk about how you can help the company you are applying to. He also mentioned that he very much liked the cover letters he got at Etsy. People would send cover letters folded up as origami and thank you notes in cross stitch. This added a nice ponderable touch to the talk.
There was a question about internships. Jonathan reminded people that internships are not about getting coffee for people. A good internship should have people doing something constructive which leads to a good job.
I asked about ways to train myself for startup jobs. Most of his answers seemed to be focused on programming and technology. I look at the startup jobs and wonder what I am doing sometimes because my skills seem not to match that many job listings. I am surprised at the limited amount of research, marketing, and customer service jobs listed at startups.
On a very deep level this session about hiring made me rethink how I network with other people. It is quite difficult for me to ask people for contacts. I am not sure why. It just is. I seem to meet a lot of people, but find it difficult to ask for connections. I think this is true of a lot of people.
I also think that I never really asked a lot of questions to the jobs which I have been interviewed for. This is something else which I have to think about. The process of negotiating about salary and asking about company backgrounds did not come up a lot. But, then a library is a very well defined place with very specific expectations.
Jonathan Basker mentioned that he would possibly do a hiring for startups session as well. This would be equally fascinating to me.
At the end of the session, I ended up talking to the iPhone application developer who was at the meeting about the changes which were happening in libraries. In libraries, many more people now have E-readers and want to learn how to use them, there is more programming, more demand for computer use and instruction, wireless access inside the building, less funding, and other things. I ended up suggesting that he might want to visit New Work City and New York City Resistor if he is exploring New York for computer people.