Last month, I was a finalist for the platform builder job at HelpScout. I didn’t end up getting the job, I learned so much in the process. I’ll be clear, it was disappointing. I wanted the job, had convinced myself that I was going to get it. It was my dream job, and was going to solve several problems for me. I had written a story before all the characters had their say, and the script flip was almost more than I could bear.
Disappointment is a part of life. How we respond to disappointment, and use it to transform our future, is a key marker in our stories. Look back over your own life. Where and when did you not get something you wanted, only to have it lead to an opportunity or relationship you treasure? Auditing pain is painful, so I often avoid it. But diving in may deliver some of the best lessons I’ve ever learned.
I’ve been all over the professional map the past 18 months. Writer, web designer, brand strategist, coach, teacher, box shipper, sketch artist, adventure guide, fitness guru, and a few other ideas that never took form. That showed in my interview. I believe there’s value to having a diverse skill set, but it was clear I hadn’t focused my skills around a particular focus or niche.
If I was going to give myself advice 18 months ago, it would have been to focus on just one idea. Thinking about how much further along I would have been now is one of the most frustrating parts of this experience. The second best time to decide? Now.
Highlight the unusual
Greg Ciotti (also at SparringMind.com) was brilliant and brutal in his editing process. Seeing my pitch article transform between version one and two was incredible. I remember looking over the two versions and thinking “that first draft sucked”. One of the best pieces of advice he gave me was to highlight the unusual elements of a story, then drill down to show readers why it works. For example, in the first draft of my Backcountry article, I gave equal screen time to live chat and Gearhead features.
Greg went off on me (in the editorial sense), and well-deserved! No one cares about generic live chat features, but Gearheads are a way of connecting with customers I had never seen before. They encourage relationships, collaboration, and eventually, Backcountry’s bottom line.
Keep your writing crisp & clear
Much of my writing (and speaking) can stray towards conversational. Crisp and clear is better. One way to hack this is by using the Hemingway editor. It helps clear up your writing, looking for adverbs, cluttered sentences, and passive style. Try it out here.
One of the downfalls in the relentless quest to deliver content is a lack of proof. Using case studies, research, and user feedback is a tremendous way to differentiate your writing from those who are just sharing an opinion. Back your opinion up with some proof. Another way to use proof is to show how you changed positions over time, in essence debunking your own beliefs. Thinking “because of this, then that” is a good way to begin any project.
Why should I care?
A natural progression of highlighting the unusual, ask yourself why the reader should care about this article. Of course you must know the reader’s needs and struggles by this point. I didn’t know HelpScout’s user profile at this point, and don’t spend enough time thinking about it for my own projects. Whether in your work or side projects, always think about why this matters to your primary reader. It will change the way you create content. You’ll probably create less, but the quality and usefulness will increase.
Know what you’re getting in to
As much as I prepared for the interview (reading every blog post, listening to interviews), I still didn’t know what I was getting in to. When Greg asked me about CRM strategies, I had no answer. This happened a few times during the interviews. While you can’t prep for every answer, it revealed that I didn’t have my head wrapped around the job.
What could I have done? What can you do? Here are a few thoughts:
- Ask more questions – what do they expect?
- Read between the lines – how do people in similar roles accomplish their work? Find out!
- Remember IFTTT (if this then that) – more than a useful tool, asking yourself, “if this exists, then I need to produce that” is a helpful way to peel back the layers on what you’re getting yourself in to.
Once you discover these answers, it’s easier to show how you will produce the desired results.
Present your strategies
Looking back, I kick myself for not doing this during the interview. I was reactive, not proactive. I waited to answer questions, and didn’t have any strategies or plans for how I would do the job. As mentioned above, this should have been obvious, since I was applying to a startup that valued autonomy and self-sufficiency. I shoulda-coulda-woulda had a plan, instead I made up answers and smiled a lot.
<blank> won’t solve your problems
I had a whole list of problems I thought this job would solve. Professional status, more money, startup street cred, a fun topic for dinner parties, etc. In a year of starts, stops, and challenges, this job was going to set me on the right track. I was ready to define myself by work again, something I know won’t last.
If you don’t already believe you’re enough before the job/relationship/school is a reality, you’re not going to feel it after either. We must find fulfillment and meaning internally before asking people and organizations to provide it for us externally.
First, HelpScout is publishing my article, which you can read here. It’s a case study on how Backcountry.com (an outdoor adventure retailer) creates an exceptional customer experience. I’ll be grateful if you choose to share it on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Extra points if you tag me in your post (@MattRagland)!
The focus of the next several months will be helping brands tell their story with clarity and purpose. I will also continue to throw myself in to the podcast, it’s not going anywhere! I want to help people and brands define the customer story cycle, moving from interest to contribution.
In a nutshell, I desire to do work that helps people and organizations grow and develop.
A final lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t have to be an independent founder or entrepreneur. I really enjoy being a part of a team and shared purpose.