Interview Tip: Passion will Win the Day

Although I attended the event below on behalf of my employer Twilio, this is not necessarily their position on this topic. I write representing my own opinion and thoughts..

Last week, I was tapped to represent Twilio at the Made In Austin recruiting event at University of Texas-Austin. While the event was well-organized, the students were sharp, and the overall experience was beneficial, I noticed something odd. When students approached me, they all had one of two approaches:

One group – thankfully the smaller one – would open with “Hello. I am XXX. I am looking for an entry level position where I can demonstrate my attention to detail and teamwork skills.” It was basically the verbal form of their Objective Statement. While that’s great on paper, I wanted to hear what they really think and want in a position, so I countered with:

“That sounds great, but tell me what you really love to do.”

A few people immediately jumped into telling me about their favorite project. Sometimes it was related to a class, sometimes it was their job, and – in a few cases – it was some other random project that they chose to do in their free time. Regardless of that, it was fantastic. These people were excited, engaged, and passionate. I eventually brought them back to talking specifics about their skills, background, and what sort of job they want.

Unfortunately, a few people had a different reaction:

blink, blink (blank stare)

My goal wasn’t to stump them, so I’d guide them along with:

“Ok. Tell me about that class or project that when an email showed up about it, you dropped everything else to do something with it. Or maybe it’s the one that you started working on some afternoon and you looked up and it was 10pm.”

A few people would get it and slowly describe that project but a final few would go back to

“I am looking for an entry level position where I can demonstrate..”

*sigh*

When I speak with a candidate – any candidate – I want to hear excitement. I want to hear about what drives them. I want to know what they find challenging and what gets their brain moving. I don’t necessarily even care about the specific topics, ideas, projects, or work. I want to hear passion for what they do. Even if it’s not relevant to the positions available, the tech community is very small and super connected. I might know someone looking for your skills & background.

Joining a startup isn’t a 9-5 job where you watch the clock and wait for the day to end. It’s an environment where you might end up demo’ing a major customer one week, taking out the garbage the next, writing documentation the next, and fixing the water cooler the following. (Yes, I’ve done all of those at Twilio.)

Many people don’t work in the field they initially studied. Most people’s class projects have nothing to do with the real world. Even the projects that do.. I was a student too, I know how those work. ;)

But show me what you’re passionate about and I can do something with it.

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