A Closer Look at John’s Recent Interview Process

Welcome to episode 222 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_) – two technology professionals with backgrounds in IT Operations and Sales Engineering on a mission to help others accelerate career progression and increase job satisfaction by bringing listeners the advice we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we probe deeper into the hiring process John went through at Nutanix, discussing the end-to-end process, how John prepared, what he experienced, and the advice he would give to others going through a similar situation.

Original Recording Date: 04-29-2023

Topics – Discussion Context and the Hiring Process, Working for a Former Manager, Compensation and Offer, Taking Notes in Interviews, Meeting the Team, Interviews with Upper Management, Plan for Success, Advice for Others on Manager Interviews, A Good Process

1:12 – Discussion Context and the Hiring Process

  • In Episode 220 we talked about John losing his job as part of the Google Cloud reduction in force in early 2023. In Episode 221, John shared the story of deciding what his next move would be and getting hired as a Sales Engineering Manager at Nutanix. The intent of this week is to dive deeper on the interview process John went through at Nutanix and see how it lines up with the advice from our career foundation series recently and the episodes on interviewing:
    • Episode 205 – Revisiting the Foundations of Job Interviews, Part 1
    • Episode 206 – Revisiting the Foundations of Job Interviews, Part 2
  • John tells us the structure of the hiring process was well established from the first informational call.
    • For more on what an informational is, check out Episode 169 with guest Mike Wood in which he details what informationals with Microsoft were like.
    • The hiring manager (a sales engineering director at Nutanix, and former manager of John’s at a different company) had reached out to John. When they had a discussion, it covered what the open position for sales engineering manager would look like and what the interview process would be like if John was interested.
    • Once John understood the interview process, he felt pretty good about it.
    • John says it’s important to try and figure out in these early conversations if you’re walking into a disaster or if you’re walking into something for which you are not qualified.
      • This would be a first time manager position for John, and he was sensitive to the latter situation.
      • John generally trusts the people in his network not to bring him into a bad situation.
      • People in your network usually reach out to you because they have a problem to solve, and that’s not something they generally want to do if they are on their way out / in the process of leaving.
      • One should always ask questions about the opportunity to ensure the situation is a good one.
  • There were two things going on in that first call.
    • John wanted to know what the opportunity was and if it was a good fit for him.
    • The hiring manager was trying to figure out if John was interested and if it would be a good fit. A hiring manager may reach out to someone who has worked for them before, and it might not be a good fit.

5:09 – Working for a Former Manager

  • Are there nuances / important points of consideration in working for the same manager again at a different company?
    • John says yes. He has no idea what went on after he left a previous company to go in a different direction.
    • Maybe the level of trust he and the former manager had needed to be revisited, re-examined, or rebuilt as a result. This is all part of due diligence to think about in a general sense for anyone in a similar situation.
    • Going into the process John had a level of trust that what he knew of his former manager was probably still true.
    • "When we worked together we worked together well, and we would probably still work together well." – John White, on considering working for a former manager at a different company
    • There are always questions to ask in these types of situations.
      • How would the hiring manager picture John succeeding knowing that he would be walking into a first time manager role?
      • Would John be setup with some mentors to help guide him in addition to his manager?
    • John would recommend asking these same questions (or forms of them) if changing companies or changing roles within the company where you work today.
      • If you haven’t worked with this specific technology before, what are the ideas a potential manager has so you can succeed? Bring some of your own ideas to the conversation as well.
    • Part of the questioning is a presumptive close. Notice John used phrases like "when I come, what would that look like?" If you start talking to people as if you are coming, they begin to think of it that way as well.
      • Nick says this sounds like what Bret Hill had to say regarding mindfulness in interviews in Episode 192.
      • John says the people he spoke with during this process operated within a sales organization, so it is not like they had not seen this tactic from interviewees. And they may have used the same tactic on John.

8:27 – Compensation and Offer

  • The recruiter was in charge of scheduling and facilitating the next set of calls John would have with people within the interview process defined by the hiring manager.
  • Discussing compensation was part of John’s vetting the situation. John shared what he was making at Google Cloud (including base and variable compensation components). This did not raise any red flags on the Nutanix side, so John moved forward in the process.
  • John asked about other benefits that are part of a compensation package also such as insurance, wellbeing allowances, 401K, etc. Much of this information was publicly available.
    • Many public companies will speak to these as part of their recruiting package to entice candidates to find a position at the company.
  • In John’s hiring process he was not getting real-time feedback on interview performance specifically, but people did make suggestions on what others he would speak to later in the interview process would care about as it related to his experience in certain areas.
  • After interviewing with the hiring manager, the first round for John consisted of…
    • Discussions with two regional directors of sales he would be paired with if he were to get the job
    • A sales engineering manager who would be a peer under the hiring manager
  • After raising no red flags during the first round of interviews, the next round of interviews for John consisted of…
    • The VP of sales to which the two regional directors mentioned previously reported
    • The VP of sales engineering to which the hiring manager reported
    • John perceived these discussions as a final vibe check and the leaders getting a feel for what he was about as a person.
  • John tells us the process described here is fairly typical (talking to the managers of the people you would be working with) and parallels what a sales engineer might go through but at one level up since John was applying for a sales engineering manager role.
    • For sales engineers specifically, often times one will have a technical interview with a member of the team and then possibly an interview with the sales manager of the salesperson you would potentially be partnering with.
    • You might even have an interview with the person you would be paired with directly (if that person is known in advance).
    • The final check might be an interview with the manager of the hiring sales engineering manager and then maybe a sales leader one level up from the sales manger mentioned previously.
  • Nick has seen instances where a verbal job offer was made by a hiring manager with compensation package that someone can agree to take or discuss further. Or, this news may be delivered by a recruiter.
    • Usually once the candidate agrees to the verbal offer, a written offer is issued.
    • John says the verbal offer came through the hiring manager in this case. The numbers made sense, and John remembers it being smooth sailing from there.
    • John was up front about his expectation early on in the hiring process for it to make sense to move forward. This paid off.
    • John wants to acknowledge that he feels like he was in a privileged position. John came from a company that paid top of market, and he was earning top of market.
    • John wanted to find the right position…not just the first position or any position. Becoming a first time manager was enough to encourage John to take a deep breath before saying yes (making sure that the compensation and the opportunity were right).
    • To a certain degree there are a limited number of people who can apply for and be qualified to fill these roles (i.e. a supply and demand issue). John didn’t approach this as holding out for the maximum compensation he could get right now as this puts the hiring manager in an awkward position to have someone be an immediate top performer
      • John knew he was not a seasoned manager and kept that in mind.
      • John believed in his abilities and was joining near the end of a fiscal year with a promotion likely not to come before being there at least through an entire fiscal year cycle (likely 1.5 years away). That would give him enough time to execute on being successful in the role.

16:27 – Taking Notes in Interviews

  • All of John’s interviews were remote. Not everyone involved in the process lives in the same place (especially since John would map to people leading multiple regions), and conducting interviews remotely made more sense.
  • The interviews were Zoom meetings rather than direct phone calls. John feels he has become a camera on kind of guy from his time at Google Cloud.
  • John took meticulous notes during each of the interviews in the process, feeling he may have learned this at Google Cloud because of the need to take them while conducting interviews.
    • At Google Cloud, John had to evaluate candidates based on what was said during the interviews he conducted.
    • John wanted the notes from interviews during the Nutanix process to see if he could extract patterns to learn from, to understand what interviewers might be probing for, and to remember what was discussed t a later time.
    • Did John use the smart notes methodology for note taking?
      • See Episode 156 for more on the smart notes methodology.
      • John is not sure how first person notes of this nature would be recorded with the smart notes methodology, but John did record his notes in Obsidian, creating structure and links to and from each set of meeting notes to a centralized table of contents.
      • Applying the smart notes methodology here would be something like going back to extract additional lessons from the interview notes by learning from the structure and the way questions were asked. Maybe John should go back and do this?
    • Nick loves to take notes in interviews as well (but might not do it the same as John). He likes to have video on one screen and notes on a second screen, usually communicating to people he will be taking notes during the conversation.
    • Nick advises if taking notes at an in-person interview it may be less distracting to write them on paper on or a tablet. It could get distracting if you open up a computer in that meeting.
    • John would not normally ask for permission to take notes but rather believes in an interview it may be implied that both parties are taking notes.
    • John tends to not look at the notes while he types them (which is how he learned to touch type) and focuses on trying to speak into the camera. He’s not concerned what the notes look like during the meeting and knows he can review them afterward to clean up misspellings, formatting, etc.
      • Nick says there will be enough to help you remember what the conversation was about this way and is much better than not taking notes at all.

22:15 – Meeting the Team

  • Is it appropriate to ask to speak with a member of the team you would be leading / managing in a process like this?
    • John says this might not work. It depends on the organization, but the question is more about what you might hope to get out of that discussion.
    • If John had not known the hiring manager and had noticed some red flags during the interview process, he might have asked to speak to a member of the team or asked for a follow up with the hiring manager to ask more questions addressing his concerns.
    • John definitely wanted to understand views of the people on the team needing a new leader (in aggregate and not individually) from the hiring manager and regional directors.
      • John was told the team was made up of pretty seasoned professionals who did not need a lot of performance management but may need help, coaching, and brainstorming assistance.
      • John knew he was not walking into a situation with an immediate need to manage someone out of the company.
  • Nick says he likes that John got a feel for team strengths and weaknesses, and he could combine that with his own strengths and weaknesses.
    • John went into each interview with what he felt he could bring to the team if they chose to hire him for the role.
      • John felt he could bring a sense of structure (something he has had to bring to his own process during time spent as an individual contributor). He would not need people to use his structure but could showcase some of how he would structure things so team members could develop their own structure.
      • Managers need a certain level of insight into the team’s projects. It helps if there is a mutual understanding of how team members keep records so John as a manager can get an update without having to call or instant message a team member.

25:50 – Interviews with Upper Management

  • Speaking to people with higher level titles in an interview process can cause nervousness. Did John approach these conversations differently than the conversations with the hiring manager and peer sales engineering manager?
    • Johns says he doesn’t think it made him nervous to speak with people having higher titles. In the sales engineering line of work interaction with people at these levels happens pretty often whether it be a VP at a customer or inside your company.
      • A VP inside a software company may have information on the strategic direction of a product that they deliver to an account team or to the customer, for example.
      • "A VP is just a person with a title who has an increased level of scope and coverage." John White
    • Generally the higher up you go in an organization the less tactical and more strategic things get. John assumed this would be the case in his discussions during the interview process and that these people where trying to determine if having John be a sales engineering manager would meet their strategic needs.
      • John needed to be open and honest on what he’s about as a person and tailored this to what he felt the strategic needs of the organization looked like.
      • John was also not shy about asking questions related to the strategic vision. Would their strategic vision be at odds with what he could provide as a new sales engineering manager? The answer to this question might have made John decide this was not a good fit for him. Listen to the examples he gives.
      • Fortunately, John found this was a very good fit. The executives he spoke with were very strategic individuals who knew the talent in their organization well, valued it, and did not feel like they needed to micromanage the tactical details at the front line level from the VP seat.
    • Every time John spoke with someone he reiterated his interest in the role and that he would be a first time manager if he gets the role to make sure everyone understood. The more John learned about the opportunity, the culture, and the strategic direction of products the more he was interested.
    • For John the goal of these discussions was to get questions answered on the company’s strategic direction, the strategic opportunity, the vision from leaders for the success of front line managers like John would be, etc. John felt all this needed to be out in the open up front.
    • Nick feels like this goes back to what Neil Thompson shared with us about individual contributors not being well prepared to have a conversation with somoene at the executive level. John had a little bit of experience here from interactions with customers and internal discussions at previous employers. Check out these episodes for more detail:
      • Episode 193 – Communication for Specialists with Neil Thompson (1/2)
      • Episode 194 – Question Askers and Problem Solvers with Neil Thompson (2/2)
  • What about overcoming nerves when speaking with someone in these higher levels of management?
    • John says start with having empathy with that person (the executive with whom you are speaking).
    • In doing this, we want to try to understand what that person provably cares about hearing from you.
      • Suppose a front line salesperson is covering 5 customers. This is representative of the person’s reach.
      • A sales manager could have 10 people on their team, for example, and covers up to 50 customers.
      • When this happens you lose track quickly on the fine grained detail except maybe the top 5 deals.
      • Then go up one level to a sales director or VP. They can probably only keep track of the details of say 5 deals out of that entire scope. They cannot afford to be tactically involved in everything. There is not enough time.
      • These folks need to steer a much larger ship, keeping an eye on the strategic direction of the business so the lower level tactical items can take care of themselves.
      • The scope of these people could be region of a country (i.e. south region), a specific customer segment across a country, or even multiple geographies / continents.
      • As someone’s scope increases the ability to get down to fine grained details gets untenable.
      • If you go up another level you may have leaders from multiple customer segments (each segment being a fairly large sales business on its own) reporting into an executive leader to discuss challenges and actions being taken to stay in line with current strategic direction.
      • In the interview process one could be speaking to a leader of a business unit at a non-technology company (or an organizational leader as we might call them). So the advice above certainly applies in a general sense.

35:51 – Plan for Success

  • John referenced getting guidance on a 30/60/90 day plan for success from Manager Tools. How much detail did John put into this as he wrote it out and as he communicated it to people in the interview process?
    • This type of plan generally will have the same structure, and it follows a similar pattern to skill acquisition.
    • The first step is imitation (30 days). The second step is when you get to small variations (60 days). The third step is when you try to inject your innovations (90 days).
      • It’s possible the time periods for each step could be longer than a 30-day window.
      • Hopefully nothing big needs to happen in the first 30 days. In everything that John has read, managers need to push back against getting hired and then needing to fire people almost immediately. It is an awful situation and does not make a great deal of sense. And it’s a giant red flag and may be a sign not to take the job! If firing a bunch of people is something the company wants to do, they should do it before you show up.
      • Ideally you want the breathing space when you begin as a manager to allow the business to operate as it has been to this point for the first 30 days. Learn some of the context behind the way things are during this time. Maybe you could make small tweaks during that next 30-day period or make larger changes in that 60-90 day window.
    • At the time of this recording, John is in his 9th week on the job, and he is still in the small changes phase.
      • John knows he may not have enough context on everything that went into creating a certain policy, etc.
      • Some things John assumed needed to be instituted right away like weekly 1-1 meetings. He found these needed to be extended to 45 minutes instead of 30 because of time constraints.

39:14 – Advice for Others on Manager Interviews

  • What would John tell someone else interviewing for a first time manager role?
    • John isn’t sure if he’s in a position to offer advice yet.
    • John has some reflections on what the job is like, and these feed directly into advice we have previously given, such as…
    • A big chunk of John’s time on a weekly basis is spent in meetings with the individuals he manages (1-1s and the team meeting), meetings with his peers, leadership meetings, and then meetings with his peers and both his and his peer’s reports.
      • Individual contributors might have a team meeting they attend and then some calls about active project work. p John’s meetings are at a larger scale than his reports.
      • The number of meetings doesn’t give John time to do any sales engineering, but he also did not expect to do be a sales engineer as a sales engineering manager. What John can do is ensure his responsibilities up the chain of command as a sales engineering manager.
    • Keep in mind the job you are interviewing for as a new manager is not the job that you have been doing. Everything you do as preparation should be about the job you want to take as a result of the managerial interview process.
      • Preparation should be things like building relationships with upstream managers, understanding what those managers care about, explaining what value you would bring to managing a team (thinking of any team you could manage and not just one), etc.
      • John’s strengths are empathy and organizational structure. He can bring those to managing a team anywhere to add value.

42:47 – A Good Process

  • How can we take away some of the pressure we’re putting on ourselves in the interview process / when looking for a job?
    • John has empathy for anyone going through the interview process or who has been laid off (each of which can be traumatic). Even just the decision to make a change from what you’re doing today can feel traumatic.
    • Telling someone to take the pressure off themselves doesn’t really help. John would like to share his viewpoint of why putting pressure on yourself does not actually help you. A certain level of detachment will actually help.
    • "You have to be attached to having a good process. You can have a great interview process and not get the job. And you should be ok with that." – John White
      • What else can you do except have a really good process of preparation that involves researching the people you will be speaking with, following up with them and thanking them, and answering questions you’ve been asked.
      • You can control things like the above in the interview process. The company may have a better candidate. You cannot control their decision.
      • "All you can control is your process. So have a good process, and then repeat that process. Document that process. Make sure that is a process you can execute over and over again. And learn to detach yourself from the company’s decision to hire you or not hire you…because that is not where your success is. Your success is ‘did you have a good process?’" – John White, on the importance of a good preparation and execution process when it comes to interviews
      • A decision not to hire someone may feel personal, but it really is not.
      • Nick says it’s very hard to do, but if you focus on the preparation, it gives you less time to mentally spin out of control on the "what ifs" and helps channel the effort into what you can control.
    • You may have to go after a job you really want multiple times. Neither Nick nor John were hired as solution engineers the first time they applied.
      • If you make it to the final round of interviews for a job, you are one of at least two the hiring team think can do the job really well. It may come down to specific expertise or background needed, etc.
        • Check out Episode 83 to hear Brad Pinkston’s viewpoint on candidates who make it deep into the hiring process.
      • Making it to a final round of interviews and don’t make it, you still had a really good process. Maybe you can iterate that process and even improve it a little for the next time.
        • "Independent of the outcome, maybe you can still be better." – John White on process over outcomes
        • Be sure to listen to our episode on process over outcomes as a compliment to this episode!
      • Try to make a connection with people during the process. Even if you don’t get this job, a hiring team member may advocate for you to get another position down the road or provide valuable feedback on what you can do better.
        • You can also maintain a relationship with someone you meet during the hiring process without an expectation that they will give you anything in the future.

Contact us if you need help on the journey, and be sure to check out the Nerd Journey Podcast Knowledge Graph.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *