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We often need to make decisions with limited data. Sometimes, the information you need simply doesn't exist yet, or collecting it would be too expensive or time-consuming. The “paper model” approach is a powerful tool to make informed decisions in these situations of uncertainty. It allows you to use your best judgment and educated guesses to create a framework for analysis, even when perfect data is out of reach. Why “paper model?” In tech companies, we build "paper prototypes" to validate a design or better test user needs. A paper prototype is quick and dirty and isn't expected to survive its primary reason for being created. Calling this a "paper mode" similarly emphasizes that this is really just a casual, ephemeral tool. Directionality is more important than accuracy, and speed to insight is more important than completeness. It's not about fancy spreadsheets or complex software (though those can be helpful!). Instead, it's about working backward from a desired outcome and getting a clearer picture of how to get there. Essentially, you sketch out the key variables that influence your success and tweak them until you hit your target metric. The beauty is you then have a chance to step back and “gut-check” whether those numbers are realistically achievable. A Personal Finance App Example Imagine you're working on a personal finance app with a million monthly active users. You want to grow your average revenue per user (ARPU), and a board member suggests exploring the idea of an affiliate marketplace. Their definition of success is achieving an ARPU of $3 through this new marketplace. How does a paper model help you make an informed decision? 1. Break It Down: Map out the user journey within an affiliate marketplace: >> What percentage of your users log in with enough regularity to even see the offers? >> Out of those, how many are likely to click through to explore affiliate offers? >> How many offers, on average, might a user redeem? >> What's the typical value of an offer redeemed? 2. Plug and Play: Figure out the numbers you know (number of regular users, value of a typical offer). Next, for the remaining variables, adjust them until you’d hit your goal. Even a rough model might quickly reveal that to hit the $3 ARPU target, a staggering 40% of your users would need to redeem at least one affiliate offer a month! Congrats: your simple paper model just uncovered the key metric to watch. 3. The Benchmark Test: This is where things get interesting. Compare your numbers to industry standards. If similar companies see 3-10% redemption rates, that's a red flag. Could your company outperform everyone else by that much? Maybe, but it forces you to question the underlying assumptions. Why Paper Models Are So Powerful Paper models aren't a replacement for detailed analysis, but they offer something unique: • Focus on What Matters: They force you to pinpoint the levers that will have the most significant impact on your goal. • Uncover Hidden Constraints: Sometimes, a simple model reveals how unlikely a particular scenario is. • A Kickstart for Informed Decisions: Even a back-of-the-napkin model can prevent you from sinking time and resources into a lost cause. It can also help refine your goals or strategies based on clearer insight. Limitations While paper models are an excellent tool for initial planning, it's important to acknowledge their limitations. Here are a few dangers to consider: • Oversimplification: Paper models can paint an unrealistic picture by neglecting complexities. Real-world factors and unforeseen challenges often arise, throwing your initial calculations out of whack. • Data Dependence: Even a paper model relies on educated guesses. If your starting assumptions are significantly off, the entire model becomes unreliable. • Misplaced Trust: A paper model can create a false sense of security. It's crucial to remember it's a starting point, not a crystal ball. Don't get so fixated on the model that you miss the need for further research or data collection. Put It Into Practice The next time you face a big decision, try sketching out a paper model. It's great for team discussions, too! You might be amazed at how a fast, simple exercise can illuminate complex problems. Have you used a similar approach? How did it work for you? Let me know! Was this article helpful? I provide coaching, mentorship, and advisory support to founders, solo PMs, and first-time Heads of Product. I also have a collection of my favorite tools and templates available for free here. If you want to talk, grab some time!
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Exit interviews don't have to suck

"Does anyone actually attend their exit interview?" This casual remark, recently encountered in a tech community, struck a chord with me, not just for its surface-level cynicism but for its deeper implications about the workplace dynamic and the bridge—or lack thereof—between employees and management. But I can’t blame them because most exit interviews suck. Exit interviews are not administrative checkpoints to be ticked off. Instead, they are a critical feedback mechanism designed to offer both the departing employee and the organization a moment of candid reflection, honest assessment, and mutual growth. Unfortunately, this ideal is far from reality for many, as evidenced by the apparent apathy towards such interviews. Why, then, does this disengagement exist, and what does it reveal about the broader organizational culture and the employee experience? 1. Time constraints. As employees prepare to leave an organization, their final days are often a whirlwind of activity—finalizing projects, transitioning responsibilities, and the emotional labor of farewells. Carving out time for an exit interview can feel like an unnecessary burden, a box to tick in a long list of last-minute obligations.  2. Fear of retaliation. In an ideal world, exit interviews would be safe spaces for honest feedback. However, the reality is that the professional world is interconnected and, at times, unforgiving. Concerns about burning bridges or casting a shadow on one's professional reputation can muzzle departing employees, encouraging them to offer platitudes rather than the unvarnished truth.  3. Lack of trust. If employees feel that their feedback will disappear into the void, unacknowledged and unacted upon, their motivation to participate dwindles. The ritual becomes empty, the potential for change, stagnant. 4. Poor execution. When exit interviews are reduced to a series of rote questions, lacking genuine engagement or the intent to understand and improve, they lose all value. (“What was your primary reason for leaving?” “How do you feel about management or leadership?”) Employees can sense when a process is performative rather than purposeful.  The good news is, I don’t think it’s hard to do better.  • Incorporate better, more thought-provoking questions.  • Listen without the impulse to argue or persuade and acknowledge the validity of the departing employee's perspective.  • Conclude with a sincere thank you and recognize the value of their feedback. Here are ten questions I’ve collected and developed over the years that have worked great for me: 1. Anything you want to ask before we start? Is there anything you want to make sure we cover? 2. What was your favorite part of working here? What is your proudest accomplishment? 3. What should we have told you in the interview process? What would have been helpful to know in advance to help you be as successful as possible? 4. Who would you take with you if you could, and why? (Remind them you’re not trying to trip them up and get them to break a non-solicitation agreement.) 5. If you could replace or re-assign anyone within the organization, what changes would have the biggest impact? 6. Similarly, what three changes to the org would you suggest we make? These can be personnel moves, changes to organizational structure, policy changes, anything. 7. Tell me about the day you decided to leave. 8. Aside from the work you are directly responsible for, what other work or relationships does your exit put at risk, and how would you suggest we mitigate that risk? 9. What should we know to help the person we hire next be as successful as possible? 10. What else should I have asked you today? Anything you were hoping I would ask or that we would cover? Don't forget to close out by covering administrative stuff: last day of work, how to return equipment, details around benefits and severance, etc. Why do these questions work? Each is crafted not only to elicit specific, actionable feedback but also to engage the departing employee in a way that feels constructive and meaningful. This approach acknowledges that not every question will resonate with every employee; however, by offering a diverse set, we increase the likelihood of touching on areas deeply relevant to the individual's experience. The repetition and variety within the questions ensure we cover a broad spectrum of the employee's journey and perspectives.  More importantly, these questions are framed to foster a dialogue that is both positive and forward-looking. The interviewer's role—emphasizing trust, showing genuine interest in the responses, and aiming to conclude the employee's tenure on an uplifting note—transforms the exit interview into a powerful tool for closure and learning. This not only provides insights for improvement but also allows the departing employee to reflect on their experience with a sense of accomplishment, appreciation, and respect. Want your own copy of these questions in easy template form? 
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Notes on termination

I hope you don’t need to read this. It’s a checklist for when you’re preparing to let someone go. But between the stories on LinkedIn and the messages in private, a lot of folks are being fired poorly. So why a checklist? Because firing someone is stressful, and stressful times are terrible times to make plans. You’re rushed for time. Your brain isn’t working right. Checklists are great tools for shifting thinking and planning from stressful times to chill times. I’ve assembled this one over the years to help myself not screw things up. Think of every checkbox and bullet as another time I screwed up my attempt to do better the next time. Hopefully, this isn’t anything you need. But if you do? Learn from me. Take a few extra minutes to write out a plan, and make sure you don’t skip any steps. The hour or so it’ll take will be an hour well spent. 1. Check with Legal and HR As the manager or exec, you need to own the termination process. But your Legal and HR departments are there to protect you from the things you don’t know. • Consult HR and Legal: Before initiating the termination process, consult with your HR and Legal departments. It’s their job to protect you from potential risks and ensure compliance with labor laws. They have special training, distinct knowledge, and experience you lack. You’ll want to ask, “What risk am I creating for the company and myself?” • Understand Protected Classes: Pay special attention if the employee belongs to a protected class to avoid potential discrimination claims. 2. Sweat the DetailsGood news: you’re already ahead of the game by working a checklist like this. But this is when you want to start writing all the details down. Putting your plan down on paper makes it less likely you’ll forget a critical step, and it means collaboration and assistance from others is much more likely. • Determine Last Day and Account Access: Decide on the employee's last day and schedule the termination of their access to company accounts and systems. If you don’t have a continually updated list of all company systems, this will be the day to start. • Practice the Process: If unfamiliar with the process for shutting off access, rehearse the steps to ensure a smooth execution. As in: visit all the correct pages, make sure you have administrative access or know the person who does, and confirm nothing is down. • Communicate to the Team: You’ll need to let their coworkers know, so plan how and when colleagues will be informed, ensuring the message is respectful and maintaining the individual's privacy. This could be an email, a Slack message, an in-person meeting, or a Zoom call. Be explicit about what you’ll say and won’t say. • Outline Severance and Benefits: Clearly define any severance package and explain the continuation of benefits, such as health insurance, if applicable. This is another place where you’ll want to work with HR, and if you don’t already have a policy, consider this your first draft. 3. Prepare Communication ScriptsAs Mark Twain (may not have) said, “If I’d had twice as long, I would have written half as much.” Write out the words you’ll use to ensure precision, concision, and empathy. • Craft Two Scripts: Develop one script for the individual being terminated and another for the remaining team members, focusing on clarity and compassion. • Explain the Reasoning: Whether due to performance, fit, or organizational changes, be transparent about the reasons for the termination in a respectful manner. • Be brief: No perfect language will make a hard conversation easy. But you sure can screw it up with inappropriate apologies, false promises, sharing private or sensitive information, or any number of ways if you ramble because you’re uncomfortable.  • Practice Delivery: Practice enough so it sounds genuine. Rehearse delivering these messages out loud and seek feedback from a trusted colleague or advisor to refine your approach. And when you do deliver it? Stick to the script. 4. Engage Key StakeholdersWhat arrives faster than an email? Chains of confused DMs between panicking employees. • Inform Leadership and Peers: Ensure that your manager, the employee's manager, and relevant peers are briefed on the situation and understand the reasons behind the decision. They’re going to get questions. • Align on Communication: Guarantee that these insiders are prepared to reinforce the official message and provide consistent information to the team. All of your work is for nothing if the remaining colleagues hear differing answers to their questions. And it’s equally important to align on tone. Many companies try to be nice with phrases like: “Not every great person is a great fit for every great company.” Other companies aim for firm, yet fair: “ 5. Schedule Critical MeetingsIt’s 2024. Everyone knows what the dreaded 15-minute “Quick check-in” means. Don’t be cute, and also don’t be unprofessionally casual. • Arrange Two Meetings: Set up a meeting with the individual for early in the day and another with the team immediately following to minimize uncertainty. Early in the day minimizes wasted work as well as the awkwardness of everyone knowing about the termination except the person heading out the door.  • Be professional: For both meetings, make sure you’re someplace private where the critical conversation can have your full attention. Don’t be a LinkedIn horror story of accidentally screen sharing your shopping or revealing your YouTube videos in reflection from your glasses. Everyone deserves respect, and that means attention and professionalism. • Prepare Email Announcements: If applicable, write an email announcement (or Slack post) about the departure to be sent to the team, focusing on maintaining confidence and proactively addressing potential concerns. For example, if the person is being let go for performance reasons, you can explain that the company has plenty of cash by sharing things like burn rate and bank balances. 6. Importance of Progressive DisciplineThis is an issue I see crop up all the time at startups: Surprise at being fired. If this is the case at your company, it’s your wake-up call. Progressive discipline (telling people they’re underperforming long before they’re likely to be fired) is a key part of any organization’s performance management process.   • Implement Feedback Mechanisms: Ensure the team is aware that the individual received fair feedback and opportunities for improvement, reducing anxiety about their own job security. • Review your processes: Did someone provide feedback? Was this a known issue? Had it been brought up by peers? Could an earlier intervention have been productive? Should the individual have been let go earlier? If you think Termination was a failure, take the time to do a retro on when and where the failure happened. 7. Handle Reactions with CareEveryone in your organization is on edge, worried about layoffs, their own performance, and their own job. How you treat the folks who remain is at least as important as how you handle the person leaving. • Anticipate Questions: Be prepared for inquiries, especially if the individual played a significant role within the company or had been a long-term employee. You need to decide in advance what you’ll say, and you’ll do well to tie what you say to values: both your own and those of the company. • Be present: Open up some office hours. Make it easy to schedule 1:1s. If you’re in the office, sit in the kitchen or linger by the coffee. If you’re remote, hang out on Slack. And you’ll want to actively check in with key employees to make sure they have a chance to share what’s on their minds. One signal that you’re doing OK as a manager and leader is when people approach you to ask questions. They’re feeling anxious. That’s it. Seven things to do reflecting at least seven ways I screwed up. This likely won’t be the last time you need to let someone go, so once the dust has settled, turn this into your own learning opportunity: what went well? What was a surprise? What would you like to handle differently? What do you want to add to your own list? And because this is hard and stressful, feel free to reach out over Linkedin or just book some time during my office hours.
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Building an Effective Employee Referral Program

Previously, I talked about what candidates can do differently to help get hired at tech companies in 2024. Now I’d like to talk about something that tech companies can do to hire better candidates: improve the quality of their internal referral programs. Many on the outside have observed that referral programs don’t have the same prominence they once had: They were seen as expensive, believed not to deliver high-quality candidates, there have been concerns around lack of diversity, they had low participation rates, and (unfortunately) the HR, people ops, and recruiting leaders who administered them may have been let go as part of 2022 and 2023 layoffs. In addition, some execs might have decided that a softening in tech employment meant it was now a “buyer’s market.” Especially for startups, employee referrals should be the best way to hire. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Understanding Motivators for Employee ReferralsBefore building an effective referral program, it helps to understand why employees participate. Here are three reasons listed in descending order of importance: • Elevating Network Esteem: When employees refer someone from their network, they're not just recommending a candidate but offering a path to an opportunity where their contacts can thrive. Making a great referral to a great company makes your employee a hero! It elevates their status within their network, as they're seen as a conduit to desirable job opportunities. • Internal Acknowledgment: When referring in high-caliber talent, your employees should earn admiration from their colleagues and public appreciation from managers and leaders. They're seen as key players in enhancing the company's talent pool, thus contributing directly to the organizational success. • Financial Incentives: Some companies still pay a fee for referrals who are hired. While monetary rewards are not uncommon, they're often the least impactful motivator.  Not surprisingly, the strongest motivators are relational, not transactional. Common Pitfalls in Referral Programs• Negative Employee Experience: You can’t expect your employees to refer their friends if they’re unhappy at work. This is a fundamental issue, and no referral program will succeed. And if your referral program is failing, you want to rule this out first. • Candidate Experience Matters: Treating referred candidates indistinguishably from cold inbounds is a mistake. It’s sort of amazing how often internally referred candidates are ghosted, or are screened out at resume review without even having a phone call. It doesn’t take more than a couple of these before your employees will give up on making referrals.  • Bridging the Skills Gap: Many of your employees, especially those early in their careers, may not even know how to make useful referrals. They may not know how to search their network, may not know how to identify strong candidates, and may not know how to talk about open roles. A skills gap means a lack of comfort and confidence in the referral process and makes it much less likely that a referral will happen. • Inappropriate Recognition: Monetary rewards are fine, but they can feel impersonal. Again, it’s amazing how infrequently employees are thanked for making a referral, kept up to date on their referred candidate’s progress, or provided feedback on how to improve future referrals. Crafting a Successful Referral StrategyIn some ways, you can make your internal referral strategy successful by doing the opposite of the section above! Addressing Employee Morale• Employee Satisfaction is Key: Before launching a referral program, ensure that your current employees are happy and engaged. This is the bedrock upon which successful referral programs are built. Collect feedback from managers, consider an employee satisfaction survey, and consider keeping an eye on review sites like Glassdoor. • Preventing Embarrassment: A negative work environment, characterized by issues such as poor leadership behavior, can significantly deter employees from making referrals. And if there are public criticisms of the company (e.g., on Glassdoor), you should expect current employees to get questions from their friends. Enhancing Candidate Experience• Personalized Communication: Ensure that all communication with referred candidates is personalized. This could mean emails that acknowledge their referral source and perhaps provide a bit more background about the company or the role they're being considered for. Avoid generic, automated responses. And definitely avoid ghosting them! • Expedited or Guaranteed Interviews: Offer referred candidates a faster track through the hiring process. This could be in the form of guaranteed interviews or a more streamlined application process. This shows that you value the referral and the time of both the candidate and the employee who made the referral. • Enhanced Candidate Experience: Make their interview process unique. This could include a tour of your office (virtual or physical), meetings with key team members, or an informal chat with a senior leader. Such experiences can leave a lasting positive impression. • Feedback Regardless of Outcome: Whether a referred candidate is successful or not, providing feedback is crucial. This should be more personalized and detailed than standard rejection emails. Feedback is unusual, and it will help you stand out. • Survey for Continuous Improvement: After the hiring process, ask referred candidates for feedback on their experience. This not only provides valuable insights for improving the process but also makes the candidates feel their opinions are valued. Celebratory and Educational Initiatives• User-Friendly Referral Platform: Implement a straightforward, accessible referral system. You don’t need a complicated, dedicated portal; just use a simple form. The key is to make it as hassle-free as possible. • Clear Guidelines and Communication: Provide clear instructions and information about the types of candidates you're looking for. In addition to great JDs, consider listing the 2-3 differentiating qualities that will separate successful candidates from all the otherwise qualified folks. This reduces confusion and helps employees make more targeted referrals. • Referral Parties: This is my absolute favorite. Get interested employees together in a room with the hiring manager and folks from HR and spend a few hours tracking down great referrals. You can provide tools like job descriptions, outreach templates, and even pre-written LinkedIn queries to help identify high-quality candidates in their network. With hiring managers and experienced recruiters in the room, your employees get immediate feedback. Add in some food and music, and it becomes a party. It’ll be fun today, and you’re teaching valuable skills for the future. Diversifying Recognition Methods• Public Acknowledgment: Celebrate successful referrals at company meetings, in newsletters, or on internal communication platforms. Public recognition from leaders can be a powerful motivator. • Feature in Company Communications: Spotlight the employee and their successful referral in the company blog, video interviews, or social media channels. It sounds silly, but employees love being able to show this kind of recognition to their parents, spouses, family, and friends. • Regular Program Review: You’d be shocked, but asking people how to improve a program–and listening to them–could be the most effective way to show that both the program and the referral are important. Conversely, ignoring your employees is a pretty clear signal that their work to create great referrals doesn’t matter. • Personal Thank You Notes: Finally, don’t forget the basics. A handwritten note from a senior leader or the CEO can be a simple yet powerful way to express gratitude. ConclusionA creative employee referral program is a multifaceted strategy that goes beyond mere financial incentives. It's about fostering a positive work environment, providing a superior candidate experience, educating employees on making quality referrals, and recognizing their efforts in meaningful ways. This not only enriches your talent pool but also strengthens your company culture, making it a win-win for everyone involved. By implementing these strategies, you can turn your employees into active and enthusiastic ambassadors for your brand, bringing in top talent that aligns with your company's values and vision. Remember, the most successful referral programs are those that are thoughtfully designed, effectively communicated, and sincerely appreciated.
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How to Hit Aggressive Milestones - Lessons from Monster House

I hate deadlines. But quite often in tech, deadlines are not just preferable; they’re necessary. Consider the MVP: holding yourself to a date on the calendar ensures your minimum viable product doesn’t become a maximum viable product. And milestones are critical to alignment across teams, departments, or even companies. Luckily, there was an incredible television show in the early aughts that teaches us everything we need to know about hitting a tight deadline with audacious objectives and limited resources. Monster House aired from 2003 to 2006 on the Discovery Channel. Every week, host and foreman Steve Watson would assemble a small and motley crew of builders, plumbers, electricians, painters, and others (who had never worked together before) to transform a boring regular home into something spectacular. The homeowners get to pick the theme (their only involvement); one week, it was space-themed, and they incorporated a crashed spaceship and pneumatic tubes into a single-story California ranch. Other themes included dinosaurs, ancient Egypt, and gangsters. It’s worth watching a couple of episodes here on YouTube. How were they able to get such incredible work done within such restrictive constraints? 1. Understanding the 'Who' and 'Why'The first step in the Monster House method involves ensuring the entire team understands for whom they're building and why. They’d meet the homeowners and hear a bit about why the particular theme was chosen. Each person on the build team got to hear from the family directly and hear their hopes and anxieties. In my experience, this understanding is crucial. We’re not just building a product; we’re crafting a solution for real people with real needs. This empathetic approach fosters a deeper commitment and a stronger sense of purpose, which is indispensable when working against the clock. 2. Crafting a Clear, Shared VisionNext, the team collectively sketches out what they’re going to build. A week isn’t long enough to truly change every detail of the house. But each of the teammates is an expert in what they do, and they’re called on to visualize (literally - with drawings) what they think can be accomplished in a week to maximize impact. Why do this visually? Because words, no matter how eloquently penned, can be misinterpreted. A shared visual representation – be it sketches, diagrams, or mock-ups – becomes a communal language, transcending individual interpretations. And, combined with getting an empathic understanding of the end users, this is where you create alignment. 3. Locking in Team and TimelineIn Monster House, the timeline (one week) and the team (unless someone storms off in a rage) are fixed. Because “adding people to an already late project only makes it later,” we should think of our fixed deadlines as having fixed teams as well, even if our timeline is longer. After all, anyone who comes in late will lack the context and the alignment previously established. It's also a declaration that the team assembled is the right one and that the timeline set is achievable. We’re fostering confidence and urgency, crucial components for success under tight deadlines. 4. User Stories and Task ListsThis is where the rubber meets the road, and we define scope and commitments. First, as a team, write out the user stories we expect to support when we’re done. And, as a team, make sure this is truly as minimal as possible. The entire project is a stretch goal. No need to make it more of a stretch. Second, turn those user stories into a punch list of tasks. Why a punch list? Builders like those on Monster House use a simple list of things to be completed, nailed up somewhere conspicuous, to ensure everyone knows what they should be working on. Here are some hard-won lessons about how to set tasks: • Each task has a single person responsible. • Try and make sure each task is independent, can be completed by one person, and lacks any dependencies. Barring that, make sure there are no dependencies outside the project team. • If the team, individually and collectively, can’t enthusiastically agree that the tasks are achievable, then they aren’t achievable. Don’t bully your team into failure. I’ve created a handy template here - feel free to copy, share, and make it your own. And just like a builder’s paper punch list, make sure this one is visible to the team and that everyone is updating it continually. 5. Creative Problem Solving Under ConstraintsAn unexpected catalyst for creativity lies at the confluence of a fixed deadline and teams. The constraints imposed by such conditions are not hurdles but are, in fact, what ignites your best thinking. You don’t truly understand your challenges, or those of your customers, during the planning stages—this only emerges from the doing. When confined by these boundaries, teams transform constraints into opportunities for creative problem-solving. We see this often on Monster House, where the final product exceeds the expectations of the initial vision.  6. The Finish Line: Done or NotAs the due date looms, a hard truth emerges: you're either done or you're not. The beauty of Monster House’s method lies in its unapologetic realism. It forces teams to monitor progress closely and descope where necessary. It's about being agile and honest, ensuring that if a scaling back is needed, it's done without surprise or last-minute chaos. And regardless, when you hit the due date, celebrate! You and your team just accomplished something really cool and really out of the ordinary. 🥳 The Allure of the Monster House MethodWhy does Monster House have so many great lessons for us, 20 years later, building software products? Because it works and because it’s fun. The Monster House method is not just a set of steps; it's a philosophy grounded in clarity, commitment, and pragmatism. It speaks to a truth I've seen in all my years of work: the path to achieving great things on tight deadlines is not through chaotic heroics but through disciplined, well-orchestrated teamwork. Why This Method Works1. Empathy and Purpose: Understanding the end-user fosters a sense of purpose that can drive teams to exceed expectations. 2. Visual Communication: Eliminates ambiguities, aligning everyone's understanding and vision. 3. Commitment and Urgency: Locking in resources and timelines creates a focused, high-energy environment. 4. Ownership and Expertise: Assigning tasks based on belief in individual expertise encourages accountability and quality. 5. Realism and Agility: Accepting the reality of deadlines and being prepared to adapt ensures progress without panic. Monster House was a show about transformative results under challenging constraints. It's a testament to what can be achieved when a team is aligned in vision, committed in action, and enthusiastic in execution. In my experience, whether in technology, entrepreneurship, or any field requiring innovation under pressure, this is a framework not just for meeting deadlines but delivering products and solutions that are timely and extraordinary.
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How to get a tech job in 2024

Getting a job in tech has always been tough, but 2023 10x'd the challenge. Most companies have always been bad at hiring, but the past year has been so much worse. Here are five suggestions that might be helpful for next year, plus a few bonus tips, to give you an edge: 1. Acknowledge the chaotic hiring landscape. It's no secret that companies have always struggled with effective recruiting and hiring. This year, the situation has worsened. Maybe it’s because HR, people ops, and recruiting teams were the first to be laid off, but I’ve seen reports of applications going unacknowledged, weeks between interviews (or any communication at all), and candidates being ghosted after their final round. It's important to recognize this new reality - it's not just you finding it tough; the system itself is more chaotic and disorganized. And this is just as true at big, established companies as at startups. 2. Early application advantage. Timing is crucial. If you're eyeing roles in tech, a useful strategy is to monitor venture capital (VC) job boards. VCs pay to aggregate jobs from across their portfolio, and jobs here often show up days or weeks earlier than on more mainstream sites like LinkedIn. Check these sites once or twice a day (I like to keep the tabs open in a separate window). Being among the first to apply can significantly increase your chances of getting noticed and landing an interview. Of course, the moment you apply is the moment you should go into networking mode (see below). 3. Networking is less productive. In the past, especially at startups, you might have been able to connect with a founder or exec, and if you hit it off, they might create a role for you. Or they might have accelerated an open role. But with the end of cheap startup money, you can’t count on the same thing. You should never stop networking, but your next offer will probably come from an open, posted role. 4. The power of “cool leads.” In a sea of applicants, standing out is key. If you can't secure a direct referral, consider a “cool lead.” This involves connecting with someone, anyone, within the company as soon as you apply for a job. It doesn't have to be someone in the same department; any internal connection can be valuable. So, apply for the job (do that first!) and then quickly search out anyone you can who works at the company. Have a brief chat, ask insightful questions about the company, and request that they mention your conversation to the hiring manager. You’re not pitching them on yourself as a candidate (they don't know you and probably don't know the role); you just want them to think of you as a cool person and share your name with the hiring manager. This interaction can make your application memorable amidst hundreds. 5. Brace for a longer job hunt: It's likely that securing a job this year will take more time and may feel more frustrating. To cope, consider professional communities (let me know if you need some suggestions) or forming a personal job search council (as suggested in the book Never Search Alone). Preparing mentally for this reality can help you stay resilient and focused during your job search. Bonus evergreen tip: Utilize loose social ties. Don't underestimate the value of your less-close connections when job hunting. These are people you might not talk to often but can be surprisingly helpful (e.g., not family or close friends). Don't hesitate to reach out even if you haven't spoken in years. I spoke with close to 200 tech folks about their professional networking (exploring a startup concept!), and most reported being surprised at who provided the critical introduction. Bonus tip #2: Recruiters can be your friends. Make a note of who seems to really understand their clients (my favorite question: “What 2-3 differentiating attributes separate the successful candidate for this specific role, at this specific company, from all the other well-qualified applicants you see?”) and be sure to stay in touch. Check-in regularly to see if they have any open roles they’re having a hard time filling. And try to connect them to folks in your network who might be looking. Bonus tip #3: Are you applying for an exec or leadership role at a startup? Don’t be afraid to help them “manage” their hiring process. This could be as simple as helping them define their hiring rubrics (”What 2-3 differentiating attributes separate the successful candidate? How are you identifying those qualities in the interview process? What questions are you asking and what answers are you listening for?”) or even helping them establish a better process. Make sure you’re talking to the right people, make sure they’re asking the right questions, and if they’ve been struggling to fill a role, even help them think through why. No better way to audition for a leadership role than by showing leadership. Bonus tip #4: If there’s a book that tells you how to ace the job interview for your profession, read it! I re-read Cracking the PM Interview every time I’m on the market. And if there is no similar book for you, consider reading a guide for the interviewer. I like Hiring Talent and Behavior Based Interviewing. Bonus tip #5: I don’t know their magic, but has been surfacing roles I don’t think I would have seen otherwise. Consider adding it to your rotation, along with LinkedIn alerts and the VC job boards listed above. Let me know if there’s anything you think I got wrong or missed! And if there’s something I can do to be helpful, please let me know. UPDATE: There's been a request for a list of VC job boards: here's a nice starting place! 1.  2. 3.  4. 5.  6. 7.  8. 9.  10.  11.  12.  13.  14.  15.  16.  17.  18.  19.  20.  21.  22.  23. 24.
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