(And How to Tell If You’re Interviewing at One)
Carol Mahoney is a big believer in kindness.
Even when she’s having a particularly frustrating moment, she finds a way to approach it with a sense of humor and a strong dose of perspective.
“Everyday I try to keep a high kindness bar for myself. It’s easy to slip and I’m not perfect ” she says. “But just a little kindness goes so far, and costs so little.”
Carol is reluctant to connect her philosophy of kindness directly to career outcomes: “I don't know if it helps you get further in your career, but it doesn't hurt, and it sure makes you feel better as a human being,” she says.
But if Carol’s own story is any indicator, a focus on kindness does make for a better, richer career. She’s built a multi-decades career in HR by innovating creative ways to make things better for as many people as possible.
Now, as the Chief People Officer at customer success category creator Gainsight, Carol is doubling down on the power of a work culture that puts humans first.
We sat down with her to find out more about what Gainsight’s culture looks like — as well as how she got there, and what she’s learned along the way.
Finding a Love for Running a Business
Though Carol has spent her entire career in HR, her personal approach to work isn’t that different from that of someone who has spent decades managing a business.
“I spent the majority of my career managing the talent acquisition function, and I really loved it. I thought of it as my own little P and L. The profit was hires, and the loss was the investment of time and resources. And I loved running that kind of a business,” she says.
Carol went from doing that for smaller companies to helping Yahoo! expand by hiring thousands of people a year. But even as her roles got bigger and bigger, Carol never planned on being in the Chief People Officer role she’s in now.
“That wasn’t my goal,” she explains, but when a boss of hers at a previous company left unexpectedly, she found herself stepping into the position.
“Long story short, it turned out to be something I loved. I realized in my first meeting with the exec team that it was going to change my complete perspective on what an HR leader does,” she says.
Because she’d focused for so long on running the business of Talent Acquisition, she had missed the bigger business strategy which relied heavily on other parts of HR like performance management, benefits, compensation, and training and development.
“Business context helped me piece the HR mosaic together in a way that was very powerful,” she says of HR leadership. “It also made a huge difference to be in charge of the HR strategy as opposed to executing aspects of it.”
Building Gainsight Together
When the CEO she’d loved working with left her last company, Carol realized it was time for a change. She worked with a headhunter to set up a series of interviews — and then promptly canceled them all after she’d met with Gainsight.
“I just immediately knew that was the right opportunity for me,” she says, smiling.
“At my previous company, the challenge was to create meaningful values and an engaging culture, ,” she continues. “There was plenty of HR infrastructure, but the culture was a little flat. At Gainsight, the culture was so alive, it was on fire, but there was no teammate operations infrastructure to bring that culture to life every day.”
Now, Carol is focused on supporting the culture that Gainsight is so proud of, and is not afraid to switch things up and introduce new programs that better align with the company’s mission: “To be living proof you can win in business while being human first.”
Late last year, she embarked upon a virtual listening circuit, holding round tables with hundreds of employees. “In these discussions, I was getting a pulse-check on how our ‘Teammate Value Proposition’ might need to be updated or changed. What’s working? What’s not working? What financial incentives need updating? And the resounding theme was, ‘The culture at this company is great. Don’t screw it up,’” recalls Carol.
She’s setting out to protect and strengthen that culture by reconsidering what HR, (Teammate Success, as it’s called at Gainsight) at a human-first company looks like. For instance, Carol’s team recently redesigned Gainsight’s performance review process.
They started by renaming the performance review process “human-first coaching.” “Naming conventions matter. The term ‘performance management’ seems dated and lacks inspiration. Instead we are cultivating a growth mindset approach that enables teammates to achieve peak performance. Teammates want to continually improve their ‘game’ and providing them with coaching to help them do so can be very powerful. So far, it’s been well received.”
3 Ways to Tell If a Company Is Human-First
It’s not always easy to build a business that considers people first, says Carol. “And it can be weaponized. Every once in a while, employees who don’t like a decision will complain that it’s not ‘human-first.’ I remind myself and others that being human-first is more than my own personal needs being met. In fact, the needs of other stakeholders can trump my own.
“Before we start a major project, we determine what success looks like for the human beings that are a part of the Gainsight community: including our teammates, our customers, and our investors. ”
If you’re wondering if a prospective employer (or even your current employer) shares that approach, Carol suggests that you:
- Look at whether their leadership reflects their DEIB commitments. “Whenever I’m checking out a company, I look to see what the senior team looks like. Forget what they say about diversity, how diverse is their senior workforce? I don’t want to see all caucasian men, for example.,” says Carol. “I want to work with a company that values diversity. I know that DEIB takes time but I want to see some progress.”
- See how they treat candidates. “In interviews, listen to the tone, not the words,” she says. “Do they talk human-first but sound human-second? One ‘tell’ is how you’re treated during interview scheduling. Is your time as important as the company’s? How well does the company seek to understand your needs and expectations?”
- Ask about pay. “How are people rewarded? For instance, at Gainsight, we consider collaboration and team performance when making pay decisions. In fact, you won’t see a ton of compensation differentiation that isn’t easily explained. Though we definitely reward employees for their contributions, we try hard not to reward heroes who win at any cost.”
No matter how experienced you may be, job interviews can be intimidating.
Whether you’re walking into it brimming with confidence or stifled with anxiety, there’s really no telling how an interview will go.
And oftentimes, a weak response to hard-hitting questions can be a big enough mistake to ruin the entire interview– and your hopes of getting the job.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. And as dreaded as some interview questions can be, you can use them to your advantage and showcase why you’re the best candidate for the role. Keep reading to learn more about one of the best techniques that you can use to ace your interview: the STAR method.
What is the STAR Method?
The STAR method is a simple format designed to help you eloquently and meaningfully answer some of the toughest questions in job interviews. This method gives you the opportunity to prove your professional skills through a well-communicated story of your own experience.
These questions, known as behavioral or situational interview questions, are important for employers to ask because they reveal how you will respond to situations and conflicts that arise in the role you’re interviewing for. By breaking down your example experience into four parts, the STAR technique will help you craft a response that is clearly articulated, professional, and meaningful, and showcase your competency in the workplace.
Choosing the Right Story
Before we jump into how to use the method, let’s get clear on the questions that you can use it for. Behavioral questions usually begin with something like:
Tell me about a time when…
Give me an example of…
What do you do when…
Because there are many ways behavioral questions can be asked, there are an infinite number of stories that you could use as examples. This gives you the freedom to cater the situation to your unique experience, but it can also make choosing a story difficult.
Luckily, there are a six categories of situational stories you can always fall back on:
- An example of something unique or interesting that you have done in your life
- An example of you problem solving
- An example of you remedying a mistake you made
- An example of your success as a teamplayer
- An example of you overcoming an obstacle
- An example of your success as a leader
Once you’ve thought of some stories, the STAR method will help you format them into a manageable response.
Using the STAR Method
The STAR method has four parts: Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Each section of this technique contains a portion of your story. By breaking it down into four manageable parts, you will be able to craft an example certain to impress your interviewer.
Let’s break it down!
The first step is to set the scene.
Like any good narrative, your story needs context. Regardless of how applicable your example may be, failure to explain the setting can leave your interviewer confused. So, remember to be as clear and concise as possible. Who were the people involved? What events were occurring? What challenge or challenges were you facing?
Remember to only share relevant background information and work experience. As confusing as a lack of context can be, it can be equally as messy to bog your answer down with unnecessary detail.
The second step is to explain the task.
This is where you will illustrate your role or responsibility in the story. What was your goal or task? Who assigned you this responsibility? What was the desired outcome?
This is your chance to explain your response to the situation so that your interviewer can understand what your goal was and why. Much like the Situation portion, this part of your answer should be brief. Only include enough information to make your point clear.
The third step is to reveal the action you took to accomplish the task.
Your interviewer is aware of the situation and what your goal was to resolve it, now it’s time to explain how you went about getting the desired outcome. What steps did you take to achieve success?
This is the most crucial out of all the STAR method steps. Your actions will show the employer whether or not you are suitable for the role you are interviewing for. They will be looking for you to “display a high level of assertiveness, confidence, and good decision-making skills,” so it’s important to avoid a vague or lazy response. It’s important to remember that your interviewer is looking for specific characteristics, so they are less interested in your goal and more in how you approached it.
The final step is to explain the outcome of your actions.
You’ve talked about the situation, your task, and what steps you took to accomplish it, now you need to reveal the final results. Was the situation resolved? Did you reach your goal? Did the final outcome meet your expectations? If not, how did it differ?
This is your time to truly make yourself stand out. Whether it was a lesson you learned, a catastrophe avoided, or a positive impact on the company, your story’s conclusion should be upbeat, meaningful, and a display of your skills. Be specific in your achievements– you’re aiming to impress!
Remember, behavioral questions, however tough, are a way for you to prove your skills and experience to the employer. Use the STAR method to show that you have what it takes to be successful in the position– and ace your job interview while you’re at it!
Netta Bob, Recruiter at DigitalOcean, shares a few tips to keep in mind when applying to DigitalOcean.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at DigitalOcean's culture and values, and learn how you can make your application stand out!
To learn more about DigitalOcean and their open roles, click here.
Templates For In-Office and Remote Interviews
Let's face it, interviews are stressful. Every company has its own way of determining whether or not you're going to be a good fit for their organization. The secret sauce is in their bag of questions.
Another big question that interviewers love to ask is, "What's your ideal work environment?"
Spoiler alert: there is no one 'right' way to answer this question. When an interviewer asks this question, they're looking to see how your personality fits into the current company culture and the new team you will be joining (not what size monitor you prefer). It's not as cut and dry as it appears.
So, how should you prepare for this question?
It's tricky - which is why we've broken the question into three main categories and provided two great examples for both in-office and remote roles. I know it's tempting to tell the interviewer exactly what they want to hear, but you should try to be as genuine as possible when answering this question. The key takeaway is to understand that not every company is going to be a great fit, and after all, as much as this is an interview for you, you're also interviewing them to ensure you can be productive in their environment!
What did you love about your last office, and what did you hate about it? Was it distracting to hear Tiffany on the phone every day thanks to the open floor plan, or did you enjoy having coworkers all around you to bounce ideas off of? What's the company'sSlack policy?
Try to understand how your working style fits into this new company's culture. Check their blog, social channels, and LinkedIn to see if they have employee testimonials or documentation of in-office or remote activities.
"I've done some research on your company's work culture and found a great article about the office layout on your YouTube channel. I was excited to see such an engaged team structure and a really cool open floor plan. In previous roles, I've always had my own quiet space to work from, however, I love the idea of being closer to the action and having the opportunity to collaborate more closely with my team."
"I've never worked in a totally remote position before, but in my previous role, I was able to work from home at least one day a week. This really opened my eyes to how productive I could be without the constant distractions in the office."
When an interviewer asks you what your ideal work environment is, they don't just mean your physical environment. They also mean what kind of working environment you enjoy more generally - a.k.a how you manage and like to be managed. These factors are key in determining compatibility between an applicant and a company, and can be the difference between a positive (or ideal) work environment, and a completely toxic one.
Think about what motivates you to be productive, how you like to be managed, and how you prefer to receive feedback. If you are in the interview process, it's safe to say you will be working with at least one other person, and it's important to know how this new person or team communicates. If you are in cubicles, what's the protocol for relaying information? Are there specific online hours for remote teams? There are so many questions you could ask the hiring manager about relationship management - don't hesitate to fire away!
"I really loved meeting with my manager one-on-one once a month for an in-person feedback session. It really helped me prioritize my workload and understand what areas of my work were successful and where I could devote more time. How often does your team give feedback and what do those feedback sessions look like?"
"I know that working remotely has its perks, and I also know that it can be challenging to engage and thrive with coworkers on a remote team. In one of your blog posts, I read that you use platforms like Slack, Zoom, and Asana to keep engagement and work culture active and balanced - all tools which I've utilized in the past to engage with my fellow remote coworkers while I was in the office. Has your team ever used the donut Slack extension? It's one of my favorites for getting to know your co-workers better!"
Be honest with yourself about work culture expectations meeting your lifestyle needs. If you've found a sweet new remote job that you think will allow you to live it up as a digital nomad, you'll want to first confirm with your employer that they're flexible on time zones and that having a two-monitor, semi-permanent office setup isn't essential to your job.
Perhaps you're a working mom, taking care of a parent, or living with PTSD or another mental illness and need flexible hours.
Whatever your situation, it's important to understand whether or not this new organization will be supportive of your personal AND professional needs.
"When I think about my ideal work environment, I know that I want to be part of an organization that encourages its employees to stay true to themselves. I'm really passionate when I am able to bring my full self to work each day, that's when I am at my best. So I value transparency and encouragement from my team to be authentic and uber-productive.
"Working remotely takes a lot of integrity and responsibility. I like to push my productivity level to the limit, but working in my home office can make it difficult to draw the line between work hours and the rest of my day. So it's important for me to be able to set boundaries around time management in order to be at the height of my productivity. I like to divide my workday up in order to make any online team meetings and prioritize my to-do list effectively. Time management is key for me to be able to maintain a work-life balance."
Remember to take some time before the interview to review your previous job's work culture. Be honest with yourself and make a list of what worked for you and what did not work. Next, think of how to create an ideal work environment knowing there is potential to enhance your previous job's work environment. This question can be a stepping stone for many follow-up questions and is also a good way to dive into how their particular organization works. Your response can fall between your past experience and your ideal vision, but it should always be a true reflection on you as an individual!