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How to Get Hired in Customer Success

Answers to the most common questions I hear from CS job-seekers
Ben Winn
January 20, 2021

I talk to Customer Success job-seekers at least once a week, and have noticed some key trends about their questions and concerns. I’ve also noticed that I’ve been giving very similar advice to many of them, so I thought I’d compile the most common points into a blog for any and all job seekers to view and hopefully benefit from. 

The most common questions I get are:

  1. There are so many people looking for CS roles right now. How can I stand out against the competition?
  1. Should I just go through the company’s application portal or should I try reaching out to someone on their team directly?
  1. I don’t have a CS background. Do I have transferable skills and if so, how can I communicate that?

How to Stand Out Against the Competition

There are three key concepts you can leverage to stand out against the competition:

  • Who you are (your personality)
  • What you’ve done (your experiences)
  • What you will do (your aspirations)

Who You Are

This category includes all of the qualities that make you uniquely you. Often when applying for jobs, people try to fit into a certain mold. They change their personality based on what they think the hiring manager is looking for in the person they hire. This approach almost always backfires, and results in the applicant coming across disingenuous or simply the same as everyone else. 

My advice is to spend some time on self-discovery so that you can clearly communicate who you are in an application and an interview setting. You can try journaling, taking the Myers-Briggs, taking the StrengthsFinder assessment, doing an exercise to determine your core values—there is no shortage of personality assessment tools online, both free and paid.

What You’ve Done

This category includes your work experience, volunteer experience, hobbies, awards, and anything else you might list on your resume. Your resume will make or break your application, especially if you are applying straight through a company’s job portal. Three things I see people get wrong constantly:

  1. Your resume should be 2 pages maximum, unless you’re in medicine or some other specialized profession. There is no reason a CSM’s resume should be longer than 2 pages. One page is even better! Which leads to point number 2..
  1. Your resume should have only relevant experiences. If you are applying to be a CSM, there is no reason your resume should list that 4-month stint you did in high school as a house painter, which again leads to point number 3...
  1. You should not be using the same resume to apply to every job. If you’re applying for a job at a paint company, heck yes you should include your house painting experience! You should be customizing your resume for each job to show your most relevant experience, with descriptions for each role that are tailored to the job you are applying for. 

What You Will Do

This category includes your hopes, dreams, and goals, both personal and professional. It is your opportunity to display your drive, which is important because companies want to hire people who are motivated and whose goals align with what the company can help them achieve. It is important that you feel like this job is the right next step for your career, because if it isn’t, you probably won’t stay in it for very long. Companies look for employees whose personal career goals align with what the company can help them achieve for precisely that reason. 

Never be shy when talking about your goals. Even if you aren’t sure of what you want to do or where you want to be in 2 years, take a guess (but don’t tell the company you’re guessing). You can always change direction if you decide that you guessed wrong, but the last thing you want to do is talk about being unsure of what you want or where you want to be in the future. The hiring manager should feel secure that if they hire you, you aren’t going to leave in 3 months to go to chef school (as fun as that sounds). 

Applying Through a Portal vs. Direct Outreach to a Team Member

The answer here is not as clear as it might at first seem. Yes, warm introductions help and employee referrals for roles absolutely are given preference at most companies, however there are some important considerations to keep in mind:

Okay: Asking a friend or former colleague you know at the company you’re applying to if they would be comfortable referring you for a role.

Not okay: Asking a stranger (or almost stranger) at the company whom you connected with on Linkedin if they would be willing to refer you for a role.

Okay: Asking a stranger at the company whom you connected with on Linkedin if they would be willing to have a 15-minute chat with you to tell you a bit more about the company, its product, its culture, etc.

Not okay: Asking 5 different people at the company whom you connected with on Linkedin if they would be willing to speak with you about the role. 

Okay: Following up on your application with the main contact you have if you haven’t heard back in a few days.

Not okay: DMing multiple people at the company after you’ve applied but haven’t heard back yet.

At most good companies, every single application through the portal is looked at (unless they’re a massive company in which case there might be some degree of automation). That means that if you put together a fantastic application and you have the right level of experience, you will most likely get moved to the second stage of applications.

If you want to go the personal route to try to give yourself an edge, but you don’t know anyone at the company, start by checking if you have any second-degree connections (don’t just cold-add people from the company). If you have a second-degree connection, ask the person you do know if they would be comfortable connecting you with the person at the company you want to connect with for a 15 minute chat to learn more about the role and their company culture. 

If you have no second-degree connections, then you can do a cold-add on LinkedIn, but remember that cold-adding someone badly can be worse than not adding them at all. You’ll want to include something in your message to them that shows you’ve done your research (e.g. “I love that blog you recently wrote about XYZ!”), and you’ll want to provide immediate context for the add (e.g. “I’m interested in XYZ role, but am looking to learn a bit more about the company’s culture and product before I make a decision about applying. Would you have 15 minutes for a brief chat with me?”

Always remember that empathy and communication skills are core traits for Customer Success Managers, so those skills should be on display throughout your entire application process. 

How to Communicate Your Transferable Skills

You have transferable skills—I guarantee it. The question is how many transferable skills do you have, and how should you communicate what they are?

Here is a list of Customer Success skills - the easy part is looking through lists like this and identifying what skills you have. Regardless of whether you were a server, an actor, or a wedding photographer before you chose to apply for a Customer Success Manager position, you will have some of these core skills. Write down what they are, and then reflect on each role you’ve previously held to determine what examples you have of things you’ve done that would demonstrate those skills. 

For example, a server has to:

  • Quickly establish a positive relationship with customers
  • Ensure they have a positive customer experience throughout their time under your care
  • Balance multiple competing priorities while working quickly and efficiently

A CSM has to:

  • Quickly establish positive relationships with customers
  • Ensure they have a positive customer experience
  • Balance multiple competing priorities while working quickly and efficiently

Drawing these sorts of parallels using specific examples is a great way to demonstrate your transferable skills.

To go one step further, you should familiarize yourself with Customer Success lingo. There is no shortage of CS content online, so read through it all and google any terms or acronyms you don’t understand. Then see if there are any opportunities to use that CS language in your application and in subsequent conversations. 

I’m not saying that if you were a waiter you should refer to your customers as your “book of business” but small changes like saying “I managed the end-to-end customer experience” instead of saying “I made sure customers enjoyed their meals” has a very different ring to it.

Final Thoughts to Bear In Mind

Quality over quantity

Your odds are better spending a lot of time on a few applications than spending very little time on a lot of applications.

Jobs are a two-way fit

It may feel like the company has all the leverage since, let’s face it, you need a job. But you can’t forget that you have skills that will be very valuable to the right company, and you need to vet the company as much as they’re vetting you to make sure it’s a strong two-way fit. 

It’s never a bad time to build your personal brand

What do you want to be known for professionally? How can you communicate that to prospective employers and colleagues? You can write a blog, start a podcast, create videos, and so much more. Diana De Jesus is a personal branding expert, and created several resources to help you get started. 

Best of luck in your job search! You got this 👊

Better relationships. Less churn.

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