This is a transcript of our January 2015 AMA with Diana Potter on getting hired in customer support. To find out about future events, join our chat!

scott @channel: Hey everyone! We’re going to start the ‘Getting Hired in Support’ AMA
debbie_n Great!
roguetash Hi all!
debbie_n Hi everyone!
darrenkclee hello!
danielpeam Hi everyone
grooms Howdy!
scott @dpotter: Let’s start with the cover letter. Why should anyone bother writing one?
dpotter Oh my. Got an hour or two?
scott haha, we got a lot more questions… so maybe a quick answer :smile:
scott has never sent a cover letter in this life :see_no_evil:
dpotter Cover letter > Resume in my opinion. It’s there to really catch someone’s attention and sell them on why you’d rock at the job.
darrenkclee I have written so many this past month T.T
darrenkclee I must be doing something wrong
dpotter I wouldn’t attach one (that comes across weird to me at least), but the email you’re sending to apply…that’s your cover letter
debbie_n Oh good!
debbie_n How long (in general) should they be?
debbie_n Mine have been around 3 paragraphs, 4 max
stokedkevin The cover letter is WAYYYY more important. I barely look at the resume. But the cover letter tells me so much about their writing style and tone. Also it’s an opportunity for candidates to show how much they know about our company. If they don’t even mention the company name in the cover letter, they get cut.
dpotter No good answer there! They should be long enough to sell yourself or talk about how your background works for the job listing. Don’t send an essay (I’ve seen many many page ones) and don’t send 2 sentences.
paul @debbie_n: I think it’s silly to think about it in terms of length. What matters is if you connect with and resonate with the person reading it.
dpotter I won’t cut someone for not mentioning the company name :simple_smile:, but yeah the cover letter is it. I won’t even look at a resume if there isn’t a decent cover letter.
debbie_n I just want to make sure I’m not going overboard
dpotter And it should cover what the listing asked for (any questions they asked for) AND a bit more.
thomashils For cover letters I think brevity is the way to go. Short and sweet.
dpotter Oh and please please do not say “Dear Hiring Manager”
scott @dpotter: Can you share some examples that have stood out for you? In terms of what they talked about or how it stood out for you?
debbie_n How would you start it if you didn’t know their name?
dpotter How would you start an email to a customer without knowing their name?
darrenkclee I normally try “Hello [company name]” or similar, is that appropriate?
jszotten `Hi there!`
debbie_n Depends on the tone I’m going for tbh
jordanmunson +10000000 to “How would you start an email to a customer without knowing their name?” @dpotter
darrenkclee I use Hi there too!
debbie_n I go for hello there. Adds a touch of class :yum:
dpotter @scott yeah! So my favorites are ones that start off with a little of their background and why the job ad appealed, then maybe grab a few highlights from any requirements section and work that in to what you’re talking about in terms of your background. So it’s all in context.
dpotter Some people go overboard with like videos, entire websites, cute tumblrs…those are cool, but I don’t think they’re at all essential
dpotter 3-4 paragraphs of killer text can win out over a 30 second cute video.
dpotter Oh and don’t lead with say your personal life and why that job appeals because of your personal life
dpotter It’s…weird. Talk about yourself in context of what you can do for the company more than what the company can do for you. A good company should care about what they can do for you, but don’t lead with it.
scott @dpotter: Can you talk about some things people should NEVER do in a cover letter?
scott Like maybe comment on your Twitter picture
dpotter well other than leading with your personal life. Don’t get argumentative. Don’t get overly egotistical (though I will admit to having send a couple of cover letters in my day that said “I’m perfect for this job”). Proof read!!!!
michaelg thinks there’s a gap between “I’m perfect for this job” and “i’m perfect”
dpotter Don’t just send gifs, or weird factoids. Especially for support, a cover letter is the best way you can show off the bat how you’d treat a customer. Let your personality shine through but remember, it’s a professional situation.
dpotter @michaelg very true :simple_smile:. If someone says they’re perfect for the job and then backs it up with you need x, y, z and here’s why I can accomplish that and a bit more…that’s awesome.
debbie_n I’ve found that the hardest thing in moving from my current role into this area has been a ‘lack of experience’. It’s the killer in all my interviews. All my feedback has been really positive except that I need more experience. How do you think I can gain more experience in customer relations and support?
scott @debbie_n: Do you get that response from the cover letter/application or after the interview?
debbie_n After my interviews
debbie_n (Usually more than 1)
dpotter @debbie_n Talk up past experience with customers. From random jobs as a teenager to just interacting with people in your current position. People tend to forget that most jobs are customer service at their heart. Talk about why you’re passionate about it, etc.
mrpatto “perfect for this job” I do not enjoy. You don’t know that, you can’t possibly know what the perfect person looks like from the hirers perspective.
scott @debbie_n: Good news is you’ve got a chance to change their mind during the interview.
debbie_n I feel like I did that, but I suppose I’ll have to work on that area of my interview technique!
darrenkclee @debbie_n: i’m the opposite, I keep getting “we’re impressed by your experience…but”
dpotter @mrpatto True. I think if someone leads with the job description and how their background fits. :shrug:
scott @darrenkclee: but…. you’re Australian? :wink:
debbie_n Haha
micahbennett @debbie_n: It sounds silly, but I’d say ‘do the job you want to have’. Find an app you use regularly that has public facing/community support and start helping people
jszotten interesting approach @micahbennett
micahbennett I got my start by being a moderator at a message board I frequent
mrpatto We hired from our customer forum once
darrenkclee @scott: yeah I’ve been getting that, but sometimes it’s very vague
scott I’ve heard others talk about getting hired into support by being active on forums as well.
debbie_n Interesting approach!
dpotter Not everyone has time for that, though. I don’t think it’s a deal killer. Definitely a way to get experience OR just sell yourself on a specific company.
darrenkclee I got my last support job because I talked to the founder at a convention
debbie_n I have great experience supporting one of the hardest groups to please – parents!
dpotter @debbie_n are they specifically talking about lack of direct support experience? Or just vague not enough experience mentions?
debbie_n I think it’s specifically about direct support experience
dpotter Hmm. Well happy to give you some specific tips some time :simple_smile:
scott @dpotter: Let’s say I make it to the interview. Do you expect me to do any homework/preparation before we talk?
debbie_n Yes please! I can use all the help I can get!
dpotter @scott Yes! I don’t expect someone to know the software backwards and forwards but someone who has glanced at the docs, maybe signed up for a trial and can speak intelligently about the software…major kudos. And you should learn about the company too, especially if they’re public with background or current company type info.
debbie_n I did loads of research before my last interview and they seemed genuinely impressed. I have @jszotten to thank for pointing me in the right direction with that!
darrenkclee what about phone screenings before interviews?
mrpatto I definitely appreciate someone who seems to have cared enough to put some effort into preparation
dpotter @darrenkclee Depends. If it’s like a 15 minute scheduled interview you need to have some idea about the software and the company, but maybe not in detail.
scott I’d consider phone screenings as just the first interview.
darrenkclee I had a couple phone screenings that I thought went really well, and I even had a follow up with one company but then radio silence
scott @dpotter: What are you looking to learn about a candidate from the interview?
darrenkclee @dpotter: thanks, I try to do as much research as possible but it never really goes into much detail over the phone anyway
dpotter @scott depends on the interview. If it’s a 15-20 minute screening it’s generally just to chat a bit about their background, why they’re interested in that role, etc. If it’s a full interview I want to learn about why they want a support role, how they approach tickets from customers, how they handle specific situations.
dpotter I also want _them_ to ask questions
dpotter Another reason for doing some homework beforehand
scott @dpotter: Why do you want them to ask questions?
debbie_n What’s the best question you’ve been asked by an interviewee?
scott @debbie_n: :thumbsup: good question! :wink:
dpotter @scott Because they should be interested in the role and in the company. They should want to know more about the day-to-day life, the team, if they’ll fit in.
debbie_n @Scott thank you :blush:
dpotter @debbie_n The best ones I get ask about the types of questions we get from customers and how we approach them. Or they just ask lots of questions about the team.
debbie_n Interesting
dpotter I like people who make it clear they want a good fit for themselves too
debbie_n I usually ask them what’s their favourite thing about working at this company
scott @dpotter: What are some of your favorite questions to ask during an interview?
dpotter plus as support professionals, we have to be good at asking questions. Customers don’t write in with 110% of the detail we need.
debbie_n It gives me a good idea as to whether I’d like it there
martin.koiva …this is what i’ve asked in all my interviews in the past 2 years: “when was the last time you smoked weed?” :simple_smile:
scott haha really?
martin.koiva probably an HR violation in the US :stuck_out_tongue:
martin.koiva but yeah. only point is to see the immediate reaction
scott haha probably…with the exception of a few states
dpotter @scott hmm. I like asking some more general questions like what do they like about support (and what do they dislike) or cliches like where do you want to be in 5 years just to get conversations going. Otherwise, my favorites revolve around “how would you approach this specific situation” (upset customer, major outage, a question you have no clue about the answer) or “walk me through your process when you get a complicated ticket”
debbie_n Dunno if that gives off the impression I want!
dpotter I cannot say I have ever asked about weed smoking, though :stuck_out_tongue:
martin.koiva does the person freeze, does he give an honest answer, does he start saying “never, drugs are bad”
debbie_n I’ll stick with fav thing about the company!
darrenkclee @debbie_n: I love asking that too :simple_smile:
dpotter I don’t advice interviewees to ask “how liberal is your drug policy at work?”
debbie_n HA
darrenkclee ahahaha
debbie_n Not liberal enough
micahbennett fwiw, I’d like it if someone asked the opposite too, e.g. ‘what’s your least favorite thing’ or ‘what’s the hardest part about this job’
debbie_n I like that
martin.koiva i’m not a pothead or anything, it’s just something that works to see the different ways people react to unexpected stuff
dpotter Yeah, as an interviewee I always liked to ask what’s your least favorite thing, or what was the hardest day you’ve had here.
debbie_n I’d probably burst out laughing
grooms I had an interviewer who I later found out was inadvertently high on pot brownies while interviewing me. So that could have been interesting.
darrenkclee @martin.koiva: what if I respond with a wink :wink:
debbie_n Inadvertently?!
martin.koiva not a bad answer @darrenkclee
grooms He didn’t know they had pot in them until he ate them. “There is no undo for this action.”
debbie_n Ha
dpotter I read something recently where someone said their favorite interview question is “tell me about the last time you broke the law”
debbie_n Oh my
dpotter (someone well known who handled all hiring at sw air for a while and now some hotel chain)
darrenkclee probably today, walking across the street
dpotter I kind of want to ask that now.
martin.koiva but neither “just now, outside the office” or “never” guarantees a + point. more about the way you handle the situation of being asked something like that
dpotter Yup
debbie_n How would you want someone to respond?
jszotten that’s what I’m thinking
dpotter I tend to get a good reaction just asking “what do you like about support?” “what do you _dislike_ about support?”
dpotter because no one is ever expecting to be asked what they don’t like about the job they’re interviewing for.
dpotter (well other than the people in here now)
scott The unexpected questions are the most interesting/illuminating.
darrenkclee hehe
martin.koiva staying confident and giving an answer without your head exploding would be the main thing that i’d look for probably
debbie_n I once had someone ask me a maths sum mid interview
dpotter It’s the same reason I ask the cliche where do you see yourself in 5 years question. It tends to get a good conversation going.
scott @dpotter: Are there any common/easy mistakes people make during the interview?
dpotter @scott For me (and your mileage may vary at other companies!), not asking questions of your own. Having no understanding of what the company does at all. Those are really the only common mistakes I see but neither are “easy”
dpotter Anything else is easily recoverable. Maybe getting the name wrong of the person you’re talking to (hint, my name isn’t Donna :stuck_out_tongue: ), or being a few minutes late. I don’t think anyone needs to be some kind of weird perfect clone in an interview. They should be themselves.
debbie_n Has someone forgotten your name?! Harsh!
scott If you’re not sure, it’s safer to just go with ‘Hi there!’ :wink:
mrpatto For me: not being able to give specific answers. If I ask for an example of a time that you’ve dealt with this situation, I don’t really want a ‘I reckon I would do something magically awesome like this’
dpotter Not being honest is up there too. I don’t mean if I were to ask when you last smoked weed :wink:
dpotter But more if you’re asked something and you _don’t_ have an answer…just say that
jszotten yeah – I’m glad you made that point @dpotter
scott @mrpatto: That’s a pet peeve of mine too… If you don’t know something, just say so.
roguetash I had an interviewer email me back with my name autocorrected to “trash.” A fun conversation came from that :smile:
jszotten That’s an important one. It’s not about knowing everything but also how you react to things you don’t know
martin.koiva failing to mention important stuff (like you were let go from your previous job)
jszotten I’d much rather hear that you don’t know but would find out or like to learn etc
mrpatto +1
dpotter Sometimes I’ll ask API-y questions and not everyone I’m talking to will know the answer. Saying “You know what, I don’t know that!” is perfectly appropriate. “You know what, I don’t know that! This is how I’d find the answer.” is even better.
jszotten If I don’t know something I’d probably also counter with questions about it.
jszotten Show that you want to find out – eager to learn
dpotter yes! That’s perfect @jszotten
scott judo interviewing
scott turn their questions into questions for them :smile:
dpotter Plus, support is investigation. If you aren’t willing to start from a base of “I don’t know” and know how to hunt down an answer….
jszotten yup
dpotter (well okay, my brand of support is investigation)
mrpatto So THAT’S why you always wore that sherlock holmes hat!
jszotten :simple_smile:
dpotter And carried a magnifying glass. Yup! :stuck_out_tongue:
scott @dpotter: Do you have any recommendations for candidates after an interview?
dpotter Follow up! Say it was nice to chat. Maybe ask a follow up question or if you were stumped by one of their questions…send the answer.
dpotter Don’t follow up daily asking about a decision being made.
debbie_n How to annoy someone!
roguetash That is a great tip to remember…research and send the answer.
martin.koiva +1
dpotter That post interview part is the worst, though (at least in my interviewing past). It’s horrible waiting for replies, but generally the person you’re talking to is working incredibly hard to get back to everyone quickly and not just ignoring you. I swear.
scott @dpotter: Any thoughts on people applying more than once for a job. Say 6 months later when you’re hiring again.
jszotten For my interview it took months – they weren’t just doing interviews but also every other role in the company since there were no employees yet. So beware of that if you’re interviewing for a startup
darrenkclee It’s a little disheartening when you’re applying for a support role but the ‘support’ you get during the interview process is lacking, i.e. never hearing back at all
jszotten A friendly reminder after a while isn’t a bad idea @darrenkclee
scott @darrenkclee: Sad to say but it’s not unusual to hear back.
dpotter @scott Bring it up. Say “hey, remember me!”
jszotten yep
michaelg can confirm, post interview is the worst
jszotten no harm in doing it as long as (like Diana says) not too often
scott @darrenkclee: My tip would be to never put other interviews on hold while you’re waiting to hear back from one.
jszotten absolutely @scott
darrenkclee thanks, I’ll keep that in mind
dpotter @darrenkclee sometimes a company could have phases of interviews, like for later applicants, etc. It’s tough to keep everyone in the loop.
michaelg things not to do: finding the support manager on twitter and favoriting their every tweet.
dpotter I like to give the benefit of the doubt, but sadly yeah not every company follows up :disappointed:
darrenkclee completely understandable
dpotter @michaelg +1
debbie_n Lol do people do that?!
dpotter Another thing not to do, don’t track down the company CEO and email them personally wanting to know why the support manager is taking so long.
debbie_n Woah
dpotter Basically….just treat the company you’re interviewing with like you’d treat a customer. Be nice, show a little personality, follow up, be respectful, give them the benefit of the doubt, etc, etc
debbie_n That’s what I’ve been aiming for with my approach
dpotter If you’re interviewing for a customer support position, how you act when applying is how you’ll act with customers. If it isn’t….change how you’re applying.
scott @dpotter: How do you feel if an applicant has asked people you know to speak on their behalf?
dpotter I think they’re putting those people in a really tough spot
dpotter I’m not for it or against it, just keep in mind that it might not get you much more than a guaranteed look at your application or maybe a screening interview.
dpotter And that person had better know those people too. If they’re just contacting strangers….stop it.
scott @dpotter: Going back to the experience question. Is there value in pointing you to forums where they helped people, even if it’s not your product?
dpotter I think it depends on the company and your experience. If you’re shy on direct experience it would be a good demonstration. It also gives them an idea of how you’d interact with customers.
dpotter But don’t rely on that for your intro to a company. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I don’t have time to visit every link provided :neutral_face:
debbie_n Now to find a public forum where I can provide support…
scott Does anyone have questions for @dpotter that we haven’t talked about?
debbie_n What’s your absolute top tip for breaking into a new role?
darrenkclee @debbie_n: Maybe you can try volunteering? I recently started as a virtual volunteer for zidisha and it’s essentially a basic support role
dpotter @debbie_n show your passion for the role
debbie_n I’ve been looking for some volunteering opportunities to do around my work :blush:
scott ‘Showing your work’ is a great way to show you’re more than just talk
debbie_n @dpotter: thank you, I’ve been struggling with finding something new that I’m passionate about and I feel really positive about this :blush:
grooms @dpotter: What might make you take a risk on a candidate, and what would make a candidate a risk (someone who could “go either way”)?
micahbennett it’s probably vain, but I’ve really liked it when people put together small websites for their application. Really shows they’re invested in that specific job like the rest of our team is already
scott @micahbennett: ‘I wrote a small API for you’
dpotter @grooms someone without direct experience is my main risk area, and I’d be willing to take it if they have obvious passion, am a “learner” who can find answers, if working hard on improving, etc.
debbie_n Don’t think that’s vain
dpotter @micahbennett I’m always torn on those. I really like them, but at the same time it’s not going to really rank above someone with a killer cover letter.
micahbennett @dpotter: in the ones I’ve seen they often serve as really great cover letters
scott @dpotter: Got any examples of things people have done to show they’re a learner, passionate?
dpotter I’ve seen some bad ones, because they’ve become trendy.
micahbennett definitely not a cure all though, for as much as I like them I don’t think anyone we’ve hired used one
jszotten I seem to remember some sites that published theirs…
jszotten applicants with websites
dpotter @scott yeah if someone doesn’t have direct experience I’d want to know about indirect experience and examples of how they’ve learned things in the past. Talk about online classes you’re taking, forums you’re participating in. Heck, in an interview tell me about the time you taught yourself how to play guitar and how you can put that same passion into learning APIs
jszotten https://signalvnoise.com/posts/2709-sites-that-landed-jobs-at-37signals
roguetash @dpotter if someone nailed the cover letter and was just ‘ok’ in the interview, would you still consider that candidate? Chalk it up to nerves during the interview?
dpotter @roguetash It depends on why they were just okay. Do they come across way more energetic in writing than on the phone…sure we might chat again. Did they just bomb the questions…no probably not.
martin.koiva i’d say that it’s more than ok if the potential employer indicated so during the first try
scott Alright people. Thanks so much for hanging out with us and BIG thanks to @dpotter for sharing her time and experience so we can all get better at landing awesome support jobs :wink:
jszotten Yeah thanks @scott & @dpotter and everyone else!
grooms Ditto @jszotten!
roguetash Thank you @dpotter! And thanks @scott as well!
dpotter Yeah, thanks everyone! Especially everyone who gave their views on questions too :simple_smile:.
debbie_n Thanks everyone! Any more tips or advice is more than welcome!
grooms This was so helpful.
chris This was excellent! Thank you @dpotter and @scott!
darrenkclee Thank you so much @dpotter and @scott!
darrenkclee super helpful