Get and Pass the Engineering Leadership Interview with Kevin Doiron Executive Recruiter

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Transcript

[00:00] Vidal: So good afternoon today. I have with me my friend, Kevin Doiron, he’s a leadership recruiter. Welcome to ManagersClub.

[00:06] Kevin: Yeah. Thanks. Happy to be here.

[00:08] Vidal: Kevin say just a few words about yourself. Where are you now?

[00:11] Kevin: Sure. I’m the executive recruiter for product and technology at Okta. I’m only in my fourth week right now, so just ramping up getting things figured out.

Before that, I was the executive recruiter for product and engineering over at Palo Alto Networks, world’s largest cyber security company. And before that, I did engineering leadership recruiting with you over at Uber. It’s nice to see you again.

[00:34] Vidal: Nice to see you too. Awesome. Let’s start.

How should someone get on a company’s radar to interview?

How should someone get on a company’s radar to interview? Assuming you haven’t already reached out to them already.

[00:42] Kevin: Yeah. I think since this is the question. Give you a little bit of, my insider’s perspective here rather than just the official line is go and apply for a job.

Ultimately I think the best thing to do is for people to go directly to the source. So if there’s a company that’s interesting to you or even if you’re not necessarily actively looking for a job, a company reaches out to you and you’re like, okay, this is turning into something very viable.

I think it’s really important for people to take a proactive approach to job hunting whether they meant to be in it or not. And what I mean by that is even if you have something good going on with one company, I think it’s really important to have a few different opportunities that run parallel. So you can have an apples-to-apples comparison by the end.

So my recommendation is necessarily submitting a job application through a career site and hoping that someone on the recruiting side makes it through all of their applications and picks up your resume. I would do a little bit more proactive hunting. Go onto LinkedIn. Find the engineering leadership at that company, whether it’s the VP of engineering or the CTO, depending on the size of the company, obviously it’s a big company I wouldn’t go to CTO.

Find out who the senior director or director is of engineering in that group, depending on what this role is, and reach out to them directly. What happens in those cases is an engineering leader, has someone that reached out to them, said, Hey, I’m interested in this engineering manager role they will forward that email to people like me and that will put you at the top of the list and ultimately get a recruiter, hopefully reaching out to you as soon as possible. So I think it’s always good to go directly to the source of who is doing the hiring for that role, if at all possible. And, rather than just praying and hoping that somebody calls me back.

[02:33] Vidal: I think that’s a really interesting tip because a lot of time people want to get a referral. But what you’re saying is this is not like a referral from a friend you’re saying, go like you see this job opening, try to figure out a senior leader in the company and what, just send them like an InMail or something and say, I’m interested in this position.

[02:50] Kevin: Yeah. Obviously, if someone works there an employee referral is great and it’s an easy path in, but the reality is a lot of times people don’t have a direct connection at that company. So for me, this is what I would do if I found myself looking for a new job. And I wanted to talk to this company about what they’re looking for.

Going directly to the person whose pain you’re trying to solve in this role would be the person who’s most motivated, to get the right people into the interviews.

[03:21] Vidal: I think that’s great. Yeah. If I got that from someone and I’ve had a job opening yes, you’re right. I would send it to the recruiter and say, this person reached out to me,

[03:28] Kevin: please talk to them.

[03:29] Vidal: Yeah. And it would end up on the top of your list. Interesting. What do you look for in a LinkedIn profile or resume? Like how important are those to you?

What do you look for in LinkedIn profile, resume, etc.? How important are those?

[03:40] Kevin: I mean it’s 2022. LinkedIn is everything arguably more important than a resume. LinkedIn is your brand. It’s how you put yourself out there.

It’s how people find out about you. It’s your discovery tool for companies that are looking to hire. So I think it’s super important. I think it’s important that LinkedIn is different than your resume. Think of LinkedIn as it’s the teaser it’s the tool that makes people want to learn your story and learn more about you.

So I think it’s important to summarize your resume and not just do a copy and paste and create the same content. I think it’s important to have really more of an appealing snapshot of you as an engineering manager, as an engineering leader, and ultimately drive clicks, drive people to want to engage with you.

So I think it’s important it covers things from at least at a very high level, some of the projects that you’re most proud of. Technical challenges you’ve worked on there’s obvious keywords. So from recruiter’s perspective, they’re going into their LinkedIn recruiter accounts or sources for that matter.

And they’re doing searches based on a number of keywords. So obviously keywords are important. It gets you in the ranking algorithm. It gets you as a candidate higher up on the search results if you have the right keywords in there. But I think it’s more important than just optimizing for SEO. It’s also really important to have something interesting about yourself as a leader. I think showing a little bit of the human side beyond just technical keywords. And I think having all of this summarized in a nice appealing package is important for LinkedIn.

[05:23] Vidal: Interesting. Okay. So you look at it, come with like a marketing piece. You’re like, you want to have the interesting parts of you there.

[05:30] Kevin: Yeah. I wouldn’t go too deep into personal things, just maybe one or two sentences, a little snapshot about what makes w what drives you as a leader? What you’re passionate about? I’ve always personally been Optima. I’ve always been. Drawn to passionate people in my life. Personally, professionally, I love people who love to do what they do, and I find those people very interesting.

And so do a lot of people I work with. So show your passion. Show what makes you unique. Obviously in LinkedIn, we want to focus that in a professional sense, but I think showing a little bit of the human behind the source code is important.

[06:10] Vidal: I think that’s great advice. All right. How essential is domain-specific expertise when you’re hiring? So for example, experience in machine learning or front-end engineering or things like that. Cause I assume lots of times you’re hiring for a specific management opportunity versus general just general management experience.

How essential is domain-specific experience, such as machine learning, front-end engineering, and so on, compared to general management experience?

[06:35] Kevin: I think the answer is, it depends on the level of the role. Engineering manager or some bigger companies, they have EM1s, EM2s, or Senior EM’s. Then they get into directors of engineering. The closer you are to the trenches, the more important specific domain knowledge I think is specific technical domain knowledge is as you work your way up the ranks one day hopefully a VP of engineering or the like.

The specific domain knowledge matters less and your leadership capabilities matter more. But ultimately being a great engineering manager, I think you need to address both sides, both the technical depth and then also the leadership capabilities. But I would say. The earlier on you are in the engineering manager track, the more important having the domain knowledge of what your team is working on. Being able to do code reviews with your team members. Being able to mentor and guide more junior engineers on how they can improve the code that they’re writing is obviously very important.

[07:44] Vidal: Okay. Makes sense. So the more entry-level positions, domain-specific expertise is important as you go higher. It becomes less important.

Before the interview, what are the most crucial questions an applicant should ask the recruiter?

Before the interview, there’ll be a prep call with a recruiter. So what are some of the most important questions that an applicant should ask?

question mark on chalk board

[8:02] Kevin: So I think there are two dimensions here that someone needs to get signal on.

Obviously the technical side of things, the technical domain is really important, and understanding the technical challenges. So understand the current state and future state for both of these, what is the current state of the code base is there what are the cracks on the wall? What needs to be addressed?

Are they bringing this leader in to maintain the current or usually it’s not usually it’s we need to refactor the codebase? We need to migrate to something new. So understanding what the current state is. And what does it look like beyond the horizon a year from now? Where will things be with this team?

So from a technical perspective, I think understand the tooling, understand just how all of that is looking. I think that’s one side. Engineers as they work up their career, they’re obviously focused on those technical details. I think the important thing is for someone who’s maybe interviewing for their first engineering manager role is to really understand the second dimension.

And that’s really the people side of this. So getting a good understanding of what’s the current state of the team. Yeah. Is the team doing well? Are they hemorrhaging people right now? Lots of attrition. What are the team dynamics that are in play right now?

What are you coming into? Is this a small team that needs lots of growth? How would you grow a team would be ultimately a questions that a lot of engineering leaders would put to engineering managers, how do you, we need to double or triple your team size in the next year.

How are you going to help to do that? Have you ever grown a team? So I think really understanding the technical side of things and then really looking at the people side of the role and understanding what that looks like today and what that will look like hopefully, maybe a year from.

[09:50] Vidal: Okay. That’s really interesting because I think a lot of people ask a lot of questions about the process, right? What’s the process going to be like the selection process, but you seem to be focusing more on what’s the current situation on the ground, on this team is what I’m here.

[10:01] Kevin: The way I look at this, Vidal, is yes, they’re evaluating you. And it’s important to understand, what’s the process. Who am I meeting with and what do they do at the company.

But the last thing I want anyone to do is to take a job where they didn’t have a good, accurate picture of the current situation. And then they join and they find out in their first three months, this is not what I signed up for.

And they end up making a decision that’s regrettable, and then they’re really left in a bad spot. So I see interviews it’s yes, of course, it’s a proving ground. You need to prove yourself. But I think what’s really important is that people use these conversations, use these interviews as a chance to collect information, collect signal about the company culture, how things are doing from a big picture, and then how things are going for this specific team. And, yes, they’re evaluating you, but you’re evaluating them. And I think it’s really important. Some people might just get so focused on this is an engineering manager role.

It’s a chance for me to, get a step up and move into leadership. And this is what I’ve always wanted to do that they might not ask the critical questions and understand what it is that they’re going into. And no one wants to be in a position six months down the road where they are not happy and this isn’t what ultimately they signed up for.

So I think it’s really important to treat an interview as a chance to really get as true to life of a perspective of what it is that you’ll be doing there and who you’ll be working with and what are the cracks on the wall? No place is perfect.

And I think it’s important. Something that I always work with the candidates that I’m working with is helping them to form that realistic picture of what this is going to be like. I don’t believe in overselling. I think it’s important to give people realistic expectations. Of course, there’s exciting opportunities.

There’s big challenges. There’s new muscles to build and all of that should come out in the interview process. But I think it’s important that people, don’t just see rainbows and butterflies and they get an accurate perspective of what it is that they’re going to be doing. Because at some point the honeymoon phase is going to be over.

[12:12] Vidal: I think that’s really fantastic how you’re really focusing on making sure it’s a good fit, right? And not like you say, just all the happy story and all that is, this is good.

[12:23] Kevin: This is what I did. This is my job.

I think the thing that’s really led me to stick into being an individual contributor and recruiting and not going into recruiting management has I really love helping people, guiding them through this process, helping them to understand things and no one wants to be sold to. I don’t want to be sold to.

I want someone to understand me and my needs, my family’s needs before just trying to sell me.I think it’s really important that people have information rather than just being aggressively sold into an opportunity

Do you have any advice specifically for women and underrepresented minorities looking to land EM jobs?

[12:57] Vidal: that’s great. Do you have any advice specifically for women and underrepresented minorities that are looking for engineering, leadership jobs, or even just engineering jobs in general?

[13:10] Kevin: The world needs more diversity on our teams in our communities and in our workplaces. I think the shift that we’ve seen in the last two years and really focusing on the lack of diversity in tech is well needed. I’m a big proponent of diverse teams and I’d love to see this. Generally when I see women as an example, moving from being an IC to leadership.

I don’t see enough women taking a step up and being competent in saying, this is what I want to do. They usually wait until somebody taps them on the shoulder and says, would you want to consider this? I’d love to see women being as ambitious as their male counterparts when it comes to promos.

Asking for promotions, asking not waiting for it to be given to you, but putting your hand up and having the competence in yourself and what you’ve done and your capabilities. I think women leaders are some of the strongest engineering leaders I’ve ever worked with.

They focus more on the people than just on the tech, in my experience. Yeah, there’s a lot there. There are a lot of things that I think we need to do better as an industry to make sure that we have more diverse teams. A lot of it is starting to happen, it’s early on, and until we have a 50 50 split and we have truly diverse teams with underrepresented minorities and people who don’t all go to the same schools. We need diversity of thought as much as we need diversity in terms of gender and cultures. So I think it’s, I think, have the confidence put your hand up and work towards these positions of leadership.

When someone receives an offer, how should they go about negotiating it? What are the do’s and dont’s?

[14:49] Vidal: All right. Here’s a delicate question when someone receives an offer how should they best go about negotiating it with you? Maybe what are some do’s and don’ts of negotiating an offer?

[15:03] Kevin: Yeah, I see, as I work with more senior people I feel like they get this really well. Leaders who have hired other people ultimately understand how to play this.

I think it’s always important to let the company play the first card. When it comes to the recruiter, asking you for your expectations or what you’re looking for. Obviously, they can’t ask you anymore, at least in California, we don’t ask how much you make right now. And I don’t think anyone should ask that it’s irrelevant to a future opportunity.

So let the company play their card first, let them present initial numbers to you. Don’t respond to anything. No knee-jerk reactions, take things back, collect your thoughts, discuss it with anyone you need to discuss it with. And then respond back. The whole idea is not to create this endless back and forth.

We’re not trying to buy a house. We’re not trying to go with all-cash offers. You don’t want to damage the goodwill that you worked so hard to build up in the interview process. So I think it’s important to not just try to squeeze every last bit of juice that you can from that lemon.

I think it’s important to respond back to those initial numbers in a very honest, disarming way. I appreciate the offer. I’m grateful to be here. But your numbers are falling a little short in terms of my expectations of where I need to be and positioning it like that. If there’s a specific part of the compensation package, that’s not working for you.

The bonus at this company is 10% less than my last bonus. I’m walking away from X in terms of unvested equity and this new equity grant is ultimately a step back. I think being honest about where the company’s numbers are and where you need to be is an important way to disarm the conversation, to not make this a bit of an ugly bidding war, and really turning this more into a partnership to make this work.

Do you have any other advice or tips or anything to say to leadership candidates?

[17:08] Vidal: Okay. Is, do you have any other advice? I think I didn’t ask you might want to share?

[17:15] Kevin: I think just go, yeah. Going back to the offer question, I think there’s another piece an offer packages so much more than just your base salary. That’s obviously what we focus on shows up every two weeks. It pays for our lives.

That’s really important. But I think beyond that it’s really important to understand that total compensation package obviously. The bonuses. What is the bonus system? How are bonuses? What’s the timing? When do bonuses get paid out? What goes into determining bonuses, company performance, individual performance, understanding the perf process.

Every company has a bit of a unique process when it comes to performance management, how they evaluate performance. How does that factor into the bonuses? I think that’s important. Equity. Some companies have strange vesting schedules, understand all these details. Again, where we’re gathering data we need, you need to make a decision. Engineers are very analytical. Understand do they vest in a normal way? Do they have a one-year cliff? Is there anything strange that you need to know that you don’t want to find out three months into a job. Beyond that, I think it’s also important to understand the company’s philosophy towards equity refresh.

How do they approach refreshes? Is it really determined based on individuals purely? Is there an expectation for this is an estimated target of where your refreshes needs to be? One last one last point, just going back to the bonuses that I wanted to bring up, I think it’s also important to ask historically, how has the company paid out their bonuses?

Oh, we actually didn’t pay out our bonus last fiscal year. Or actually, we paid out our bonus for the last six years. That’s two very different things. One you can almost bank on. The other is that it’s going to be very much touch and go. Obviously, pre IPO startups don’t typically have a bonus.

I think it’s just important to understand all of these different areas of some companies that don’t 401k match. Again, understanding all of these details so that you can make a decision with all the cards up on the table in front of you, I think is important.

[19:08] Vidal: I think that’s great now. Thanks for going over those details. Super important.

How can someone reach out to you if they are interested in opportunities at Okta?

All right. Kevin, you’ve been super generous with your time. I really appreciate you coming on to yeah. Where can someone go to contact you if they had questions or if they were interested in an opportunity at your company?

[19:28] Kevin: Sure. I’m on LinkedIn, like everyone else these days. So Kevin Doiron at Okta, I do all of the engineering executive recruiting and technology.

So VP and up LinkedIn is probably the best way to reach out to me. We’re hiring a ton. We’re going to our new fiscal year, starting on February 1st. I know there are a lot of things happening. The company’s growing tremendously. So we’d love to hear from people whether it’s for opportunities at Okta or even just to connect the network.

[19:54] Vidal: Awesome. Thanks again and appreciate it.

[19:56] Kevin: My pleasure. All the best take care. All right.

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