Tips for Customer Success Job Seekers to Stand Out from the Crowd
By Alan Fecamp. Alan is a Director in Zeren’s Commercial team, specialising in placing Customer Success and Post Sale roles into high-growth tech businesses.
This article is an update of one that I published in early July 2020 in the first few months of Covid. During this period, job losses in Customer Success were high as the market shifted quickly from candidate driven to client-driven.
In 20+ years of recruiting experience, that was the quickest shift in market sentiment I have ever experienced. The Customer Success market had been turned on its head!
Right now, it feels like a good time for a reshare as many people find themselves on the job market wondering how best to attack their search. The scenario today is significantly different. Customer Success has matured and its value to exec teams has increased, particularly with the heightened focus on expansion revenue and NRR as a North Star metric. However, there is no doubt it’s a challenging time for many as funding cuts and headcount reductions start to bite.
There are approximately 15,800 Customer Success professionals in the UK as of today and around 12k are in IC roles as Customer Success Managers. It’s a small market when comparing it to other GTM disciplines such as Sales or Marketing. Around 20% of the market has their profiles tagged as Open to Work – this isn’t a definitive number of active jobs seeks, but rather an estimate of how many folks are looking.
My sense is there is still a healthy demand in the market, at least for now, and not an abundant pool of great-fit candidates to select from. That said, it is a more competitive landscape than 12 months ago and hiring companies will be expecting more and questioning every investment decision.
It’s tough to stand out when there are so many people available and lots of noise, so here are a few suggestions on how to your chances of securing and nailing an interview.
Is your personal brand helping?
Being a successful job seeker in the market will require you to become a good marketer and salesperson of brand YOU.
The single most important thing you can do right now is spend time optimising your brand and building your network. I would particularly encourage participation in Customer Success communities as your presence and contribution here demonstrates you’re a serious practitioner and have a passion for your chosen career. Plus, you’ll also find roles are often shared directly with the community members and your newfound contacts may also be able to make key introductions for you during an interview process.
If you’re not sure how to shape up your LinkedIn profile, then look to the industry thought leaders for inspiration. Or get in touch – I’m happy to help. Take time to identify the key movers and shakers within the UK Customer Success market and connect with them. If they are producing valuable content then interact with comments, likes, and shares.
Even better, if you feel confident enough use it as a source of inspiration for your content. Get yourself out there! You’ll have plenty to offer about your market and the Customer Success profession once you get started.
If you need inspiration, then there are some great podcasts and blogs that will also help you brush up on your industry expertise. You can use The Customer Success Field Guide or The Open Book of Customer Success for full lists of events, podcasts, tools …and pretty much everything you need. If you can do this, you’ll be one of a few and this will make you stand out.
Of the 15k+ customer success professionals in the UK at various levels, how many are active on social media supporting the CS community? Very few. You’ll be positioning yourself as a thought leader who is serious about their profession and when hiring managers or recruitment teams land on your profile you’ll already have a significant advantage.
Are you applying for the right roles?
Right now, you’ll need a real self-awareness of your skills and industry knowledge. Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring company and think hard about what value you can bring to their business.
Make sure you are clear on your motivators and strengths.
Are you comfortable in commercial roles where you can expect to be focused on upsell targets? Or are you a “Trusted Advisor” where you’ll be better suited to a relationship-building, customer service environment?
In some companies, particularly early stage, you may be expected to be all of these if it’s an early hire in a new team.
Make sure you identify which elements you enjoy the most and play to your strengths.
If you operate better in more mature CS organisations or are less experienced and need support, best to avoid applying to early-stage start-ups.
Very early-stage companies can be chaotic and lack process and you’ll be expected to roll your sleeves up and work with a high amount of ambiguity and figure things out. Some will love that and thrive, whereas others will prefer the structure and resource you’ll find in a more mature organisation.
Working in a start-up sounds exciting, but make sure you understand what it means for the day to day job and expectations. Also, make sure you get clear on the company culture and why people perform well. If you can identify familiar traits that match your behaviours this will help.
Invest time in researching the Customer Success function at your target company.
Job descriptions will rarely give you the full insight you need to understand the fit with your strengths. You can get a feel for the company culture from a website and blog, YouTube, LinkedIn, or Glassdoor. This is the minimum you should be doing ahead of making an application; however, I’d suggest taking it a stage further which will save you time and make you stand out against competing candidates.
You need to get under the skin of the specific department you’re applying to and understand if the focus matches your commercial growth or customer service-orientated skillset. Get proactive! Don’t be afraid to contact a hiring manager or existing team members to find out more about the department and its objectives.
Contacting a current team member is great as there is no one better placed to give you an understanding of the day-to-day role and how Customer Success is viewed internally. You’ll be surprised at how receptive people are to this kind of approach. Plus, you’ll be in the minority as very few applicants are this proactive. It will make you stand out and could work in your favour at the interview stage.
These few simple steps will help arm you with the information you need to make better applications that are well-received by more relevant and well-matched companies. Not only that but once you get to the interview stage, you’ll already have a great foundation to build on with the interviewer given the inside knowledge you’ve gained. You’ll also be able to tailor your applications with clear reasons as to why you’re suitable and the company is a great fit for you.
The Job Application
Finding the right Customer Success role is a tricky task.
A CSM’s responsibilities can vary greatly from company to company and once you get beyond the title, the requirements are sometimes completely different from one another. It will be tempting to go scattergun and apply for any role that has the right title or seems semi-relevant having glanced at the description. You may even have looked at a job post, seen no real direct relevance to your experience, and still moved forward with an application. Your chances of success with this approach will be minimal.
You need to be sniper-like and highly targeted to make yourself stand out. Invest your energy into the detail and not hit the LinkedIn easy apply button. When I occasionally place a Customer Success Manager advert, 80% + of applications do not come close to the outlined requirements with responses running into the hundreds. Anyone hiring right now will have a similar problem to contend with. It takes time to look at those applications and reply.
Equally, many companies won’t reply which will be incredibly disheartening if you keep following that path. There is a small number of applicants who operate outside of this and approach hiring managers and companies directly with a personalised message. They had taken the time to think about their relevant skills and sent a note to outline where they bring value.
There isn’t always a match-up and subsequent interview; however, what this did was bypass the noise of other applicants and ascertain quickly if there was a fit for the role. Plus, it immediately put them in view of any other roles we’re managing that may be a better fit. I understand this isn’t an easy task if names don’t appear on my job posts. If you invest time into researching on LinkedIn you’ll often find your way to the right person in the Customer Success team or recruitment contact. This is where your sales, relationship-building skills, and networking abilities come in.
You’ve secured the Interview
You’ve applied for a great CSM role and secured an interview. Nice work!
You are now preparing for the first interview, and whether you’re an experienced campaigner or this is your first time interviewing for a role in Customer Success, there are a few things you can do before you attend the interview to get well prepped and make sure you stand out as an exceptional candidate.
Company and Product Research
You’ll have carried out research ahead of applying but now it’s time to take it a step further and get into the detail. Lots of SaaS tools have free trials or access to demos – have you signed up? I’d say that’s an essential requirement ahead of an interview. If they don’t have a free trial, then there is still plenty of product research you can do via self-help centres, Slack channels, and so on. It doesn’t take long to look through these and you can pick up some great insight.
Make sure you are using all available marketing content and get very familiar with it. Chances are you’ll find a product explainer on YouTube, possibly with some reviews. If they have a blog or “Work for Us” page these are great for getting a feel for a company’s tone of voice and culture. Also, check sites such G2, Capterra, and Glassdoor to find out what customers and employees are saying about the business and its products.
Getting into detail like this will help you understand the business and will enable you to provide a snapshot of what a customer experience will be like with you on board. It will also enable you to answer the “Why us?” question a lot more accurately. If you can talk in detail and passionately about the product, company vision, and culture you’ll be a lot more convincing. This is the one basic question that is often poorly answered – that’s down to preparation!
Research the Interviewer & Founders
Treat your interviewers like your customers. Make sure you know all about them or at least connect with them on LinkedIn ahead of the interview.
If you want to take it a stage further, do your due diligence on the founding team. Finding out about them and their vision will help you buy into the company culture, and you can reference this research during the interview to demonstrate you’ve done your homework. Cruchbase is great for this type of information, plus you’ll be able to get insight on funding and lots more! This is your opportunity to thoroughly understand your audience and their roles, and in doing so you’ll be able to tailor your questions to be relevant to their needs.
And don’t be shy when it comes to connecting with them on LinkedIn ahead of an interview. It’s a great opportunity to break the ice and build your network.
Come with Questions & Examples, ……and know your commercials
You must come prepped with facts and figures to back up your previous success.
Make sure you know your performance metrics and how you performed, particularly over the last few years. These metrics should be identified on your CV and ideally LinkedIn profile. Clients want outcome data and evidence. Again, if you’ve done your homework, you’ll know the objectives and drivers of the Customer Success team at the company you are interviewing with. That should make your task easier when pulling figures together that you can talk through and bring to life.
Consider areas such as expansion and upsell targets, churn reduction, retention/renewals, or NPS if that’s your thing. Be prepared to answer questions such as techniques you employ and any specific processes you’ve implemented that have contributed towards your successful performance. If there are any processes that you have personally designed and implemented, be sure to get that across!
Beyond the numbers, scenario-based questions are increasingly popular so make sure you have some good examples to reference with areas such as handling difficult customers, onboarding scenarios and techniques, and how you managed your interaction with other teams internally. Your interviewer will want to hear the good and bad experiences – so be prepared for both! Behavioural interviews are more popular than ever, and you can prepare for these by understanding what STAR interview techniques are. The acronym STAR is: Situation, Task, Action, Result. This will help explain – STAR.
When it comes to asking questions, you must know who is in the room and what their role is before you walk into the interview. Make sure you come with lots of great questions and be sure to engage everyone. I’d suggest making sure you have prepared questions for each interviewer. You may not get a chance to ask all of these and there may be some overlap; however, you should aim to get some level of rapport established with everyone in the room.
Close the Interview
Always close! It can be daunting but be forward and make sure you ask for some brief feedback at the end of the meeting. How you phrase this can make all the difference.
First, briefly recap with some key points as to why feel you’re an outstanding candidate for the role and reiterate your excitement for their business and the opportunity. Once you’ve done this then ask a question along the lines of “Based on today’s meeting/assessment, do you have any reservations/objections about my experience that would prevent you from putting me forward to the next interview stage?”
Wouldn’t you rather know if something had been misunderstood or if they were unsure about an element of your profile? You’ve invested all this time into preparing for this interview and this one question can make all the difference. You might just get a chance to cover an objection that moves the process in your favour.
Most of the skills required to adopt the above job-seeking strategy falls within the capabilities of a Customer Success professional. The difference is you are now the product, not a SaaS platform.
If you’re able to take yourself out of your comfort zone, learn and apply new skills or try new techniques it really will make a difference in your job search. I hope these pointers help in some way.
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