The non-interview

This article is written by Melissa Pio, marketing manager by the startup Shiptimize, a remote working startup with a work culture based on high levels of trust and freedom. In this post, Melissa writes about her experience during the hiring process with Shiptimize.


How many interviews have you had in your life? Getting to the twelfth year of my career, I can say that I already gathered a considerable amount of hiring processes in my curriculum. Before even having any professional experience in communications I was already getting experienced in the candidate “career”. There were lots of group dynamics and individual interviews before I got my first internship. I did psycho-technical, theoretical and practical tests.


The irony is that even in the agency where I started my career in advertising, I did not succeed in the interview phase, they choose someone else over me. Within a month they realized that this person did not fit there and they decided to call the “runner-up” of the process: me. I went and stayed in this agency for almost five years. I would come back later to stay another year. Almost half of my career, that is.


There was also the agency that, at every HR exchange, would call me for a new interview. I was interviewed there on three completely different occasions. At first, the conversation was conducted by the partner at the time. She told me that for eleven years she had her copywriter crying every single day. The third time, I went to talk about a freelance copywriting position and stayed for a few months. But I did not want to be an in-house freelance and left.


A few months later they called me asking if I was interested in joining their planning team. Oops, back to the beginning of my “career in interviews” when I was a finalist at a hiring process for the planning team of one of the biggest agencies of the time, which I did not pass. A new twist of life, a new irony. But, returning to the agency where the copywriter cried every day: again I accepted the challenge and stayed there for two years. Oh, the copywriter was still there and did not cry every day or any day, for that matter.


What is your problem with interviews?


Well, I imagine if you came this far, you might be thinking: but this person must be really bad at interviews! Well, I’m not going to lie: I thought so too myself. But on the other hand, in this already reasonably long career of mine, I’ve also been hired on first interviews on so many occasions.


Looking back, I see each process as a particular universe. There are so many variables: my age, my experience, my reason for being there, how much I really wanted that job if I had bad traffic on the way there if I felt comfortable entering the company, the person who conducted the interview. Yes, because excluding the psychological factors that involve a hiring process is impossible. And it’s also a huge mistake.


The very concept of an interview is strange when we stop to think about it. In what other time in your life do you have to look perfect yet human, extremely interested without being desperate, highly capable without being too “know-it-all” and confident without being arrogant? And often all this for a position that you know almost nothing about, as the details will be explained to you only at the end.


So today, with a bit more experience (both in career and in interviews) I tend to believe that the problem is less about “being bad at interviews” and more about “having bad interviews”. A difference that is, at the same time, subtle and gigantic.


The interview that did not seem like an interview


A few months ago I went back to working as a freelancer, but I kept my radar turned on for some opportunities. I wanted to work in a startup where I could develop a more embryonic work with a sense of ownership.


That’s how I ended up applying for a job at Shiptimize, a Dutch-based startup whose mission is to help online stores deal with one of the most complicated parts of eCommerce: the delivery logistics. Any mere mortal knows the cost and the difficulty that sending a package can pose. So imagine that that is a key part of your business? Step one: I wanted to get involved in a mission that I believed in and that seemed to be one.


I set up a Skype interview with Jorn, one of the company’s partners and, as soon as he answered, he said: “let me just get some coffee.” While he was on it, I asked him if he was in the Netherlands or in Portugal and he replied that he was in Holland and that for the company, it doesn’t matter where you work from. Step two: between the spontaneity of grabbing a coffee and the belief that good professionals can perform well from pretty much anywhere, I instantly felt at ease.


We talked a little about the job and about my experiences and he instantly gave me some feedback. Step three: I quickly understood the company’s needs and did not feel like talking to a sphinx that was telling me “decipher me or I’ll devour you”.


So I saw what I could really contribute with and I was able to pass the message through easily. In the end, he explained that he had other things on his calendar during the week and that he would certainly get back in touch within two weeks. Step four: I ended the call with a concrete expectation on their return. I would not have to wonder if they would come back to me and when.


Within those fifteen days Mark, the other partner, contacted me for a live interview. I went to the shared space where Shiptimize has a table for employees who prefer to be physically in the company and we started the conversation in the common kitchen area. We heard a bark and Mark excused himself. He returned with his dog which, again, gave a much more relaxed tone to the conversation, especially because I love animals.


Somehow, Mark conducted this interview so that it did not feel like an interview. When I left, I felt that instead of testing me, he really wanted to understand how I could help Shiptimize to achieve its goals. Step five: I felt valued as a professional because the purpose of the conversation was to understand what I could do for the company and also if I was interested in doing so. I did not have to prove to be the last wafer in the package, as we say in Brazil. We were both talking to see if I was the right wafer for that package and if that package was right for me.


Afterward, I remember thinking that what Mark did to me is what we usually do when hiring a company. We ask what they can do to solve our problem and they show us the range of services or products they offer and what is the return they asked for it. The goal is basically the same as a job interview, but the tone is completely different.


The feeling was that I had attended a meeting and not an interview.


In the days that followed, I was wondering why it is not always like that and if this model would work for all types of company. Maybe not. But for those that it does, it seemed like a great format.


Tell me how do you interview and I’ll tell you who you are


I’ve been on Shiptimize for a month now. And I can say with great certainty that my non-interview was, in fact, a reflection of the company’s culture. A culture that, like Shiptimize itself, is just emerging, but is already reflected in everything it does. And this happens for a very simple reason: because this culture is genuine. Organizing how it will be incorporated into our brand is precisely the reason why I am here. But to see that the story I have to tell is true – from the very first day on – makes me even more excited to be able to tell it.

As I commented earlier, it may not be all companies that are able to conduct processes that are so close and flexible. A large organization, that hires hundreds of people a month, would certainly have difficulties if it decided to give up some automation or pre-selection. But again, it’s a question of culture. And what I raise here is precisely the need for this culture to be clear from the first contact with any stakeholder. Thus, the candidate feels more at ease to show how he or she can contribute to the company. And, to the same extent, they soon realize if the place is not suited for them, which saves time and investment on both sides.

So here is something to think about: how is the culture of your company reflected in your hiring process? And, even more importantly, is it genuine?

Melissa Pio is a longtime advertiser and copywriter now taking on the marketing of Shiptimize. A Brazilian now based in Lisbon with a passion for work culture.