Farah Sharghi is the first guest to be invited back on The Final Round by popular demand. We interviewed Farah on Episode 5 when she worked as a Global Talent Acquisition Partner at TikTok. This was a unique episode where we debunked TikTok career myths so be sure to check that out if you haven’t listened to it already.
This upcoming episode is so unique that it might even make a headline on the NYT since Farah is now the Lead Technical Recruiter at the NYT.
Here are some questions we will be answering:
– How to lead teams that change the world?
– How to pivot careers (finance to tech)?
– Overview of NYT, business groups, etc.?
– What is the recruitment process like at NYT?
– Similarities and differences between startup vs. corporate recruiting?
– Uber and Lyft recruiting and hiring practices?
Connect with Farah: www.linkedin.com/in/fsharghi/
Follow our Host on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/aaron-aj-eckstein/
*Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed in this podcast are of the host and guest and not of their employers.
“Companies don’t hire for potential they hire for skills and ideally experience.” – Farah Sharghi
Welcome to the Final Round podcast, where our mission is to help you knock out the competition and land your dream job. My name is A.J. Eckstein, and I’m a recent college graduate, a strategy consultant, a five-time intern, and the founder of the Career Coaching Company.
Have you ever wondered why only a few people get past the final round interview and land the job offer? Join me in the ring as I speak with recruiters at top companies to learn the secrets why certain applicants get “knocked-out” and others are still standing after the final round. Now, let’s jump into the ring and get you past the final round.
Farah SharghI is the first guest to be invited back on the final round podcast by popular demand. We interviewed Farah on Episode 5 when she worked as a global talent acquisition partner at TikTok. This was a unique episode where we debunked TikTok career myths. So, be sure to check out that episode if you haven’t listened to it already. This upcoming episode is so unique that it might even make the news headline since Farah is now the lead technical recruiter at the New York Times. Let’s bring Farah onto the show.
Hello, everybody! We have breaking news for our audience today, a New York Times headline to be exact. Farah SharghI rejoins the Final Round but instead of being a recruiter at TikTok this go-around which she was for our episode 5, she is now the lead technical recruiter at the New York Times.
So, Farah, how does it feel to be the first guest to be invited back by popular demand from our audience?
Farah: Well, I have to say, I’m very flattered. It’s really a treat. Obviously, I really respect you and the podcast and when you reached out again, I go, “Really? Me? Thank you.” I’m so glad that people enjoyed the episode. It sounds like they got value out of it.
Well, we are definitely going to have another blast of an episode today with a ton of different questions and different content from all of our listeners. So, don’t think that we’re just going to recycle the same questions while we have Farah on today.
For any of our avid listeners out there, I think you know very well that I’m not someone who likes simple generic questions. we do a ton of research, myself and our team on every guest, to make sure that we ask really relevant questions for not just our guests but our audience. One of the things that we noticed, Farah is that you updated your LinkedIn headline which recently has said, “Building teams that changed the world,” what does that mean exactly?
Farah: Well, I’m really glad you did your research because that was a pretty recent change. So, kudos to you and your team. I mean, really, it’s in the name that’s exactly what I do. I hire people who build cool stuff that really change the world. So, for example when I worked at Google, I hired engineers underneath and these are a lot of the folks that built out a lot of our Google home products, which is pretty awesome. During my time at Lyft, I hired primarily engineers who helped push forward our self-driving car technology and also our bikes and scooters division. And then at Uber, I built out our supply chain manufacturing and operations teams for their bikes and scooters. And then TikTok, I helped them build out the software and product teams who are building the customer relationship management platform, which really helps them manage the business of the people purchasing advertising, which ultimately helps them advertise their business. As TikTokers, if you want to go out there and promote your business, this is a tool that TikTok can use to actually show you your growth and the return on your investment. At the New York Times, I’m building out what we call our DevOps teams to ensure that information and data are moving forward so that people can access that information that they need faster and quicker. So, really at the end of the day, I mean, I’m very fortunate and blessed to be able to hire cool people and give them employment and then build cool teams that build cool stuff.
Every team that you mentioned, every initiative that you’ve been working on just clear them next talking about Google to TikTok to Uber, Lyft, now New York Times. We’ll definitely dive deeper into the New York Times today, but I know that you have not always spent your career building teams, and you actually previously spent about 10 years working in finance which is just crazy to think because it seems like your career has kind of been in tech recruiting. So, what were the main things that enabled you to successfully pivot from that career in finance to then that new career in tech recruiting?
Farah: I think the number one thing that has really helped was being honest with myself about what really fulfills me. I think that’s really the main reason why I was able to pivot. What I tell people who are starting off in their careers is not to worry so much about their career future, really just focus on finding something that you find interesting so that you can enjoy your career journey because if you’re perfect at what you do, and you enjoy your work, opportunities will naturally present themselves to you. So, as far as my pivot from finance and recruiting, there’s a saying that necessity is the birth of innovation, and I had really reached a point in my career where I needed to make a change because helping wealthy people get wealthier just really wasn’t cutting it anymore. As a recruiter, that was helping me find my job eventually asked if I wanted to work for her, which is how I was able to make that pivot. So, if it wasn’t for that recruiter, I don’t think I ever would have made it. I get it, pivoting can be super, super difficult and the main reason why I was able to pivot was because I actually had a nest egg that I built up over many, many years and I also had a support system in place and I think that’s really the number one reason why I was able to pivot as well as being honest with myself. Because when I started out in recruiting, I literally had to start at the bottom of the ladder. I had like no direct recruiting experience. I had hired people, I’d interviewed people, but I’d never been a recruiter.
So, in my first about six months, I was spending around 60 to 80 hours a week working and just trying to learn as much as I could. My best tip for folks who are early in their careers and of student loan debt, which might be some folks listening to the show, would be to work for a company that will help you pay off your student loans while you’re working for them, and there’s a lot of them out there. So, for example, Fidelity Investments which is where I work for about seven years. They will help you pay off your student loans. So, really do your research, find those companies, they definitely exist because as soon as you get that debt paid off, you’re going to feel so much freer to be able to do the things that you want to do.
Also, keep in mind that many of those companies actually do cap how much they are willing to pay off. So, be sure again, to do your research. And in your career, it’s not just about how much money you make, it’s also about the benefits you receive from a company that you have to include in your total compensation calculation. So, like for example, if you want to move like I did. I actually left Texas and moved to California on Fidelity’s dime, that was super nice. And then I had to make another move where I had to move from the East Bay and the Bay Area down to the South Bay, and they paid for a white glove service move. So, that was nice. For those of you who want to move let’s say from one city to another, see if the company will pay for it. Oftentimes, they actually will.
And I love what you said that one of the biggest things that really enabled your success in that career pivot was having a good support system because it’s hard to do it on your own. Even if you have that support system who helps you pivot, I think a common misconception is candidates are going to think that recruiters see pivots maybe as gaps or as confusion in your career path. So, speaking to a recruiter like yourself with so many years of experience, when you see a resume that does not really make sense going from one industry to the next, bouncing back and forth, maybe a career gap. What’s the best way to explain that pivot or that gap?
Farah: Okay. So, this one is going to be a bit tricky because in general, I’m personally not a fan of cover letters or career objectives or explanations on the top of a resume as to why you’re applying for a job. And the reason why is that it’s usually wasted space, because if you are already experienced, having a career objective. I mean, they’re always the same, right? I am highly motivated and driven, and blah blah blah. I just ignore it.
But in the case of a career pivot, leverage the cover letter and leverage the very top of your resume to explain why you are making the pivot. That’s how you really do it. Also, when you’re applying to companies like right now just so you know one of my best friends is going through this right now. She’s an acupuncturist, and she wants to get into tech. And I’m like, “Okay. We need to have a sit down, and we need to chat,” and we did. We had a great I think almost three-hour conversation about what she really wants to do, and I helped her strategize. I said, “Okay. Here’s how you need to write your resume. I can get it into the right hands. You just have to do this, and I can do that.” She said, “Okay, great!” And so, once she gets me her resume, I’ll make sure that at the very top of that resume, it outlines what current skills she has that are directly aligned to the role that she wants to apply for. Because remember, companies don’t hire for potential, they hire for skills. And ideally, experience. Unless, you’re going into an entry level role then experience kind of throws out the door because you really shouldn’t have to have experience for entry level roles although nowadays, that’s not really the case, and it’s really unfair, but that’s really what I think the best tool that you have.
I know that you recently pivoted from TikTok to the New York Times. Again, I said earlier on, but it’s interesting because TikTok is a place where a lot of Gen Z consumes their news, whether the news is accurate or not, that’s up to them, but it’s also short for media content versus the New York Times is for the most part traditional media, and it’s much more fact based. So, can you talk about the decision to leave TikTok to come to the New York Times?
Farah: Yeah. I mean, the decision wasn’t so much the platform as it was for the opportunity but hey, don’t get me wrong. I always check to see if it’s a bones day or a no bones’ day. Noodle’s one of my favorites so or banana shirt day like those are some of my favorite things. And ironically, I’m actually meeting with our social media team tomorrow to discuss some ways that we can leverage more of our social media presence to help us with our careers. So, I’m going to be taking that experience from TikTok and actually leveraging it at the New York Times.
Very cool. I think that it makes sense why you pivot and obviously, having that lead technical recruiter role sounds amazing. I’d love to learn more about what does a tech team entail at a news publication company?
Farah: Yeah. I mean, well, let me take a step back and say when I told people I was going to the New York Times, they were genuinely confused because they saw my background, and they know that I’ve been primarily focused on engineering side of tech, mostly hardware. And I don’t think people really realize how many engineers it takes to keep the New York Times up and running and the tech org really is there to support the newsroom and ensure that people get the information that they need when they want it. Although TikTok is short form, I would say like entertainment, in general because any one of us can open up our phones and make a TikTok. Trusted news organizations do it, anybody can do it. Whereas the New York Times, they really have to go through a lot of checks and balances to ensure that the stories that they’re actually bringing to the public are as accurate as possible and that the references have been checked. There are times when stories do not make it into the newspaper because they’re not able to be verified.
When it comes to industries, journalism is the only industry that is protected within the US Constitution. So, when it comes to an organization like TikTok, again, the format, the platform is very different. You have groups of folks that are doing image recognition when it comes to video. So, that way when you put filters on, they can recognize what are your eyes, what are your eyebrows and so on. Whereas at the New York Times, the apps that they have are allowing you to be able to access the information that you need whenever you need it. Some of the upcoming projects that we have really are geared towards for example, the upcoming US Presidential election because it’s such a big worldwide event even though it really impacts the US, it actually impacts everybody across the globe. And so, we have to make sure that our infrastructure is there to be able to support all the information that people want to access all at the same time on a global level.
Can you talk about the recruitment process and talking about what candidates are looking for, what type of background? I would assume that even though you’re looking for a tech specific person, do they need to come from a journalism or communication background to kind of dive into the news or publication space?
Farah: Not necessarily, no. I mean, I hired a Mobile Engineering Manager who happened to have a journalism background, which was super cool because he’s like, “It’s the New York Times. I want to work there.” I’m like, “I get it. No problem,’ but he’s been working in tech for many years and so you don’t necessarily have to have a journalism background in order to work for the New York Times. You do however need to be a mission-driven person to work for the New York Times. So, you really have to live and breathe the mission and the values of The Times.
And also, the other thing that is incredibly important at The Times is the fact that they really live and breathe diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s not just lip service. It’s not just something that they say they throw a lot of money at. We’ve actually won a lot of awards for the fact that we’ve actually been able to hire for diversity and I know that I’ve hired quite a few female leaders within the engineering organization which is something I’m personally very proud of, which is super cool. So, no, you don’t have to have a journalism background or media background to work there.
You mentioned awards and on the topic of awards, I also read that the New York Times has won more Pulitzer Prizes than any other news organization and remains number one in overall reach of the US opinion leaders. More of a fun question for you, Farah, how well-read does a candidate have to be just in terms of keeping up with the news to work at a news company? Is that a question that comes up as in tell me about a current event from one of the news sections of the New York Times?
Farah: Probably for the newsroom but probably for places like the newsroom possibly marketing. For Engineering, it’s not necessary. I mean, in Engineering, they really are looking for people who have the skill set that they need in order to be successful in the role that they’re interviewing for. So, it’s a nice to have, but it’s not a have to have.
If our audience wants to break into a company like the New York Times, does The Times do a lot of campus recruiting or is it more experienced hires?
Farah: We do both. So, campus recruiting always runs in cycles. I think that’s something that people should really understand because I get a lot of emails from interns, who go, “Hey, I want to apply for an internship.” I’m like, “Great. Wait a few months. It’s going to open up. I can’t help you. I’m also not a university recruiter so sorry but yeah, just pretty much any time.”
Landing that first Win
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing more about the New York Times. Again, doing some research in your LinkedIn, I saw that you were featured in a Tech Crunch publication that focused on how a recruiter’s first hire is the hardest. I think this is the same for the candidates in that landing that first opportunity whether it’s that first internship or first job is often the hardest. So, any advice on landing that first win whether you are a recruiter or a candidate?
Farah: Yeah. Isn’t it ironic that it’s like two sides of the same coin? It’s like, wait, you’re both in the same place. Like as it’s hard for me to hire, and it’s also hard to get that first job. So, this is going to be a little a longer answer because it’s really important for people to understand a few concepts before I really dive into it. It’s really important to take ownership of your career and ownership of the hiring process, and you are able to actually take ownership of it. By placing blame on people like recruiters or hiring managers or tools like applicant tracking systems, you really are giving away your power because I hear it all the time: “Oh, the recruiter didn’t reach out to me. I applied, and I applied for 100 jobs and I’m not getting any callbacks.” And the way that you take ownership of your job search is really by taking an honest look at yourself in the mirror to figure out who you are and what motivates you and the value that you bring to the company.
When I say value, really looking at it from an accounting perspective because you have to understand that employees are both assets and liabilities. If you move the business forward and help them make money, you are an asset. If you’re stagnant and can’t get your work done, now you are an increased liability because the company’s largest expense is paying the salaries of their employees. So, throwing Spaghetti on the wall for you to get a job is really the quickest path to nowhere. And so, some ways that you can be smart about it as a candidate is to again be smart about your resume. You will not stand out by making it physically colorful and adding a bunch of colors and flair. Okay? Don’t add flair. More flair doesn’t do anything. Right?
Again, they’ll do these things thinking that it’ll help them stand out, and I know that there are some like outlier stories of I think there was a woman who had her resume that made it look like Spotify and the CEO found out and hired her, and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s total outlier.” And as a recruiter, I genuinely don’t care about those kinds of resumes. I don’t even notice them. I go straight for the information that I need to see if they’re fit. And if they’re not, I just move on. I’m quickly scanning it, spending a couple of seconds and then really that’s it. So, really the right way to make yourself stand out is to be very clear to the hiring team how you’re going to be an asset to them not a liability. And you do that by demonstrating value using quantitative measurements because again if you look at a business’s value as profitable, it’s not based on anything generic, right? For context, right after this podcast whoever’s listening, go find a random company up there and go listen to their earnings call and see what happens. Go to a historical graph or chart and see what happens to the price of that company after that earnings call. If the company ordered earnings that are positive, the stock price usually goes up. And if it’s negative, that goes down. Look at what just happened with Zillow. They lost $380 million in the last quarter. That’s over a hundred million dollars in losses every month for three months and now they have to lay off 25% of their staff. Right?
The other analogy I’m going to use and again, I’m sorry it’s a long answer, but I think it’s just like really important to stress some of these things. Another good analogy is dating. So, if you’re dating someone whose super wish bushy about what they want, but you’re looking for something that’s like a serious long-term relationship, what’s the likelihood that if you date them they’re going to want the same things you want? Not very high, right? So, if you do end up dating this person and then after a couple of years, they’re still in the same place that’s a sunk cost to you, right? Yeah, you may have learned a lot but what you really learned is that you should have found out from the very beginning if this person wants the same things that you do. Otherwise, you’ve just wasted a lot of time, your youth and resources only to be back on the dating market again.
So, anyway, back to job searching, when you’re reaching out to recruiters on LinkedIn, don’t message every recruiter that’s out there. Go straight to the recruiter’s LinkedIn profile, many of them like myself which I’m sure you’re looking at my profile, you can see exactly what rules I’m hiring for. Don’t just email the recruiter when they’ve clearly stated on their LinkedIn what they’re actually hiring for or the teams that they support. I’m going to say something that’s going to sound super, super harsh, but it’s the reality and people need to know. Recruiters who work for companies that they’re hiring for receive hundreds of emails a day and their priority is to hire for the business not to help you get the job you aren’t qualified for and the roles that they are supporting. So, being frustrated with a recruiter because they didn’t email you back is kind of fruitless. So, make sure you’re reaching out to the right people, the right recruiters, the right hiring managers, the right people who are actually comfortable giving you a referral to that company. I think those are things that are super, super important. Again, same thing goes for networking and hiring managers really just use a multi-prong approach: reach out to the recruiters, apply on the website, reach out to the hiring managers, use every resource you possibly can to just get that foot in the door.
Well, so many amazing nuggets to unpack there. I think starting with one of the earlier things that you said, you gave an analogy in finances or in accounting, talking about how employees could be assets, or they could also be increased liabilities. I was wondering where you got that analogy and I remember that you had 10 years in the finance industry, so it makes complete sense and still super relevant to today. Another thing that you were talking about, I know you’re super big on really focusing on your resume and I think not enough people really put enough effort into their resume, and they just do it once and kind of that said, they try to ship it out to recruiters. I remember one of the best golden nuggets from our past episode, episode 5 on the final round and actually, I didn’t even know was that you said that a skill section is not enough if you just list Power BI, Tableau, Excel, PowerPoint, all these skills, and then you think that you’re going to beat the ATS, you’re going to beat the recruiter. It’s actually not enough because when the recruiter sees that they’re going to look in your experience section, and they’re going to try to find, “Okay. Well, you said Power BI. Where did you use Power BI?” And if it’s not mentioned, then would you agree that it probably just was a random skill that you input in?
Farah: Yeah, we call this term keyword stuffing, and it does not work at all. I know there are so many TikTok’s out there that talk about this and the one thing that drives me bananas are the videos that go if you take the keywords from the job description and put it on your resume in white font then the ATS will pick it up, and then you’ll get to the recruiter. And I’m like, “Okay, look. First of all, that doesn’t exist. That never worked. I think this is a trend that actually started in the 90s with metadata when Google used to actually scrape all the websites that were out there and so you used to be able to get away with that technique on web pages. I don’t know how it happened in recruiting but I think it happened with Google’s original ATS system because it would pick up on keywords then they noticed that people were just keyword stuffing then they got rid of that altogether. Now, they have real people who review all the resumes. So, yeah, when I’m reading a resume, I can see a skill section which again is wasted space because you’re not actually applying any of that into the resume if it’s just sitting there on the side or on the bottom or on the top. Right? So, you need to have it in there.
So, how did you use this tool? What were the result of the action that you took when you used this tool? What were the business results from that? So, accomplish X as done by Y which equals Z, right? Like there’s this whole Google formula you can look it up, but it’s all quantitative data. The more quantitative data you have in that resume, let me tell you, it doesn’t matter what company you work for, they love it.
Similarities / Differences of Corporate vs. Startup Hiring
So, for all of our listeners, if you’ve learned one thing to take away today it’s to not keyword stuff on your resume. I love that phrase. I’ve never heard of it called keyword stuffing but don’t do it and if you need some more TikTok career myths to be debunked by a former TikTok recruiter, make sure you check out Episode 5 of the Final Round. It’s actually what we did with Farah debunking the most common TikTok career myths.
So, obviously, Farah, our audience can tell you are so established and experienced in this space, and it’s incredible really how much you also advise other startups and companies. I’d be curious to know what are the similarities and differences of corporate and startup hiring?
Farah: So, I would say that startup hiring tends to be like the Wild, Wild West and that it moves incredibly quickly because there aren’t any rules. Whereas, with corporate there’s a lot more red tape and a lot of it really stems down to the culture. So, startup culture is where they break things, and then they ask for forgiveness later. And the reason why is because they literally have nothing to lose because more than likely they have no assets, and they’re not even profitable. Most of their money comes from investors, right? Otherwise, they wouldn’t be considered a startup. They just kind of be considered a small business. Whereas in corporate culture, a lot of that rests upon the fact that if they fail, they will lose assets and reputations. The easiest place to get your foot in the door is at a startup, because they’re not going to pay you much. They’re going to talk about their equity which is basically monopoly money. Okay? 90% of startups fail but if you are entry level, it is a really excellent way to just get your foot in the door, show them how hungry you are, and you may have to end up “paying your dues,” but it will pay off an experience. My advice is just get your foot in the door, just get your foot in the door and if there’s another role that’s let’s say entry level or one that maybe requires two or three years of experience, you can leapfrog into that role at the startup. Get that job at the startup, do it for a while and then bounce to the company that you actually want with the title that you actually want.
I’m so happy that you brought up startups because going back to that question that I asked you about getting that first win is often the hardest because then you can start building momentum whether it’s from a recruiter’s standpoint or a candidate standpoint. I’ve always said that people overlook startups, and they’re so focused on the big moonshot companies, the ones that everyone knows about, the household names, but you can’t just wait till Junior, Senior year in school to try to land those. You have to have experience and the best way to get real-world experience and oftentimes wear more hats than you would at an actual corporate internship is with startups. Maybe like you said, you can grow into a bigger position, bigger role, or it could just be a couple month internship during the school year, but it could really be something where you learn a ton and I always say the first place that I would look if I was a student is not just find any Mom-and-Pop shop out there but look for the venture-backed companies. You can go to any of the VC websites and look at the companies that are venture backed, and you can see how much funding they have and obviously if they’re getting money thrown at them, probably their charts are up into the right, and they’re doing something right. So, see what opportunities are there, and they’d be more willing to talk to you versus just trying to shoot your shot at a New York Times or a TikTok.
Farah: Let me tell you a fun fact. So, one of the startups that I worked for in the past their lead investors recruiting division reached out to me personally to ask about the company and what they were doing and so on. So, I reached out to them, lovely group of people. And even though I left the startup about every two or three months, I get a random email from a Startup CEO saying, “Hey, I got your name from my lead investor. They told me to reach out to you. I need a head of talent. Can you help me?” And I get it all the time, and it is the coolest thing in the world. So, if you do work for a startup, find out who the lead investors are and if you do want to let’s say go to another startup, go back to their portfolio of companies. More than likely, you will be able to get a job easier at that other startup because they have the same lead investor, or maybe they’re not even the lead, but they are an investor in that company as well.
Another golden nugget from Farah. I love it. On the topic of talking about how hiring is similar across industries, across large corporations versus startups. When you worked at both Uber and Lyft in the town acquisition side of things, I’m curious to know, do those companies look at hiring differently or given that they are both fierce competitors in a space that really is a duopoly, are they looking for the same type of candidate and do they have the same recruitment and hiring process?
Farah: I would say that given my experience at both companies, Uber has more of a corporate culture and Lyft has more of a startup culture. If you really look back prior to the pandemic, Uber had so many verticals underneath its umbrella like Uber Eats, Freight, ATG, self-driving cars, Elevate. I supported Jump, which were bikes and scooters, which eventually got sold over to Lime. They even had an incubator that spun out some incredible projects that unfortunately never got off the ground, thanks to the pandemic. Whereas with Lyft, they really only had about three main divisions. So, on-demand taxis, bikes and scooters, and then they sold off the self-driving car division to Toyota. So, not to get into specifics about the two companies, but I will say this, a lot of how a business is run really boils down to how the tech really began. If something was built on a house of cards, it won’t stand very tall because the wind’s going to take it down and the infrastructure will collapse. If a company is built on a more solid foundation, it will likely have the same infrastructure to support its own growth and withstand any catastrophes. So, always do your research into a company on how it’s run before you decide on which one to work for. But ultimately, Uber had much better tools in place for me as a recruiter to be able to leverage and utilize whereas at Lyft, it was a bit of the Wild, Wild West. That’s all I’ll say.
I think that the research is not just done to validate if you should apply to work there or not but also to use that research in the application process, in the interview process, right? Because literally what you just said, I didn’t know there were different pillars at Uber and one of the pillars was sold to this company and for Lyft it was sold to Toyota. All that is such good information that you should share that interview process to show how much research you did and how much you want it. And I always say that research really helps you get past the final run interview because it shows that you did a little more than the next person and then everyone’s saying that you know X company is my dream company. The best way to really prove that is not just through doing a ton of networking and talking about how you met with Farah and this person and this person and this person, you really gave it your best foot forward but also that you did a ton of research, and you understand what’s going on. Because like you said, companies could either be assets or liabilities, and it’s a liability when an employee does not know what’s going on or does not know how the company’s structured or the priorities going on. So, I think the research goes across the recruitment process.
Farah: Absolutely. I will say when I worked at Lyft, I supported Lyft Level 5, which was a self-driving car division. I could tell in my recruiter call within one minute if the candidate was going to make it through the interview process. And the way I did that was I would ask the candidate. So, tell me what you know about Lyft Level 5. And if I heard dead silence, that was my answer. Because in the world of self-driving, there are six levels of self-driving cars so we call it autonomy. Level zero to level five, Level five means full autonomous driving vehicle. So, if somebody is applying to Lyft level 5, which is a self-driving car division of Lyft, and they don’t know what level 5 means they haven’t done their research. So, you’re right.
That’s a huge liability especially working in the tech side of things. And where would you say is the best way to learn more about let’s say Lyft Level 5 if not everything is public information?
Farah: So, I mean obviously start with the website first. Look at the mission, look at the values, even go to the job boards. So, one of the reasons why for example Google has very generic job descriptions because if you actually like–again, after the podcast, go to the Google website, check out their careers, you’re going to go, “I could do a lot of these jobs. Wait a minute.” That is by design because the press, what they do is they reverse engineer companies job boards to determine what future projects they’re working on. That’s how they do it. So, definitely go to the company’s website, go to the jobs’ page, also go to the news cycle, go on Twitter, see what the chatter is all about. And nowadays, go to TikTok because I’m telling you, one of the reasons why Zillow went down was because a TikToker came out with a video that went very viral. And sure enough, he was absolutely right and took down this huge CEO titan in Silicon Valley who made a huge misstep, but those are definitely some ways.
And also, in networking, pick the brain of the person that you’re speaking to who works for that company if they’re allowed to like Apple employees don’t say anything about Apple except for the fact that they work at Apple. That’s literally all they talk about. They will not reveal any information. But if you’re talking to somebody who works out a startup, be genuinely curious about what’s going on, what are some of the challenges that they’ve had, that’s a key one. Figure out where the gaps are and how you yourself as an employee can help to fill those gaps. Those are things you should be discussing in your interview because oftentimes, and this is how I coach my candidates, and I’ve always done this and this comes from my finance days, investors always want to look at the upside potential of things and not the downside risk of things. The reality is that there’s a combination of them that makes the world go round. And so, when people are in their interviews, they need to present stories of times when there was conflict with let’s say a colleague or another group that you were cross-functionally with, but you weren’t able to because there was some issue that you had to mitigate. So, how were you able to close those gaps? Those things are incredibly important and actually when you’re in your interview that’s what’s really going to set you apart from other candidates because those are questions that will be asked of you and if you don’t have an answer, you’re going to get torpedoed in that interview. But if you do have a good answer, let me tell you, you will go above and beyond, and I’ve seen it happen time and time again.
When you said that you coach your candidates in the recruitment process, is that after a certain interview round? Is that if they ask for more support? Can you kind of talk more about coaching candidates?
Farah: Yeah, it’s both. So, what I do is I have my initial calls with my candidates, and it’s just the initial screening call to determine whether or not this person is actually suitable for the role because by that point, the hiring manager has seen their background and resume, and they’ve told me, “Okay. Could you ask them specific questions about X, Y and Z. So, I want to make sure that I can screen them effectively and being an engineer myself, I usually can understand what they’re saying. And then what I do during that call is I also inform them of what the interview loop looks like. And what that means is from now until we make offers to candidates, this is what that entire process looks like so that by being fully transparent. And I let them know that before their on-site interview or in this case virtual onsite, I will send an email with a link to my Calendly that I have a specific workflow for preparing candidates, and it’s usually a 15-minute prep call. Sometimes if a candidate needs more, we’ll go to 30 minutes but usually between 15 to 30 minutes. I am giving them very generic prep and going, “Okay. Let’s make sure you have these in place. This is how we like to format things.” They will also already have received the agenda for the interviews. So, for example, if they’re doing a system design and architecture interview, they can’t really prep that. It’s more like, “Hey, did you go on LeetCode? Did you read Cracking the Interview Code? How comfortable are you with the system design round?” Okay, great. Talk about the mission and values of the New York Times. I prep them to say, “Hey, go to the mission and values page. This is what you’re going to be asked about.”
A tip that I can give your listeners is when you do get a list of who you’re interviewing with or if somebody tells you, “Okay. You’re interviewing with this person,” the only thing that’s really relevant is what they are doing at the company. So, for example, if you’re interviewing with a senior software engineer, they’re going to have a different mindset than someone who is a senior product manager. So, when you are answering questions in those interviews, let’s say these two people ask you the same question, the way that you frame your answer will be different depending on who your interviewer is because from a software engineer’s perspective, they have one set of values. The product manager has another set of values. The Product Manager’s job is to move the product forward in the process, whereas the engineer wants to make sure that everything is aligned, and it’s working, and it’s functioning properly. They don’t care as much about time frames as the product manager. The responsibility of the code being functional is the responsibility of the IC, the individual contributor. I just want to make sure the product’s getting off the ground so until you do this, we can’t get that done. Hopefully, that makes sense.
You can probably also expect what questions are going to be asked based on the mindset of the interviewer, right? Like you said, is it going to be a product owner, a product designer versus a software engineer probably going to be asking and focusing about different things.
Farah: Right. And again, when you’re interviewing with managers for your team or from other teams, they’re going to look at leadership components of your interview. If you’re a senior, they’re going to ask you, “Okay. How do you mentor more junior folks on your team?” “I’m a lead at the New York Times. I am expected to take some of the associates underneath my wing and teach them best practices in order for them to be as successful as they possibly can be.”
The Final Question
Well, this has been such an incredible episode and unfortunately, Farah, this news story is coming to a close. And for all of our listeners and even Farah, I know you’ve been on the show previously, we asked one final question for every guest. When I asked you this question previously, you actually mentioned that the best piece of advice was a quote from Benjamin Franklin, if you remember, and that quote was, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” So, now with many more months of experience and at a completely new company, the New York Times, I would love if you can share what is the best piece of advice that you can give to our audience to help them get past the final round interview and land their dream job?
Farah: So, this one’s tough because I feel like I used my best tools out of my tool kit in that first episode, AJ. So, I mean, really just take a look at yourself in the mirror and be honest about who you really are, you cannot be all things to all people nor would you want to be. Even if you’re capable of doing certain things, is that thing that you’re doing really making you happy? Because ultimately, if you’re doing a job that you love, your passion will come through, and you will move farther in your career than anybody else. So, I think that’s number one. Take ownership of your career journey. Don’t blame anyone else. Really just taking ownership because there are times where it’s going to suck. There’s going to be times where you feel like you’re throwing spaghettI on the wall. But if you’re being strategic, and I say strategic not quick and easy, quick and easy as a scam. Don’t use those quick and easy tips. Okay? Just be strategic about your resume, be strategic about the interview process. Quick and hard is possible, but that’s hard work. Quick and easy is a scam.
The other thing I would say is perfect practice makes perfect. So, it’s going to take a while to get perfect, and it’s okay. Grab your phone recorder, grab the recorder on your laptop, whatever you have, start recording yourself, asking yourself questions, giving yourself answers and when you listen back, get over the sound of your own voice, that’s a big one. But really pay attention to a few things: the language you’re using. So, the actual physical words that are coming out of your mouth and then your tone of voice because you always want to have a little bit of a smile on your face when you’re speaking because it just makes you sound brighter and that’s always nice. But when it comes to the words that are coming out of your mouth, do you sound arrogant? Do you sound naïve? Do you seem like somebody who is capable and in charge and who can actually do the job in an effective in a nice way? Those are the things that are really going to propel you forward as quickly as possible. So, that’s what I got for you.
Well, another knockout episode from the one and only, Farah Sharghi. So, thank you so much again for being on another episode of the Final Round. Maybe we’ll have you for Episode 3 in the future.
Farah: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure as always.
Thanks to Farah’s advice, I now know how recruitment processes work and news publication companies like the New York Times. One of the biggest things I want you to take away from our episode today is that there are so many jobs out there in unique industries like news publication. So, don’t just fall into the trap of doing what your peers are doing. And if you enjoyed this episode, I promise you that you will love Episode 5, which is the first episode we had with Farah. Until the next episode of the Final Round Podcast, keep fighting and I will see you in the ring.