The Bad Advice of College Career Offices

Punchbowl hires a few interns every year, and the candidates usually come from job postings we’ve circulated through local college career centers. Our requirements aren’t crazy – we want someone who is thoughtful, a good writer, has some personality and wants to pursue a career in Marketing or Public Relations. However, the process of finding a person is often tedious. Most of the candidates that apply don’t get the basics right. And for this, I mostly blame college career services. Time and time again, we see ill-prepared students who don’t seem to put any thought into the culture of Punchbowl and how they might fit in. Punchbowl is a tech start-up, not a stuffy financial institution. The old-fashioned college career system just doesn’t seem to “get” how to prep their students for this kind of environment.

Danger Bad Advice AheadIntern candidates, listen up: If you’re applying for an internship at a tech start-up, don’t listen to this bad advice:

Bad Advice #1: Apply to everything While it may seem efficient to apply to every single internship posted posted, don’t do it. Every position is different and a generic response won’t get you very far with the company. Research the companies that are most interesting to you, and try those first. Focus on positions that will accentuate your strengths or seem really interesting for one reason or another. If you apply to everything, it’s more likely you’ll make a mistake and forget to update the company name, hiring manager, or some other embarrassing tidbit in your intro email. I’ve seen it too often.

Bad Advice #2: Send a cover letter  With the advent of email, the need for a traditional cover letter has been eliminated. No one types up all their strengths and attributes on a pretty piece of paper and mails it to the human resources department anymore. When you send your resume for an internship, include a nice (but short) email introducing yourself, with a few sentences on why you are interested in the position. It’s also helpful to include something that differentiates you from your peers. Give us your two cents about Punchbowl, make a joke, or send us a picture. Keep it personal, and help us remember why you are different.

Bad Advice #3: Include your GPA and a transcript Trust me, we’ll know if you’re smart within the first few minutes of speaking with you. There’s not much that sharing your grades or classes will do to increase the odds of getting the job. These days, your understanding of the marketplace and how our company fits into the overall ecosystem is much more important than your GPA. So don’t include it unless we explicitly ask.

Bad Advice #4: Put everything you’ve ever done on your resume For all positions at Punchbowl, we ask for a one-page resume. Why? Because we think it’s important to have the ability to boil down lots of information into something more digestible. We don’t care how many jobs you’ve held, we care about the real substance of your experience. Rather than a long resume, spend time beefing up your LinkedIn profile or make a website about yourself. By the way: it’s almost a sure thing that we’ll Google you, so make sure there aren’t any embarrassing pictures out there on the Internet for us to find.

Bad Advice #5: Prepare for an in-person interview We always prefer to meet intern candidates in-person but it’s not always possible to meet face-to-face. Given our schedules (and the schedules of busy students) most of our interviews take place over Skype or FaceTime. Preparing for a video interview is a lot different than in-person. First, make sure you know how to Skype/FaceTime, and test it with a friend. Be sure we’re going to be able to see AND hear you, and don’t waste our time with computer/phone problems. Second, make sure the background of the room you’re sitting in is appropriate. If we see empty beer bottles behind you, it doesn’t make the best first impression. Lastly, dress for the occasion. We are a casual company, and wear jeans and t-shirts. Even though it’s a video interview, be sure to be dressed appropriately (yes, that means no pajamas).

SWAMI SAYS: Applying for an internship at a tech startup is very different than at a bank or consulting company. Students: be selective when you apply, and learn the culture of the organization so that you can make the best first impression possible. Oh, and Punchbowl is hiring an intern for the fall semester. Get in touch!


The 24 hour challenge for job candidates

Matt Douglas is the Founder & CEO of Punchbowl.com. Follow @mattdouglas on Twitter. For every new follower this year, Matt is donating $0.25 to Water.org.

Every month, I spend a significant amount of time interviewing candidates. At Punchbowl, we hire full-time employees, independent contractors, and interns. Regardless of the position, all of us work together as a close team. So it’s critical that we hire people that fit the culture and vibe.

I’m fond of saying that ‘good’ people are relatively easy to find: place an ad in Craigslist or Indeed.com and you can find educated, experienced, and talented people within days. But finding truly GREAT people is really hard — how do you find people with superb communication skills, a strong work ethic, excellent personal traits, combined with a willingness to join a small company? And how do you make sure that the skill set and mindset of this new person will be additive to the team you already have in place? I can tell you from experience: hiring great people is very hard.

Over the years, I’ve developed a sequence to my hiring process to find great people. My goal is to learn about the person as much as possible before offering a position. I want to know how they think and what makes them tick. One part of my process is something I call the “24-hour challenge.” (more…)

Finding service providers that ‘get it’

As a start-up, you need to work with lots of different service providers. At Punchbowl, we have lawyers, insurance agents, accountants, auditors, bankers, and real estate agents (just to name a few). All told, I’ve spent a lot of time with service providers and I’ve found that there is a big difference between those who ‘get it’ and those who don’t.

What does it mean to ‘get it’? It means that you can explain what you need to your provider, and they’ll only show you things that match your needs. It means they don’t waste time with things that are ‘nice to haves’ and they only focus on the ‘need to haves.’ It means that they understand your intent, can fill in the blanks, and will help you prioritize how to spend your precious start-up money. (more…)

Don’t hire a new employee until you feel the pain

When you are starting a company and raising capital, it’s natural to think about your hiring plan. As you create financials, you’ll try to predict how many hires you need at each stage of the company and try to show a reasonable ramp of building your team. But as practical matter, how do you make the decision of when to hire for a position? Just because your plan says that you should hire a Marketing person in September of year 2, does that mean you should? I don’t think so. (more…)

How to prepare for an interview at an Internet company

As anyone who has started a company will tell you, the people you hire into your company are *critical* to the long-term success of the business. The employees set the tone and vibe, and a single bad apple can put a strain on the whole team. So, like most startups, we strive to hire the best people we’ve ever worked with. I take hiring very seriously, and I’ve never regretted spending more time to find a great hire.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been interviewing a lot of candidates (in fact, I made two hires this past week). One thing I’ve been struck with are the vast differences between those who prepare for an interview and those who don’t. It’s very disappointing to sit across the table from someone who says “I didn’t have time to prepare.” I always think, “Really? Well I don’t have time to waste with you.” And usually I end those interviews very fast (seriously, one time i ended an interview after just four minutes. The walk to the front door was very awkward). (more…)

Why we pay 100% of employee benefits

I’ve been doing a lot of hiring recently, and it reminded me a policy that we came up with in the early days of Punchbowl when we hired our first employees. When it comes to health benefits, we pay 100% of the employees health plan. This means that if you work for Punchbowl, the company pays 100% of the costs of your health insurance, your dental insurance, your workers comp, and your basic life insurance. (more…)

The importance of commitment in a start-up

When you’re running a start-up, it’s really important to surround yourself with people who believe strongly in keeping their commitments. Here’s a story about someone who didn’t hold their commitment and how I handled the situation.

Earlier this summer, we hired a second intern. Timmy (not his real name), interviewed really well and demonstrated the kind of passion and heart that I look for in new candidates. Typically when I hire an intern, I look for people who might be good full-time employees someday down the road. After all, that’s how I got my career started. During the interview, Timmy made it clear that he wanted experience for his resume. He impressed me by saying that he would do whatever it takes to be a great intern, and passionately asked for the opportunity. At the end of the meeting I turned to our Marketing Manager and said “If you agree, I’m convinced. I think we should give Timmy a chance.” (more…)

Office manager job description

The Startup Swami has been a little busy these days — more juicy posts will be coming soon. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy reading the office manager job description that I posted to Craigslist last night. I spent some time thinking about how to find a great person who has the right mindset and demeanor to fit in at Punchbowl. And this job description is what came out of that thinking. Every question in the job description has a purpose, and I’ve gotten some very interesting emails today as a result. What do you think? Do you think I’ll find a great office manager with this job posting? (more…)

Don’t measure success by the number of employees

When people ask what I do for a living, I typically say that I run my own company. Depending on the audience, I’ll mention that the company is VC-backed, or that I’m the CEO of a consumer-internet startup. Unless I’m asked, I usually don’t get into the details.

In the same conversation, I’m invariably asked, “how many employees work for you?” It’s the kind of question in which the answer is supposed to be an indicator of how successful your company has become. And I’m here to tell you now that it’s not a good indicator. (more…)

Being early to an interview is worse than being late

I’ve noticed a troubling trend the more I’ve been interviewing candidates recently. About 50% of the time, candidates are showing up early for their interview. For a startup in a small office (usually without a reception area), this is very inconvenient. Yet the candidates seem to think that they have somehow made a good first impression by showing up early. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I’m here to tell you that being early to an interview is worse than being late. (more…)