Customer Success Managers (CSMs) must perform exceptionally well throughout the interview process because expectations of hiring managers are justifiably very high. For CSMs, the interview process is like preparing for and nailing an important customer meeting. Both processes contain common elements:

  • Understand the needs of our customer (potential employer)
  • Build a relationship while educating and onboarding about your amazing product or service (You!)
  • Working collaboratively with all stakeholders to realize value (Hire you!)

A good CSM shines in the interview process because it's what you do everyday professionally.

Unfortunately, I meet plenty of candidates who fail to impress. Here are the most damaging mistakes CSM candidates frequently make but that you can and should easily avoid:

  • Believe the interview starts when the interviewer starts talking
  • Fail to prepare to impress
  • Behave unprofessionally

This post will help you avoid these thoughtless mistakes.

The Interview Process Starts Before You Talk to the Company

Before you even contact a company, you’re already communicating to a potential employer via your professional profile on LinkedIn. Forget the substantial stuff (like your past roles, professional growth, brand pedigree of past employers), less sophisticated candidates think the resume or LinkedIn profile isn’t an advertisement.

The job interview is the Super Bowl and your LinkedIn profile is a 15-second commercial. Budget appropriately.

Here are the common problems you can easily avoid when updating your profile:

  • Simple errors: If your profile or resume contains spelling and punctuation mistakes, then you could be careless. Understand your target market and culture and have your profile reviewed by a professional. Can I trust you with important customer communications if you don't speeel rite or Capitalize Correctly?
  • Bad judgement: Your profile pic was shot by mom on your recent family trip to Disneyland. Your mom’s amazing but that super casual, badly lit, out of focus picture clearly shows you’re not very self-aware. What in the world are you going to say or do in front of customers?

Harder to fix but really important:

  • Too tactical: Your profile doesn’t highlight your accomplishments or ability to get measurable results--it's a dull reporting of tactical responsibilities. “I generated TPS reports” should be “I helped our customer implement new services that increased revenue by N%. “ A CSM helps realize value and can communicate positively and effectively about impact.
  • No testimonials: You haven’t received or given recommendations. Holy mackerel! As a CSM, your job is about relationships. If your co-workers don’t care enough to give you a recommendation, will a customer care enough to return your email/call? And you haven't given a colleague you respect a well deserved shoutout? Heartless.
  • No network: You and I aren’t linked in anyway; this isn’t a crime it just means I don’t know you and I can only evaluate you based on the information I have in front of me. You’ll jump to the head of the line if your friend or colleague is connected to the hiring manager and recommends you.

Prepare Prepare Prepare to Impress

Since I only spend a few minutes evaluating a resume and LinkedIn profile, I’ll probably forget a candidate whose resume has one mistake. However, if you made it past our resume reviews and phone screens, we, the potential employer, are very excited to meet you and want to be impressed. Yes, we WANT you to do well. But if you don’t effectively prepare for our time together and you completely disappoint, I may never forget you. And that's horrible.

Horrible candidates come in unprepared and it shows. It’s not just disrespectful, it demonstrates an inability to plan for and execute a successful customer engagement, like an onboarding meeting.

Here’s what superstar CSM, or any customer-facing candidates do that anyone can do to impress the interviewing team:

  • Know the interviewer in advance and review their LinkedIn profile. The goal is not be obsequious, but to be informed. Ask yourself, "Why is this person interviewing me? What can I learn from this person about the role?" Demonstrate interest, curiosity, and intelligence by preparing for each discussion. You research your customers before you meet with them don’t you? Don’t you?
  • Understand the company’s mission and business. Sign up for free demos, trial products, newsletters, and white papers. Dig deeper than the company’s homepage. Leverage Google, Youtube, Glassdoor, Crunchbase, LinkedIn to name just a few resources. When I ask you how you prepared for the interview and you open your notebook to reveal lots of notes and give an organized answer that reflects your seriousness, my smile gets big. But when you say “Well I looked at the homepage a bit…” I silently weep inside. My smile may not drop but just know I am already wondering where I went wrong in the screening process and am considering ending the interview early. I will probably try a few more questions just to be sure but if you can’t demonstrate you really invested time and thought before you sat down, I can’t justify us both wasting more time.
  • Be curious and ask questions during the screening process--especially if there’s a homework challenge. Many candidates seem to think the interview is like a math test in high school. They act like they can’t ask the teacher about the process or the test. You need to communicate and ask questions and understand the process, the people, and expectations used to assess your application. I absolutely respect candidates who study the homework assignment and send me thoughtful questions about it. You collaborate with your key customer contact in advance of a customer meeting, right?
  • Make an ally of the recruiting team. Hiring managers rely on the judgement of their sourcing partner. Recruiters/sourcing professionals are usually very good at evaluating talent. Hiring Managers respect their recommendation. If you can't work with our recruiting team effectively, how well will you work with busy customers?

Candidates that stand out routinely spend a minimum of 3 hours learning about the company, the product/service, the team, and the position. And that’s a just a starting point. If the company/position doesn’t inspire you to spend that much time, maybe it’s not the right opportunity for you.

Looking or Behaving Unprofessionally

I know, right? What candidate for a CSM role would make such a mistake? You’d be surprised. Here are the top mistakes that kill your chances of advancing in the process or getting hired:

  • Arrive late and fail to communicate schedule changes proactively
  • Take a customer call or check a device
  • Not show up and then call and ask for a reschedule
  • Slouch
  • Dress toooo casually

I’ve had a candidate excuse himself from an interview due to a “customer fire”. Here’s the problem: if you can’t plan ahead and arrange for appropriate coverage and support for an hour or two, how can I trust you to plan ahead while managing 20 accounts?

I’ve also had a promising, experienced candidate show up in a T-shirt, shorts, and sandals for an enterprise CSM opening. Dress and act as if you’re going to a customer onsite for an important business review. And remember this wise adage: early is on time; on time is late; and late is unacceptable.

Unless you came in with strong recommendations from people I know and trust, I only know what I can read and see.

No hiring manager wants to assume you know how to dress and act in front of a customer. We’re looking for every bit of data we can to justify making an offer. I need your help to check the obvious boxes so we can go deeper on important topics like your career path and how I can help you.

Since many interviews happen virtually, let me summarize common mistakes that unsuccessful candidates make interviewing online:

  • Not know how to use their computer or the meeting technology (“How does this work? I probably shoulda tested this before…”)
  • Not have working equipment (
  • Do the interview outside or from a noisy coffee shop (Latte for Bobby? That’s me. I’m so sorry! Gotta get my latte on, bro. Am I right??? No.)

Here’s the good news. You, a capable CSM, will absolutely stand out in the interview process because you treat the hiring manager and team like a new customer. You recognize that to these new people, you too are new and you'll act and plan accordingly.

You'll seize the interview process to skillfully engage and onboard them to the awesomeness that is you.