C-suite career advice: René Seifert, The DataFlow Group

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? “Follow your passion.”

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What would put you off a candidate? There are three things that would put me off a candidate. Number one, zero preparation about the company or the job that you’re interviewing for. My first question quite often to a candidate is an ice-breaker, ‘What do you know about TrueProfile.io?’ If I go to the extremes of the answers I receive then there are candidates who know nothing which is also good because I can then end the interview after a few minutes and we have both saved ourselves a lot of time.

On the other end of the spectrum there are people who really immersed themselves in finding out about who we are and what we do and it’s really interesting to hear how they, in their own words, understand what we are doing. A lot of times they are really spot on, but in a different way than I had ever thought about. A candidate should do the homework and show up because they are interested in what we do, and not just for the sake of it.

Secondly, poor communication skills. And again, we have two extremes of the spectrum. I am much more willing to take someone who is more of an introvert but is extremely effective and I try to identify these uncut jewels. On the opposite side of the spectrum are the people who are chatterboxes who start talking without a beginning, without an end and without making a point. So then I think, if I am bored in the interview then it will be even worse in a working environment.

Third, over-corporatism. For example, someone who says, “Now I am a Sales Manager Level 2 in my current company for the last two years. So, now it’s a good time to make a move.” These people are kind of clinging on to these corporate structures without a true interest in the subject matter or how their expertise or competency could contribute towards accomplishing something.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Similar to my previous point about talking too much, make your point then shut up. Let the interviewer hear your point and make this into a conversation. Instead of having this impression that it’s an interview with the interrogator on one side and the person being grilled on the other.

The second point is that in the interview you shouldn’t think that you are at the mercy of the company. Every company wants good people, especially great people, so when I realise that someone is great I switch into sales mode and try to convey why this is a great place for them, what they’ll learn, the team structure, how we work and how it will fit perfectly into what they have already been doing.

So, embrace that, don’t be arrogant but also don’t appear too needy - have a balanced stance of this being a conversation between equal adults.

The third mistake is being unclear about expectations on every level. Have a clear idea of what it is that you’d like in terms of the salary, and any additional benefits like a flexible working policy or leave days. Also, try to identify something about the unwritten cues of corporate culture to see how things are done and if this is a good fit for you and your own set of ideas so there is clarity on both sides to avoid any misunderstandings.  

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? As with my views on a coding bootcamp vs a computer science degree, this is more of a personal decision based on what you’re inclined to do and where your aspirations lie.

In terms of my background, I have more business skills to my name than technical skills, but over the years I’ve also built up some technical knowledge. A mix of the both is certainly helpful for some roles but I don’t think it’s preferable to have either or. I believe that every organisation should have people that cover both aspects. In any company, it’s important to gain different perspectives, and if you only have individuals from a certain background, you’ll only gain one perspective.

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