The following is Max’s response to the question, “What does your interview process look like for CSMs at Intercom and how has that model evolved?
When I joined Intercom as a CSM, the hiring process went like this: apply online, receive a written test, then interview with the Head of Customer Success.
Some parts of that model still exist. But since stepping into a leadership role, we’ve also evolved the process in two major ways: there have been changes to the written test (and it now includes a video test, too), and we’ve added a session that’s completely dedicated to having candidates ask the interviewer questions.
The At-Home Written and Video Test
My first boss at Intercom instilled a core belief within me: when you're hiring, one fundamental skill to assess is writing. If an interviewee can think through a problem and compose their answer in a neat way, they likely can do the same verbally. But the proof is in the pudding—and my director’s team was renowned for their talent and tenure.
We’ve included an at-home written test as part of our hiring process since before I joined. But now, along with the written portion, we also have candidates record select answers via video on Loom or similar.
Here’s what the at-home test includes:
- What excites you most about becoming a [Role] at Intercom?
- How would you describe Intercom to someone with no technical knowledge?
- Name a tool you're a power user of.
3.1 What makes you a power user of it?
3.2 If you could make one change, what would it be?
- Imagine you're given a book of 80 accounts.
4.1 How would you decide which accounts to work on first?
4.2 Why would you take that approach?
As you can see, the questions vary in complexity. But to me, the most telling piece is how candidates respond to the question, “How would you describe Intercom to someone with zero technical knowledge?” Those who have empathy for their audience and who understand our product at a basic level, usually start by saying, “I'm going to describe this in a way that my granny, my granddad, or my mom and dad would understand.” Whenever someone begins that way, I know I’ve hit a gold mine—I’m about to hear a beautiful articulation of what our platform does. This question points to a good fit because the best CSMs know how to turn complex topics into easy-to-understand terms.
Better than any other medium, these videos also capture two areas that signify a good CSM:
The first—energy and passion. Are they genuinely interested in our company? Do they show real excitement? How passionate are they in the mission of Intercom? These qualities will shine through in a video.
In hiring, I care far more about passion than experience. You could’ve worked at a top company for decades, but if you don’t exude substantial enthusiasm for Intercom, I’ll keep looking. That’s not just for our own self interest in hiring, but also for the candidates. The #1 piece of career advice I give everyone—family, friends, or anyone asking me for it—is to first find companies that you’re passionate about. If you’re not passionate about a company, then why do you want to work there? Why would you waste your life away working for a company that doesn’t excite you? Ultimately if you can find a company you’re passionate about and you land a job there, the world is really your oyster. You’ll be happy and the company should be happy.
The second reason we ask candidates to use video is to assess how comfortable they are recording themselves. Our CSMs are on video calls day in and day out. They often record customer videos to share information at scale, or to send tailored messages. Fundamentally, if a person doesn’t exude the kind of confidence on camera that will engage or de-escalate customers, they might not be best suited as a CSM at Intercom.
The Question Asking Session for Candidates
Once a potential candidate has passed a quick screening call and the take-home test, they schedule a call with me. Instead of quizzing them (“tell me about your strengths and weaknesses”), I leave the session completely open for a candidate to ask me questions. Interviewees need to know if they’re making the right decision with their career and feel comfortable progressing to an onsite. Plus, if candidates don’t ask questions, they might not have the intellectual curiosity that we like to see in CSMs.
The written and video tests were designed to give me answers, now it’s the interviewees’ turn to ask questions. I'm there to explain everything: the role, company, team, leadership, vision, company culture, and my management style.
Some leaders consider this “question asking session” an odd practice. But Intercom’s mission is to make internet business personal and it’s the CSM’s job to be personal and empathetic to their customers. And since the first part of our interview doesn’t involve talking to anyone, it's only right to allow candidates a chance to know with absolute certainty they are making the right career choice.
This week's top posts
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Here’s a LinkedIn post from Hubspot’s CCO, Yamini Rangan, with takeaways from the CX Spotlight 2021 Conference. In short, it’s “the age of the customer” and companies that bring the customer to the core of their business will rapidly outperform those that don’t.
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Force Isn’t Power
Ed Batista explains why people who are earlier in their careers, believing they lack power, can tend to “act forcefully in order to have the desired effect. But later in [their] careers and at more senior levels, when [they] likely possess much more power than before, continuing to act forcefully can be unnecessary and even counterproductive.”
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Here’s Jason Lemkin with a quick interview checklist for the first CS leadership hire. For example: “Find out what their #1 core KPI has been. Some don't even know. Don't hire those ones.”
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