You Know It’s Not the Same As It Was: Job Hunting for Community Roles in 2023

You Know It’s Not the Same As It Was: Job Hunting for Community Roles in 2023
This post has been submitted anonymously by a community member as a way to share their recent experiences in hunting for a community role. It's tough out there at the moment, I hope you find it helpful.As a way to support current job seekers we have also created a private #jobhunting channel in our Slack. If you are there, please DM Rosie to be added to it.

Like pretty much everyone I know in community management, I’m searching for a new position. Since beginning my search about three months ago, I’ve encountered some odd and unprecedented behavior and practices. As you’ll soon see, the rules of engagement have changed. What was once a predictable landscape is now the wild, weird west. I hope that by sharing my experiences, you’ll you feel a little less alone, and a little more prepared.

Let’s get to it.

Observation #1: Prepare to educate a lot of people

Companies are jumping on the idea of community, but they really don’t know what community is or what they want from it. I keep seeing this statistic that 80% of startups are investing in community. While it’s commendable they’re doing so, I’ve observed a pervasive misunderstanding of how community management works and what a community manager does.

One way this lack of understanding manifests is in some of the questions I’m repeatedly asked.

They’re all variations of the same three questions:

  • What does a community manager really do?
  • Which metrics do I use?
  • Why does it take so long for a community to show results?
My advice: Be prepared to educate every person you interview with. Consider whether you want to work for a company where you may have to continually explain what you do and why. What impact that might that have on you?

Observation #2: Companies want a unicorn

I’ve found expectations for community management positions to be more and more unreal. I’ve interviewed for community positions where the community manager is an individual contributor with no staff and is required to manage at least one other function in addition to community, such as partnerships, for large (5k+ member) communities.

Here’s another kicker: the responsibility for the other function isn’t mentioned in the JD and/or the job posting but is revealed in the final rounds of the interview process. It goes without saying the salary range does not change. Introducing this level of change so late in the game is a red flag.

This has happened three times with three different companies. Both companies were well-funded, “mature” startups headed for acquisition or IPO. No reason was given for the change in responsibilities beyond “we changed our minds”.

My advice: If you are that unicorn, try to get as much accurate and detailed information as you can in writing about the time commitment for the community and the other function(s), a clear understanding about how your success will be measured, and a reasonable timeframe for hiring 2 another community professional. Ask yourself how long you’d be able to sustain working at that pace, especially as a one-person shop?

Observation #3: Companies want a cheap unicorn.

Those unicorn jobs are paying a good $20K less than they did in 2022. One company recently advertised a salary of $1-2k per month, ...which leads me to Observation #4...

Observation #4: Think twice about applying for positions abroad if you’re based in the U.S.

On three occasions, I’ve interviewed for positions in Europe for which I am highly qualified, in a space I have strong experience in, and whose work hours I can easily manage. When it came time to make a hiring decision, the companies did an about face, decided that they really didn’t want to pay a U.S. salary (and health care), and hired someone in Europe.

When I asked the recruiters of these companies about it, they all said the company really didn’t think it through. While I don’t know the salary these companies eventually paid the new hire, I’ve spoken to enough European colleagues to safely say their salaries are notably lower than ours in the U.S.

My advice: Be prepared to answer the working hours question regardless of whether it’s asked. You might consider proactively discussing it before it has an opportunity to become a barrier to your employment. Their response will likely provide some insight about their willingness or non-willingness to work with someone in a different time zone or continent. You may also want to prepare yourself for a lowball offer.

Observation #5: Waiting times for a first interview and the time between interviews have become longer.

The market is glutted with community professionals, especially in tech. I’m seeing upwards of 200 people applying for community positions. It’s taking companies longer to sift through resumes and respond to candidates. This means the waiting time to hear back from a company can take weeks and even months.

My advice: Be prepared to wait and find strategies to help you manage any feelings you might have around the long waiting times (see my approach in the New tactics and parting words of advice section). I’ve found that long waiting times in the interview process can correlate to how a company works in real life. If you do get an interview, and really want the job, think about how much time you’re willing to spend and how many interviews you’re willing to go through to get it. Draw that line in the sand and stick to it. 

Observation #6: The interview process is often spread out over several weeks.

In 2022, companies were clamoring for community professionals and couldn’t make offers fast enough for fear of losing qualified candidates. The overall vibe in 2023 is Not Sure.

My interview process in Q1 2022 looked like this: interview with a recruiter, interview with a hiring manager, interview with the community team (sometimes including a presentation), decision.

In Q4 2022, and now in Q1 2023, the interview process looks like this: interview with a recruiter, interview with a hiring manager, interview with the community team if there is one, often including a strategic plan and/or or a presentation, followed by Q & A, additional interviews with other departments (individuals and teams), maybe additional presentations and maybe, a decision. Maybe.

This is exhaustive and exhausting. I went through the process I just described two times with two different companies. In the end, they didn’t hire anyone. What a waste of everyone’s time and energy.

Communication is practically at a standstill. It can take weeks to hear back after a first interview with the hiring manager who said they want to move the process forward to the next phase and want to move quickly.

And recruiters? They’ve perfected ghosting. My experience of them is they’re in a hurry to set up interviews and disappear after telling you the process will move forward.

My advice: It’s the same as the advice for Observation #5. See also the New tactics and parting words of advice section. 

Observation #7: Personal connections within an organization are no longer enough to get a foot in the door.

I’ve applied to companies where I had connections and excellent recommendations, as well as years of experience using the company’s products, training others to use it, writing training materials that taught others to use it, and it still wasn’t enough to even get me an interview.

My advice: Consider the possible reasons why a company would be so gated and whether you want to work for company like that. 

Observation #8: Interview questions are less predictable.

It’s not enough to discuss your experiences as a community manager, your interest in the position and the company. You now need to anticipate “offbeat” behavioral and personal questions. I had one VP of Recruiting ask me questions about my experience that I found a little too probing and made me uncomfortable. At the end of the interview, they told me they chose someone else and that I was being interviewed just to be sure they picked the right candidate.

Oh, and I wouldn’t be a good fit because I was too old for the position. That really happened.

My advice: If you’re asked awkward or odd questions, spend some time thinking about why a company would ask these oddball questions. If you’re asked to take a personality test as a prerequisite for employment, decide whether you want to do that. Try find out more about the company’s reasons for administering them beyond “it’s our policy”.

Observation #9: The category is...METRICS.

Since we’re discussing interview questions, be prepared to answer questions about metrics. LOTS of them. Then be prepared to answer them some more.

My advice: see my response to Observation #1.

Observation #10: Whiplash

Recently, I’ve had two companies who rejected me outright in an email, despite being a strong fit for the role, then came back shortly thereafter with a request for an interview.

One company emailed me a few weeks after the rejection email with a “we’re sorry it’s taking so long, we’re excited to interview you, you’ll hear from our recruiter shortly to set this up”. A few days later, I received an “oh, you’re so talented, but we’ve decided to move forward with another candidate” email.

The other rushed me through an interview with the recruiter and the hiring manager, said they were excited to move forward with the interview process, told me who I’d be interviewing with and that they’d send an invite, then emailed me a rejection the next day.

My advice: The behavior you see during the interview process might possibly be window into how the company really works. If this happens to you, then maybe that company did you a favor by not moving forward. 

Observation #11: Cue the final Jeopardy Wait song

I’ve had three separate experiences where the interviewers were 10-15 minutes late without any communication on timing.

In one final interview, all but one team member was on the Zoom call. At minute 15, I asked to reschedule the interview. The hiring manager was firm that we’d all have to wait until the late team member showed up, which turned out to be 25 minutes later than the start time.

My advice: Take some time to think about this: Do you really want to work at a company that doesn’t respect your time as a candidate as much as it respects that of a very late team member? 

Observation #12: Red flags

Here are some red flags that should give you pause about a company:

  • No Job Description.
  • The Job Description changes at the end of the interview process and includes responsibility for another department in addition to community management.
  • The amount of time between receiving a verbal offer and one in writing exceeds two weeks.
  • You still haven’t received a written offer after two weeks, and the company doesn’t reach out to you with a status update about it.
  • You chase down the decision maker for status updates for the offer.
  • No HR department.
  • The CEO is running more than one company.
  • No or small Series A funding.

New tactics and parting words of advice

Since companies have changed the rules of engagement, I’ve followed suit and changed mine.

Here are two examples:

Old tactic #1: Following up with a recruiter

In 2022 and earlier, I’d email a recruiter to follow up on my status if I was told they wanted to move forward with me. I might follow up more than once. Conventional wisdom once held that it shows initiative and interest. Perhaps it still does?

New tactic #1: In 2023, I’m no longer chasing recruiters.

If a recruiter can’t do something as simple as following up after an interview, especially if the process is supposed to move forward, then this position and company isn’t worth pursuing. Next!

Old tactic #2: Being completely available to interview in a moment’s notice.

In the past, I’d jump at any opportunity to interview with very little notice. I thought doing so showed that I was flexible and able to respond quickly and easily to shifting priorities.

New tactic #2: I’ve learned that while it may show flexibility and responsiveness, it can set a precedent I no longer want to set.

Maybe it isn’t an opportunity. Maybe it’s a sign of chaotic leadership.

If you’ve made it to the end of this article, congratulations! I hope it was worth your while. I’d like to leave you with one last perspective that’s helping me maintain my sense of humor and my mental health, and it’s a metaphor—Kaitenzushi.

If you’ve ever been to a sushi train restaurant in Japan or closer to home, then you know your experience will be one long conveyor belt of sushi. So, too, is the job hunt. There’s always more sushi—and more opportunities—headed your way.

Do any of these observations resonate with you? Share your experience in the comments.️

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