Greenhouse Open 2016 speaker Spotlight – Gayle Laakmann McDowell, founder & ceo, CareerCup

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5 mins, 24 secs read time

We are thrilled to announce Gayle Laakmann McDowell, Founder & CEO of CareerCup, as a speaker at Greenhouse Open, our annual summit and networking event for those in the Talent Acquisition, People Ops, and HR space, taking place next month in San Francisco! (For more information, click here).

All about Gayle

Gayle Laakmann McDowell is the Founder & CEO of CareerCup and the author of the Cracking the Interview book series, including Cracking the Coding Interview, Cracking the PM Interview, and Cracking the Tech Career.

Her background is in software development, with a BSE/MSE in Computer Science from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Wharton School. She previously worked as a software engineer at Google, Microsoft, and Apple.

In addition to running CareerCup and writing books, she consults with tech companies on their engineering hiring process and with startups to help them through acquisition interviews.

Find Gayle on Twitter, Facebook, and at


We recently chatted with Gayle to get to know her better. We were most intrigued by her leap from engineering to talent. Here’s what she had to say:

1. How did you get into the HR tech/talent space and what influenced you to start CareerCup? (We see that you were an engineer for much of your career!).

I founded CareerCup to help candidates get more prepared for interviews. Starting first with my students in some university courses I taught and then later with some candidates who I interviewed, I saw that good developers didn't necessarily know how to do well in interviews. It wasn't just the soft skills; they didn't know how to tackle the technical questions effectively. So, I launched as a website and later a book (Cracking the Coding Interview) to help them do their best.

As I got more experience with hiring, I noticed that part of the issue was on the employer's side. Interviewers were asking bad questions, intimidating candidates, or making any number of other mistakes. At times, there were major misunderstandings from companies about what they should be expecting.

Some say that I "play both sides of the table"—working with both the candidates and the employers—and they're absolutely right. I do. That's exactly what makes what I do so effective. I truly understand the problem from both perspectives. I empathize with both the candidate and the interviewer. I truly "get" the technical problems in interviews, and all the soft stuff, too. This allows me to work across an organization—with interviewers, hiring managers, recruiters, and even candidates.

2. Greenhouse Open is just weeks away! Can you give us a taste of what you will be speaking about at the event?

I'll be talking about how employers can ask questions more effectively in order to create a better candidate experience, and how to actually get better information from the candidate. I'll be taking my technical and hiring knowledge to walk through each type of question, including the "hard" problems, to outline which questions work most effectively and teach people how to ask them in a useful way.

3. A hot topic in the industry has been improving the candidate experience. Do you have any thoughts or insights on how to best approach this?

One of the best things a company can do is work on transparency. Some things that are obvious to you (e.g. of course you don't have to get every question perfectly right!) are not obvious to candidates. (And, sadly, this disproportionately impacts diversity candidates, who might not have the network to tell them what the hiring process is like).

Tell your candidates what to expect. If candidates know what to expect, they'll be better able to prepare (taking out some of the randomness in the process), and they're less likely to feel cheated.

Let's start with something simple. If you're doing an initial call with a candidate (the one that's a bit of a sell and a bit of a discussion about their prior experience), do you tell them that you'll be asking them about their favorite projects and most interesting challenges? Well, why not? I told one of my clients to start doing this and they immediately noticed an improvement. Not only did candidates appreciate the transparency, but the employer actually got more useful information.

4. Complete this sentence: If employers want to get the best talent through the door (and keep them), they better make sure they’re ______.

…aware of the weaknesses of their hiring process.

One of the biggest mistakes employers make is believing that because their process avoids some big issue of another process, that their process is superior. Some processes are better than others, yes, but no process is superior in general—and certainly no process is perfect.

If you can't tell me how (and for whom) your hiring process is broken, then you can't possibly even start to mitigate those issues. Be humble. Realize that everything is a little bit broken.

This isn't a reason to be lazy and just accept those weaknesses. On the contrary, it's motivation to do what you can to lessen the damage from it.

5. You are the Founder & CEO of a successful company. Do you have any advice for other women leaders (or future leaders)?

My biggest piece of advice is this: Just do stuff. Try things. Experiment. Say yes.

Successful careers are generally not linear. You can connect the dots afterwards to understand how you got someplace. But if you said, 10 years earlier, "How will I get to point B, starting from Point A now?", it probably wouldn't look like that. A lot of opportunities come up through some random event. Leverage the randomness in life by saying “yes” to more things, even that little coffee meeting that probably won't be useful to you. It just might.

Importantly, don't let Imposter Syndrome get in your way. This tends to be an especially big issue for women. If you are about to decline some option because you don't think you're qualified, stop! That's probably just Imposter Syndrome talking.

Engage with Gayle and other professionals in the talent and HR space by checking out Greenhouse Open, May 25-27th in San Francisco.

Greenhouse Open 2016