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What I Learned When Interviewed For Spotify

How to grow from a ‘No’ and why it shouldn’t be seen as a rejection.

11 min read
What I Learned When Interviewed For Spotify

We have all received that word or sentence before, that single message that could turn a hope into despair. The sentence that all of a sudden changes your preconceived image of the future:

“No, we chose not to proceed with you this time…”

It is not rare to feel defeated and that the opportunity slipped away, that it was so close but you are not worth it after all. This is a common feeling to have and is a part of a process. What we need to keep in mind is to not stay in that state for too long. There is a different way to see it, a way and a mindset that you could benefit from rather than feeling that everything is up to that single opportunity. A way that you will learn and grow from rather than leaving it with a defeated mind. Being able to take a ‘No’ is something we, all as grown up professionals, should be able to tackle and also be stronger and learn from. A ‘No’ is not necessarily a rejection, it should be an indicator for future personal growth.

Since you are the captain of your habits, routines and discipline you are also the commander of your actions. No one is going to come and save you and if we are to accomplish something great in life, a certain goal, then we need to adapt our actions to it. To meet the problem itself with the energy, persistence and pragmatism that is necessary to tackle it. Just as we tackle any obstacle in life we all need to welcome those with a combination of strategic vision and resilience.

The rhapsody of communication — a Spotify experience

Let me share a personal experience I had recently. I applied for a role as Technical Program Manager at the music streaming company Spotify during the spring of 2020. I hit the apply button on LinkedIn and attached my resumé. One week after I was invited to a video interview and had a great discussion with one of their senior talent acquisition partners. It was wrapped up with a message that I will be scheduled to have a second round of interview and it turned out to be one of their directors of operations. We had a great discussion covering my journey and experiences and an open dialogue around my skillset and ambitions. We drilled down into the possible challenges in the role, my previous experiences and ambitions and I got plenty of time to ask lots of questions in the end. It ended up with a message that I will move on to the third round.

Photo by Dolo Iglesias on Unsplash

“Great, awesome!” I was so motivated and my ego was boosted… I prepared for the third round of interviews which consisted of 5 video calls, normally it is an on-site process but due to the Covid-19 pandemic those calls were facilitated through Google hangouts. Even though I wasn’t so happy with my effort in 2 of the 5 interviews and especially not the practical one where I was asked to showcase a process flow through Mural I got a really great connection with all the interviewers. Through out all the interviews I was reflecting upon one common thread that I experienced as the discussions went along, and that was the feeling I had when I shared my experiences and answered all their questions. They all made me feel really good and comfortable, a sense of ease and calmness that I have never felt before in earlier recruiting processes. Making me feel that good during the interviews built some sort of trust and comfort, even though I didn’t meet any of them physically.

After all the 5 interviews I was told to wait a week for their final decision. Pretty nerve wrecking days and finally when I got the call from the recruiter I had already prepared my mind to “not expect anything but hoping for the best”. They decided to move on with one of the 3 other final candidates. The overall feedback I got was that the they didn’t really say no to a bad candidate since they had the luxury of choosing between 4 strong candidates in the end. Two main areas that I didn’t really convince them on was the risk management experience and the skills for systemic thinking that I didn’t really come through in the digital whiteboard exercise. A good sign though was that those were aligned with my view as well since I wasn’t happy at all with my effort in those 2 calls.


On the other hand I had started to reflect upon the whole experience and couldn’t help to connect the dots of how we are interacting with each other in these calls, that the interaction itself can be related to the composition of a rhapsody. It is made and conducted to boost our emotions and deepen our life experience, the way we communicate contributes to the overall rhapsody. Composed by words, sentences and meaning, the purpose for us is to grow and learn from each other. As a matter of fact, it’s on both the recruiters responsibility as well as our personal responsibility as potential co-workers to compose that rhapsody together. What I specifically mean is that we can choose to communicate in a way where we can benefit from the situation, either if its a good or bad experience. The interviewers and myself included are responsible to create a great dialogue and story around me as a person but also to contribute to the story of the organization, in this case the story of Spotify. Both parts are working on their story, myself promoting and showing my Why, What and How and the recruiter has an interest as well to promote as much they can to the story of Spotify. Both of us are mutually independent of each other and grow organically, with or without an offer at hand.

It was a great experience but a bit peculiar since I have never gone through the uncertainty and turbulence that occur during a pandemic outbreak which we were in on the spring of 2020, and at the same time coming to the final rounds of interviews at one of Swedens most successful unicorns. I couldn’t help feeling grateful, especially when reading the news about all the millions of people loosing their jobs worldwide due to the mitigation actions each nation chose to take as a reaction to the new virus. But it wasn’t only the situation in the world that made me feel grateful, it was the experience itself which brought me the following lessons that I would like to share with you:

  • A coherent story, aligned message and matching experiences connected to the role are key. Make sure your experience portfolio from your resumé is detailed enough to catch attention for the first screening call, and make sure to explain them in more depth during the interviews.
  • Don’t assume that the interviewer know you and your experiences just based on your resumé and what you say, you really need to depict and explain everything very clear, the interviewer is not a mind reader.
  • Be precise with explaining your experiences, the more precise you are with examples the better the message is.
  • Use your words wisely — a 45 minutes interview passes by quickly if you use lots of words just to fill out your sentences. Short and crispy messages are key! It will also save time for interesting questions and discussions in the end.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of body language, using and showing your hands can really be good, but don’t exaggerate and don’t hide them off camera. Your sitting position is important whether if it’s a video call or a physical meeting. It affects not only your tone of voice but is a signal on how convincing you appear to be.
  • Be sure you really understand the feedback and why you got especially that feedback. Don’t be afraid of asking questions to really understand which details and in which scenario that was the basis for the specific feedback.

In the end both of us where happy with the overall experience, even though I have hoped for a different outcome I left the process with a positive attitude, gratefulness and a few learnings. Most importantly the connection that was built through their way of making me feel trusted, calm and psychologically safe really made me appreciate the overall experience. In retrospect I would be lying to you if I said I was not a touch disappointment on my own efforts. This cocktail of disappointment and appreciation made something with me. I got triggered…

Let the obstacle lead the way and get moving

So, how did I move on from this? I actually started with a “Thank You note”.

Just as a failure can be a feature you can see personal ones as something to build on to as well. Failing is not something to be frowned upon, buried and forgotten or not even dwelled upon. Instead it is something to learn and grow from. It is therefore key to understand how the perceived experience can make you a better person and a better leader, without spending too much time overthinking it.

A thank you note to the recruiter is a good way to provide feedback to the recruiting manager but also for your own sake, a way to get moving.

If I would have seen the recruitment process at Spotify as a true failure I would have dwelled upon it and never wanted to have anything to do with that company ever again. Instead of dwelling I started to compose a thank you note that I sent to the recruiter and the recruiting manager, mainly for my own sake initially but also as a sign of gratitude for a well-coordinated recruitment process. I thought it wasn’t more than fair to let them know that they did a good job. I got a reply the next morning where the talent acquisition partner expressed his appreciation as well, ‘et voilá’ the rhapsody was complete.

Crafting the thank you note enabled me to shift the mindset even further and in-printed a gratefulness which enabled me to move on. To continue to focus on the path and to not loose myself into despair and putting myself in a risk of ‘settling down’. Showing gratitude is actually a pretty good thing to do (“How Gratitude Changes you and your brain”, UC Berkeley), even if you choose not to share it with anyone.

What is defeat? Nothing but education; nothing but the first steps to something better. — Wendell Phillips

Just like Ryan Holiday elaborates on in his book ‘The Obstacle is the way’, we can all embrace the obstacles we face with energy, persistence and a coherent and deliberate process. To iterate with resilience and pragmatism led by a strategic vision and nurtured by craftiness and being savvy. Looking out and beyond for opportunities and using those pivotal moments that occur as a learning experience.

That sounds great, but how?

Being prepared, knowing your craft and creating luck

During my years at college and later as management consultant and working in software projects I learned that preparation is key. Being prepared in a volatile world where agility is a foundation of progress and learning is not easy but necessary. Whether if it’s preparing that product presentation for your team or a short meeting with your manager, being prepared shows that you have your mind focused on the task or project at hand and don’t leave everything to chance. You are leaning in and showing that this is important.

Preparing yourself for a one-time event such as an interview process is not something you do just right before the actual occasion. The impression and level of persuasion you succeed in delivering during the interview is more or less based on your accumulated practice and life experience. As with most things in life, the more experience and depth you have in a certain area the more comfortable you are in communicating that. To discuss your suitability for a certain role, in my case it was the technical program manager role, usually focuses on a limited number of skillsets that points out really clearly. Despite the long descriptions of required expertise in the add, a normal human being and the candidate that ends up with an offer is usually peaking or outperforming the others in a few main skills, as it may seem.

Human excellence can only be achieved in one area, or at the most in very few — Peter F. Drucker

For example, leading software projects in any area nowadays, whether if it’s the financial industry or the music industry requires a variety of skillsets but as most successful leaders, whether you are a team lead, program manager or CEO your success in the role is most probably linked to one or few characteristics and skills that make you unique. Just like M. Buckhingham and A. Goodal brings up in their book ‘9 lies about work’; “successful leaders are not well-rounded, they are spiky”. I personally believe on the other hand that generalists and well-rounded people succeed thanks to the ability of exposing themselves in many situations where they can test and validate their stronger skills to thrive from. By navigating in different domains and using your skillset exposes you to use the lateral thinking approach that is truly valuable in finding new solutions to old problems, to see things in a different light.

So by defining and having the insight about what makes you unique and sharp and what truly you are bringing to the table in your team and organization is what will be helpful knowing before you head into the next venture of yours. Without being fooled into the specialization trap you can benefit from the few stronger skills by leaning into them and strive for mastery by continue to practice them at work and everyday life.

Since an effective organization and what most successful executives are looking for in growing and pruning their teams is that they staff from strength. As Peter F. Drucker elaborates in his book The Effective Executive , to make strength really productive the weaknesses are not ignored but mitigated by not being a limiting factor. Looking for performance, not conformance the effective team and organization builds excellence through a distributed system of effective leaders who are excellent in their craft.

So by objectively review yourself, improving your work and just keep going, keep going and keep going. This is where feedback also can come in handy, using the feedback from situations like an interview process can be beneficial since you can use that feedback to add on to the various feedback you get from other situations at work and in your private life. Using it as an objective measurement that will boost your way forward to create momentum.

This momentum is not created by itself, it needs a triggering force. You have to create it yourself and as soon as the ball gets rolling and momentum is created, opportunities show up. Creating your own luck and doing the right actions for the mission you have because luck is not simply pored over you.

Are you saying ‘Yes’ to the wrong things?

So if we would look ahead and without looking back too much, will you continue to say yes to the wrong things? Think about it, the main reason for not have landed in your dream position, company or role yet is most probably because you have said yes to the jobs you have had. Assuming that you are not in your dream state right now.

Saying yes to something today that is not necessarily your option A takes away your chances of having option A in the first place. Being happy and grateful for what you already have does not mean that you cannot continue to grow and look for other branches that will boost your learning journey in life. And the fact that you are looking for other opportunities does not mean you are un-happy or in a bad place, it’s just a sign of curiosity and looking over the horizon, for continuous development.

Before I wrap up this story I would just like to encourage you to make sure to bring those spiky skills of yours in your next challenge and let them shine, let them be heard and shown without any reason for doubt.

I hope you found this story helpful, it for sure helped me in proceeding with my goals and ambitions and let me focus on my path and my infinite journey that is not restricted or determined by one single shot…

Personal Growth