The Essential Guide to Landing Your First Customer Success Job

In this article, we’re going to break down the key things you need to know before you start your customer success job search.

This article will break down:

  • The fundamental skills required for a Customer Success job
  • What an “ideal” candidate looks like and how you can look like one
  • Key tips for preparing for a successful job search

What is Customer Success and What Does a CSM do?

Making sure that a customer is receiving value from the company’s product and services is a mission-critical activity. You could say that this is because of the subscription model that most SaaS companies now adopt.

If customers aren’t receiving value, the subscription model enables them to easily leave and find another solution. That’s where Customer Success comes in.

Customer Success is the practice of delivering maximum value for a customers’ investment in the company’s product. This reduces churn and drives revenue.

A Customer Success Manager is responsible for making this ideal a reality. They help to make sure that a customer achieves their goals and shepherds them on the customer journey.

This means guiding them through every aspect of the post-sales customer experience: onboarding, training, adoption, on-going support, expansions, and sometimes renewals.

Top Skills For A Customer Success Job

Customer success job: skills

Customer Success Management is a multi-faceted role, which requires a wide array of skills. Besides the necessary technical skills that we’ll get into later, most of the required skills for a Customer Success job are often considered as “soft skills”.

Bonus: Download the FREE 60-page Customer Success Competency Model!

1) Relationship builder

One of the core functions of the role is relationship building. You have to be able to understand what motivates people, offer your help and get customers to trust that you always have their best interests in mind. You have to be likable, but human.

2) Organized and proactive

Being highly organized and proactive is another key to success in the role. CSMs have to be able to anticipate customer needs or issues to avoid potential problems.

3) Analytical and Strategic

A great CSM needs to be analytical and strategic. CSMs have to analyze data to understand what is making their customers successful or not. And then take the learnings and apply it to their processes to create more successful outcomes for their customers.

4) Emotional Intelligence

Often a CSM’s job is to de-escalate situations between the company and the customer. To do this effectively, you need to have a strong sense of emotional intelligence. A well-developed sense of others emotions can help manage personal interactions successfully.

5) Excellent communicator

Perhaps most importantly, CSMs need to be excellent communicators.

Both in email and on the phone/in person — CSMs spend much of the time presenting information. You’ll be communicating to customers, to your management and the company as a whole.

CSMs need to be able to parse information from many different sources and disseminate it to different audiences in ways that are meaningful and actionable to them.

3 Skills Employers Love in a CS Candidate

Customer success job: ideal profile

If you look at the job qualifications and required skills for a Customer Success Manager role, you can get a feel for what an ideal candidate may look like. The ideal shouldn’t be something that deters you, but you do need to understand the competition.

This is especially important if you don’t immediately look like this ideal on paper.

1) 1-3 years of experience

Most employers are looking for prior experience as either a CSM, an account manager, or in a customer-facing role like customer service.

Depending on their approach to customer success, if their mandate includes renewals and upsells, they’ll be considering candidates with a sales development background.

2) Technical skills

Companies are going to require some necessary technical skills, including proficiency with the Google suite or Microsoft Office products. Many will also value experience with a CRM like Salesforce.

Additionally, they’re going to be looking for applicants that know their way around complex spreadsheets. Time management skills are also valuable.

3) Communications skills

And then there are communication skills. These are critical and core to the job. CSMs have to be able to effectively convey ideas and frame concepts and processes in a way that is easy to understand.

This makes the role more approachable for people who come from different careers where they’ve gained that communication experience.

Optional: Bachelor’s degree   

They’re going to be looking for a bachelor’s degree. In most cases, they’ll also indicate that they will accept equivalent experience, so not having a degree isn’t an immediate show-stopper.

How to Get Started if You Have No Background in CS

Customer success job search

If you’re looking to land your first ever customer success job, it’s likely you don’t look like that ideal candidate.

Don’t panic. We’ve coached hundreds of aspiring CSMs through this process using the exact methods we’re going to describe. They work.

The great thing about a Customer Success job is that it’s an option for anyone that has some technical ability and a healthy attitude to work with people.

Make your work ex relevant to your future CSM role

When looking to re-frame your experience, the most critical thing to do is to look at your background and find the thread of customer-facing experience that’s there.

Even if your customers were purely internal or if your experience was outside of tech, when speaking about it, frame it like this:

“Well, I can see how you don’t see this as Customer Success. But let me help you understand why I think this is actually valuable for this role. I did 1, 2, and 3, as I was working to help XYZ folks through ABC process. Not only was I responsible for keeping them on track but I also helped them achieve 1, 2, and 3.”

Emphasize your customer-facing experience

If you’ve mainly been in the service industry, highlight your strengths around customer-facing communication. Play down the fact that you haven’t been in a tech role before.

Talk about how you’ve been following tech companies. You have to show some insights that demonstrate a grasp of what’s going on and be able to tie it back to the role and the company.

Gushing about how much you love XYZ tech company isn’t going to accomplish your goal. Have a story that relates back to the role you’re looking to get hired for.

Don’t underestimate the power of domain expertise

If your career experience includes time as the administrator or power user of your employer’s MarTech stack, focus your job search on companies specializing in MarTech.

Your experience gives you insights into the unique challenges that those companies’ customers face and their goals. Be sure to highlight that.

Dos And Don’ts for When You Apply for Your First CS Job

DON’T panic!

This isn’t an insurmountable challenge.

DON’T apply as you are and hope for the best

Hope is not a strategy. There are qualified candidates out there, so you need to bring yourself close to that level.

DO take up additional training

Look for ways to mitigate any skills gaps with training or coaching

DO get creative about re-framing your past experience

It’s all about finding ways to add context to your work ex. You’re probably more qualified than you think.

DO present what makes you unique

Use your expertise or passion for a particular industry as something that sets you apart from the rest of the field.

Tweaking Your Resume and LinkedIn: Pro Tips to Consider

Both of these have to grab the screener’s attention and make you stand out. You need to be unique in a way that’s professional yet creative.

Let’s talk about your headshot

You need a good headshot. This can go into your LinkedIn and into your resume. Don’t use a selfie or a photo of you doing your favorite activity.

This shot needs to capture who you are but be professional. If it looks like a stock photo or a selfie, you’ve missed the mark.

Keep it clean (especially the fonts)

Remember what you want to convey is that you’re professional and an excellent communicator. Stick to easy-to-read fonts and be sure to have someone proofread it and provide feedback. A mentor is good for this. Or there are a ton of online services that can help.

Hit the right keywords

Write a headline that talks about what you’re looking for. Beneath that, add a section that describes how your experience is relevant to this new role.

It should also hit on how you’re passionate and excited about customer success. The critical thing here is to make sure that your resume features the keywords that the hiring managers are looking for.

If you’re unsure of what keywords to focus on, look at the job descriptions. This is a great place to find the critical keywords.

Highlight your wins

Another essential thing that you want your resume to do is to highlight your relevant accomplishments. If you have done something that has produced results, and you can put a number to it, be sure to include it. HR and hiring managers love to see indications that you have produced measurable results and impact.

Ditch descriptions, talk about results

When describing your past roles, don’t just include a sentence or two that merely indicates what your position was. Talk about how it delivered something that helped with customer experience. You may have assisted the customer in accomplishing their end goal or improving the service that the customer received.

Think “customer-facing”

Remember that everything in your resume should be framed so that it has a customer-facing focus to it. Don’t bend something so far that it isn’t true. But look for the customer-facing elements that are in everything that you’ve done.

The same holds true for your LinkedIn profile. Make sure that the LinkedIn profile and your resume are aligned. Show what you’re passionate about in your headline. Have a brief bio that gives them a feel for who you are and what you’re there to do.

Choosing Your Next Employer

Once you have your resume and LinkedIn preparation done, start compiling a list of target companies that you want to consider.

Target a mid- to late-stage company

Your ideal target is going to be a mid to late-stage company where they have an established and growing customer success team.

These situations are ideal because they already have a team of folks that are experienced. They can bring in raw talent, shape them and turn them into the type of CSM that they want.

Unless you happen to have domain expertise, don’t waste your time pursuing early-stage startups. In the early days, they are looking to bring on experienced resources to bolster their team. In cases where you do pursue an opportunity at an early-stage company, be cautious as you may be setting yourself up for failure.

You need to recognize that in situations like this, there are going to be high expectations. Supporting structures and processes may not exist.

Plus, for your first role, you’re looking to learn. Early-stage companies aren’t likely to have the time or resources to train you.

Make sure it can be a long-term gig

Lastly, make sure the companies you are targeting are the kind of company that you want to work for. The reality is that this is your first Customer Success job and you should plan to spend 1-2 years there to build up your experience.

Make sure it’s the right place for you to land.

Personalize your approach

Don’t forget your cover letter. Make it engaging, personal, and memorable. This is your opportunity to speak to why you’re a good fit and why they shouldn’t pass up a chance to speak to you. Keep it short, and don’t make it generic.

Dos and don’ts

  • DON’T try to stand out by using outlandish colors, fonts or funny headshots for your resume or LinkedIn profile.
  • DO keep it professional. As a CSM, you’re going to be customer-facing and need to be able to represent a company respectably.
  • DON’T underestimate the importance of a cover letter. It’s a powerful tool to convey your strong points and your communication skills. Surprisingly, a lot of people don’t include one.
  • DON’T forget to incorporate select keywords in your resume, LinkedIn profile and cover letter. People (and ATS software) skim resumes; you typically have a very small window of time to catch their eye.
  • DO your research to find companies that are hiring for entry-level CSMs.

Understanding the Hiring Process

After you’ve applied, then what? Unfortunately, it’s hurry up and wait.

The hiring process is going to vary company by company. Some move fast, and others move slow. If you hear back, you can first expect a phone screen to see if they want to invite you for a live interview.

Come to that phone screen having done more research.

Research the company and the people you’re going to be talking to. Look at press releases, social media, LinkedIn profiles. Demonstrate that you’ve done your homework. Come prepared with well thought out questions.

If you make it past the phone screen, you can expect a round of in-person, phone or video interviews. You will likely talk to people from outside of Customer Success, such as Sales, Support or the Product team. Do your homework on these individuals and be prepared to talk about how you can help them with their role.

Every step of the way, do more research. You cannot over-prepare.

Todd Eby is the Co-Founder of SuccessHACKER — a leading Customer Success Training and Advisory firm. He’s an acknowledged expert on the building and scaling of Customer Success programs and teams through all phases of growth. He utilizes his 20+ years of experience to promote one simple truth; successful customers = successful business. His innovative approach to Customer Success has made him one of the most recognized thought leaders and influencers in the Customer Success industry.

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