- Mårten Mickos, chief executive of HackerOne, shared with Business Insider the cover letter he used to land the startup’s top job in 2015.
- The letter demonstrates that Mickos did his homework about the employer, and he didn’t spend too much time talking about himself.
- We asked a recruiter to review the letter to point out the highlights and nitpick what could be improved.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
It’s a candidate’s job market, and still, applicants for the role of chief executive are looking for ways to get noticed.
Mårten Mickos said he did not know very much about cybersecurity when he was being considered to take over the top job at HackerOne, a marketplace where companies can pay hackers to find and fix security flaws in their software. In 2015, the company’s cofounder and chief executive was stepping aside to make room for a veteran operator.
Mickos sat down at his desk in a penthouse apartment in San Francisco to write a cover letter. The goal was to sell the company’s cofounders and board members on his qualifications, as well as expose his own vulnerabilities.
“I wrote it for myself so I would have a foundation to stand on, and I declared it to them so they knew what they were signing up for,” Mickos said on a call.
Mickos got the job. He’s now sharing with Business Insider the cover letter that he said helped him land the gig.
We also asked Paul Flaharty, a California district president at recruiting firm Robert Half, to read the cover letter and tell us what Mickos did well and what could have been improved.
Here are the key takeaways.
The candidate did his homework
Mickos sat at his desk nightly to work on the letter. “It probably took me a week to summarize everything I’d learned in the interview process,” he said. His diligence showed.
Mickos could describe in detail the company’s mission, as well as the challenges it faced and opportunities it could seize. He also demonstrated a grasp of its culture and values.
“He wanted to make sure that they understood he had done his homework, and he wanted to exhibit an awareness of the macro issues and the vulnerabilities brought on by threats to security, and where the company specifically fits into that picture,” Flaharty said.
He lays out a strategy
Mickos sold his last two companies. He knows how to grow a business.
He demonstrates to the board just how capable he is by offering an action plan.
In 2015, Mickos wanted to see HackerOne capture big customers like direct-to-consumer companies and cloud startups that have a lot to lose in the event of a security breach. He proposed hiring a customer success team to ensure customers find value in the service as soon as they sign up.
As chief executive, Mikos said he would invest in the company’s software offering, as well as reach out to hackers in the community to understand who they are and what tools they want.
“The real way to impress an employer is to say, ‘Here are my questions, and here’s how I would do it,'” Mickos said on the phone.
Who is Mårten Mickos?
The candidate spends little time talking about himself. He doesn’t name his previous employers. Instead, he lists his skills, like building trust with enterprises and growing a team, that are required of the person filling the role.
Flaharty, the recruiter, said he would recommend a slightly different format. He tells candidates to start with a brief overview of their background and goals and then get into strategies for success.
“The risk you run if you’re immediately getting into the ‘me me me’ related content is that maybe you would come across driven more by ego, which can be a turnoff if you’re considering someone of this level,” Flaharty said.
Attention to detail matters
Mickos’ cover letter did something right, because he got the job.
We asked Flaharty to nitpick. He found some spelling errors and reiterated his suggestion that candidates start their application with a short introduction.
Formatting also matters. Flaharty saw in a couple of spots that Mickos used a new punctuation mark to break up text, and he alternated between starting a list item with a capital or lower-case letter.
“You want to make sure the reader sees that attention to detail matters to you,” Flaharty said.
Authenticity is everything
Although Mickos was a seasoned executive with the right skills to grow HackerOne, he still felt like a security beginner in his interviews. He said part of the reason he dedicated so much space in the cover letter to the company’s mission and its challenges was to spell out his understanding.
“It was sort of a test of whether I got it,” Mickos said.
Flaharty said hiring managers look for self-awareness in a candidate. And with unemployment levels at record lows, they need to be open to hiring people from outside of their industry.
“Maybe they’re not the ideal hire today,” Flaharty said, “but if you hire for ability as opposed to someone having the absolute identical experience in their last role, you’re hiring for upside.”