Why My Airbnb Interview Failure Was a Blessing in Disguise

The interview process can be nerve-wracking, and even if we believe we did everything right, sometimes things still don’t go as planned. My Airbnb interview failure serves as a testament to that.

But this is not a post to tell you how to ace interviews or give you the inside scoop on the entire Airbnb interview process.

What I want to discuss here is why my Airbnb interview experience was actually a blessing in disguise.

Jacqueline Foster
Demand Generation Marketing, Lever.co

We can count on them to bring new ideas to the table consistently

Embrace Interview Insight

The Prelude to My Airbnb Interview

Many years ago (around 2011), a close colleague informed me about a job opportunity at Airbnb:

At the time, it was a rapidly growing company valued at around $1 billion.

The position was for an SEO role, as they were in dire need of one, and I was this 25-year-old who was really deep into search engine optimization. The VP of marketing at Airbnb seemed impressed with my credentials, so I was fast-tracked to a second interview.

But this was not just with any ordinary employee; it was with Alex Schultz VP of Growth at Facebook who was advising Airbnb at the time.

The Interview Challenge: To Agree or Not to Agree

Alex Schultz, now the CMO of Facebook and also the owner of a cocktail recipe website, was direct and no-nonsense. Without any small talk, he immediately hit me with a challenging question:

He wanted to know the most critical action I would take for Airbnb’s website.

Having done my homework, I identified that Airbnb’s website, especially some crucial product pages, suffered from crawlability issues. In the ever-evolving world of SEO, having your content recognized and indexed by search engines is vital.

The issue I pointed out meant that valuable content on Airbnb’s site was invisible to search engines, which was a massive setback for a company relying heavily on its online visibility.

However, Alex had a different viewpoint. For him, the solution was less about fixing what was broken and more about expanding – he believed in the creation of numerous landing pages and diving headfirst into programmatic SEO.

Here lies one of the most common interview pitfalls: the urge to conform.

Schultz offered me an opportunity to change my answer. But instead of flipping, I chose to stand my ground. Why? Because making the site’s content crawlable would have been an efficient, quick win and a logical first step before branching out to more complex SEO strategies:

And then I’d move on to landing pages and programmatic SEO.

Lessons from Job Rejections

So, as you can guess from the title of this post, my Airbnb interview did not lead to a job. But, despite the use of the word “failure” in the headline, I don’t actually consider this experience a failure. More of a lesson than a failure, and even a blessing in disguise.

Here’s what I got out of it and have taken with me throughout my years as a marketer, an SEO and now a digital marketing agency founder:

  • The True Essence of Failure: It’s vital to redefine our understanding of failure. Not securing a job doesn’t necessarily equate to inadequacy. So many people can get really down on themselves for not scoring that so-called perfect job. But it often means there’s another path, possibly better, waiting to be explored. If I had gotten that Airbnb job, I never would’ve founded Single Grain.
  • Importance of Standing Your Ground: In a professional environment, it’s crucial to voice different thoughts and opinions. If I had agreed with Schultz, I would’ve been dishonest to myself and the potential contribution I could’ve brought to Airbnb. Plus, if you flip-flop too much, it shows that you don’t have a backbone. As someone who’s now on the other side of the interview table, I respect people who are firm but not obstinate in their opinions.
  • The Value of Diverse Thought: A difference in opinion can be a goldmine for innovation. If Schultz and I had explored both our viewpoints in tandem, it could have resulted in a holistic SEO strategy for Airbnb (not that they’re suffering these days!).
  • Don’t Base Big Decisions on Just One Question. Schultz really honed in on one question, but when you’re talking to someone to try to understand them, you can’t just base it on one question. If I were him, I’d’ve asked why he was standing his ground on this, or to tell me his thought process, because we can always learn from someone else, even a newbie.

By the way, I want to also communicate my respect for Alex Schultz who is, obviously, very successful and has in no way suffered by not hiring me back then!

Related Content: 7 Fatal Business Mistakes Founders Make When Scaling Their Company

Redefining Interview Success

Job interviews aren’t just about impressing the interviewer; they’re also opportunities for introspection, growth and learning. Remember, it’s not always about immediate victories. Sometimes, it’s about gathering lessons from failure, which can guide future successes.

As you navigate your professional journey, remember that standing your ground can be more impactful than passive agreement. And even when the path seems challenging, know that every hurdle, every lesson from job rejections, can be a stepping stone to greater opportunities.

So my Airbnb interview didn’t lead to a job offer. But it did lead to invaluable insights that have since shaped my professional outlook. If you ever find yourself facing challenges in your career, I hope my story serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration. Remember, every end is a new beginning in disguise.

If you’re ready to level up your brand (with SEO or landing pages!), Single Grain’s full-service marketing experts can help!👇

Embrace Interview Insight


Repurposed from our Marketing School podcast.

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