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10 Things You Should Know Before Your Job Interview

HR people are people, too.

They don’t like it when hiring managers bring in their laptops to interview candidates. (Yes, that is rude.) They also don’t like rushing job prospects through making a final decision—the wrong fit only makes their lives harder in the end. And they also care about looks: employer branding was the most-discussed topic at HR Uncubed, a two-day conference for innovative companies held last week at Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Brewery, Wythe Hotel, and Dobbin Street.

Uncubed, which was founded in Brooklyn in 2012, is an event- and video-based job platform where employers upload classes about what it’s actually like to work at their companies in an effort to attract top talent. Uncubed’s mission is to “make work human” again through connection and to break free from the cubicle zones pioneered by designer Herman Miller in the 1960s. Their first HR-specific conference attracted speakers from the New York Times, Refinery29, Spotify, Kickstarter, among other big names.

The venues should have been a dead giveaway that this wasn’t going to be your typical stuffy conference, but what was most surprising was how young most attendees were. As we descended to the hip Wythe Hotel’s screening room for a panel, one young woman said, “This feels like college orientation.”

As a manager noted later, HR professionals are the “bouncers to the party.” So what are New York employers looking for in their workplace? Where do millennials fit in? How are companies dealing with diversity? We uncovered a few gems for job seekers or those in the middle of a career change.

1. Employers are insecure too

This idea is hard for a job seeker to wrap her mind around. People assume most employers have their pick of candidates. Not so. Differentiating from the competition with employer branding—literally making your company look cool—has become the biggest trend in HR, said Tarek Pertew, Uncubed’s chief creative officer. The goal is to make candidates fall in love with a company before they apply.

2. Mission sets your company apart

In today’s changing media landscape, veteran organizations are fighting for candidates tempted by tech start-up perks. During a panel about how legacy companies are competing, Stacey Olive, executive director of talent acquisition at the New York Times, said the mission of the Times attracts successful candidates, and they’ve seen a higher response rate in recent months when cold-calling candidates. (Yes, they actually cold call if they see a great resume.) She noted that Spotify and shopping site Jet.com are currently soaking up talent in the New York market, but that they also battle with Facebook, Etsy, Apple, the Washington Post, and Buzzfeed. So, just about everyone.

3. Beware the “exploding offer”

Candidates can volley from excitement to resentment if a job offer arrives and they’re expected to respond ASAP. Olive says the Times rarely gives “exploding offers” that force candidates to decide quickly, saying it makes more sense in the long term to give them space and respect the time they need to make a major life decision. “If they’re the right person, wait,” said Ryan Smith, head of global human resources for General Electric’s GE Business Innovations.

4. The diversity question

Instead of simply fulfilling a quota or reaching a certain standard, companies are cognizant of hiring for a diversity of thought, experience, and background, and assessing how those factors add to the culture. Susan Riskin, vice president of HR at Bitly, said she’ll often take names off resumes before sending to hiring managers in order to avoid cultural bias.

5. Coffee meetings > boring interviews

Many managers also noted how they prefer to get to know someone in a casual coffee meeting or tour of the office rather than a formal conference-room sitdown. “With HR, simple is more,” said senior HR consultant Kristy Flynn, who said she tries to steer the conversation to discussing who the candidate will be working with and what problems they’ll be solving. According to Riskin, Bitly goes very micro, elaborating to candidates that, “In 30 days you’ll be doing X, in 60 days, you’ll be doing Y, and in one year, you’ll be doing Z.” Music to the ears of anyone whose job description ever fell short of reality.

6. HR managers want to be liked too

Every candidate knows you’re supposed to send a thank you after an interview. That’s child’s play. But this reversal literally made me gasp: Flynn said she emails candidates a post-interview thank you. Her reasoning? Job seekers often juggle many offers, and the extra follow-up—thrown in with a LinkedIn invite—keeps the company top of mind.

7. Candidates can’t cheat on the ‘airport test’

Of course you’re being judged. On your skills, experience, shoes, handshake. But the hiring manager across from you might also be subjecting you the “airport test,” which is a simple question: “Could I spend 12 hours in the airport with this person?”

8. Perks aren’t actually everything

Sure, junior engineers may love the foosball table, but one point the HR professionals hit was that authenticity and communication trump (most) perks. If a candidate is sold a different job than the one she shows up to on her first day, 16 varieties of cookies in the kitchen won’t placate her.

9. Apprenticeships are hot right now

Unlike traditional unpaid internships (which are now illegal in New York), apprenticeships are another way innovative companies are recruiting diverse top technical talent. Women and people of color flock to bootcamps more than traditional computer-science programs, said Bie Aweh, career developer at Dev Bootcamp, an immersive coding school, and the resulting apprenticeships give candidates on-the-job training for three to nine months. Spotify has a fellowship program: “We’re hungry to mirror the world that we serve,” said Travis Robinson, head of university relations & talent attraction at Spotify, noting that fellows also receive the same “tech goodies” as full-time employees.

10. Basically, they want everyone to get along

Despite cliches that tech and editorial teams don’t have much to say to one another, HR teams are mindful of hiring people who can move between both worlds. Amanda Buck from the lifestyle site Refinery29 pointed out that their female-heavy engineering team is full of “women building for women,” allowing them to have a more cohesive and balanced team. Sounds like an HR person’s dream.

Kara Cutruzzula is a writer living in Fort Greene. Her articles, essays, and plays can be found here.

This article originally appeared on The Bridge.


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