Why these companies look beyond traditional hires to build stronger teams

by April Bohnert
August 23, 2017

From an early age, we're led to believe that a career starts in college. You pick your major, graduate, find a job in that field and gradually move up the corporate ladder until you retire. But the truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to life — either personally or professionally. 

While some recruiters may light up at the thought of a candidate who checks all their traditional experience boxes, others take a more holistic and unconventional approach to assessing candidates. 

See how these tech recruiters look beyond the “perfect” resume — and why their companies are better for it.

 

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The Robots & Pencils team is split into three cross-functional groups: Robots (developers), Ampersands (operations and revenue folks) and Pencils (designers). Lara Aranador, who leads the company’s HR business partner team, has seen how valuable unconventional hires have been for this Castle Rock-based digital agency.

What nontraditional hires have you made at Robots & Pencils?

We have a number of nontraditional hires making up our team of robots, pencils and ampersands. We have a developer who spent more than a decade as a photojournalist before teaching himself how to code. We have an app designer who went to school for illustration, but impressed the team with her clean animations and creativity. And we have a project manager who studied engineering before finding his true calling managing software projects. While formal education is something we often look for, we’ve found a number of developers who were simply born to code and have developed their skills over the years.  

What the whole team has in common — whether it’s a traditional hire who checks all the boxes, or someone who simply wows us — is a passion for their work and a dedication to always learning.

Why is it important for your company to have people with diverse backgrounds and experiences?

We work with diverse clients across industries. We also regularly work with new technologies and are tasked with creating entirely new experiences. Having a team made up of people with different backgrounds and experiences allows us to come at problems from multiple perspectives to find solutions that may not be obvious. And by different backgrounds and experiences, we don’t just mean professional ones!

We have developers who moonlight as novelists, designers who are also musicians and ampersands with a passion for theatre. We often draw on this culmination of experience in our work, sometimes in unconventional ways. On top of this, we also see the team build stronger bonds — not just from a day-to-day job perspective.

How can jobseekers looking to switch fields or roles get the attention of recruiters and communicate how they can be an asset to the team?

It’s important to show, not just tell. If we have an applicant who wants to be an app developer but doesn’t have previous professional experience, we’d love to see an app — or better yet many apps — that they’ve created on their own time. This not only demonstrates that they have the skills to be an app developer, but also the passion and dedication to make the career transition.

Similarly, including any industry-specific events or conferences you have attended on your resume is a great way to show you are passionate about learning and expanding your career. Showing that you’ve done your homework when applying also piques our interest. If you can link your past experience or skill set to something we’re currently doing or to our core values, we usually take a closer look.

 

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International email marketing company Return Path means it when they say they’re a “people first” operation. The company invests heavily in its talent through professional growth programs and comprehensive benefits, and promotes diversity through inclusive and unconventional hiring practices. Cathy Hawley is the senior vice president of people at Return Path, and she highlighted the ways that hiring outside the box has become one of the company’s greatest strengths.

What nontraditional hires have you made at Return Path?

In 2014, we started a program that we called our ReturnShip program, which was similar to an internship program but focused on women and men who had left the workforce for a period of time. We knew that there were a lot of talented people who weren’t able to get their foot back in the door due to a gap on their resume. We thought we could tap into this talent pool and also help our managers think differently about how to evaluate potential candidates.

We hired six women into our first cohort. Three became Return Path employees following the program and are still with Return Path today.

Why is it important for your company to have people with diverse backgrounds and experiences?

Return Path has always been a “people first” company. Since the company’s founding, we have always believed that creating an environment where people are deeply engaged with and connected to the business, where the company invests in people so they can have vast opportunities to learn and grow their careers, and where people jump out of bed in the morning excited to come work in a fun and collaborative environment is the best way to create amazing services for our customers and deliver superior returns to our shareholders.

The ReturnShip program helped us find people who had a different background than the “traditional” hire, and also helped us train managers and teams on the importance of looking at more than just paid working experience.  

How can jobseekers looking to switch fields or roles get the attention of recruiters and communicate how their background applies to the job?

One way to do this is to get into a program like the Path Forward program (if you fit the profile) or to find companies that are supportive of non-traditional applicants. If you are going into the tech field, bootcamps are also becoming more popular, and they often help people with job searches after the program.

The best thing you can do is to network. Help connect other people when they are looking for work, and leverage your network when you are looking. Ask a lot of questions of people who are currently in the role you want, and find out what skills and experiences are the most important. You can then tailor your learning and help to draw the connection between your experience and the skills required for the role.

 

Photos via featured companies and social media. Responses edited for length and clarity.

Have a tip or know of a company worth covering? Email us.

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