Ask the right questions, know your perspective, don’t obsess over fancy job perks, and have a plan but keep an open mind.
Those were a few tips offered up by a panel of tech executives at Western Washington University’s Leadership Forum in Seattle this past Friday to young professionals entering the “real world.”
The panel included Julie Larson Green, Chief Experience Officer of Microsoft’s Applications and Services Group; Leslie Feinzaig, VP of Digital at Julep; Kieran Snyder, co-founder and CEO of textio; and Barry Steinglass, vice president of Client Software for Hulu.
Here’s a round-up of their advice:
What are some mistakes you’ve seen from first-time job seekers?
Julep’s Leslie Feinzaig: “The worst mistake you can make is thinking it will be perfect job. All the pressure that TED speakers and LinkedIn articles told you about the ability to find perfect job — it’s probably not going to be your first one. But know it. Embrace it. You probably don’t even know what your perfect job is yet — I still don’t think I know what mine is. If you don’t have a lot of experience and don’t know what it is that you love, don’t expect it to be the perfect job. That is totally OK.
Also, think about the next job you want — the interview you’ll have in two-to-four years. What are those stories you want to tell in that interview? Go find yourself a place to make those stories happen.”
textio’s Kieran Snyder: “You should think about whether you will enjoy the job and feel like it’s teaching you things and that you’re growing. If you are, then great, you should do it until that’s no longer true. Then, find the next job for where you are at at that point.
I do think one big mistake people can make is trying to block out that 5-year, 10-year, 20-year plan. I was an academic, then I worked for big companies, then started my own company. I couldn’t have predicted every one of those steps, but they’ve all been right at the time I made the transition.”
Hulu’s Barry Steinglass: “The idea of a perfect job is a time-dependent definition. The perfect job when you’re straight out of college is not the same as the perfect job even two years out of college, depending on what experience you’ve had. Keep an open mind.”
Microsoft’s Julie Larson-Green: “I always say it’s about what it will teach you and what you’re learning. As time goes on, if it’s no longer fun and you feel like you’re not learning, then it’s time to think about something else. The other thing I always say: It’s about the people you work with, especially in technology. Technology changes — I could be here for hours talking about all the different things and inflection points I’ve seen in my 22 years in Microsoft. Picking one technology and sticking with it isn’t the goal.
I’ve also always picked jobs based on the people I’m working with, day in and day out. Such a big part of job satisfaction is the people you surround yourself with, the people you can learn from, the culture of an organization. Just as important as what you’re going to learn and how you’re going to get the next job is the day-to-day satisfaction that comes from the people around you every day.”
What education experiences are you looking for from young professionals?
Snyder: “I’m looking most of all for somebody with a real track record for learning new things. I don’t care what the new things are — just somebody with an appetite for ongoing personal development and challenge. When I look at any stage of a career, whether it’s a recent grad or someone in the industry for 20, 30 years, I always look to see if they’ve tried something hard every few years and that they like learning new things. That’s someone I can hire because I can ask them to do whatever hard things are coming down the pipeline that I can’t predict yet.”
Feinzaig: “The ability to learn quickly and adapt quickly is critical no matter what role you’re going in for. Also, knowing to ask the right questions and not assuming that things are the way they are when they are handed to you. It’s a huge skill and something I look for across the board.”
Steinglass: “Liberal arts and breadth. I grew up with and worked with many narrow computer science majors and it’s a night and day situation when you work with someone who has perspective. It’s just more fun and they are better at it, hands down.”
Larson-Green: “It’s also an empathy thing, when you have the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes, the ability to see things from other perspectives. It’s about knowing your perspective and how your perspective is different — and not assuming everyone else has to have your same perspective.
A very important part when you hire someone is, can they think beyond their own experience and imagine what they can do for other people? When you build software for a billion people, no one person will be able to tell you all answers. That diversity of thinking, the inclusive way of creating a team, is all very critical.
What perks and benefits people expect from a work environment at tech companies?
Steinglass: “There is no one answer here. You have to ask the question in a stage context. I started a small company a couple years back and we inherited some of the Amazon culture with desks made of doors. My understanding is that it teaches new Amazon employees that Amazon is a place where you don’t throw money around and you shouldn’t expect ridiculous red carpet treatment. On the other hand, companies have to compete with each other for talent. That’s where you see some of that arms race for perks and benefits. There are places where some of that stuff can be appreciated and enjoyed.”
Larson-Green: “I think it’s dangerous, actually, to have too much of that. You want to build software that can relate to people. How can you relate to someone if you haven’t lived the life of a normal person? I tell people that I don’t want to do my laundry at work — I actually kind of want to do my own laundry so I understand what that scenario is like and how I can make technology that helps people not have to do laundry, or whatever it is.
You want people to have a life. It’s a struggle to maintain perspective when you’re working so much. At Microsoft, I tell people that I want them to have a life, I want them to understand what it’s like to pick up the kids, get dinner on the table, find time to work out, so we can create technology that can help the broader humanity and not just people that love staying in front of their computer 24/7.
Snyder: “It’s about your own best culture and where you choose to work. If the thing that you value coming out as a graduate is a really amazing creative climate, you will prioritize that. Everything else will matter a little less. If the thing you value is living and working in a cool urban area, you will prioritize that. You have to have your set of priorities when you look for job. Look for companies that match those and maybe one of your priorities is awesome benefits. There are companies that have that, so it just depends on what you’re looking for.”
Feinzaig: “As you look at companies, don’t let perks get in the way of true appreciation of the employees. Having a nap pod is a cool thing to tweet about, but if that means you never actually go home to sleep your in your bed, that’s probably a problem. Just make sure that you look at their views and talk to people who work there to make sure employees are truly appreciated. Your time is far more valuable than all of these perks. Don’t let them buy you the little nifty things that are great soundbites and that might be great for culture — they have to be in addition to truly valuing people and investing in your happiness.”
What’s the most important thing you tell graduates?
Feinzaig: “If there are any female graduates out here, or anyone who teaches women, please learn to negotiate. Negotiate your offers. The men are going to, so know your work and go out there and negotiate.”
Larson-Green: “You have a great education and you have the skills to start taking your journey. What you think that is today and what it ends up being … plan, but be open. Don’t just let life happen to you. Make a plan, but then be flexible. Know your vision for who you want to be, but be flexible in how you get there. Take opportunity and take risks. Run toward danger; don’t run away from the cliff.”
Steinglass: “Plan ahead, but keep an open mind. The wave of innovation about to hit this world is like nothing we have seen yet. We look at the current timeframe and the previous decade as an era of great innovation, but it is nothing compared to what is coming. If you are a student, keep that open mind because what you think you want to work on now is not even going to be relevant. You’ll be part of the change, but you’ll also see changes around you and something will catch your eye that’s much more interesting than anything you can identify today.
If you’re an educator and you think about keeping your eye on the ball, there’s a ball out there but you don’t know what it is yet. We talked earlier about not training for specific skills, but preparing people for that world. Think about how different that world is going to be. The most important skill you can give any student is actually the ability to tolerate that change.”
Snyder: “Don’t stay in any situation where you are unhappy. If you are fortunate in life to have choices for your employment, there’s always great jobs in the world for highly educated and smart people. If you end up in a work environment that doesn’t feel right for you, you should feel empowered to change it. No one will change it for you — your manager can’t, your colleagues can’t, your parents can’t. Don’t stay in a place where you are unhappy.”