Think Different: Lessons From NYC Tech Companies That Hire Outside the Box

August 30, 2019

Despite the increased efforts of companies to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces, the puritanical pursuit of the almighty “culture fit” continues to get in the way of real, meaningful change. Often — whether consciously or not — our ideas of what makes the ideal candidate are riddled with biases and traditional notions of “qualified” or “unqualified.” 

But for the companies willing to think — and look — outside the box when hiring, a whole new world of talent and potential opens up. From military service members turned financial techies, to cultural melting pots that inspire collaborative innovation, we caught up with members of two NYC tech companies to see how their companies spurn traditional hiring practices and how that’s shaped the culture and the teams with which they work. 
 

Affirm NYC tech diversity and inclusion in hiring
Photo via Affirm

When Credit Risk Analyst Andrew Wei started at consumer-focused fintech company Affirm, he had zero experience in finance. But thanks to Affirm’s commitment to hiring outside the box — and his own highly transferable skill set — Wei was able to establish a new and thriving career in tech. Reflecting on his own hiring experience, he explained how the company takes action to cultivate a diverse talent pipeline and the impact he’s had on the business. 

 

Tell us a bit about Affirm’s approach to hiring and how it has impacted you personally, as well as the business and its culture. 

Affirm’s partnership with Shift, a program for helping military service members transition into the tech world, gave me an opportunity to switch careers and join a financial technology startup. The Shift program enables Affirm to bring on team members with a unique set of backgrounds and experiences. 

As a veteran, I’m able to bring my risk management and operations experience from my time in the military to my current role as a credit risk analyst at Affirm. While the field of finance is completely new to me, I’ve found that the fundamental leadership and management skills I learned while I was in the Army are just as relevant in my new role. 

Affirm’s mission is to provide access to credit to the underbanked and otherwise credit invisible, and they take the same approach to hiring by providing opportunities to nontraditional candidates and partnering with programs that bring in talent outside traditional tech hiring pipelines.
 

Our diversity and inclusion committee is active in working with our talent team to help drive activity around hiring candidates from underrepresented groups.”


How does your company ensure that employees from a diverse range of backgrounds are included in making key business decisions?

Affirm’s business is incredibly cross-functional in nature. Because of this, we consistently work with stakeholders across the entire business to gather a diverse range of feedback on key business decisions. It is not uncommon to see data scientists, engineers, financial analysts and account executives come together at Affirm to work on key business projects. 

As a growing company, hiring is naturally one of our biggest responsibilities. Our diversity and inclusion committee is active in working with our talent team to help drive activity around hiring candidates from underrepresented groups. Our focus on diversity allows us to better put ourselves in the shoes of our customers and ensure we keep their needs in mind when we make business decisions.

 

Smartly.io NYC tech diversity and inclusion in hiring
Photo via Smartly.io

To get a sense of the diversity of the team at social advertising company Smartly.io, one only needs to look at its vast global footprint. With offices scattered around the world — and dozens of nationalities represented within those offices — the Smartly.io team embodies the same diverse mix of people, perspectives and backgrounds as the very customers it serves. Hailing from Argentina is Smartly.io’s Art Director of Creative Studio Sharon Romang, who said the company’s collaborative and inclusive culture gives team members around the world a chance to speak up, be heard and do their part to move the business forward.  

 

Tell us a bit about Smartly.io’s approach to hiring and how it has impacted you personally, as well as the business and its culture. 

One of the things that I love the most about Smartly.io is the fact that we all come from absolute different cultural backgrounds. In a company of about 360 employees with 16 different offices spread around the world, there are 37 nationalities that make up this team. I am actually Argentinian and have lived in another three countries before landing in New York, so being in this type of stimulating environment is crucial for me when it comes to selecting a workplace. In my team alone, we have people from the U.S., Spain, Mexico, Finland, Singapore, Australia and Argentina. When I go to work, I don’t just learn more about our product and clients — I actually learn an incredible amount of cultural and country-specific information from my coworkers, which has helped me develop my soft skills and expand my intercultural knowledge. 

Something that I really love about Smartly.io is that every week we are encouraged to have “Lottery Lunches” with another team member who could be in your office or could easily be in another country whose timezone is 10 hours ahead of yours. This has led me to get on video calls with coworkers in Singapore, France, Finland, Brazil and more. During these calls, we typically have informal conversations to get to know everyone better, but in my experience, we always end up sharing knowledge on product learnings and experiences with clients. We have even combined forces to solve a specific technical issue and then share that knowledge with everyone else in the company. 
 

When I started working at Smartly.io, I was actually a bit shocked by how much say we, as employees, have on larger decisions affecting the whole company.”


How does your company ensure that employees from a diverse range of backgrounds are included in making key business decisions?

Previously in my career, I have worked for agencies, independent design studios and in-house studios of big corporations, where all business decisions were always made by just a few people in leadership. When I started working at Smartly.io, I was actually a bit shocked by how much say we, as employees, have on larger decisions affecting the whole company. Our company’s internal communication tool is a really good example: any relevant topic, no matter how large or small, is encouraged to be shared in public flows in order to get everyone’s feedback on the topic. I’ve seen this happen multiple times when developing our image or video template creative tools, or when picking the next platforms we are going to expand to.

Another really amazing thing is that, periodically, the whole company gets together in one specific location in the world to get aligned on the next priorities for the business. This means that all the different teams present their roadmap to absolutely everyone from all offices, and every single person is encouraged to question and give feedback on what’s being presented. This also means that our leadership is absolutely open to direct feedback from all of us on the company’s direction and next steps, which is something I find extremely unique and have never seen before.

 

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