Tech companies are chock-full of engineers and data scientists, but Facebook’s Liz Wamai will be the first to tell you there are plenty of opportunities for non-coders to have long, successful careers in the technology industry. As the director of recruiting for Facebook’s COO and CFO organizations, she is responsible for hiring talent across a dozen departments, including marketing, sales, policy, recruiting and sourcing, accounting, and media—all of which are just as important to the company as its technical teams.
Here, Wamai—who previously worked in recruiting at Bloomberg, Merrill Lynch, and Credit Suisse, with a focus on increasing diversity—shares why she thinks resumes are more important than cover letters, how applicants can stand out from the crowd, and what qualities are necessary to succeed at Facebook.
How did you end up working in recruiting?
I was born and raised in Kenya and, after two years of working as a travel consultant in Nairobi, I moved to New York City in 1996 for business school. While in school, I was hired as an HR intern at The New York Times, which sparked my interest in talent management. I saw a newspaper ad in the Times for a recruiting analyst position at Goldman Sachs and, having always been interested in the financial services industry, decided to apply. I got the role and started as an analyst in university recruiting, and eventually moved to diversity recruiting. I spent 15 years in investment banking navigating opportunities across HR before taking on the head of recruiting role at Bloomberg, which gave me the opportunity to be involved in the fintech industry.
What led you to your job at Facebook?
After six years at Bloomberg, I took a year off to travel the world and get more involved with two nonprofits in Africa (African Leadership Network and Ongoza). I knew I wanted the next chapter in my career to be in the tech field and preferably in the Bay Area, so when an executive recruiter at Facebook reached out to me near the end of my gap year, I was very happy to take the call. Facebook is a company I had been following for some time as its mission to build community and bring the world closer together resonated deeply with me. Facebook’s apps, specifically WhatsApp, helped connect my family and friends who are spread out around the world. The role, head of business recruiting, aligned in a pre-destined way with my fintech and investment banking background. I joined the company in San Francisco and have advanced my career since that time.
What does an average day at the office look like for you?
I am an early bird and normally get to the office at 7 AM after grabbing a large Philz coffee (“Julie’s Ultimate” please). I tend to skip breakfast because I am on this intermittent fasting kick and don’t eat between 8 PM and 12 PM the next day. I spend the first hour planning my day, preparing for meetings, or responding to messages and emails.
Because my role is global, the next two hours are often carved out for catchups with regional counterparts. The balance of my day is spent on 1:1s with my direct reports and meetings with cross-functional partners or clients. With the intermittent fasting kick, I am famished by noon and love to check out what’s on the menu at one of our excellent cafeterias. I almost always end up with the ramen soup and a salad.
Every now and then, I will attend team-building or recruiting events in the evenings, but I am typically home by 6 PM. I will get a hike or some exercise in, have dinner with my partner Don, spend time with the dogs, check email or messages for any important or urgent items, and get in bed by 10 PM.
What is the hardest part about your job?
We have aggressive hiring targets at Facebook. Roles can be niche and, occasionally, we are recruiting for a profile or skill set for the first time. While that is challenging, we have a team of recruiters who are highly resourceful and able to identify that specialized talent through various tools at their disposal and their own ingenuity. For example, we have hired policy experts and security, media and, entertainment professionals in areas that the team had never recruited for before.
The hardest part of my role is managing people and “meeting them where they are"—knowing what motivates each team member and tapping into their differences in a nuanced and respectful way. Some people are motivated by aggressive targets, others by working on different projects, others by private and/or public recognition. Getting to know what drives my leadership team and marshaling this knowledge towards meeting our collective team goals is challenging, yet, also, the most rewarding part of my job.
Besides checking off specific job requirements, what qualities do you look for in talent?
Agility, resilience, and the ability to collaborate. Facebook is a fast-paced, dynamic, and constantly changing environment, and success requires agility in thought and approach—and those who can inspire, motivate, and lead through change are successful here. Can you pivot your thinking and approach when the job you were hired to do gets a 10x investment because it rapidly goes from a low-level priority to a top one?
Resilient leaders see these challenges as opportunities to build new solutions, from processes to sales and marketing capabilities to strategic frameworks. And in doing so, there are a wide range of internal stakeholders whose input is valuable and needed for product or strategy. Can you influence and navigate the cross-functional nature of our teams, requiring you to build relationships and, at times, reimagine your strategy and execution because of factors outside of your team? I’ve heard from executives we’ve hired that this type of collaboration is more important at Facebook than at any other company they have worked at before.
What types of roles are you hiring for right now?
One area I’m currently concentrating on is our recruiting organization. The company is in high-growth mode and in order for Facebook to prepare for its future, we need to have recruiters, sourcers, coordinators, recruiting leads, and managers who know how to build teams. We are looking for people—both across the U.S. and internationally (especially London and Dublin!)—eager to take on a challenge, who know how to find great tech talent, and who want to grow their careers during an exciting time for our company.
When considering an application, how much weight does your team put on a cover letter versus a resume?
In most cases, we put very little, if any, weight on a cover letter, except if the role has a writing component in the job description because it’s a chance to get a feel for the candidate’s communication skills. I will read a cover letter or intro email if it is of reasonable length (a few short paragraphs) and if the experience in the resume is on-point with the roles my team is hiring for. I do this to assess communication skills and connection to Facebook’s mission, as well as to gain a better understanding of the applicant’s background before an initial screen. If a resume lacks the requisite skills and background for the role, I will often reject it without reading the cover letter. In other words, resume is top priority.
I personally advise friends or acquaintances in the job market to avoid cover letters. My recommendation is to focus time and energy on submitting the best resume possible that aligns to the role they are applying for.
What are the biggest mistakes people make when applying for a job at Facebook?
Applying to too many roles, thus appearing unfocused or desperate in their search or career direction. Not reviewing the minimum qualifications or job description in detail to ensure they meet the qualifications and understand the roles and responsibilities listed. And this sounds so basic, but making typos like grammatical and formatting errors.
What can applicants do to catch your attention?
The candidates who impress me the most tend to be those who have gone above and beyond in understanding the role they are applying for and its impact at Facebook. They have taken time to read up on their interview panel and ask specific and well-researched questions about how the role they are interviewing for interacts with the team.
What is the candidate experience like at Facebook?
The applicant process will vary somewhat depending on role and function, but typically after we receive an application and it makes it past the initial resume review, there is a phone screen with a recruiter or sourcer. Sometimes there is a phone screen with a hiring manager, followed by interviews with a panel of people from the same department or cross-functional partners who will interact with the person in that role. A “hire" or “no hire" decision is made shortly after we receive feedback from the interviewers. On average it usually takes about 90 days from when a role opens to when an offer is received and accepted.
Diversity in hiring is an issue that the tech industry has struggled with for a long time. How do you approach recruiting with diversity in mind at Facebook?
As a woman of color and someone who has spent a large part of my professional career in diversity recruiting, it is important to me that the team and the company I work for lives by its values. At Facebook, diversity is critical to our success as a company. People from all backgrounds rely on Facebook and its family of apps to connect with others, and we will better serve their needs with a more diverse workforce.
For all the roles that my team recruits for at Facebook, we aspire to have a diverse slate of qualified candidates interviewed before a hiring decision is made, which entails sourcing across different industries to make sure we have combed the market for available qualified talent. Over my last three years at Facebook, I have seen leadership’s commitment manifested through this diverse slate approach. Our annual diversity report also demonstrates this commitment.
What do you love most about working in recruiting?
I love the exposure to people from different and unique backgrounds, including candidates, hiring managers, and cross-functional partners across Facebook. As an immigrant who has worked in different industries and countries, I love the diversity that our products and apps engender.
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