Boston-based startup accelerator MassChallenge recently hired their new Global Marketing and Operations Senior Director Peter Micali out of Startup Institute’s Digital Marketing bootcamp – and we wanted to find out what made this alum shine. Peter took the 8-week bootcamp to broaden his digital and technical marketing skill set, and met MassChallenge staff at a Startup Institute event. We asked Steffanie Sayce and Mary Schlegel from the MassChallenge People Strategy team, about what they look for in the MassChallenge interview process, why they appreciate bootcamp skills, and their advice to other employers thinking of hiring from a bootcamp.
Tell us about MassChallenge, what the company does, and your roles there.
Steffanie: At MassChallenge, we are the most startup-friendly accelerator on the planet. We are not-for-profit, we do not take any equity from startups which come into our accelerator programs, and the sole intent is to provide entrepreneurs with access to our mentor networks, investors, corporate partnerships, and curriculum. Entrepreneurs have access to that network at no cost to them, in the hope that it will propel them to be more successful in the long run. My title is Senior Director of People Strategy, which is equivalent to Head of HR for MassChallenge
Mary: I’m the Global Talent Developer, which in a more traditional company would be a Learning and Development specialist, so I focus on professional development and our global internship program.
How did MassChallenge first get connected with Startup Institute?
Steffanie: The Startup Institute connection to MassChallenge predates both of us – we have had a relationship with Startup Institute for the last 3 to 5 years.
It’s a multi-pronged relationship. We go to events like their Talent Expos, we hire from Startup Institute into MassChallenge, and we participate in expert panels. When Startup Institute needs experts for their panels, our whole team is quick to volunteer – because we have content experts on the marketing, career planning, and the HR side.
You recently hired Peter Micali into a Global Marketing role. Can you tell me how you got connected and about his role at MassChallenge?
Steffanie: We initially connected with Peter during a Talent Preview Day at Startup Institute. We work with an amazing account manager at Startup Institute, David, who has been really helpful in pointing us in the direction of potential talent aligned with our openings. We had a senior global marketing role that would be focused on sales enablement, content, and managing marketing operations for our partnerships team. We needed somebody who was primarily dedicated to making sure our partnerships teams had the collateral they needed to successfully talk to MassChallenge sponsors.
We connected with Peter pretty early on in the cycle. David was helpful in making the initial introduction, and then Peter was very professional, but also proactive about getting connected into our network during the interview process.
Mary: I was volunteering at a Startup Institute event about interviewing protocol, and they had a couple of HR professionals come in and do test interviews with the students. Peter jumped in and interviewed with me on the spot, then I met him again at the Talent Expo and followed up with him.
What did Startup Institute add to Peter’s resume?
Steffanie: Peter had an MBA, but what Startup Institute did was broaden his digital and technical marketing skill set. In the past, he was more of a generalist or a brand marketer, but the Startup Institute coursework seemed like it was valuable in rounding out the marketing toolkit that he had to make him as successful as he is in his partnership marketing role.
Other than through Startup Institute, how do you usually find new hires? What other channels are you using?
Steffanie: We use public job posting websites, and we have our own website career page. MassChallenge is interesting because we tend to get a lot of proactive candidates who are really committed to and inspired by our mission, our CEO, our leadership team, and the startups that we have worked with. We have a really rich network that generally provides a lot of incredible people when we have openings.
What are you looking for in a new hire?
Steffanie: We need the applicant to have the technical skills required to be successful in the job, but it’s also really important that they live and embody our guiding principles. One of our most important principles is the goal to help entrepreneurs win. The joke here is, if it’s not benefitting a startup, then you just shouldn't do it. It’s obviously an oversimplification of the decision tree, but I think there is an element of truth to it– our jobs are always about the startups first. The pace, complexity, and the volume of work at a place like MassChallenge, or at any startup, isn’t something that people are always prepared for, but definitely something that we look for throughout the interview process.
Bootcamps are relatively new – Steffanie, as the Senior Director of People Strategy, have you incorporated them into your overall hiring strategy at all?
Steffanie: To some extent, yes. Coding bootcamps are more prevalent, and we’re not aggressively hiring for our engineering team right now. When we are hiring for our tech team, we try to connect with people at meetups, who have come from similar backgrounds to a bootcamper. Sometimes that means they don’t have a traditional computer science degree, but they had a later-in-life career pivot, did a bootcamp, or became their own CEO, all of which requires a technical skill set.
I do think there is a lot of value in bootcamps, but as with any candidate source, it’s almost as important to be diverse about your candidate source as it is about diversity hiring in general. At the end of the day, you don’t want one single source of talent.
What kind of hiring process do you have? When you were hiring Peter, what kind of interviews did he go through, and how do you test for competency in a marketing interview?
Steffanie: It depends on the role. Typically, we structure our interviews as an initial phone screen, followed by an in-person interview, if possible, some kind of work project or case study in between, then a final round interview with senior leaders of the organization. That’s a very high-level skeleton of how we typically structure our interviews.
For Peter specifically, we’d already done the phone screen just by virtue of him being connected to us through Startup Institute, so it was a bit lighter. We had the round one interview where he met with entire marketing organization globally, and he got great feedback from them. Then we had him do a mini case study as part of the interview process to demonstrate the skills and chops that he’d acquired at Startup Institute. Finally, we had him meet with the senior leaders.
I think he impressed everybody. It was always about the level of professionalism, and marketing knowledge that he displayed, which is why we hired him.
Did you have to convince your company (or even yourself) to hire a bootcamp graduate?
Steffanie: Not me personally, but before I worked with Startup Institute, I did hear some rumblings that bootcamps are where people go when they are having a midlife crisis.
In my experience interviewing applicants, I think that bootcamps are more suited for people who need to refine a specific skill set. It’s not necessarily that they are having some kind of crisis of faith in their career. It’s more like, “I’ve worked in branding throughout my entire marketing experience and carved out this niche, but I’m interested in expanding into another marketing vertical.” If someone can accomplish that by joining a program like Startup Institute, and making the right connections to broaden their skill set, why wouldn’t they do it? It seems like a great educational option and an excellent benefit for future employers.
I’m interested in what you think of the Startup Institute digital marketing curriculum. Is Peter using the skills they learned at Startup Institute?
Everybody has to learn the ins and outs of a new organization when they join it, so no one can really truly prepare you for internal complexities, but Peter is definitely putting his skills to good use. He has been able to inform some of our communication strategies, particularly with partners and will soon be helping us expand the website, which is directly related to the course content at Startup Institute’s Digital Marketing track.
How does MassChallenge ensure that the new hires are supported in that way? Do you have mentoring or professional development programs in place?
Steffanie: Onboarding is a big focus area for us. Mary is almost entirely dedicated to professional development at MassChallenge, in addition to the curriculum we run for our startup members. In fact, MassChallenge staff can attend all of the Startup Bootcamp curriculum that we offer as well as having access to professional development opportunities that we provide. Startup Institute also provides a lot of opportunities for alumni to get involved, train against coursework, or come and speak as an expert on a panel. So there are a lot of different ways that we are collaborating to help support current staff and graduates from the bootcamp.
Mary: In the past, employees have found that our Startup Bootcamp curriculum is a great way to further their professional development. We also host regular professional development opportunities, on topics like project management, career development, and interviewing, so we definitely try to make sure our team members are as prepared as possible for anything they take on.
Do you have a feedback loop with Startup Institute at all? Are you able to influence their curriculum if you notice your hires are under qualified in a certain area?
Steffanie: We have a strong feedback loop. So far, we haven’t necessarily given feedback on curriculum, so much as help support Startup Institute in delivering their curriculum. Hopefully that’s a good reflection of the relevance of what they are teaching. In general, if I had any issues or if for any reason one of our hires didn’t work out, I feel like we have such a strong relationship that I could call them and tell them my concerns, and they would incorporate that feedback into the next round of courses.
Will you hire from Startup Institute in the future? Why or why not?
Steffanie: Absolutely. It’s always dependent on an applicant’s skills, and the positions we have open but, our door is always open for Startup Institute.
What is your advice to other employers who are thinking about hiring grads from a bootcamp or this bootcamp in particular?
Steffanie: Honestly, I say go for it. At worst you’re unlocking a new network of potential candidates and a new pipeline. Even if the first hire doesn’t work out, you still have access to thousands of potentially qualified people and those types of relationships are hugely valuable in talent acquisition.