The post-Covid jobscape is a whole new frontier for candidates of color looking to break into the new market. This is especially true for those hoping to join highly competitive companies. Though finding a job at larger companies seems daunting, it’s not impossible. Theo Burton, a talent manager and Diversity Ambassador at Amazon, has a solid piece of advice for candidates: “Life is short. Nowadays you can’t be afraid to rub with people the wrong way. Just get out there, handle yourself in a professional manner and keep it moving.”
Theo is the real deal when it comes to talent acquisition. The recruiting veteran has over a decade of leadership and talent recruitment experience. His experience has taken him to recruiting roles at Robert Half International, and he was an early adopter employee at LinkedIn before landing at Amazon five years ago. Since his tenure began, he’s moved from consumer talent recruitment into a head HR recruiter role. So, he’s on the team that recruits the recruiters! Needless to say, he knows what he’s talking about.
Since the pandemic began, Theo has experienced his busiest season yet, most notably after forging a new position as Diversity Ambassador. Since beginning this new role, Theo’s focus has been creating authentic opportunities for Black candidates to launch their careers at Amazon. What he loves most about his role as a recruiter is being able to connect Black job seekers with their dream position. “The most rewarding part of my job is that I find people jobs,” he says.
AfroTech sat down with Theo to get his insights into how recruiters think and to learn his top tips for candidates to not only get their foot in the door at Amazon, but to get the right people to sit up and take notice.
1. Look to your network. According to Theo, 40% of new hires come from referrals. This is huge when you think about the size of the company and the level of opportunity that creates for hopefuls. Whether it’s a sorority/fraternity group or social or professional connections you’ve made along the way, having a network can get you places. Tapping into your community is a key to job hunting success. Theo’s advice: “I would start right at the warmest point — universities, fraternities, sororities — and hopefully try to reach out there. But that’s just half the battle. Once your resume is in the pile, the rest is up to you.”
2. Put yourself out there. Candidates who are looking to make connections but don’t know where to start must get involved in the industry. Theo suggests attending conferences and industry events so you can get to know others and throw your name in the mix. These are also outstanding occasions for gaining valuable industry experience. Check out university events, or just keep a pulse on the industry to find out what events — virtual or otherwise — you can attend.
3. Do your research. If you’ve been in the game for a while, or even if you are just starting out, a pro tip for putting together your resume is to do your homework on the type of position you are hoping to land. This could mean perusing job sites or looking directly into the company, if you have one in mind. For Amazon, that means taking a deep dive into their Careers site and looking at the options that most closely align with your skillset. The next step? Investigate the keywords that align with your dream job and make sure they get into your resume to get the recruiter’s attention. In short, let your keywords be your guide.
4. Lead with measurable results. One of the biggest mistakes candidates can make when applying is not taking into consideration the scale and scope of their responsibilities at a previous role. Many candidates are looking to level up but sometimes forget to consider that their previous role required different results than the prospective role might, even if the title is the same. “It goes back to your ownership within your current company,” Theo says. “Amazon will look at those factors, because there are going to be times where you’re going to have to take things from start to finish.” Your best bet is to clearly demonstrate measurable results from previous roles in your resume and in the interview, and that way, your recruiter can best match you with the right position within the company.
5. Connect with decision makers. Reaching out to hiring managers can be nerve-wracking, especially when a coveted job hangs in the balance. But the truth is people hire who they see. And just attempting to establish that connection to recruiters can yield huge advantages.
Theo backs this up: “I will say that I’ve made hires from a lot of people who have just reached out and messaged me directly on LinkedIn.” And while he acknowledges that it depends on the recruiter, most are very open to connect with potential candidates. Especially when a candidate of color is trying to establish that connection. “Being a Black person who can connect to another Black person, as a recruiter, I like being able to bridge that gap.”
6. Come into the interview prepared. Once you make it to the interview, you’ve got a chance to impress hiring managers with how you’ve prepared yourself to meet the moment. When preparing for an interview, you should always make sure to be well versed in the technical and relational aspects of the position you are applying for, but remember to stay agile and open-minded. Theo says, “I think one of the things people may not know about Amazon is that we hire people but not always necessarily for the job that they were interviewing for. It’s a very non-cliche way of doing things.” At Amazon, candidates might start in one position, then move to another within a few years, which is one of the reasons it’s always looking for multifaceted talent. So be prepared to show off your brilliance. The right people will notice.
7. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. One of the biggest hurdles for candidates — especially Black and Brown candidates — is making sure to negotiate for the right salary after receiving an offer. “I think sometimes we feel that after we’ve made it this far, we don’t want to rock the boat,” Theo says. “I think that’s a myth. Never short yourself. Ask for what you want. The only thing they can say is no, or counter.” Keep in mind that there’s always a chance to negotiate, and most companies are expecting it, so beginning that conversation won’t negatively impact the offer. If you’re in doubt, make sure to connect with your recruiter to learn what the “best foot forward” offer might be, so that way you get an honest idea of what they are offering. This does two things: allows you to get a genuine idea of what the position entails and gives you a good idea of when to accept the limits as a starting point.
8. Keep in mind that follow-up is a good thing. Once candidates have the interview down, the next step is to follow up with the hiring team. This step is crucial, because sometimes even great candidates fall off the radar in the fast-paced process. A good amount of time is generally two days after the phone screen and five days after the on-site interview. That way you stay fresh in the hiring team’s mind and also allow some time for all sides to take the candidacy into real consideration.
9. Manage your expectations. When looking forward to hearing a final hiring decision, keep in mind that the hiring process takes time. From the initial virtual screening to the intake process and down to the rounds of interviews with recruiters and team members, there are a lot of aptitudes that hiring managers are looking to fulfill. According to Theo, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” It’s important to stay motivated and be ready to show off those technical and higher-order thinking skills. Ultimately, both sides are looking to find the best fit.
10. Lean in to your power. One of the biggest things for candidates of color to keep in mind when applying for a position is that right now is a great moment to break into the industry. From an historical context, it makes sense why many job seekers are hesitant to flex their muscle in the job market, and this post-Covid economy isn’t looking very encouraging, either. But the contrary is true. “Many candidates are extremely underestimating their power right now, just by being diverse. Being in the mix now is easier than it was before.” While the market remains competitive, many companies are ramping up their efforts to attract and recruit candidates of color, so it’s a great moment for us to lean into that.
Learn more about the opportunities at Amazon, and reach out and connect.
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Amazon.