Cisco, the information technology (IT) and networking giant, is undergoing a transformation. Well known for its hardware and components, the company is moving toward more software as a service (SaaS) and subscription models of doing business, says Jill Larsen, senior vice president of human resources at Cisco.
Larsen says the company gets hundreds of thousands of applicants for the roughly 14,000 jobs it fills annually. And while it can be tough to stand out from the crowd, she shares some insights about what makes some prospective employees particularly memorable.
Beyond the obvious resume essentials like proofing for typos and grammar mistakes and scrubbing meaningless words and phrases, Larsen looks for the ability to communicate concisely. “One of the things we’re really trying to do is simplify at Cisco, so we do a lot with email and [collaboration] technology,” she says. Being able to get to the point in writing and speaking is seen as a strength, because those tools are built around the way people communicate.
Networking is also important. Larsen says Cisco makes use of employees to recommend possible hires, so working your contacts at the company, like most places, can be an advantage.
In a sea of applicants, “Creativity is huge for us,” Larsen says. And while one person’s creativity is another’s “Wait—what?” moment, Larsen says that candidates who can show they’re innovative thinkers go to the head of the line. One candidate showcased his skills in a mock cooking video. One dish represented an ability to communicate, and another represented how he works across teams. When people take the time to create something like that, it shows that they really want to work for Cisco, she says.
As Cisco moves toward more software-based models, the pace in many areas has picked up, Larsen says. HR and hiring managers are looking for people who have worked in agile environments and are comfortable with fast-paced work cultures.
The company also values an ability to use mobile technology and be comfortable with remote work—walking the walk of the company’s products that foster collaboration. Because the company looks for “skill and experience wherever it exists,” which isn’t always near a Cisco site, they want people who can be productive wherever they are. She looks for indicators that the candidate is organized, self-disciplined, and reliable.
Another aspect of agility is an ability to deal with change. Because of the company’s shifting focus, there are many dynamic teams. You may be a part of multiple teams that shift quickly. “Folks have to have a level of confidence and self-awareness that goes beyond their hierarchical manager,” she says. “That’s not for everyone.”
Cisco is a company with many different types of careers, and they want to help develop people to grow within the company, Larsen says. Think about your vision for your career and how that fits with Cisco’s business lines, places of business, and other elements. “Because we’ve acquired a lot of different startup companies, if people want that experience, they can have that experience. If people want something that’s potentially a little more predictable, they can have that as well,” she says.
That requires digging in and learning about Cisco’s many business lines. Being able to answer the question “Why Cisco?” in a meaningful way is another interview component Larsen weighs heavily. If you’ve done your homework, some areas of the company should excite you and inspire a vision for how you fit in.
If you want to work at Cisco, you’re probably going to have to show a few warts. Larsen likes to hear about the times that things didn’t work out as planned—and how you dealt with it. “We talk a lot about experiences that people have in which they failed or dealt with conflict,” she says. Asking about failures tells you a lot about the person and how they react in difficult circumstances, she says.
Cisco has a commitment to philanthropy and prizes employees who give back in their communities. Be sure to mention how you’re involved with charities, causes, and your community. The company offers time off and even a sabbatical to foster such engagement, so it looks for candidates who will make the most of those opportunities, Larsen says. “It’s a huge part of the benefit we offer, that’s why it’s such a big focus for us,” she says.