When a company’s purpose has the potential to change the world, landing a job there could mean the difference between simply collecting a paycheck or collaborating with the best and brightest in an effort to transform an industry. So it is at genetic testing company 23andMe.
The company was founded in 2006, and grew quickly. In 2013, the FDA restricted it from selling its DNA test for anything other than to determine ancestry (because it was considered an unapproved medical device). But, Iast year, the FDA consented to let 23andMe restore some of its health reports. The company also started partnerships with Genentech, Procter & Gamble, and Target; launched an in-house drug-development program; and raised $115 million in a Series E round. 23andMe is also partnering on cutting-edge genetic research, as well as tapping its customer base to conduct a comprehensive study of how our DNA could affect weight loss. More recently, they got FDA approval for a genetic cancer risk test.
At the forefront of this growth is 23andMe’s founder Anne Wojcicki, who’s been called “the most daring CEO in America” by Fast Company. Yet what most people don’t know is that the company isn’t only helmed by a woman, but that its workforce of about 450 employees is evenly split between men and women and over 50% of its leadership roles (heads of research, regulatory, privacy, comms, ops, and more) are filled by women. This is rare in many companies, but even more so in its home base of Silicon Valley. And they’re hiring.
23andMe’s vice president of people Mark Lipscomb tells Fast Company that they’re aiming to add nearly 200 people this year. But the growth and surge in popularity means it won’t be easy to land a spot there. Jennifer Mease, the company’s recruiting manager says that in 2017, over the course of the year, 23andMe received around 30,000 resumes. “In just in the last two months, we’ve already received about almost 20,000 applications,” she says.
Here is what they tell us about the ideal candidate regardless of the position.
Mease says that the company is starting to use an automated applicant tracking system to facilitate the first screening of candidates, in addition to traditional recruiters. “If the recruiter thinks that the candidate could be a good fit for the role, the hiring manager takes a look,” she explains, “If they approve the resume, then we arrange a phone interview.”
It Might Help If You Get Your DNA Tested Before The Interview
That first phone interview is a basic behavioral interview with a combination of questions on role-related knowledge and skills to see if they meet the minimum qualifications and requirements. But Mease notes that other questions have to do with 23andMe’s core values, and making sure that this person would fit in well, and demonstrate a mission-driven mind-set. “We don’t expect them to necessarily know what DNA stands for, although we hope they do,” she quips, “but maybe pull out their biology textbook, and how our business is interconnected, and what we’re doing in this space.”
Lipscomb says that a true standout will get their DNA tested. “Not that we’re trying to sell more kits to our candidates, but if they’ve got a story to share, they showed an interest in what the mission of the company is by actually becoming a customer,” he says, adding that can actually happen at any point between that first phone screen to onsite interviews. Alternately, says Mease, if a friend or family member has been tested, and they’ve seen it positively affect someone in their life, be sure to share those stories.
Don’t Expect The Typical Interview Questions
Mease says she’s been training interviewers to ask questions that really assess a candidate’s ability to learn and adapt and innovate–those don’t necessarily include telling about weaknesses or where you see yourself in five years. “The goal of the interview is to hopefully have candidates show how they would actually respond to a situation, versus an easily rehearsed and practiced answer,” she says.
Lipscomb says that for him, one of the most important points a candidate can make is to tell why they are interested in working there. “I was interviewing an executive candidate not too long ago,” he recalls, “and the executive’s actual answer was now that you guys just had another round of fundraising, clearly you are going somewhere.” From there, says Lipscomb, the conversation went to valuation of the company and the potential share price. “That’s not the motivation for you to be here,” he contends, “We want you here because you want to help revolutionize healthcare, you want to help empower consumers.”
Be Able To Work Through A Problem On The Spot
Mease admits that she’ll sometimes throw out a current challenge that the company’s facing, specific to people operations, and ask them how they would approach it. “I’m not necessarily looking at the exact content of their answer,” she points out, “but more around their structure and thought process and what they’re considering.”
Don’t Be Afraid To Say You Don’t Know
There are always some jitters going into an interview. Especially if you think this is your dream job and the stakes are pretty high and you really want to make a good impression. So, sweaty palms notwithstanding, Mease and Lipscomb say that someone who really is super enthusiastic, but also really kind of nervous shouldn’t be afraid to be authentic.
“Whoever’s sitting across from you wants you to do well,” Mease says. ” I would say just be humble, and be curious. It’s okay not to have the answer,” she adds. No one is expecting a job seeker, especially a more junior level candidate, to come in as an expert. But if a new grad, or someone junior in their career demonstrates curiosity, and an interest to know for the right reasons, it’s a good sign. “It’s just important that someone walks in here open to learning, and not pretending like they have all the answers,” says Mease.
Ask Unexpected Questions
“It’s amazing, honestly, how many people will say, ‘I don’t have any questions.’ It’s such a missed opportunity,” says Lipscomb, “For me, it also just shows you probably just don’t care.”
23andMe has about 12 years of history, he points out, so there’s a lot to read out there. And Wojcicki’s TEDtalks are accessible, too. Lipscomb says when he was interviewing and preparing to meet with her, he watched about 10 talks she gave. “I joked with her about it,” he recalls, but it should go beyond having a story based on something you experienced about the company. “A lot of [managers here] love when people actually give us feedback about the business, or they have thoughtful questions,” he says. If they just ask questions that can be discovered clicking around on their website, it’s a potential strike.
Says Mease, “I would encourage that person to just not be afraid to have big ideas.” She says that a pioneering company like 23andMe wants employees to come to have goals for themselves or the company.
Adds Lipscomb, “Just because you’re interviewing for that specific role, that’s your functional hat. Put on your CEO hat, and think about the whole business.” He suggests candidates come with ideas for the whole business. “It’s such a complex, rich business that I think there’s a lot of opportunity for candidates, and new hires, and everybody to think beyond just their own functional area of discipline, and try to think about the future of 23andMe.”