Alum Jonathan Orrala offers career advice
In our series “Jump-start Your Job Search,” BU Today brings you short interviews with BU alums who are leaders in their fields, such as banking, advertising, tech start-ups, journalism, or nonprofit organizations. They talk about how they got to be where they are and what they’ve learned from their mistakes. They tell us what they look for when hiring and offer advice for those just embarking on a career.
As a pre-med student at Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences, Jonathan Orrala (Sargent’13) wouldn’t have seemed a natural pick to become a corporate recruiter. But he’s found a passion (and an unusual use for his University education) in that role. Since July, he’s been an internal recruiter for SalesForce, a company that provides a social media and cloud platform connecting businesses with their customers. He advises company employees hoping for a promotion or a different job at the firm. He came to the company after stints as a recruiter for Adidas and J.Crew.
“At J.Crew, I found external talent to come and work at the corporate office in New York,” Orrala says, while at Adidas, he was a campus recruiter, working with colleagues globally to build “an inclusive and streamlined internship and future talent program” at the firm’s North American headquarters in Portland, Ore. His current position helping SalesForce promote internal talent, he says, “is empowering and rewarding. I don’t think the industries have made a difference in my job, but then again, each of my roles has been so different that I’d rather just look at culture ‘add’ than culture ‘fit’ when hiring.”
with Jonathan Orrala
BU Today: How did you get interested in becoming a corporate recruiter?
Orrala: I find myself waking up some days and thinking, will today be the day that I open up a coffee shop and sell empanadas? Leaving Sargent College with pre-med requisites under my belt and a newfound interest in public health, I was looking to find what exactly gave me joy. I grew up knowing of only three jobs—doctor, engineer, or lawyer. I did find making connections exciting, and that’s essentially what human resources is: making human connections. I had a family friend who was working at a temp recruiting agency, and I thought, well, I’m supposed to be networking, right? I met with her, and our conversation led to me learning more about her position and what recruiters do. I can get paid for finding other people jobs, and that potential joy? Sold.
How competitive is the field for new college graduates?
Not competitive at all. Take a look at LinkedIn. There are numerous roles with talent acquisition that are looking for bright, emotionally intelligent individuals waiting to break into a human connection–type role. There are so many technical skills that new college graduates can bring to talent acquisition—from organizational development with a psychology, sociology, or education degree to a data analytics degree for [working in corporate] operations. There is a hunger to make the workplace a more inclusive and welcoming space from the start, and that boils down to hiring and retaining talent.
What qualities do you seek in people you hire, and what are the deal breakers?
I am really drawn to thinkers, emotionally intelligent individuals, and those who are real at the end of the day. I don’t need you to make small talk or try to make a connection with me, because that starts going down a rabbit hole of implicit bias. I’d rather find individuals who can story-tell their hunger, talk about why they are looking to make a move, and give me a glimpse of who they are as a human. Do not knock your passions and interests. I love learning about that, and even if you don’t hike, travel, or do slam poetry on the side, there is something to one’s own natural curiosity and being able to comfortably share that. Hard deal breaker: vagueness. If it’s anything I learned throughout my time in those chemistry labs, it’s that there is a lot of merit to record-keeping, and that’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking for what you did, not what you “sort of” did. Always walk me through scenarios step-by-step.
What questions do you ask job candidates during an interview?
I really like to ask questions that will give me the ability to see how someone thinks and problem-solves. “Why did you choose X university/college?” Truth and integrity go a long way. Maybe it was the most financially conscious university or they are the fifth-generation college student to go to that alma mater.
Then I ask, “What do you like about the university, and how have your first two years been?” I’m listening to what they are most passionate and excited about. I follow up with, “What are two things about your university that you would change and why?” This tells me if they are emotionally invested and challenges them to think about pain points as a means of motivation.
Last, I ask, “If you had the chance to solve one of those things, regardless of resources, what would be your first plan of action?”
I could give you exactly what I’m looking for in their answers, but where’s the fun in that?
Are there common mistakes young job applicants tend to make?
Yes. Titles and leveling. Some fun companies have great roles that might have “director” or “manager” in that title, but be realistic about what you’re bringing to the table in terms of experience. Cross-compare roles at many different companies and organizations to get a feel for what makes sense to apply for. LinkedIn is an amazing resource to create organizational charts for yourself and have a better understanding of the hierarchy in a company. Medium.com is also a great journal-type blog where employees are real and you can get a feel for what they do or are passionate about. Then, go and find them on LinkedIn and find out what their title is.
What advice would you give an employee for the first day on the job, and for the first six months?
Become a historian. There are going to be pain points, opinions, processes, and values that have been there in the organization for however long, and it can be empowering to learn about all of them to better understand where employees are coming from. Be curious and learn from those who have been there and who’ve created what the job is today. Then, create a game plan and work toward becoming an expert in your field and [being] held accountable for your actions.
What mistakes have you made in your career, and what did you learn from them?
A ton, including not being able to communicate properly to a room full of salespeople (they ate me alive, as any shark would). What I’ve learned from my mistakes is that I’m someone that people depend on, and I’ve needed to embrace that power rather than be lax about it. I’ve found it rewarding when I work with business partners and they ask me for advice, because it holds me accountable to find information and communicate it back to them so they understand. Figuring out everyone’s communication style has definitely been a learning curve: I’ve really only learned through failure—rinse and repeat.
Who most influenced your career—family member, teacher, coworker, boss—and what did you learn from them?
My older sister. We grew up in a nontraditional US family with parents who immigrated to this country from Ecuador. We both faced corporate America headfirst, and with her being older, I learned through her successes and failures. She’s taught me to go with my gut, but to also be realistic. I find myself calling her up when I’m facing something unknown, and she calls me when she needs to learn why processes are hard. I guess we lean on each other, but she’s definitely influenced me to be a bit stronger and to take care of my own career and destiny.
Are you an alum who would like to be interviewed for BU Today’s “Jump-start Your Job Search” series? Email John O’Rourke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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