Wayfair Global Head of Public Relations and Corporate Communications
Alum Jane Carpenter 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.
Jane Carpenter (COM’97) spent her undergrad years at the University of Virginia majoring in Russian studies. It may seem a far stretch from where she is today—the global head of public relations and corporate communications for the online furniture and home-goods retailer Wayfair—but she doesn’t see it that way; both, she says, require strong writing skills. She went on to earn a master’s in public relations from the College of Communication in 1997.
Carpenter has built an in-house PR team at Wayfair’s Boston headquarters that supports its portfolio of home brands, Wayfair.com, Joss & Main, AllModern, Birch Lane, and Perigold. She joined the $8 billion e-commerce company in 2012, and now oversees all external communications, including business and tech communications and crisis management.
Prior to joining Wayfair, Carpenter led the consumer practice at PAN Communications, an integrated marketing and PR firm in Boston, developing strategy and campaigns for brands like Tiffany & Co. and Mars. Earlier in her career, she led media relations for technology clients at Lois Paul & Partners (now part of Fleishman Hillard) and Schwartz Communications (now part of Publicis Groupe).
The mother of four is a board member of the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston and was recognized as a member of the PRWeek Hall of Femme in 2016, which honors trailblazers in the communications industry.
With Jane Carpenter
BU Today: How competitive is the field of marketing for new college graduates?
Carpenter: Highly competitive, especially for positions that are grounded in non-STEM areas. We see that at Wayfair—we hire a lot, but we have a high bar. We are specific about what we are looking for.
What’s interesting at Wayfair is that with our employees, we look for people that are analytical in nature, people that are really good at solving problems. E-commerce is a complex industry, so we look for analytical skills in every candidate—how you leverage data for decision-making.
You worked for several agencies before moving to an in-house PR environment. Do you recommend that students follow a similar path?
I think agencies are great for your career because they expose you to a lot of different businesses, people, business models, problems, and issues in a short amount of time. Because you are juggling several clients, you gain experience quickly. It’s a real benefit.
What are the qualities you look for in the people you hire? Are there deal breakers?
Problem-solving and initiative, for starters. If they aren’t able to push initiatives through, they won’t be valuable to our team. They need to be able to make things happen. Wayfair is a big company, so to grow quickly, you need to know the internal stakeholders, integrate well with lots of groups and teams. Everyone is busy, so we want someone who is action-oriented and able to push things through so that we are making progress.
What kinds of questions do you ask during an interview?
I like to ask interviewees to name a really challenging problem they have dealt with and how they tackled it. I ask them about a time where they used data to make an important decision, something that they worked on that didn’t turn out well, or failed, and what they learned from that. I love specific examples, not talking in broad terms, so if someone starts to tell me about what they did, I ask how they did it, for them to break it down. I want to see that they understood the steps, and that shows me if they actually did it or it was a team role.
If you’re on an interview, you should be candid about something that didn’t work, because it’s refreshing to hear that you have the ability to reflect and learn. Wayfair has a test and learn culture, which means we take smart ideas and see if they work; people are encouraged to take risks. As long as you are learning, that’s valuable to the company. Then refine that next activity.
In your experience, what are some common mistakes that young job candidates make?
This might be a silly thing, but I think you should only put your GPA on your résumé if it’s a 3.8 or higher. It’s great if you graduate with honors and you’re a straight A student, but if you are middle of the pack, 3.2, don’t put it on there.
Another mistake is not being prepped with specific examples you can talk about and not doing your homework on the company. I’m very impressed when a candidate has read up on the company, knows how people are talking about us on social media. So do your homework. I also love when a prospect comes with a recommendation, like ‘Have you ever thought of this?’ Even if we have totally thought about it, they are thinking things through, thinking, this is how I might solve it. That’s cool.
What advice would you give an employee for the first day on the job and for the first six months?
Don’t ever go into a job afraid to ask a question. You are there to learn and figure things out, so asking those questions is so valuable. It’s critical to your success. It shows that you are an inquisitive, smart person, and that you are a critical thinker. Critical thinking skills are key and crucial to problem-solving. When we interview, we’re looking for that. That is something you can’t teach someone, the ability to use data, be quantitative, be a risk-taker.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career—teacher, colleague, boss, family member—and what did you learn from that person?
My mom. She was an accomplished attorney who raised six kids. She was an expert in her field. We grew up in an area where a lot of moms didn’t work, so her working made me feel like I could do anything. I had a role model who achieved so much, built a successful career, and she was a great mom too. I have four kids and I’m working to do the same for them.
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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