Salesforce is in the midst of its biggest hiring push of the year.
From November to January, the enterprise-software giant brings on the bulk of its annual hires to prepare for the next fiscal year. And it has ample résumés to pick from. Salesforce receives over 1 million applications every year and interviews over 80,000 people for positions in its 59 offices.
But for the critical technology roles that Salesforce relies on, it is still competing for an extremely limited pool of candidates. Data science and engineering are two of the top three skills missing among job applicants across corporate America, according to a 2019 report from the Society for Human Resource Management.
To help maintain its edge, the 20-year-old company relies on its reputation as one of the most admired organizations in the world — and the clout of cofounder and co-CEO Marc Benioff, who regularly ranks high on Harvard Business Review’s list of top leaders.
The pay isn’t too shabby, either. Lead software engineers can make over $200,000 a year, while data scientists can pull in salaries topping $170,000, according to Glassdoor, which relies on self-reported data from current and former employees. And Salesforce prioritizes fair compensation. In 2018, Salesforce undertook a $10.3 million effort to adjust pay disparities between male and female workers across the enterprise after an internal analysis showed wide variation in salaries.
Companies across the globe — like State Farm, Adidas, T-Mobile, and Toyota — rely on Salesforce to manage, among other things, their customer relationships. Marriott, for example, relies on Salesforce’s platforms to manage the mountains of information from the hotel chain’s millions of customers.
But getting a job at Salesforce is hyper-competitive. Of those 1 million applicants, the company hires only about 10,000 new employees each year across its business units. With interest in the company so high, a big challenge for candidates is simply getting noticed. To stand out, potential employees need to focus on the core competencies that Salesforce’s best performers exhibit, and embody the four values that Salesforce swears by: trust, innovation, equality, and customer success.
“We want people who are going to bring us their special sparkle and who are going to shine. And the only way to do that is by truly focusing on the competencies,” executive vice president of global recruiting Ana Recio told Business Insider.
Recio has been with Salesforce since 2013, and has helped the company figure out exactly what makes the best Salesforce employees. We asked her and other top execs for their best advice to position yourself for a job at the company and nail the interview process. And because Salesforce doesn’t rely heavily on outside recruiters, according to one headhunter, these officials are the gatekeepers for aspiring employees.
Here’s what we learned.
Get your foot in the door with a referral from a current employee
At most organizations, your chances of getting a job offer are higher if you were referred by a current employee than if you weren’t. At Salesforce, your chances are much higher. Roughly 52% of new hires at Salesforce come through referrals from existing employees, according to Recio.
“My biggest advice would be to leverage your referral network,” Recio said. “Salesforce has 45,000 employees globally, and so you’re bound to know somebody here” — preferably somebody who can vouch for the quality of your work and the value you’d add to the organization.
The company has a referral program, under which employees who suggest candidates that eventually get hired are rewarded with a cash bonus. Referrals are provided unique links to apply for jobs — which are different than those on the internal job board — and the employees who recommended them are able to then track their progress through the interview process.
Many Salesforce employees also started out as interns there. Salesforce said it hires 15% of its workforce from its internship program, and those associates tend to stay at the company longer than those hired through other pathways.
Prepare for the interview by knowing the answer to 3 questions
Salesforce takes seriously its four foundational values: trust, innovation, equality, and customer success.
Equality, for example, was illustrated in founder Benioff’s opposition to an Indiana measure that would have allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBTQ patrons.
And in 2013, when Salesforce was on the verge of losing Merrill Lynch, its biggest customer at the time, leadership quickly mobilized to remedy the situation — a clear example of putting client success above all else. Top executives traversed the US to visit the wealth management firm’s various offices to learn what issues it was having and how to fix them, Benioff recounted in his recent book “Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change.”
In the hiring process, Recio and her recruiters seek candidates that exemplify the values. They ask three questions to determine whether a candidate’s values align with Salesforce’s.
What are the values that drive you?
What is your purpose?
What was your best professional day ever?
There’s no template response to these questions. Instead, Recio wants applicants to show they’re committed to something bigger than their day job, like making a positive impact on their community — a focus that comes from the top.
The company employs a model it calls “1-1-1,” where employees are encouraged to spend 1% of their time on philanthropic endeavors. Salesforce also then donates 1% of its profits and 1% of its resources to charity. But it goes beyond just outside involvement. One former employee said Salesforce looks favorably on those individuals who also get involved internally, including joining or leading employee groups.
“The whole Silicon Valley, the whole globe, is full of really talented people. And it’s individuals who think that they’re a little bit more special than the rest. That’s not going to work,” said Recio. “If you walk into a room, and you have this sense that you’re the smartest one there, you’re probably not going to have a good experience at Salesforce.”
While applicants are encouraged to talk about themselves, recruiters are watching for whether someone fails to adequately credit the team behind a major accomplishment. That means potential hires should watch how often they say “I” during interviews, a strategy that pays off at other companies as well.
Emphasize your ability to inspire a team
Based on biannual employee surveys, Salesforce learned what really makes a great leader there. Jody Kohner, Salesforce’s senior vice president of employee engagement, shared with Business Insider her key takeaway from the surveys.
The company’s best leaders don’t just make their numbers, whether that’s revenue or new client leads. Beyond that, Kohner said, “We’re able to hold managers accountable to creating teams that are enthusiastic about Salesforce and who are having a great experience.”
Specifically, those people managers cultivate psychological safety, or an environment where people feel comfortable taking risks. If you do land a leadership role at Salesforce, you can assess your own team’s level of psychological safety with five questions based on research by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, though this strategy is useful for managers at any organization.
Salesforce applies these findings in both its hiring and promotion processes. Every leadership position at Salesforce has different requirements, but if you’re applying for a people-management role, be sure to highlight the ways you’ve kept teams engaged and motivated in the past.
If you want a software developer job, learn Java
Salesforce strives to release three new products each year. To do that, it needs to keep a robust pipeline of tech talent that actually builds the offerings. This year, for example, the company rolled out a voice-assistant on its Einstein AI platform that allows employees to manage tasks like updating customer records conversationally.
The most important skill set is Java, a software-programming language that has been around for decades but remains critical due to its use in everything from applications that manage financial transactions to algorithms that automatically trade on the stock markets.
“There is never going to come a point at Salesforce that we’re going to say, ‘Oh no, we’ve got our fill, we’re all good.’ We can never have enough Java developers,” Recio said.
Artificial-intelligence developers and data scientists are also a hiring focus for Salesforce. Finding that talent, however, is increasingly difficult as much of corporate America is rushing to adopt the advanced tech and seeking experts to help develop the applications.
Over the next decade, US companies are projected to need an additional 1 million more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals, according to federal statistics.
To overcome that hurdle, Salesforce sources tech candidates through internal referrals, outside applications, and internships. During job interviews, recruiters ask applicants to solve problems that Salesforce might face to test their problem-solving skills.
Standout candidates are those who keep the customer top of mind and seek to build a roadmap to address the challenge. Recruiters want to hear candidates ask questions such as:
Who is the end user for this product?
What does success mean for the customer?
Who is the team, and what are the resources?
Who are the other stakeholders involved?
If you don’t get the job, take Salesforce’s advice and try again
Some career experts advise job candidates to request feedback from the hiring manager on why they were rejected. At Salesforce, candidates don’t even need to ask.
The company tries to make its feedback to denied applicants as beneficial as possible. It’s so effective that many of those individuals end up applying again and getting other jobs at the company, according to Recio.
Recio urges her recruiters to outline the candidates’ strengths, as well as areas where they underperformed compared to other interviewees. Recruiters also suggest courses on Trailhead, Salesforce’s online learning platform, that can boost their chances of landing another job at Salesforce down the line.
Trailhead programs are open and free to anyone, including people who don’t work at Salesforce. Professionals can take courses online and earn badges in areas like coding and data management.
From Salesforce’s perspective, it pays to spend time and energy telling applicants how to improve their candidacy.
It helps to build “an amazing relationship” with job candidates because they “took a lot of time to come and interview, prepare for Salesforce,” Recio said. She added, “Here’s the return on that investment. You spent time with us and as a result you can come away with really great objective feedback.”
Standout applicants who weren’t selected are also placed in an internal database to ensure the company stays in touch with them. Even if these people never end up working at Salesforce, they could become customers or partners in the future.
“It really is just a matter of time before you come back into the Salesforce ecosystem,” said Recio. “It’s really a responsibility to treat our candidates much like we do our customers.”
If you are a current or former Salesforce employee who would like to share your experience with the company’s hiring process, contact the reporters at [email protected] or [email protected]