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Shopify, the e-commerce powerhouse known for creating technology that enables merchants and entrepreneurs to easily set up online stores, had a big 2020.
The Ottawa-based company nimbly launched new products as the world went into lockdown, aiming to help business owners affected by the pandemic swiftly transition to online sales. It grew revenue by 86% year over year to reach $2.9 billion for 2020. At the same time, gross merchandise volume — or the total sales conducted on the platform — rose 96% in 2020 to reach $119.6 billion.
In May 2020, the company announced it was going “digital by default,” meaning that all 5,000-plus employees can be fully remote indefinitely. And in November 2020, the platform that powers brands like Allbirds and Kylie Cosmetics posted its biggest Cyber Monday traffic and sales ever.
The growth is continuing into 2021: Shopify plans to double its engineering team by hiring more than 2,000 new technical roles this year. At the same time, it is aiming to make some key leadership hires as three members of its C-suite plan to depart in the coming months.
What does it take to land a job at Shopify? To get a better picture of the company’s hiring process and what they look for, Insider spoke with Tammy Connelly, director of talent acquisition, Prasanna Ranganathan, diversity and belonging lead, and Kiana Mohseni, director of engineering.
Together, these three employees offer insight into what a strong application looks like, how to prepare for interviews, what experiences they’re looking for, and how to use the interview process to get to know the company.
Here’s what we learned.
Consider how you align with the company’s mission
Shopify’s mission is to “make commerce better for everyone.” That’s not just a phrase the company put on its website never to be mentioned again — the team considers it foundational to its hiring practices.
“In order to deliver on that mission, we really need to hire and retain folks that are engaged, passionate, and excited to solve the problems we’re solving,” Tammy Connelly, director of talent acquisition, said.
That doesn’t mean that an applicant needs to have a background in commerce or retail. In fact, Shopify doesn’t even ask for resumes as a part of its online application process. Ranganathan had not worked in commerce or tech before joining the company.
“I was a human rights lawyer for 13 years,” Ranganathan said. But during his own interview process, Ranganathan saw that industry experience wasn’t a necessity. Rather, Shopify was looking for candidates with experience “making an impact in their respective careers and their respective professions. People who are passionate about the work they did.”
Ranganathan’s passion for diversity and inclusion within the legal profession, judicial appointments process, and policing demonstrated his ability to succeed at the company.
Shopify describes itself as “merchant obsessed,” but Connelly said experience with merchants is less important to them than the “obsessed” part. Shopify wants to hire people who get passionate about the problems they’re trying to solve. To that end, Connelly said, each role has a unique set of questions asked during the initial online application, which the company spends more time looking at than screening resumes. “Those are something to spend more time on,” Connelly said.
The company does have a fast-paced and dynamic culture, with an emphasis on those who can self-motivate and adapt quickly. Connelly said that for that reason, they look for “predictors of success” during the hiring process — indicators that someone would do well in a fast-moving company and can get excited about what they’re working on.
“It’s not about coming in and fitting in with the Shopify culture,” Connelly said. “It’s about how you can succeed and thrive in a very fast-paced, changing environment, where we’re focused on solving some really exciting global problems relating to entrepreneurship and commerce.”
Prepare for the Life Story interview by taking stock of your past experiences
Shopify has a unique aspect of its hiring process called the Life Story interview. This informal interview gives the candidate a chance to walk the Shopify team through their formative experiences in their career and personal life.
“One of the biggest things that we want to encourage folks to do is to include all aspects of their story,” Connelly said. “It’s why we call it a life story and not a career story. Maybe they’ve been running a side business. Don’t be afraid to take us on little tangents.”
Connelly said that often those outside-of-work endeavors can tell the hiring team even more about a potential hire than their career experience. Connelly said that she shared her experience being a mom to twins during her Life Story interview. The Shopify team later told her it was a big factor in identifying that she had a growth mindset that would help her succeed at the company.
“A lot of people don’t think they should share that,” she said. “We’re here to create more entrepreneurs in the world, and make commerce better for everyone. When you think about that as a mission — if somebody is exploring a passion, a side hustle, that’s essentially our entire merchant base.”
How should you prepare for the Life Story interview? Connelly said not to overdo it. They’ve seen people come in with scrapbooks or PowerPoints then get caught up in presenting and selling some aspect of themselves, and they can’t be as present in the moment. Think of your preparation more as taking stock of your past experiences and thinking about what has been most formative to who you are.
“There’s just so much you can talk about,” Mohseni said. “So I had to think about: what are the pieces of my life that are relevant that I want to bring to the table? Going beyond the companies that I had worked for and the roles I had played. You are the expert in who you are.”
Brush up on your technical skills
Although Shopify emphasizes soft skills during the interview process, it’s also a company that requires technical skills. If you’re applying for a technical role, like engineering, Mohseni said it’s important to brush up on your skills.
“I was interviewing for a director of engineering position and I had to go through a peer programming session,” she said. Mohseni doesn’t do any programming in her day-to-day job, but said it was important to demonstrate that she can read and understand code, and has a strong enough technical background to be able to make executive decisions on engineering, so she studied up before her interview.
Mohseni said engineering roles also have a systems design interview, where the interviewee presents past projects they’ve worked on and explains their role in the project. Mohseni said she took time to look at her portfolio of work and pull out the best examples and prepare speaking points.
“It pays off to take the time to prepare for those questions,” she said. “What are the highlights of your career that you want to talk about and how are you going to present it?”
Give yourself permission to be yourself and interview the company, too
Interviewing can feel like running a gauntlet, in which you hold your breath and do your best not to make any missteps along the way. But Mohseni said it was helpful for her to use interviewing as a way to get an inside look at the company and see if it was a match, instead of blindly jumping through hoops.
“My interviewers really closed the deal for me because they were smart. There’s a lot of trust that comes through. There’s a lot of passion and obsession for what we do,” she said. “Compared to a lot of other company cultures I’ve been exposed to it felt like I would really enjoy working with this group of people.”
Mohseni said that her interviewers also left plenty of time at the end of each interview for her to ask questions, which she felt showed they cared about her understanding of the company and the role. And the talent recruiter she worked with along the way wasn’t just a contact who set up interviews, she helped demystify the process along the way and help Mohseni prepare for each step.
“I felt like she was my partner in representing myself in the best possible way. And she was rooting for me, she was my champion. I felt totally supported by her.”
Shopify sees the hiring process as an extension of the company culture. One of the first projects Ranganathan worked on after he joined the company in 2019 was a diversity-and-belonging audit of the hiring process, which looked at mitigating bias and removing barriers for underrepresented communities in tech.
“Culture is the sum of our beliefs and behaviors,” Ranganathan said. “Culture comes alive in every single exchange between individuals and teams at the company and has the potential to impact our culture. Culture is alive in the interviews that people are going through.”
Mohseni said that since arriving she’s been impressed with the representation she sees when she looks around at meetings, and that the company places a big emphasis on diversity. That is yet another reason Mohseni said it’s important to just be yourself when interviewing.
“My advice to candidates would be: do your work beforehand, think about all the key highlights that you want to bring, do all your homework about what the position is looking for and what have you done in the past, and be prepared to talk about it,” she said. “But then really just relax and be yourself, because I think you might do yourself an injustice by trying too hard to fit in, or to stand out.”