In the Meet Team Sprout series, I’ve had the chance to introduce you to some of the people who make our team great. But how did they get to Sprout in the first place?
That’s where my team comes in. Alex Benson is a Talent Specialist who focuses on recruiting candidates for the sales organization and then supports them after they start at Sprout.
Since I get to work closely with Alex every day, I thought it would be interesting to share his insights into life at Sprout—from having the best commute in the world to what kinds of candidates catch his attention.
Name: Alex Benson
Department: Operations (Talent)
Started at Sprout: June 2014
What were you doing before Sprout?
I worked at Loyola University Chicago, my alma mater. While I was in school, I worked as a student tour guide for the admissions office. After graduation, I got a job there as an admissions counselor, reviewing applications for incoming freshmen.
After working in college admissions, what interested you about recruiting for a technology company?
I liked the idea of helping people find a fit somewhere. It may sound corny, but it’s really gratifying helping change someone’s life, and both college admissions and hiring decisions can do that. Recruiting seemed like the next step up from getting high school students into college.
Could you describe your responsibilities at Sprout?
I’m what’s called a full-lifecycle recruiter, so I work on creating pipelines of candidates for new roles, screening applicants and doing initial interviews, scheduling interviews and working with the hiring team to help decide fit and placement. It’s our goal to determine whether a candidate is a good fit for Sprout on a skill level, a cultural level and an attitude level. I focus specifically on hiring for the sales organization at Sprout.
After people join the team, I continue to provide a great deal of onboarding support. In talent, we’re the first person who people meet or get to know at Sprout. Within the first 90 or so days at Sprout, we do regular check-ins with new team members to see how they’re adjusting. The talent team prioritizes the well-being of all the people at Sprout, not only when they initially start but well after too.
In the workplace, people often became less and less happy during their tenure somewhere. We’re trying to flip that at Sprout. Justyn, Sprout’s CEO, mentioned to the talent team at one point last year that he wants our team member’s satisfaction at Sprout to grow the longer they stay. Placing an importance on the people, their well-being, pain points and satisfaction is how we hope to improve as an organization. Beyond working with employees during the initial months, I also help with a number of cultural events at the office, from getting buses loaded for The Great Sproutdoors (our annual canoe trip) to helping coordinate our annual Sproutsgiving potluck.
What are some of the challenges you face when recruiting sales professionals?
Every single sales organization is different, so determining how someone’s background and sales experience will fit with our organization is definitely a challenge. I have to be an expert on how our system works as well as how other organizations approach sales. I also have to manage expectations for people and make sure I’m being honest and upfront about a specific role. Sometimes that’s difficult when we have new jobs, and I’m not really sure how they’ll take shape, like when we first offered the Sales Development Specialist role. I do my best to give them as much information as possible and as many opportunities as possible to ask questions before they come into a new role.
You’ve recently helped recruit engineers and product managers, which is outside your normal realm. How would you describe the way our team works together?
Our team is like the three musketeers—all for one and one for all. If someone needs help, say something, and people will help you and give you the resources you need to achieve your goals. If Molly, the Technical Recruiter, needs Android engineers, I can jump in and help source Android engineers.
I say this all the time in my interviews: We take what we do very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. You’re given a lot of freedom and work ownership at Sprout, but you aren’t siloed. I know I can do my job the way I see fit, and the way I think is best for these roles, and if I need help with something, I can ask anyone else on the talent team to help out.
What’s one of the most challenging parts of your job?
Telling people no is really hard. You still want to leave someone with a positive experience, even if it isn’t the right fit at the time. Our goal is to humanize the whole process and to keep open communication with candidates as much as possible.
Are there any common traits or characteristics that help people succeed here?
Definitely. One of the senior sales leaders always says, “I can teach skills; it’s hard to teach attitude.” So coming in with the right attitude is important. We’re always changing and moving rapidly, so you have to be able to learn and adapt quickly.
Having interest in social media is important. You don’t have to be like Kim Kardashian on Twitter, but understanding why a business would want to use Twitter is important. You don’t have to personally use social media to understand the inherent need for what we do.
Fill in the blank: Work should not be ____.
Stressful. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my career so far—sometimes I feel pressure, but I should not feel stressed. Having ownership of my work is what I love the most, and that’s eliminated a lot of stress for me.
Beyond that sense of work ownership, what do you think is the secret to creating a positive culture?
Some aspects of culture happen organically, but especially at a company like Sprout that’s growing so quickly, you have to make a concerted effort to ensure your culture remains intact. Culture is like a bonsai tree—it’s very delicate, but it’s super important and super beautiful. If you maintain it and give it love, you’ll see results.
So before moving to Chicago for college, where did you grow up?
I’m from Sacramento, California. Despite living in Chicago now, it’s kind of a running joke in my life how much I like the Sacramento Kings. I have a really unhealthy love of the team. I have a mini shrine to them on my desk.
Do you have a favorite social network?
I literally have Twitter up all day. I use it for keeping up on the sports teams I like, getting news and following people in the recruiting space and technology space. I get a lot of my news and articles from Twitter.
What about offline—what are your favorite things to do outside of work?
I’m really big into biking and cycling, and I bike to work. I ride the Lakefront Trail every day, and I have one of the best commutes in the country. It’s fantastic when you’re riding south into the city, and you see the skyline with the lake next to you.
I’m also a big music fan, so I try to go to a lot of concerts—some bigger bands and some local. I go dancing pretty frequently, and there’s a great dance night I like at the Double Door called Soul Summit.
What are the last three things you read?
I read the new Mindy Kaling book, “Why Not Me?,” “Ready Player One” and “Armada” by Ernest Cline. Darryl (Sprout’s Social Media Manager) turned me on to both of those. “Armada” was really slow to get started, lots of exposition, but then all of that stuff comes back later.
Last but not least, for anyone reading who’s interested in working at Sprout, what advice can you provide?
We want people who are confident in what they’re doing and who can articulate what makes them successful. That’s particularly important in sales. When you’re interviewing, at Sprout or anywhere, treat all of your interviews like conversations. It’s kind of cliché, but you’re interviewing us as much as we’re interviewing you.
Jim Conti: Jim Conti leads Sprout Social's ambitious talent team. Affectionately known as the "Cruise Director" while in the office, Jim can be found exploring the streets of Chicago and planning his next international adventure when not growing and caring for Team Sprout. Give him a follow @SproutJim.