Diversifying Pathways: 2021 Recruiting

Shanice Smith is a college student studying Emerging Media Technology at CUNY New York City College of Technology.

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to speak on a student panel at the URx Global Leaders Summit to address my experiences in remote recruitment and internships. Excited to make a difference, I jumped at the chance to bring my whole self to the conversation. One of the last questions asked was about my worries for 2021, and there’s no better way than I can describe the time we’re living in than as a moment.

It’s strange to refer to a global social justice movement as a fleeting moment in time, but for some, it’s simply that – A moment.

I admitted my fear that this “trend” of diversifying candidate pools will die out and eventually, those who are historically excluded will continue to be disregarded and overlooked in the recruiting process. As pessimistic as it sounds, I couldn’t shy away from what’s a very real reality for me as a Black woman in tech. 

For the second half of the year, I gained the attention of recruiters, hiring managers, and companies all across the country for internships. For the first time in the 4 years I’ve been in college, I felt seen. After this long, unpredictable recruiting season, I’m full of gratitude and excitement for my future. I’ve made meaningful connections that’ll last years. I’ve engaged in open conversations over company culture, technical interviews, and internship programs with game-changing companies. Various communities advocated for my success and landed me opportunities I couldn’t have gotten alone. After years of dedication and hard work towards my goal as a Software Engineer, it all seems to be finally paying off. I can happily say after I received my 8th and final offer for Summer 2021, I started to imagine a better recruiting experience for students who look like me. But still, I’m privileged. Luck and chance had a large part in my success this year, partially through the diversity “trend”, and I’d like that to be different for the next year’s Black and Brown applicants. 

I’m not entirely sold on the industry’s commitment to racial equity because all I’ve observed are temporary fixes rather than systemic change. Hosting an ERG-focused event is great until you avoid questions on the reality of being underrepresented on their team. Inviting underrepresented applicants to interviews is great until we realize we were never positioned to succeed. And don’t even get me started about the trillion-dollar tech companies that only come to predominantly Black and Brown schools to hire for their retails stores and customer service roles. It reeks of performative allyship and I’m tired of seeing my peers who have more than enough experience continue to struggle to land their 1st ever interview as college seniors. In 2021, we demand and expect more from university recruitment to initiate the change we need to see in tech starting from the early career stages. 

Here are some of my strong suggestions to university recruiting teams for 2021: 

Going forward, I’d like to see more Winternships. A chance for students to get to experience the life of an industry professional and tackle a real-world project without the commitment of a 12-week job.

I’d like to see more Hackathons directly sponsored by companies; diversify different pathways to your internship or new grad interview process (similarly to JP Morgan’s Code for Good and Chewy’s ChewyHacks for Students of Color) with a direct pipeline that focuses on team collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving.

Bootcamp students and grads can and should be sought after for internship opportunities. Let’s add them to the pipeline for next year’s recruitment cycle, and it’s essential to include inclusive language in job descriptions to welcome them into the industry.

What I loved most about virtual recruitment is the accessibility of the webinars and events that I normally wouldn’t be invited to (please recruit from CUNY), however, I was eager to see more interactive ways to engage with recruitment teams or previous intern panels. Perhaps a product demo or internship project presentation would inspire a crowd on what they could possibly create; Game or trivia activities to showcase a more playful side of recruiting season beyond the Leetcode arms race; Upskilling workshops that’ll introduce attendees to a vital (technical and behavioral) skill needed for success for the interview or internship program.

What I felt set me up most for success this recruitment season was informative details on the interview process, along with the overview of how specific interview rounds are conducted. An interview prep guide provided before an initial phone or technical round would be the best way to keep applicants aware of the timeline, answer any frequently asked questions, and informed of tools/technologies/concepts they’ll be expected to be familiar with (being thrown into a C++ interview after believing I was interviewing for a front-end role has taught me to always ask about this).

Lastly, I would love to see more engagement and consulting with the communities applying for these competitive programs. So, please – continue to include us in these discussions and invite intersectional groups to bring their concerns and ideas to the table. University recruitment shouldn’t be this stressful or emotionally/mentally draining for those trying to enter the field, especially when we’re trying the best we can with the resources we are given.

As exhausting as these last few months doing back-to-back interviews have been, I’m hopeful. The fact that there were three separate Student panels included in the URx Global Leaders Summit makes me optimistic that progress towards diversifying tech is happening (shoutout to my ColorStack and Rewriting the Code family!) because we’re being asked to join the conversation in these early career stages. Speaking alongside talented people entering the industry was such an exciting experience, and was the first step towards bridging the gap between applicants and recruitment teams. 

More about Shanice

Hailing from the heart of NYC, Shanice is interested in diversifying the tech industry and advocating for equality in the field. Most recently, she was a Media Tech intern at NBCU, a Data Science intern at The Regime, and a Web Design volunteer at the Voter Empowerment Project while being a TA for her alma mater, CUNY LaGuardia Community College. She is an active member of her community (RTC, ColorStack, Out in Tech, Built By Girls included) to encourage others to pursue a career in tech.

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