Interview Insider: How to Get Hired at HBO
HBO makes the TV that everyone talks about. Its original series, miniseries, documentaries, comedy specials, and films draw cultish followings, consistently earn Emmys, and oftentimes drive the discourse on culture. With streaming video now a viable competitor in the television space, HBO is investing heavily in its technology department to expand HBO Go and build new applications that support its content. “We carry about 75 open positions every month,” says Carla Moore, HBO’s vice president of talent acquisition. “The majority of these opportunities are in technology. We can’t find enough software engineers to fill the technology void we have right now.”
HBO has three main U.S. offices, each with a distinct focus: New York is the corporate epicenter, Los Angeles is where programs are developed and produced, and Seattle is its growing tech hub. Moore talks to Cosmopolitan.com about how candidates can best prepare for a job opportunity with HBO.
Where are you looking for candidates for the growing technology arm of HBO?
We attend hackathons across the country, partner with niche technology sites like Gild, we’ve hosted technology meet-ups in New York, and we’re specifically looking to recruit female engineers. We partner with the Anita Borg Institute and Women in Technology International, plus we’ve just signed on to sponsor the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference in New York this October.
Is there a way to get these jobs without the traditional computer science background?
What specific qualities do you look for in every candidate?
Certainly we like to know that people are able to do the work for which they are applying. However, we place a great deal of value in soft skills, such as strategic imagination. That’s being able to think about the big picture and come up with ideas that haven’t been done before and present alternative solutions to problems.
How can a candidate best showcase his or her strategic imagination?
Our recruiting team asks questions that uncover this. We ask them to describe for us how they creatively solve problems — in previous job roles or situations in life. We ask them to give us examples of how they’ve been faced with something challenging and how they found a way through. One of those soft skills we value is resilience. Resilience is key in an innovative work environment.
What do you expect candidates to know about HBO before an interview?
Doing research is vital to interview success. They should know about our culture and our top priorities. We’re also impressed when candidates have knowledge of trends in the industry as a whole and understand how they impact our business. For example, we just closed our deal with Amazon. Candidates should understand the impact of digital distribution and where HBO fits into that. We also like candidates to do their research and figure out how they can best contribute to our growth. Perhaps someone is applying for a social media role and they see an area where our presence is lacking. Bring up that opportunity in an interview. We love when people come in with potential solutions.
How familiar do they have to be with HBO’s programming to succeed in an interview?
There should be some basic knowledge of our hot shows and in general what’s being buzzed about in pop culture. But, no, they don’t need to be able to run down all of our Emmy wins or be able to dissect the last season of Game of Thrones — although we have certainly seen some candidates demonstrate real passion for our shows. For them, it’s important to understand that the interview is about learning about the role. Be enthusiastic about Game of Thrones if you love it, but don’t come in with sword and shield.
What’s the best way candidates can prepare themselves for a job at HBO?
Take the initiative in finding connections with employees in the company to learn more about the work culture here and what we’re currently developing. In an interview, you’ll be expected to speak fluently about our values. Talking to someone already here will help you understand what they are.
We had one applicant who found an HBO employee through LinkedIn who went to the same university that he did. He introduced himself, and they had a few email conversations. The employee referred him for a job, and we ended up hiring him. We were impressed by this applicant’s initiative and his desire to work at HBO. And it shows that it is possible to find those connections within your own networks.
Where do you look for most of your job candidates?
A third of all of our hires are coming from employee referrals. And we advertise primarily on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, Mashable, and Mediabistro. We also tweet job openings daily. Follow us at @HBOcareers.
Do candidates need to live in New York, Los Angeles, or Seattle to work at HBO?
Interviews generally take place in the office where the job is located. For hard-to-fill roles, we will certainly cover travel expenses to fly top candidates who live out-of-area to interview, and then help with relocation if they’re offered the job.
How can I interact with you on social media to stand out as a candidate?
All of our recruiters are on LinkedIn and other social media sites. We absolutely welcome outreach and interaction, such as introducing yourself and asking more about a job. But we want people to shy away from email blasting the HBO group or sending too many messages. Recruiters could be looking at 400 résumés and profiles in one day. Multiple emails from one person will likely be a nuisance.
Do you attend any college career fairs?
We are ramping up our college campus presence and have several new university partners. This fall, we will attend career fairs at Syracuse University, Georgia Tech, University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University for their strong technology programs. We’ll also be going to NYU, Rutgers, and Fordham University for their strong creative and business programs.
We have annual internship classes of 50 people per year in all three offices. It’s a 10-week program over the summer. Interns work a full-time schedule of 35 hours per week and are paid $15 an hour. Our interns work in various departments depending on their interests, such as technology, finance, marketing, legal, programming, and human resources.
How important is it for candidates to have an online presence?
It’s very important. How you show up online plays a part in who we believe you are. It can determine if someone moves forward.
Does every job require a specific degree?
As I mentioned, we do require specific training for our technology roles. But we have many examples of employees whose college degrees don’t line up with the jobs they’re in. We had one applicant with a straight marketing background who was interested in writing. He wrote fiction in his spare time, and he applied those skills in writing a strong narrative on his application. It landed him a job in communications. We had a woman who had a finance degree and a highly successful career as an accountant. But she wanted to get into marketing. The first job she applied for was in finance. She got that job because of her solid background, but within a year she had pivoted into a sales development role in the marketing department.
What types of questions do you typically ask in an interview?
Our recruiters not only look for experience, we also seek to identify potential, especially in recent college grads and junior professionals. To gauge motivation, we’ll ask, “Tell me about the biggest project you worked on without being told to do it.” The way you answer, “What skills are you lacking?” will tell us about your self-awareness. We want examples, such as “Give an example when priorities shifted quickly at work and how you responded” or “Describe a time when you failed at something.” And we want you to think on your feet. Sometimes we’ll ask, “You have five minutes with our CEO. What question would you ask him?”
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