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Recruiter Q&A: Entry-Level Interviews at Square

Dec. 16, 2014
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Students and new grads take note: there’s no reason to fear job hunting if you take the time to prepare. NerdScholar is here to help with that by demystifying the entry-level job search process with our new Recruiter Q&A series. In these articles, you’ll hear from experts from top companies and recruiting agencies on what really counts when gunning for your first job.

Today we’re talking with Saqi Mehta, campus recruiting lead at Square, the mobile and small business payments company that’s made it easy and low-cost for anyone (yup, even you) to take credit cards. With sellers who use Square, you can swipe for credit no matter if you are in an old-school taxi or at the local farmer’s market.

As one of the most in-demand companies to work for in the San Francisco tech scene, we were naturally intrigued when we heard that Square runs an active university recruiting program despite tons of experienced applicants lining up at their door.  Mehta gives the scoop below on why recent grads matter to Square and what they can expect if they’re lucky enough to get an interview.

(And non-tech-students, don’t leave just yet: Mehta’s advice is transferable across many functions and industries). 


NerdScholar: Square gets tons of applications from experienced professionals. Why do you bother recruiting entry-level employees? 

Square: Often times new grads are seen by companies as a “nice to have;” more of a side thing than a core philosophy. It’s very different at Square. Everyone from our engineers all the way up to Jack, our CEO, really believes in the impact that our interns and new grads can make. They come in with whole new energy: literally every summer things just feel different at our office as new interns and graduates come in.


What roles do you recruit entry-level hires for the most?

Primarily we focus around engineering, with about 95% of our campus recruiting going to technical roles. Everything from backend to frontend, iOS, android and so on.

We also have a smaller number of recruits in Small and Medium Business, which is a smaller sales team that just started last year. As the company continues to grow, we may expand what other functions we hire new grads for.

Before we get to the content of your process, can you shed some light on how you select the candidates you interview?

We start by looking at résumés, GitHub accounts, portfolios, anything that students submit to show their work. We’re not focused on cover letters at all. Really it’s just about what you’ve done in the space: apps or startups you’ve created—anything that someone has worked on is very telling for us. We don’t focus on GPA or follow a pedigree model like where you went to school or how well you did. It’s more about showing us what you’re doing outside of class.

Having past internship experience has also been a key factor for us because it makes you understand that someone has been in a professional environment and knows how to work with deadlines and towards deliverables.


Can you talk about what the campus or recent grad recruiting process is at Square and what the interviewer may be looking for in each session?

Once we find students that are doing really cool things with their coding, our engineers invent a coding challenge that a student can do on their own computer over the course of a week. Based on their results from the coding challenge and their résumé, we may move forward with a Skype or on-campus interview.

For that round, the student will sit side by side with an engineer and go through another 60 minute coding challenge together. The idea is that they are actually physically coding, and going through our actual platform.


What if a student really can’t identify the right way to code around a problem—are they basically out at that point?

We always tell students, “Don’t get really stuck if you feel like you can’t solve it. It’s not just about getting to the right answer, it’s much more about what’s your thought process and how you deconstruct the problem.” So if someone is finding it difficult or getting stuck throughout, just kind of vocalize that and at least say, “Well I’m thinking that I’m going to do x, y, z” and then the engineer can help to redirect.

It shouldn’t be that the engineer is just sitting there and staring at them. They should be working with the candidate and pair programming—which we do at Square. During pair programming, engineers sit side by side and work through projects together while sharing a computer.


Once a student makes it to your final round at your headquarters, what are you really looking for at that point?

Of course technical ability is first and foremost, but also when you’re sitting and doing the pairing, we look for things like communication: Is the student actually vocalizing what they’re thinking and working through a problem? Or are they just getting frustrated?

The behavioral side is also something we take into account, because our office is very open and collaborative and we need people who are like that, too. This is also where the passion for the space really comes in, because it’s not just about getting your day-to-day work done but rather being interested in developing something new.


Aside from that, what’s the best thing an interviewee can do to make an impression?

Just be present and show enthusiasm. We want to feel like you really want to be at Square and be part of our mission to help sellers everywhere.


On the flip side, what is the one interview question that students just have to nail?

Jack, our CEO, often talks about how his best interviews are when someone says “Not only am I a good person for this job but here are three things that you guys should fix and here’s why.” So it’s not one specific question, but being able to bring ideas to many questions that’s important.


Around here we love nerds. So tell us, what’s the nerdiest thing about Square?

People are really excited about their work and the impact it has on sellers. If you ever come to the office, you’ll feel it buzzing with energy. Squares really want to fix problems and make commerce as seamless as possible.

Image courtesy of Square.