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The Path Less Traveled: How 2U Helps State Farm Find Top Tech Talent in Non-Traditional Places

Written by Molly Forman on Dec 3, 2020

Related content: Strategic Partnerships, Outcomes

You may not think “technology” when you hear “insurance”—but State Farm is changing that. As a leader in innovation, the company regularly develops award-winning mobile applications and products that connect users with critical information.

Driving technology innovation starts with having a strong team. As part of their national hiring strategy, State Farm partners with 2U, Inc. to identify top tech talent in previously overlooked communities. We sat down with Lauren Stevens, talent brand specialist at State Farm, to discuss how 2U-powered boot camps help the organization think outside the box, consider candidates with non-traditional career paths, and serve as a leader in the technology space.

What does State Farm look for in a strategic talent partner? What makes 2U a good fit?

One factor we look for is an organization’s reach and audience. Since State Farm is a large Fortune 100 company, we hire people in many disciplines. As an enterprise, we want to make sure there’s a strong community in our partners—that way, the partnership is a good fit on both sides. 2U is a great partner because there are strong communities of boot camp graduates from 2U-powered programs across the nation, which is great for us since we’re actively growing in the technology space.

Innovation isn’t always associated with insurance. What value does technology bring to State Farm?

We joke about State Farm being a technology company that does insurance, not the other way around. Technology is incredibly important for us to stay relevant to the market and make sure we're meeting customer needs. We want everything we offer to not only have utility, but to also be easy for customers to use. For example, apps like Drive Safe & Save show how technology and insurance work together to get you the best product.

What steps have you taken to identify top technical talent and increase recognition of State Farm’s outstanding tech team?

We’ve recognized that, as a company, we need to do a better job of marketing our technology opportunities. After our most recent summer internship program, participants who had worked in enterprise research, user experience, and software development, said, “I had no idea how advanced State Farm was.” We saw that as an opportunity to improve our marketing to really showcase the benefits and career opportunities we offer.

We've also taken a more national approach to our recruitment. In the past, we typically looked at talent that was local to our different office locations. But this year, we realized that while we have these great footprints and relationships, some of the best talent is still out there—and we've never met them. Rather than just looking at local talent, we're now looking at programs like 2U-powered boot camps that help candidates build strong technical skill sets. Instead of waiting for this talent to come to us, we're actually going to find them.

Describe State Farm’s 2020-2021 tech hiring strategy. What goals do you have, and how does 2U support them?

We’ve really broadened our geographic scope. We know that strong talent can be found anywhere and everywhere—especially this year, with the remote work we’re all doing. That’s one of our biggest hiring strategies: looking in areas we never have before. As for goals, we’re still growing and want to continue expanding. 2U will help us think outside the box and identify communities that we have not tapped into yet. For example, earlier this year we learned that 2U partners with tons of schools in Texas—institutions that are well-regarded, like Rice University, but that we hadn’t engaged with recently. We can have one conversation with 2U and get students from anywhere. There are many strong networks, universities, curriculums, and candidates that we have yet to explore but plan to do that in the future.

What does your recruiting team look for in tech talent? How do graduates of 2U-powered boot camps fit that hiring rubric?

One of the things we look for is the curiosity to learn. We’ll always teach you as much as we can, but we also want individuals who are innovative and bring new ideas into the company. We look for good team players, too. There’s a lot of teamwork at State Farm, so you have to be willing to work on projects with others. We want people who can lead through ambiguity, as well. Instead of saying, “Build this product using these three steps,” we say, “Here’s the end goal. How you get there is up to you.” Many 2U-powered boot camp grads have taken a non-traditional learning path after seeing the opportunity to enhance their skills. That shows a lot of innovation and independent thought, which is what we look for in our employees.

There’s a lot of talk in the industry about hard skills (e.g. JavaScript, Python, HTML) versus soft skills (e.g. collaboration, leadership ability, growth mindset). What’s your approach for finding candidates that check both boxes?

In the past, we weighed hard skills very heavily. We still do, because you need solid technical knowledge to succeed on the job. But as we’ve seen through projects, group work, and presentations to executive leadership, you can't just focus on the hard skills. You need to be able to communicate and develop relationships. Soft skills are just as important as hard skills, if not more. You can teach hard skills, but it often takes longer to teach soft skills.

It's incredibly important for candidates to show hard skills on their resume. As a recruiter, the first thing I look for is: Do you know Java, Python, etc.? But there’s also an opportunity to highlight soft skills in your cover letter by talking about extracurriculars and project work. I always tell people: Put technical work on your resume since we need to see it. But then, when describing project work, talk about communication, time management, relationship building, and so on—because we need to know those things, too.

How have boot camp hires improved State Farm operations and culture?

Bringing new experiences into the organization is always a benefit. Many boot camp hires didn’t start their careers off where they ended, so they add great diversity of thought to our teams at State Farm. Say someone started in hotel management. And then, as time went on, they said, “I want to be a software developer.” That's a really unique career path that we don't always see in technology candidates. A large majority of people have stayed in a very traditional path, which is also great. But it’s wonderful when people have a diversity of experience to show and share different perspectives.

That's a big part of our overall culture: bringing your whole self to State Farm and not having to tailor or edit your experience. We hire the whole person, and you’re never just another cog in the wheel. There’s a famous saying from the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Target, “If you can’t be who you are where you are, change where you are—not who you are.” At State Farm, I’ve never had to change who I am to be accepted, recognized, awarded, or challenged. There's a variety of experiences and a variety of opportunities, and people want to support one another in reaching goals. State Farm may be a huge company with over 10,000 employees, but it feels very small and close-knit because there's constant acceptance, conversation, and collaboration. People always say it feels like a very family-run company.

Overall, how would you describe graduates of 2U-powered boot camps?

They’re competitive candidates, first and foremost. During the boot camp, many of them also worked part-time or full-time jobs—that translates into strong work ethic and impressive time management skills. They’re also great advocates. When boot camp hires come to State Farm, they speak so positively about 2U—promoting the programs and sharing their experiences. That’s great, because it helps socialize the idea of non-traditional education. They become advocates who lay the path down for others. And they’re team players, too—since they’ve worked in different areas, they know how to collaborate with different personalities.

How do you see 2U benefiting State Farm long term?

There’s a huge opportunity—not just for State Farm, but for many companies—to consider people who have taken non-traditional education paths. These candidates bring diversity of thought and have a proven interest in growth and innovation. Hiring people who want to continuously learn is something that every company should really capitalize on. It’s easy to become stagnant, stale, and comfortable. 2U-powered boot camps show that there’s never a time to be comfortable—you should always be looking for the next step, learning, and growing. At State Farm, we’ll continue using 2U to tap into communities we hadn’t previously explored or didn’t even know existed. As a partner, 2U has helped us think outside the box and be more creative with our recruitment and hiring. When we see an obstacle, they say, “Well, have you considered this?” It’s a really great partnership.

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