Recruiting black students – challenging the status quo

Three changes that made a difference to how we do HBCU student outreach

A year ago, we shared the news of our first conference for students who are attending Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU). The conference we named The Opening Act || HBCU Conference is back for an encore. This year, we came to the table with some key revisions that really shifted how we do student outreach.  

1. We extended the experiences to include more content + more people

Feedback we heard from the participants of the first year was they craved additional time to allow for a deeper dive into learning more and into how the content for the conference all applies to their individual career aspirations.  So we expanded the number of days of the conference to incorporate more discovery and exploration into career potential.  These sessions + panels included:

  • Demystifying Engineering
  • Product Design Workshop, Content + Culture Intersection
  • Introduction to Brand Strategy
  • The Communications / Storytelling Journey
  • Personal Brand Development
  • My Journey Into Tech
  • Leveraging Your Story to Impact Culture + Community
  • Building a Sense of Belonging
  • The Executives’ Address
  • Artist performance by Kevin Ross

We also decided to expand this opportunity to more students.  This year we had almost 100 students participate and 39 HBCUs represented. Not only did they have an experience at a leading brand in the tech industry, they also had an opportunity to connect with their HBCU Community — a bond like no other.

2. For true change and impact, we collaborated within the Tech Industry  

This year, we added office visits and tech talks with other local tech & media companies.  Visits Companies such as BuzzFeed, Bumble, DropBox,  NBCUniversal, Snap Inc., LinkedIn and Venmo/Paypal pitched in to give the students an insight into working there and to let them hear from people of similar backgrounds.  

Now, this might come across as risking the pipeline to hiring for some, but we felt it was important to engage others in this journey.  Two key performance indicators (KPI) for us with this conference are clear: 1) for the students to see the tech + media industries as a place to launch a career, and 2) for them to see people in the industry that come from similar backgrounds and relate that to a sense of belonging in the industry.

We won’t be able to broaden the ethnic landscape of the tech industry on our own, it will take an entire ecosystem of passion & authentic action to create a mirror-image of the all beautiful shades that make up this world. And it starts with ensuring that the entire tech pipeline includes these students.

3. We brought it closer to home, showcasing tech culture 

This is a change that was quite powerful.  Last year, we had an external venue to host the conference and that may have created a less authentic and less comfortable atmosphere than our own office environment. This year, we hosted the entire conference at our office and there was such a beautiful sense of community and belonging that existed.  For many of the students, this was their first time experiencing a company culture that matched their culture at school or within their community.  That culture they experienced had flavors of: passion, comfort, brilliance, and innovation — with music running through the veins of it all.  

The next step

It’s been another great year for The Opening Act, the participants, and our Spotify family. We believe that we learned a lot from the students and the event, and that we’ll continue to do so. They’re teaching us as employers what it means to align personal & professional expectations in a career.  We as employers can no longer rest on brand recognition alone, we must provide an environment, atmosphere, and workplace where it’s safe to be mission-driven, impact-oriented, and curious-in-creativity.  For Spotify, we are now leveraging the Opening Act brand and scaling it through other avenues — we will be focusing more attention from the experience and expanding to our recruiting outreach efforts.  For example, participating in HBCU@SXSW and also on-campus recruiting initiatives.  Taking the Opening Act experience “on-the-road” will allow us to reach more students and develop a direct hiring model from outreach. We believe this is an important next step. It’s important to invest in education & knowledge sharing, but we also believe hiring more black tech talent is even more important — and this will be our focus for the future.

Until our next Opening Act experience, check out the video and photos from the 2017 conference.