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Competing against better known brands: Q&A with Viasat on standing out to tech talent

With 85% of their engineering hires in the early career space, learn how Viasat competes for tech talent with a winning internship program and entry level skill building.

Viasat is a global communications company that brings connectivity to higher heights—like wi-fi on your flight. And its early careers program is cutting edge, too. Viasat is recruiting primarily for 200-400 engineering interns and full time employees a year, with upwards of 85% of their engineering hires in the early career space.

"Last year over 50% of hires came from Handshake in the early career space—our enhanced partnership [with Handshake] has certainly paid its dividends and beyond. We’re also partnering with Handshake in the UK to support our global expansion."

Ali Meersman, Talent Acquisition Manager, Early Careers at Viasat, chatted with Handshake about how her team of six meets ambitious hiring goals and competes with better-known brands to attract tech talent.

How do you think about brand building as part of your talent acquisition strategy?

We're a tech company, but we're not as well known as many other tech companies. So we're competing for this talent, but how do we differentiate ourselves when we don't necessarily have the brand recognition of some of our competitors? One brief example is our internship program provides housing. That's been a huge selling point for us, but we have to get that out there.

Testimonials from our former interns or early career hires have been really key for us to put out on our social media channels and on our Handshake company profile—places where they can actually hear those testimonials and watch videos before applying. We often ask interns,“how did you hear about us?” and we keep track of that data.

And we've done a really great job engaging what we call our “accepted, not yet started” population. We want them to stay excited about their start date even if it’s months away. They’re our best brand ambassadors on campus with the next generation that's coming in behind them.

Tell us how your team has achieved campus recruiting efficiency gains.

With a fairly lean team, we re-evaluate our target school strategy on a continual basis to determine where we’ll prioritize our in-person versus virtual efforts, and we leverage Handshake to connect with schools virtually that we can't go to in person.

We’ve sent campaigns before every campus event, and those campaigns have been the best way for us to get engagement and drive traffic to our booth either virtually or in person at events because we sent those campaigns in advance. We've also sent campaigns around specific job openings that have been maybe hard to source or if we’re looking for a really specific niche candidate.

We’ve built what we're calling a “campus event toolkit” that prepares and empowers individuals from the business to go to campus without [the talent acquisition team] there.

For example, we may send a few software engineers to a tech related event on our behalf. So while we take care of things like registration and sending swag to campus, the toolkit contains photos on how to set up our table, a talk track for our assessment and interview process, the timing of our intern program eligibility, critical openings that they can advertise on our behalf, etc. This efficiency gain allows our recruiters to quickly process applications and shortens the time to hire when we're not traveling all over the country.

"We receive a high volume of applications and we didn't feel it was critical for our team to be at every single career fair or campus event or presentation. But building our brand is so important and we want to be able to empower the business."

What does Viasat do to ensure your intern classes and full time hires feel supported and want to stay with the company?

We give immense time and attention to sourcing and hiring interns. And it's creating a really exceptional experience because we feel it's a key talent pipeline for new grads.

We’ve also piloted an “intern boot camp”—a one week experience offering insight into how our business actually works. Our executives are a huge part of that boot camp. It's a very high touch event where they walk away excited about what their career journey could look like here.

I'm a huge proponent of early education on benefits. So even during an intern recruitment process, we share the exciting benefits we offer that are very popular with this generation.

"I personally feel like if an intern leaves without an understanding of the benefits that they would have as a full time employee, we haven't done our job as an early career team. That should not be something you're seeing for the first time in an offer letter or during your onboarding orientation. It's really about the early early education."

Early education about benefits is one way that Viasat stands out to intern candidates. What types of benefits does Viasat offer? Flexible time off, unlimited vacation, remote work, 401k matching, an employee stock purchase plan, and a tuition reimbursement program that's very compelling to this generation.

How does Viasat provide a variety of learning experiences for early talent, and how does this impact your early talent retention?

I think it’s a common misconception that this generation are job hoppers. The research I've been finding is really contrary to that—if they feel like they're getting diversity of opportunity and experience internally.

So we've tried to tailor our program to that idea. First of all, our business is reorganized in a really exciting way where all of our engineers are part of a centralized model, not tied to specific business functions. This model is something we can then sell on campus. And we don't just talk about internal mobility we but truly encourage it, and people move around internally all the time here. I think that's again a differentiator that we need to sell.

Self-service learning, I think, is a big hit. We offer a program where current employees can apply to have their tuition reimbursed for additional education programs in pursuit of their next role—another great benefit that we offer.

What changes or vision do you have for your organization to continue upleveling your current program?

I personally am not not satisfied with our intern conversion percentage. There’s a domino effect of not converting as many interns as we'd like to that impacts your brand on campus, like, “That's a great place, but you won't get a full time offer after the internship, right?” Students talk. Improving our intern conversion percentage is a huge change management piece and huge area of opportunity. Luckily, we have a lot of buy in at the very top executive levels.

We’re in the early stages of road mapping a new grad development program in partnership with our learning and development team. It will be a well rounded boot camp experience over a period of 6-18 months where new grads will get soft skills, workshops, technical workshops, networking, mentorship. They’ll get exposure through kind of a rotational model to many different areas and then ultimately settle into a role that makes sense for them in the business.

A huge part of our brand building is reaching out to early talent before they even get to a university. We have a responsibility to promote our profession and career opportunities in STEM.

Learn how Viasat has scored 4 Handshake Early Talent Awards in recognition of their exceptional early talent programming.

Note: This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

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