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Case 6-2 Not Getting Face Time at Facebook—and Getting the Last Laugh!
In August 2009, Facebook turned down job applicant Brian Acton, an experienced engineer who had previously worked at Yahoo and Apple. More than 4 years later, Facebook paid him $3 billion to acquire his 20% stake of WhatsApp, a start-up he had cofounded immediately after Facebook rejected his job application.(1) WhatsApp Messenger is a proprietary, cross-platform, instant-messaging subscription service for smartphones and selected feature phones that use the Internet for communication. In addition to text messaging, users can send each other images, video, and audio media messages, as well as their location using integrated mapping features.(2) How could Facebook, a highly successful firm, have made such a drastic mistake?
Back in 2009, Brian Acton was a software engineer who was out of work for what seemed like a very long time. He believed he had what it took to make a difference in the industry, but his career did not work out as planned. Even though he spent years at Apple and Yahoo, he got rejected many times by Twitter and Facebook.(3) Acton described the details of the interview process that he failed to do well in as follows:
First of all, interviewing a person for a job that requires technical skills is difficult for both the interviewer and the interviewee. Facebook is a highly desirable firm to work for and requires the best skills and talents from all of their potential employees. It is therefore not surprising that the selection process rivals, if not tops, any company in the industry. The process starts with an email or a phone call from a recruiter in response to an online application or [to] a recommendation from a friend who may work for Facebook. Sometimes, in the initial chat online, timed software coding challenges are set to find the best performers. If this chat goes well, an applicant will go on to the next level—an initial in-person interview or phone screening.(4)
In this next hurdle, the applicant will have a 45-minute chat with a fellow engineer/potential coworker, [with] whom he or she shares the same area of expertise. They will tell you about their job and what their role is in Facebook; then they ask about the applicant’s résumé, motivation, and interests. Additionally, the applicant will be tested about his or her technical skills, coding exercises, and programming abilities.(5)
If successful, the applicant will be invited for back-to-back interviews. This part of the process is very grueling and stressful since all the interviews take place throughout a single day. The candidate will also be asked to manually write a program on a whiteboard to make sure that the applicant is knowledgeable about program writing. The goal in this final step is to see how one approaches a problem and comes up with a solution [that] is simple enough to solve in 10–30 minutes and can be easily explained.(6)
As a potential coworker, the applicant will be tested in terms of understanding and explaining complex ideas, with most tasks project related and constantly changing. This requires employees to possess a diversified set of skills. That is the reason why the applicant is not only tested in coding skills . . . but also to gauge enthusiasm and motivation. The applicant’s leadership and decision-making skills are also evaluated as the company seeks to find someone who can make a large impact on the industry and make quick decisions.(7)
After going through this arduous process, Brian Acton was one of the engineers who received an email that “regretted to inform” him that he didn’t get the position. Yet he stayed positive and took a different path, which led him to start his own company, WhatsApp. Teaming up with Yahoo alumni, he developed the most popular text-messaging application, and the company was sold to Facebook for a total of $19 billion in 2014.(8) This epic comeback proves how persistence and ambition play a huge role in job hunting; but it also proves how difficult it is to hire the right employee, even when that person has the best skill set.(9)
(1) The World’s Billionaires: #596 Brian Anton. (n.d.). Forbes. Retrieved July 17, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/profile/brian-acton/
(2) WhatsApp. (2014). Wikipedia. Retrieved July 17, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WhatsApp
(3) Anders, G. (2014, February 19). He wanted a job; Facebook said “no”—in a $3 billion mistake. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/.georgeanders/2014/02/19/he-wanted-a-job-facebook-said-no-in-a-3-billion-mistake/
(4) Gordon, C. (2012, October 5). Getting a job at Facebook: Inside the “Meritocratic” hiring process. Retrieved from the AOL website: http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2012/10/05/want-to-get-a-job-at-facebook-weve-demystified-the-hiring-proc/
(5) Bueno, C. (2012, July 20). Get that job at Facebook. Retrieved from the Facebook Engineering page: https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-engineering/get-that-job-at-facebook/10150964382448920/
(8) The World’s Billionaires: #596 Brian Anton. (n.d.). Forbes. Retrieved July 17, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/profile/brian-acton/
(9) WhatsApp. (2014). Wikipedia. Retrieved July 17, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WhatsApp
Case created by Herbert Sherman and Theodore Vallas, Department of Management Sciences, Long Island University School of Business, Brooklyn Campus
6-2 Not Getting Face Time at Facebook—And Getting the Last Laugh!
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