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Working for the future

Technology: Cultivate an entrepreneurial mind-set

There are now hundreds of openings, says Austin Cooke of the Lexington tech firm Vistaprint. There are now hundreds of openings, says Austin Cooke of the Lexington tech firm Vistaprint. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Cindy Atoji Keene
Globe Correspondent / January 22, 2012
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Austin Cooke, senior vice president of human resources at Vistaprint, a technology firm in Lexington, aims to find and cultivate the best talent in e-commerce. Vistaprint, which delivers custom printing and other business services via the Internet, has grown rapidly, expanding its global workforce to 3,100 employees from 600 five years ago.

Available jobs There are hundreds of job openings in the Lexington office alone, ranging from graphic designer to business analyst to systems engineer. The company needs sales people and marketing specialists as well as software developers and Web designers.

“We are in full growth mode and actively hiring and recruiting,’’ said Cooke, who added that it is particularly difficult to find talented software engineers, experienced manufacturing engineers, and those who specialize in business analytics.

Types of people and skills Vistaprint and many other technology companies not only look for people with skills such as software development and expertise in business management strategy, but also employees who can think critically and creatively, adapt to rapid changes in the industry and company, and have a team-oriented attitude.

For example, software engineers interviewing at Vistaprint are asked to solve brainteasers such as: “How many bottles of shampoo are produced in the world in a year?’’ and simple coding questions, such as: Find the missing number in an array of 1-1,000. The point, said Cooke, is to see if candidates can “think on their feet.’’

Even those applying to nontechnical roles such as marketing or administration might be asked analytical questions, because understanding numbers and data can lead to success in any environment, said Cooke.

Like many tech firms, Vistaprint looks for the entrepreneurial mind-set. Those who have launched start-ups along the way get the edge when applying for jobs, said Cooke. “We look for folks who have a passion for starting new ventures and take risks and initiative,’’ he said.

How to get the skills Cooke recommends starting with your resume and seeing where it is thin, such as a lack of online experience or work with leading-edge technologies, in which case classes in Web development or programming languages may help.

There are other ways to build skill sets, Cooke said. Work on a side project such as developing a blog; volunteer for an online nonprofit; or switch to a different company that might allow you to expand expertise. “This is valuable because you are showing initiative and a broadening of background and abilities,’’ said Cooke.

Getting in the door Cooke, who formerly worked for a recruiting team with the interactive marketing company Sapient, was recruited by a headhunter to come to Vistaprint.

With thousands of applicants, the best way to get on Vistaprint’s radar screen is through employee referrals, with half of new hires coming to the company this way. Cooke encourages people to work their college alumni network, use LinkedIn, and connect on Twitter and Facebook, where jobs are posted and updated. “These are tools to find current and former employees who might refer you,’’ said Cooke.

Cooke advises candidates to be prepared for phone or in-person interviews. And be authentic. If asked, “What are your weaknesses?’’ admit your professional shortcomings and address the steps you are taking to overcome them, he said.

“We look for people who are very aware of their gaps,’’ Cooke said, “and can have a great conversation about their developmental areas.’’

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