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August 15, 2006

Ten (Okay, 13) Questions with Libby Sartain, Chief People Yahoo!


This is HR and recruiting week on my blog! This is an interview with Libby Sartain of Yahoo. She is responsible for leading Yahoo! Inc.’s global human resources efforts and managing and developing the human resources team. Prior to joining Yahoo! in August 2001, Sartain was “vice president of people” at Southwest Airlines. She holds an MBA from the University of North Texas and a BBA from Southern Methodist University.

  1. Question: At any given moment, how many jobs are you trying to fill?

    Answer: Our number of open requisitions fluctuate, but if I had to average, I would say about 1,000 at any given moment and 2,500 or so total per year.

  2. Question: On average, how many applications do you get per job?

    Answer: For the last few years, we have received more than 120,000 resumes a year. So, we start with about 50/1 ratio, but when we narrow that down to actual qualified candidates, we see about ten for every job.

  3. Question: How can a candidate break through the noise?

    Answer: The biggest obstacle for a candidate is if they send in a resume but don’t map it for a specific open position. With so many resumes, and recruiters looking to fill what is open today, they might be missed. So the best thing is to apply to the one or two jobs that are open and for which your skills are a direct match. It is also helpful to be referred by someone inside the company. But, be sure it is someone who can vouch for you and your work.

  4. Question: What makes a cover email and resume “pop” for you?

    Answer: In the cover email, or summary when submitting your applications through an online jobs site like Hot Jobs, we look for your personality to show through. You should be able to come up with a succinct summary of who you are, what you bring to the table, and why we should hire you...but your unique personality should “pop.”

    I suggest that you write an “elevator pitch” for yourself to have at the ready while you’re looking for a new job. You can summarize in your cover email/online submission: Who are you? What do you stand for? What is your next big personal objective? How would you like to contribute in your next role. Sitting down and writing a fifty to seventy-five word elevator pitch for an imaginary listener is a wonderful experience of self-discovery. To be able to boil down your entire existence into such a short package is one way to discover your essential personal statement to the world. At least, what you’d like your essential personal statement to be. Getting comfortable with the pitch also helps when you are interviewing.

  5. Question: What do you dread seeing in a resume?

    Answer: I dread seeing resumes that don’t tell me where you have worked and what you have accomplished there. Many people have taken to writing capabilities statements but most don’t have any meat to show how and where they developed the capabilities they claim they have. Over-inflating your jobs and experience also works against you. And, when you have seen as many resumes as our recruiters have seen, this over inflation is completely obvious.

    This sounds strange in the Silicon Valley, but i also like to see some stability. If someone held every job for two years or less, alarm bells go off in my head. I wonder if the candidate has worn out his or her welcome.

  6. Question: Does a resume that’s over one page long hurt a candidate’s chances?

    Answer: We are looking at resumes electronically, so the pages aren’t really the issue. They should be succinct, but if they are two pages, or three pages...and great, that works. Anything over three pages is too much.

    (Editorial comment from Guy: God help us, Libby is unleashing three-page resumes on us. Nota bene: she said “and great.” Of course, every candidate believes his resume is great and requires three pages just like every entrepreneur believes he needs sixty PowerPoint slides.)

  7. Question: How would you stack rank education, experience, and enthusiasm as desirable qualities of a candidate?

    Answer: You have to have the whole package, but enthusiasm goes a long way with me. I look for people who will fit in our culture and who are smart, fun, friendly, and are passionate about what we are doing.

  8. Question: How does your criteria differ from other Silicon Valley companies like Apple or Google?

    Answer: We offer a distinct opportunity. We can usually offer a candidate a variety of different experiences because we have so many different products and services and the largest audience in the world. People select us over the competition because we offer them a role that fits their interests and objectives. They also like the fact that the can move to another area in the future, so they like the prospects for their career development.

  9. Question: What’s the effect of a candidate saying that she wants to help Yahoo kick Google’s butt?

    Answer: We love people who want us to win against our competition, and we have competitors in every product and service we offer. (Editorial comment from Guy: This is HR-speak for, “It’s a good thing.”)

  10. Question: How can candidates increase the probability of a great interview?

    Answer: Be prepared! You should have at least researched the company and the business/products that you would be working with on the Internet. You should know what you bring to us and convince us that you can do the job. Once again, we want to see your personality too.

  11. Question: Can an “art history major” with no technology educational or technology work experience get a job at Yahoo?

    Answer: Sure, but not a technology job. We have folks with art history backgrounds working in a number of areas like surfing (Editorial comment from Guy: this refers to editorial work), user experience and design, marketing or maybe even human resources. It helps if you have experience in a prior company with such a degree.

  12. Question: If a candidate doesn’t hear back, at what point should she try to initiate contact—or do people basically “send and pray”?

    Answer: Praying might help, but I suggest that candidates always check back if they don’t hear. But if they get a response that says we have found another candidate, they need to move on.

  13. Question: By approximate percentages, how do successful candidates for non-officer level positions come to you?


    • Candidate found listing on Yahoo Jobs page—30%

    • Yahoo employee referred the candidate—30%

    • Yahoo internal recruiter contacted a prospect (that is, the person wasn’t looking)—20%

    • Yahoo retained headhunter contacted a prospect (that is, the person wasn’t looking)—2%

    • Conversion from contractor or temporary—10%

    • Hot Jobs and other jobs sites—7%


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I'm working at Yahoo as a contractor from 2005. Not all the time. you work 1 month, than stay home another one, then work 3 weeks .. and so on. I have seen some people completely ignorant in computer technology being hired. Only because they have a phd or because they where really "nice" with some "boss". 3 quarter of the people with I interact with don't have any idea of what they are doing. The IT department is simply ridicolous. You see testers going around 2 or 3 days doing absolutely nothing only because the IT guy doesn't have the time to give them the computers to work with. That happened to me also.
They hired some persons to which I was actually teaching them how to do the job. And now they are the one checking on me???? Ridicolous. You are checking my job? But if you don't know it .... Now I understand why Yahoo is going so "well". Look the people they hired lately. I've been there for a long time. They never gave me an interview, even if I have applied for the exact position I'm working in for a long time. They hired this "phd", that doesn't have any idea of what is doing. I'm quoting one of his last belief: " The streaming will be the future of networking. I think we have to offer a streaming service in California. It is an huge opportunity". Can you believe it? this is one of the last hired "phd" at yahoo. Very good.


what happened with "signum sine tinnitu" i used to enjoy so much? is this its reincarnation? seems like it but not quite sure yet.


David wrote:

"Real players ignore HR and go to people who can say 'yes'"

And 'real players' don't refer to themselves or anyone else for that matter as 'real players'

Dearest Guy. Don't you think this top Ten stuff is getting a little tired?


Is someone forcing you to read my blog?


Real players ignore HR and go to people who can say 'yes'

Then again, real players don't post comments on blogs ;-)

I live in Silicon Valley and for the past 10 years I have been in the recruiting business where my teams have placed over 14,000 candidates into new positions. Prior to that I worked for a software company for 6 years as VP Sales.

From my vantage point, Yahoo is a true employer of choice. I have several friends that work for Yahoo in a variety of recruiting and technology positions, all of them are happy. My suggestions for those looking to join Yahoo are read carefully the interview with
Libby for the inside track. It would not hurt if you could also get an intro from a person in your network. Perhaps joining a system like LinkedIn could help you to manage your social network to leverage your relationships.

One of my favorite books is by Tim Sanders the Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo! Check out “Love is the Killer App.” Your network is far more valuable than you may think…

Craig Silverman

I recently accepted a job with Google.

In my case, they found me through an internal recruiter, but I did have my resume online to _be_ found. That made the interview process easier, as I did not need the job, but I was quite willing to listen to what they had to offer.

What attracted me to Google was the variety of things they do. From a technical perspective, they do a _lot_ of interesting things, and are in a lot of places. Perhaps people do not stay on the search results page long, but they do use calendar, gmail, earth, maps, and other tools.

Also, the work I am going to do might impact thousands or millions of people. That sounds appealing for me, as I have spent a lot of time doing consulting for fairly small groups.

I have no objection to being a millionaire, but frankly, I never depend on Vegas-style hits. Every engineer cannot become a millionaire, so engineers should not depend on a job to make them one.

I want to do interesting work, to work with interesting people, to learn, to grow, and to make an impact. There are lots of places where I can do that, but Google is the one that connected me with the right people, made the right offer, and convinced me to make a move.

I have talked with a lot of recruiters, internal and external, and they do tend to go dark if they find you not acceptable. Sure, it would be nice if they called you back and gave you infomation, but frankly, I have found that many do not. The best do, but it is pretty rare.

I do run a post mortem on most interviews by contacting the people I interviewed with, and asking details. People usually respond, and it is useful feedback. I get the email address from them at the interview, and tell them up front why I want it - I will have questions later, and I want their feedback.

This only works if you get at least to a phone screen, but if you did not get to such, then you have not really been considered.


Bryan, I'm assuming you want a development role at yahoo.

I recommend the following
A) Ditch PHP if you want to develop at a Fortune 100 company
B) Write a cms on your own in Java instead of pasting a script
C) Get it ranked in the top million by Alexa.

At that point your worth will fit somewhere in the scale of a typical hire at Yahoo, relative to your experience.

Beyond that I would say you're absolutely right. Recruiters should act as ambassadors of the company and it's values, and as such, nurture an aura of inclusiveness. They must always perform in a friendly and professional manner or end up losing those candidates when they are looking for jobs in the following years. Because the Script Kiddies of today are tomorrow's Senior Developers.


Exactly. If Yahoo! is going to come by and we arrange for all of us to attend to one of their recruiting events, you'd think they'd have the courtesy to go forward with real interviews for at least one of the candidates, rather than just screen them all and then give some absurd schedule that doesn't match up to the graduation time or offers from other companies.

Or if you're not going to go forward with interviews, just say so, rather than insisting on a schedule which the candidates tell you will be long after their other offers...

Guy - I laughed at number 6. I was once filling a job and had a RECRUITER send me someone's EIGHT page resume!!! I called her and said that God might have a resume longer than 3-pages. It was her job to make sure that I didn't see any longer than that - unless of course God was applying!


I take it you didn't interview the candidate. :-)


Unfortunately Alex Kidd was not loved as a child.

My circumstance was far different than the rest, Yahoo made special arrangements with my Department to Headhunt my major in early May for specific positions to start in 1 month. They had specific positions they were looking for, I turned in two different TARGETED resumes for each position. What is someone expected to do, NOT FOLLOW UP? Of course not! What a better way to show a lack of excitement in working for a company. My biggest beef is that Yahoo wasted my time, its not like I got butt-hurt over an unsolicited or web posted job. If you want to headhunt my campus, my department, my major, on my time- at least have the courtesy to spend 30 seconds on an email or phone call and say sorry or no or whatever. If this is standard operating procedure for Yahoo then maybe it really isnt the rosy company they would have you to believe they are. Handfuls of students met the same brick wall as I did. So everyone thank Jeff Stone at Yahoo for such a poor performance!

First of all it doesn't matter what DEGREE you have. If you have the wrong degree or DON'T have one at all, Yahoo doesn't care, as with most tech companies. I know a "friend" who didn't finish high school, and had 3 months of college and is the most in demand UI design probably in the world. His resume to Yahoo said he graduated from a school in the midwest which the never checked. He went from 96k, to 120k in the first year because of the quality of his work.

And more importantly than that Yahoo is all about who you know, anyone claiming otherwise is just lying referalls are about 90% (even ones where it's just an anonymous 'hook-up'" for a job.

Yahoo called me once for a job interview, then never called again, only to have an agent 3 months later call me and offer me position for 110k, which I promptly turned down.

In this article you should also mention Yahoo's turn over rate. it's 40%, 40% of the employees of Yahoo quit in the first year.

Yahoo is not a fun place to work. Every group is overseen by an "Angry Asian" (yes i said it) who believes he's going to move up in the company by slave driving the employees in his group. Some how since the founders were "Asian" they assume that somehow their chances of moving up to the bigwigs is much higher.

I would highly recommend anyone looking for a job in silicon valley to not work for Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, or any giant company.

I've worked for nearly every big company out here and I can tell you several simple things.

Your ability to get a job is not based upon your resume, resumes are a sheet of paper to get you in the DOOR. Use it to show off, not as a technical log of the boring crap you've done. SERIOUSLY, IT SHOULD read like a speech given to troops going into battle!! SERIOUSLY KEEP IT TO ONE PAGE, it SHOULD NOT BE WRITTEN IN WORD, SHOULD NOT BE IN TIME FONT. AND SHOULD READ LIKE A MISSION STATMENT.

And you should show confidence in every interview. You are a wanted person, you don't need a job, in fact you have a 1million dollars in savings, and are looking to work to keep your creative brain working, and contribute to society. You will bring value to their company, smile, laugh, make jokes. Say something mildly un-interview like, per the person interviewing you at ease, like you just met them at a bar. Make it personal. Make it so they have to feel guilt if they decide not to go with you.

Then expect to hear back. But in the meantime keep looking, always letting every company know that the likes of Yahoo, Google, and other giants are pursuing you but you want something more interesting, something you can have an effect on.

In 10 years I've only been turned down for one position, of the 40 I've applied for. Passion is everything. I've gotten calls from companies who weren't even hiring that saw or heard about my resume, and called to let me know that it "was the best resume they've ever laid eyes on" and wanted to keep it posted in the HR office... (this is the honest truth).

Make your simple, start from scratch don't look at a template or anyone elses. REMEMBER someday SOMEBODY IS GOING TO WRITE A 20 sentence obituary about your ENTIRE LIFE. THAT MEANS YOU CAN SUM UP YOUR "GREAT LIFE EXPERIENCE" thus far in a whole 8.5x11 paper!!!

I wouldn't be surprised if it were more than 20%. And contingency agencies, (different than a retained search) would make up a lot of that slice. They're likely editing that language out as it would be more than they get from their Hotjobs. The candidates that aren't looking for jobs can be the best candidates. They're usually more stable than people that believe the grass will be greener and are actively looking.

The comment from Bryan the college kid is itself laughable. It's unremarkable for a large attractive firm to not call a person back if they had no interest or rejected the resume. That's what happens when they show your decent resume to a hiring manager and he says he's not interested... Nothing. And when you're a college grad with no experience, there're no other holes to put you in. Don't rely on the idea that a recruiter is just going to be sitting behind his computer sipping tea, and decide you'd be great for some other role because you have "Relevant Coursework." If you don't apply directly to a specific job on the website you'll never be included in a search, and it's your fault for not doing so because when the global head of HR for Yahoo says: "The biggest obstacle for a candidate is if they send in a resume but don’t map it for a specific open position." ... This is to be taken literally. Don't do what Bryan does: "I submitted my (decent) resume directly to the recruiter."

Go to the website, and file your resume to the specific job req. Then according to gov't guidelines, if you meet the tangible, basic qualifications, you will be CONSIDERED for the job. Then you may be phone screened, and at that point you may be passed on to a hiring manager who prefers someone more qualified. All of this is set in motion by a quantitative search of the data on your electronic resume that qualifies you to be viewed for a job.

If you are not called, it's for a reason. If you call a recruiter directly and he doesn't call you back it's for a reason. If you call a recruiter's supervisor, your voicemail will be deleted and you will be rejected based on a lack of professionalism. No one has the time available to them to describe to a person why they have no interest in them. They have found better candidates and their efforts are devoted to coordinating and expediting the hiring of a qualified candidate.

Yahoo! visits our school in the Fall, but they don't want to interview an August graduate that early.

This has happened at least three years now, so we don't have any graduates from our program in the departments that matter.

Despite what you say, in one-year Masters programs, the students don't get all of their jobs in October, particularly when in this field the major recruiting/meetup event happens in April.

The students do, however, all have jobs well before August. And they get jobs with the companies they want to work for (except those who wanted to work for Yahoo!, but they found other companies they wanted to work for).

Um, Guy, I never said that they were getting offers in August. I said that they were graduating then, and Yahoo! wasn't willing to interview them until even after that.

My point is that they didn't need job search advice—they really wanted to work for Yahoo!, but Yahoo! wasn't willing to adapt, so they took the earlier offers instead of waiting for Yahoo!.

It seems Bryan, a poster from another school, experienced similar issues.

I'm just saying it's a shame for Yahoo!, since several of these people would really liked to have worked there. It also makes me question how great their hiring practices really are.



Yahoo and all other companies interview in the Fall for people who are graduating the following summer. Didn't you say that Yahoo wouldn't interview your friend until after they graduate?



Does this mean you're applying for a job at Yahoo!? Is this a way of making up for your karmic errors of not taking the Yahoo! position oh-so-many years ago? Do you think you can rise to the top of Yahoo! after having dissed them?

Inquiring minds want to know! :)




Diss them? It was purely unintentional stupidity! I was only offered an interview, not a position. Besides, what's a few billions?


Yahoo sent recruiters to my Silicon Valley University. Having a great meeting with the recruiters and possessing the required skills for the job I submitted my (decent) resume directly to the recruiter. After a week of not receiving a "move along" letter, I paid SEVERAL follow up voice mails and emails to the recruiter and his supervisor and never heard back. In such a competitive job market with opportunities (with their competitors)abound, these actions are laughable.

But... Yahoo Is Evil.

Sorry about bashing Terry Semel earlier on, he's a great guy. But I just don't think he's a trailblazer like Steve Jobs, Wozniak or Bill Gates. Just joking about Bill Gates. Anyways, great article Guy!

I agree. Google is a great company but Yahoo! is so much deeper and broader. I'm sure there are lots of engineers who would love to work on hardcore algorithms over at Google, but Yahoo! has the largest web audience in the world and actually keeps them on the site for more than .00001254 seconds.

It just seems like there'd be so many more interesting opportunities at Yahoo!. Google is cool, but they are not a media giant like Yahoo! has become.

I like the referral part. My friend once told me there are two things you need to succeed. One is connections and the other is talent, but connections precedes talent, and where you're up there then you have the opportunity to build your skills, hence smoking the more talented folks out.

@mike in the first post.
Not everyone wants to work for google, and becoming a millionaire hopefully isn't their first concern. Also joining google now, with their pretty high stock price, will not guarantee you a trip to the millionaire's club anyway, but who knows.

So the article fails to mention the obvious question-

Why would anyone care what Yahoo's hiring practices are, when everyone wants to work for Google instead?

Nobody is going to get rich working for Yahoo now- but people are becoming millionaires every day by working at Google.

Who cares what yahoo's requirements are? Tell us what Google's requirements are!


PhD in computer science.


"I didn't have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one instead." (Mark Twain)

I like the idea of a light resume that gets to the point, like an elevator pitch. It's easy to try to be perfect, to cover gaps, want the world to know about everything you have done.

That is why prestigious programs, previous jobs et cetera works so well. You only have to write Stanford, Yahoo! and engineering and you'll have a recruiter call you. No explanation needed, it's top of mind.

That said, once you are at the interview, the resume is 'forgotten' and it's all about showing your passion, brainpower and experience in the context of that company. The resume will get you in but you have to make sure that you get to stay.

I'm personally a big fan of people that are truly passionate and that have a strong drive to learn new things as part of their DNA - they can do everything. A need to change the world is a plus.

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