Standing in his signature jeans, T-shirt and sneakers, amid a sea of suits at a college career event, James Robert Lay quickly draws a crowd of students interested in working with him.
Lay is the founder and grower of relationships at PTP New Media, a branding and marketing firm based in Pasadena, Texas.
Rather than a formal meeting, some of the college students may then be invited to Starbucks for coffee and conversation, which is Lay’s version of an interview.
“You learn a lot more talking about life, what kind of wine you like, and why not in a Starbucks,” Lay offered. “I like having interviews in an unexpected environment because it throws someone off immediately and you can see how they adapt and evolve very quickly as a person. You learn how they think on their feet."
The second interview can be equally off-putting as Lay brings them into the office, puts them in front of a camera and asks them to act like they are interviewing someone.
“It takes that kind of personality to make it here and they either rock it or fail,” said Lay. “I’m looking more at the personality and passion. You can learn certain skills and concepts in college but you can’t teach passion. No one starts out saying they want to work at a credit union but they may have a passion for something that although it may not line up with a specific job, it can be cultivated and put on [the] forefront of conversations and incentives.”
Always actively recruiting, Lay said he’s found staffers after speaking engagements, campus career days, job fairs and at other events. He said it’s about being open to opportunity.
“When university students see me on a panel in my jeans and t shirt, they are connecting with me. Our organization has one level – flat, as far as I’m concerned; we’re working together,” Lay said.
The firm focuses on helping organizations do things differently to grow in new ways. For the PTP team, it’s about what it describes as “destroying the box,” and generating and implementing new ideas to help others.
A lack of concern for labels or an organizational chart becomes quickly evident as each staffer comes up with their own title and the work environment is essentially a hub devoid of offices, according to Lay. Everyone works in the same space.
When a stack of 10 to 15 résumés from university events have been whittled down to six or seven potential candidates, the entire PTP team may conduct group interviews at a local bar during happy hour.
“Again, we’re a small business. We’re all super busy and interviewing is so time intensive. Providing appetizers, chatting during happy hour for 30 minutes about everything but work, those personalities come out. You see who dominates a conversation, is timid or plays both sides,” Lay said.
The candidates are then split in two groups and the interview gets more intense.
“We all work in one room here, there are literally no walls up,” Lay said. “We all stay on the same page and it gets very loud. When you spend so much of your waking time working closely together with a group of people, it has to come down to personality and fit.”
That is where a culture aspect comes into play because the workplace’s environment may not be for everyone, Lay said.
“Some are used to a lot more structure,” said Lay. “So it’s really neat to look at it in terms of the recruiting process, in building this culture where we work hard and have fun.”