How LinkedIn’s Program for High Potential Youth Is Changing the Face of the Company

September 30, 2019

When LinkedIn’s former sales leaders Mike Gamson and Brian Frank launched the Business Leadership Program in 2013, they wanted to do more than create a talent pipeline for the sales organization. They wanted to hire the future leaders of the company.

As ambitious as that sounds, the program appears to be delivering on its original vision. And BLP has, in its brief tenure, boosted diversity at LinkedIn.

The program gives its Associates sales and leadership training over the course of 18 to 24 months by putting them through two extended rotations, one in customer operations and one in talent acquisition, and in a position on the Sales Development team, all to prepare them for a career in sales, whether it’s as an account executive, relationship manager, or customer success manager.

The program has been great for the people who are launching their careers and great, as it turns out, for LinkedIn. Associates who go through BLP are more productive and stay longer than their sales counterparts who have not.

And BLP is helping to increase gender and ethnic diversity at LinkedIn. “BLP has become this incredible engine for diversity at LinkedIn,” says Tiffany Poeppelman, the global head of the program, “and I couldn’t be prouder of all that its alumni have contributed to the company.”

Today, the U.S. program, with one cohort in Chicago (32 Associates) and one in San Francisco (36), is almost evenly split between women and men, and the percentage of Associates from underrepresented minority groups easily tops that of employees overall.

In Dublin, Ireland, where 24 Associates participate in a European BLP, the focus has been on finding linguistic diversity. This year’s cohort comes from seven countries and 21 schools, has eight primary languages, and is almost evenly split between men and women.

Tiffany and Bri Belur, a senior recruiting manager for LinkedIn, point to four key tactics that have allowed the program to successfully attract diverse talent.

1. Look beyond the so-called elite schools to expand the pool for diverse talent

We live in the era of college rankings — from U.S. News & World Report to The Princeton Review — and it’s difficult sometimes to see beyond a handful of elite schools (their ivy-covered towers get in the way). But diversity is nearly unattainable without searching more broadly. It’s a strategy that former First Lady Michelle Obama pioneered when she was a junior associate at Chicago’s Sidley & Austin, where one of her roles was campus recruiting.

When the BLP program started in 2013, it drew its Associates from about eight target schools that were mostly the alma maters of the company’s top executives.

“But we’ve moved to a skills-over-schools strategy,” Bri says. The 68 Associates admitted to the U.S.-based program this year come from more than 40 colleges and universities.

Bri and the campus recruiting team look, for example, at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions. They also look at schools that have undergraduate programs in sales, including Morehouse, a historically black men’s college in Atlanta. But they also scour other data sources to find schools with diverse populations.

2. Extend recruiting beyond campus by creating your own events — and inviting students from many schools

Rather than exclusively bouncing from campus to campus, LinkedIn holds open houses each year to give invited students and recent grads a look at our company and culture and introduce them to the BLP.

One open house is at our San Francisco office and one is at our Chicago office. There are also a few virtual open houses that allow LinkedIn to reach out to students in every corner of the country. “The virtual open houses,” Tiffany says, “are scheduled to mirror the same kind of content and introductory exposure to BLP that the in-person open houses provide.”

“The virtual events,” Bri adds, “can be as big as we want them to be. We’re hoping to catch a lot more of students. It’s a lighter lift on their part as it’s just an hour and there’s no travel. For us, it’s a chance to get in front of them and start sharing our story.”

To enhance the virtual open houses, LinkedIn has an entire production studio with a slew of cameras and a production team working the event. The video conferencing capabilities make the Q&A segments especially lively and engaging.

3. Use LinkedIn to find the right students for your events

“Because we’re LinkedIn,” Bri says, “we like to use our own product, and we don’t necessarily have to search by school. We also search by keywords to uncover previous internship experience, work experience, or organizations that students are involved in. This helps bring students of diverse backgrounds — wherever they’re located, wherever they go to school — to the forefront.”

The campus recruiting team will also search the LinkedIn network for students with certain skills as well as for indications that they’re interested in a career in sales.

Typically, the campus recruiting team is less interested in what students are majoring in. “We’ve had art majors,” Bri says, “and history majors, for example, and seen people from those backgrounds do well.”

4. Look for partnerships that will increase your access to students from underrepresented groups

LinkedIn partners with organizations like Management Leadership for Tomorrow to identify diverse candidates for BLP. According to the MLT website, their team “equips and emboldens high-achieving women and men from underrepresented communities — African American, Latino/a, and Native American — to realize their full potential, to make a mark and make a difference.” To this end, MLT provides coaching and networking for students in its program.

MLT also partners with LinkedIn to help the company identify and recruit interns from underrepresented groups, and our interns often become Associates — roughly 90% of our sales interns later join BLP.

Final thoughts: Give your leadership program the goals, staff, rigor, and executive support it needs to thrive

For a professional development program to nurture diverse talent, it first has to nurture its own success.

Tiffany says there are a number of keys to running a successful professional development program:

1.   “Set expectations early,” she says, “to help your talent understand what the program is, what kind of development opportunities it’s going to create for them, and what type of career opportunities it’s going to open for them.”

2. Deliver on those expectations. “Have an alumni network,” Tiffany suggests, “that can come back and say, ‘Here’s what BLP did for me. Here’s why I’m a more successful, better professional because of BLP.’”

3. Deploy dedicated staff and operational rigor in support of your program. “The program managers on my leadership team,” Tiffany says, “deliver a customized experience that set Associates up for success for the rest of their careers.”

4. Develop a way to measure the effectiveness of the program — LinkedIn’s BLP, being a sales program, has pretty clear-cut metrics for success. “Everyone,” Tiffany says, “needs to understand, if we create a program for entry-level talent, how is that going to be better than hiring folks who are more experienced. That’s something we’ve tracked with those metrics.”

Tiffany then cites one more crucial requirement: A post-college development program needs ongoing, robust executive sponsorship.

“When the program started,” Tiffany says, “the executives wanted to start it. So, from the very beginning, you had executive support and sponsorship. They want to be involved. They want to come to the open houses. They want to be part of the recruiting process where they can.” Mike and Brian have moved on to new roles, but their successors, Dan Shapero and Lekha Doshi, have stepped in as the executive sponsors for BLP and continue to provide continuous support to ensure its success.

Why the continued interest?

Because it works.

Sales leaders at LinkedIn have cited the program as one of the reasons for the success of the sales organization over the last few years. Forbes recently weighed in too, ranking LinkedIn as the second-best company in the United States for new college graduates and citing BLP as the company’s most popular initiative for entry-level employees.

The diversity that BLP has brought to the company is not so much icing on the cake as a fabulous second cake altogether.

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