The first time Jesse Sparks met with a Microsoft recruiter, they didn’t talk about a job opportunity.
After Kathleen Hogan, Chief People Officer at Microsoft, spotted a Boston Globe article, Keane Johnson, an HR leader, reached out to Sparks on LinkedIn. And he wasn’t the only one — Sparks says every other phone call and email he received after his feature was a sterile job pitch.
But this meeting with Johnson was different.
“He was asking about my goals, aspirations, visions, dreams and hopes,” Sparks says. “Microsoft was very kind in their approach.”
They spoke casually about high school education and mental health in urban communities while learning about one another’s backgrounds. They discussed Jesse’s story, one of humility and perseverance.
Jesse had been at the “top of the high school food chain” at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. The star athlete graduated from Rindge in 2008 to play football on a scholarship at Northeastern University. But after graduating with a criminal justice degree, Sparks was unable to land a job and found himself back at Rindge, as a custodian.
Though “depressed and angry,” Sparks’ former guidance counselor urged him to look into guidance counseling as a profession after she saw how great he was with students.
“I hear often, be the person you needed when you were younger,” Sparks says, a man who lost his father at five and whose stepfather and brothers had various run-ins with the law.
Sparks graduated from Lesley University with a master’s degree in clinical and mental health counseling. Throughout the three year program, he remained a custodian (and later, a guidance counseling intern) at his former high school to put himself through.
At the end of Sparks’ first meeting with Microsoft, Johnson said he’d brainstorm with his team how to best help Sparks.
“It didn’t feel like I was being recruited, which was pretty cool and a change of pace from all the attention I was receiving,” he says.
Sparks then connected with Terrell Cox, Microsoft General Manager, over coffee.
“She would jot down notes and say ‘Oh this gives me an idea’ when I would say something about my passions and goals,” Sparks says.
A few weeks later, Sparks got a call from Johnson, who was excited about an opportunity for Sparks. Johnson connected Sparks with University Recruiter Molly Walter, who invited him in for his official interview.
“I was doing all these things that I didn’t think had anything to do with recruiting,” Sparks says, “but it’s the same as if I’m in a room doing counseling, offering advice to students — I think that’s what Microsoft really saw.”
As a University Recruiter, Sparks is tasked with drawing the best and brightest to Microsoft from MIT and Harvard. He spends his day-to-day working with Walter at career fairs and meet-the-company events, analyzing resumes to determine if there might be a role for these students to play at Microsoft.
Sparks says he’s excited to be in a position where he’s be able to help other people succeed.
Although university recruiting isn’t something Sparks had imagined himself doing, he “likes the challenge of trying to find the hidden gem recruits as well as the rock stars who will bring different talents and skill sets to Microsoft.”
Patience, active listening, building rapport, communication skills, unconditional positive regard and competitiveness — skills Sparks developed as an athlete and counselor — will help him in his new role.
“I never would have imagined working at Microsoft, but it really was a no-brainer when they came calling,” Sparks says. “You hear about all the good things they do — volunteer work, their statement about the dreamers… They’re socially oriented, into community service, into allowing their workers to develop their passions… I still can’t believe Kathleen Hogan read about me, but I’m super thankful she did because she’s given me the unique opportunity I was looking for.”
Tags: Cambridge Ringe and Latin School, Harvard, Jesse Sparks, Kathleen Hogan, Keane Johnson, Lesley University, microsoft, Microsoft New England, MIT, Molly Walter, Northeastern University, Terrell Cox