If you want to nail a ClassPass job interview, ask this question

Before Hollen Spatz became VP of People & Operations at ClassPass, the Riverside, Conn. resident spent a decade in leadership positions at companies including Martha Stewart Living and Gilt Groupe.

When she initially started at ClassPass, Spatz was hired to focus on customer experience. She later joined a team dedicated to expanding the company’s office in Missoula, Montana.

Fascinated by the experience of trying to build a culture for a team that didn’t yet exist, she was tasked with creating a consistent employee experience for the brand’s first recruits in a new office. 

“This was the first time that I really stepped into an HR role, thinking strategically through the ways in which ClassPass could build a scalable, sustainable culture and support employees with a range of needs,” she said.  According to Spatz, ClassPass was entering a major international growth stage with similar exciting problems to solve.

“My experience in Customer Experience laid an important foundation for HR because I was already thinking about how to continually listen to customers, and evolve the experience to meet their needs,” she said, “Though my role is now internal, I am very much using the same skill set.

These days, ClassPass has a team of nearly 400 employees distributed across 30 countries where ClassPass is available. 

With so many employees, we chatted with Spatz to see how COVID-19 has changed the way her team members work, why diversity is key within the organization, and her No. 1 tip for landing a job with ClassPass (hint: it’s about asking the right questions).

How has COVID shaped working arrangements for you and your team? 

ClassPass is a global company with offices spread across the world. One advantage we had going into the pandemic is that we were already used to distributed teams, Zoom meetings, and working with individuals across various time zones.

However, the pandemic has definitely amplified the challenges of working from home, especially for parents such as myself who are also balancing childcare and school. 

To help with this transition, we have offered a stipend to every member of our team to set up their home office, supporting the purchase of ergonomic chairs, monitors, and standing desks. ClassPass has also made it a priority to encourage time off, through company-wide bonus holidays that encourage everyone to put their computers down for a day.

To build community remotely, ClassPass has offered a series of panels, trivia events, and team workouts that allow members to chime in from wherever they are working.

We recognize that access to therapy is one of the most needed benefits during this time, and we have partnered with BetterHelp to make sure all employees have access to mental health resources. 90% of our team says they are effectively able to work from home and 82% report they are finding new routines and doing a better job of managing work and life.

Can you give us a little detail about hiring practices — what do you look for in a candidate? 

I look for team players who have solutions-oriented thinking and the ability to operate in ambiguous situations. At a startup like ClassPass, there are a number of priorities, and we move at a rapid pace. There is not always a playbook, since we are inventing it as we go, and that has been especially true in the past year.

By hiring professionals who are comfortable with this ambiguity and who will dive headfirst into a challenge, it keeps our wheels turning.

What question would you be impressed by candidates asking in interviews? 

Interviews are not only intended for a company to evaluate a candidate. They are also an opportunity for the candidate to interview the company and make sure the company is the right fit for what they want out of their next career step.

I appreciate it when a candidate shows their preparedness by asking questions that demonstrate their research and their desire to understand how the company operates.

It goes a long way for a candidate to chat about a podcast they listened to featuring a team member or a specific product that we have recently introduced and tie that back to questions they have about the future priorities of the organization.

What are some new things you’re looking for in this new world of work?

Resilience and agility are always necessary for an ever-changing start-up environment, but that became even more apparent with COVID. The needs of our business are constantly evolving and we are looking for team members who are excited to learn new skills, approach their work with flexibility, and ask questions when they don’t know the answers.

Our approach to hiring is to find people who can grow in their roles and in their careers at the company. We have five operating principles at ClassPass, and those directly translate into what we look for in candidates:

  1. Adopt a growth mindset: We believe that there are always ways to make ourselves, our teams, and our company better, and we encourage and embrace when a colleague creates new solutions that help us and our business grow.
  2. Be brave: We do not shy away from a hard thing that needs to be done, whether it’s a tough conversation or a scary decision. We welcome candidates who can talk about overcoming adversity or work-related challenges in their past. We recognize this is not always easy and want to create tools and safe spaces to encourage these actions.
  3. Debate, decide, commit: We believe in the power of open debate to ensure the best ideas have been considered and rigorously evaluated. We look for candidates who are eager to share their ideas, but who can also work together with their colleagues to understand other perspectives and points of view and root for the decided upon approach.
  4. Seek to understand: We hire those who will continually ask inquisitive questions, and engage in constructive debate, and who are curious about other approaches and how they impact the business and move our ideas forward.
  5. Play to win. We believe the best way to win is to act as a team, which means supporting each other through difficult times. This guiding principle also means that we look for candidates who can bring a sense of humor and fun to work.

What does a typical day in your shoes look like, if there was one?

I am a mom to three kids under the age of six, so there is never a dull day. My alarm clock is generally a kid coming through the door by 6:30 am, and then it’s a day full of context switching between Mom mode and HR mode.

ClassPass is very encouraging of parents blocking off family time in their calendar, and I have made it a priority in our new normal to drop my oldest child at kindergarten in the morning and pick her up in the afternoon. My other kids are home right now, so it’s definitely a lot of juggling but I’m very grateful that we have a company culture in which we celebrate a kid or pet making a surprise appearance on Zoom as my kids have definitely stopped by during a few meetings!

What is the best career advice you’ve received? 

There is something to be learned from every job. You may not always learn the thing you expected, or enjoy all parts of your role, but even learning what you enjoy doing and want more of, or just as importantly, what you don’t want in your next role, is invaluable. It allows you to be thoughtful and prescriptive at times about what you want from a role and why that skill is necessary for what’s next in your career.

What advice do you have for anyone looking to break into this industry/follow in your footsteps?

If you are interested in breaking into HR, get involved within committees at your organization dedicated to this work. Raise your hand to be the culture champion for your group. This is how I got interested in HR — by working on the plans for our Missoula office and eventually managing a large, growing team around the globe. These opportunities will give you an important opportunity to see if you like the work involved.

Do you have a role model in the industry or a mentor? 

Throughout my career, I have made it a point to surround myself with talented, smart, driven women. My first boss, Carolyn Frey, took me under her wing early, gave me the confidence to push myself, and encouraged me to apply for my next roles. She has always been a sounding board, and I’m so grateful for her leadership. I am really lucky to have worked with several female visionaries including ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia.

During my stint at Martha Stewart, I also had the chance to observe then CEO Lisa Gersh, who is an absolute powerhouse. Our paths have recently crossed again as Lisa Gersh has joined the Board of Directors at ClassPass, and she is such a dynamic leader. I truly believe that one of the best things women can do in the workplace, and outside of it, is to form friendships with other women who will push, challenge, and encourage them to grow. My current and former colleagues and closest friends inspire me daily.

Who are your biggest cheerleaders and support system?

My husband, especially in our new work-from-home life, and I am incredibly grateful to have a partner willing to step in when I need to be on a call. I’m also very lucky that many of my closest friends are doing incredible work in similar spaces — they are my biggest cheerleaders and also help me through the tough days when I’m not on my A-game. It is truly invaluable to have a network of close friends, personally and professionally, who I can tap into at any moment.

I am also incredibly grateful for my internal advocates at ClassPass. HR was not an obvious path to me, but my manager Tom Aveston and our CEO Fritz Lanman recognized that my skills and interests were a fit for the needs of the business. They really pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me the safety net to ask a lot of questions during my first few months in this position.

One of the things I value most about ClassPass is that we continually look for team members with broad skill sets and a deep understanding of the business. Many members of our team have built nonlinear career paths within the organization, and I think it’s incredibly cool to work at a company where we encourage people to try new things and find roles that feel meaningful. 

What’s the biggest misconception about working in HR?

HR is often thought of as a tactical job, but it is a very strategic and solution-oriented function where data, both quantitative and qualitative, plays a pivotal role. As an HR leader, you are looking for areas where the company can continue to improve, and iterating regularly on those areas as the needs of your team change. That may include increasing at-home benefits and perks for remote employees or improving the way an all-hands meeting is run to allow for more Q&A time from the team.

From the get-go, HR leaders should be involved in major decisions that will impact your greatest asset – the people on your team. Employees are your customers and you are collecting invaluable data and feedback from them daily. It’s critical to understand what it means, and how to create solutions that continue to improve their experience. 

What obstacles have you faced in your career?

The biggest obstacle is companies that haven’t been as open-minded as ClassPass, and that consider your range to be based on what you have done previously. I am much better at HR because I held other positions first. From my time in marketing, I learned how to get people excited about new services and to articulate how to use new features, something that helps every time we introduce a new benefit to the team.

From my time in customer service, I learned how to listen to someone’s frustrations during a bad day and make sure they feel heard and respected. That experience has directly translated into my ability to chat with a team member when things are not going well, and to work together to come up with solutions. 

What obstacles have you faced specifically as a woman? 

Early in my career, I tried to emulate what I thought a female executive was. There are some amazing women in business that I look up to, but I realized that I don’t have to follow their exact example to be successful. It took me a while to realize that I could be authentically myself and bring my own style of leadership rooted in transparency, authenticity, and empathy.

Being a working parent has also been a challenge. I’ve spent a lot of time educating others on what that’s like, including transparency around my schedule. One of the biggest learnings has been to set boundaries early on, such as the time I take out of each day to pick my daughter up from kindergarten. 

How can businesses become more inclusive?

During the past year, ClassPass has made diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging a core priority for our company. Our efforts have included hiring an incredible DEIB Senior Program Manager, bringing in external learning and development consultants to offer training to everyone at our organization, and increased transparency around areas where we can continue to drive positive change. We have also bolstered our Employee Resource Groups and created a paid DEIB Council made up of diverse members of our team from across the organization. We are continuing to keep a very close eye on how we can revamp our hiring practices and our internal culture to be as inclusive as possible.

When you aren’t working, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I love to spend time with my family and to travel together when safely able to do so, though I don’t enjoy packing for everyone! I am also a big fan of being outdoors and enjoy skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, and exploring the beach with my kids.

Hilary Sheinbaum is an author, journalist, and speaker in New York City. Her book The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month (HarperCollins) is available for pre-sale and will be published Dec. 29, 2020.