Coca-Cola's talent scout hunts for people with "high learning agility"

Stacey Valy Panayiotou is the senior vice president of global talent and development at Coca-Cola (KO). In a recent interview with CBS News.com's Steven Greenberg, Panayioutou shared her insights on how a 130-year-old company with products sold in over 200 countries is challenging itself to innovate and adapt to changing consumer tastes. And she offered advice to candidates looking to help shape the future of the company.

In short, if you don't think of Coca-Cola when it comes to innovation, Panayioutou has plenty of reasons why you should. And she'll clue you in on what her favorite interview questions are.

Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

Greenberg: Coca-Cola may be one of the most beloved brands in the world, and it's in the middle of some fairly big changes. Tell us about that and the range of job openings at Coca-Cola that are being created as a result.

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Coca-Cola's Stacey Valy Panayiotou

Joe Photo/IMPACT Photo

Panayiotou: Coca-Cola has an incredible range of opportunities across departments and in our offices around the world, particularly as we expand into new beverage categories and push the innovation envelope to meet changing consumer preferences -- from what they drink to how they shop. These trends are opening up new roles in areas like e-commerce and R&D. And, of course, we need great marketing talent to help us win the hearts and minds of consumers in this fast-moving landscape.  

Candidates who are interested in innovation may not think of Coca-Cola. 

The company is 130 years old, so we must overcome [being] old by being innovative. In the past year Coke has changed its strategy and purpose. Coke used to be a brand, now it's beverages for life. We want a share of your stomach. We are now a total beverage company, more about nutrition, energy. And on the packaging side, we are innovating to achieve a world without waste.    

We need candidates who understand Coke's new approach. It's not a specific skill set but a mindset about change. We want people who know how to solve problems, people that can help us be disruptive and win at that.

Are certain majors or skill sets particularly in demand? 

Actually, there is no particular major, no particular experience, but mostly we seek really good thinkers, candidates that are good collaborators, and people with "high learning agility." 

I'll give you an example. A group of our marketers were recently working on a project, and rather than sitting at a conference table, they decided to go to Chicago, where they spent the day with musicians and artists, visiting museums, looking for inspiration. It was very effective.

How many resumes do you receive on average for each open job? What gets a candidate's resume noticed?

We receive a lot of resumes, but people who are passionate about working for Coca-Cola should apply with confidence. We're looking for people who are excited about working in a fast-moving, fast-changing business, and we want to hear your ideas. 

Effective resumes are the ones that demonstrate what a candidate has actually accomplished. What did a person help create, and not just maintain. Resumes should describe something the candidate interacted with day in and day out and made it better.   

What's the one thing you look for on a resume that candidates might not realize is important?

A candidate's work experience and skills are important, but a standout resume will include specific results. Don't be shy about highlighting your performance in a role, not just the work you did. And tell us about the wins you're most proud of.

Have you ever seen a candidate do something really creative and inspired?

Over the years I've seen everything from colorful resumes to personal videos. But to me the most important thing is an authentic conversation where a candidate demonstrates humble confidence and self-awareness. We're less interested in perfect answers to questions and more interested in stories about how a candidate's experience and accomplishments represent leaving something better than he or she found it. 

What's the best question you have ever been asked in a job interview?

I've been asked a lot of great questions, but I think the best ones come from candidates who are seeking to understand what inspires me to work at Coca-Cola. In other words, remember that an interview is part of a mutual selection process. Don't leave an interview without getting your questions answered so you can be really confident that you've found a great culture fit as well as a great job fit.

Get the interviewers talking about their own experiences. It's great data as you consider the right place for you.

What question should candidates be prepared to answer when they interview with you? 

I love to ask questions that help to bring a candidate's resume to life, and I encourage them to describe why the job they seek is interesting to them.

My favorite questions of all are "how could you be misunderstood?" And "how can people get the wrong impression of you, and what do you do about that perception?"    

That sounds like a much better variation on the common "what's your biggest weakness?" question.

Yes, it helps candidates address obstacles they face and how they manage to get around them. At Coke we want well-rounded people, people who know how to learn through failure. 

What's the best piece of advice you would give to candidates that they may have not heard before. 

Practice! At Coca-Cola, we do not design our interviews to stump you, but to help you speak to experiences that show us you have both the skills and behaviors needed for the role. If you have a job description, you can easily anticipate the questions you might be asked. We aren't looking for memorized responses, but practicing will help you focus on the key points and stories you want to share so you can deliver them clearly and concisely on the big day.

If you weren't the global head of talent and development for Coca-Cola, what would you want to be doing for a living? 

Funny, I would probably be doing something similar to this interview. But I'd be hosting the talk show and be the one asking the questions!

Steven Greenberg is the host of CBS News Radio's "Your Next Job," a daily feature offering career-related news and advice. He's also a consultant to HR tech company Traitify.com. Send him your career questions at greenberg@traitify.com