Marta Munk de Alba is the Director Talent Acquisition EMEA at Netflix in Amsterdam. She started her Human Resources career in Spain, where she joined Booking.com in 2011. Marta has been with Netflix in the Netherlands since 2016.
What excites you about working for Netflix?
When I started at Netflix almost seven years ago, I wasn't really sure what Netflix was. If I'm honest, the reason I got excited about this company and this brand is because a former boss of mine shared a Harvard Business Review article with me, called How Netflix Reinvented HR. She didn't know that, by sharing that with me, I would resign!
I have been in recruitment all my life, from a big head-hunting firm to NGO [non-profit organization] work, and then big tech at Booking.com. I’ve seen a lot of different approaches to talent and, when I came across the unconventional approach Netflix had, I felt I wanted to work for a company that operates like that and to see - of course - if the claims were true.
I was very sceptical about the way they spoke about how they treated people and how they approached the freedom and responsibility they gave people. So, when I started talking to people during the interview process, I started to realize those values seemed to be true. I always say that I joined Netflix and I continue to work at Netflix because of the culture.
It's not perfect; I don't want to sound like we’ve found the holy grail of business scalability, because it's not. It's very unique and very unconventional. HR and recruitment are very strategic functions in the business, and we think about our culture as a toolkit for excellence.
We give people freedom, so they do a good job. We give them a large amount of responsibility, so they can make a big impact. We put people over processes, because we don't want to delay decisions. We don't have KPIs, but we rely on radical candour or feedback.
Our content executives would kill me if they heard me saying this, but - to me – the actual product is secondary. I love the content, I love the reality shows, the films, the international component of it all, but - for me - what goes first is the way Netflix has allowed me to work.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for a) your business, and b) your own role, over the next 12 months?
When we're talking about business challenges, I like to see it as an opportunity. I'm the type of person that sees the glass half-full and gets excited when I need to solve very difficult problems.
To think about the future, you need to look at the past. We come from being a very successful business. We were number one in the streaming industry, number one to expand internationally, number one to create local content in each country and speak to audiences in their own languages. We have had a very positive trajectory; it has been hypergrowth, success and discovery.
I think it's not only specific to Netflix, but currently in the world there are macroeconomic factors and social factors influencing the trajectory of companies and industries. There are external factors that we cannot control, but also industry factors, like competition and keeping up with great content, are creating a new reality for Netflix.
We are in a reality where there is more competition, where we need to continue thinking about what shows are going to excite our members.
I've been here for almost seven years. If I think about the next seven years, it's very exciting to be in a company that needs to not necessarily reinvent themselves, but to make sure we keep up with that growth and success. That will mean revisiting some of our habits and some of our practices that we took for granted until now.
An example of this is the working from home flexibility. That flexibility affects Netflix a lot, because we are a creative environment; we come up with ideas that, in most cases, come from the interaction of people. So, what does this remote work or working from home concept mean for Netflix?
I think the next couple of years are going to be very exciting, because they are going to force us to solve different challenges that we didn't have in the past and, from a recruiting standpoint, I find it very exciting.
How does your company work to retain high potential employees?
We are lucky that the brand itself attracts great talent. People know, when they join Netflix, they're going to be doing great work, either on the tech side - because they're going to be developing the number one platform in the world - and on the creative side - as they're going to have freedom to create their product. So, I think the work itself is the main factor that keeps people at Netflix.
The fact that freedom is one of our values; we give people a lot of freedom in the way they should do their work and make decisions. The work, plus how we let them do that work, is the best retention plan.
Then, of course, there are other factors, like competitive compensation. I don’t think we should shy away from speaking about that, as well as the development opportunities in growing in an international company - I’m a good example of that.
More recently, we have started to be a little bit more intentional in how we think about development at Netflix. We shouldn't expect everything to happen organically or for people to be happy in their jobs forever. So, we are investing a lot more in making sure we equip our leaders and our people managers to be able to have growth conversations with their employees.
How can a job seeker stand out in the current market?
That's a great question - and we could spend two hours talking about that - but one of the things I value the most when I assess candidates at any level, and also when I interact with colleagues, is authenticity.
Authenticity comes with honesty, which comes with being loyal to your principles and values, and making sure you feel passionate about the job you are pursuing.
I would say that's one element that I always look for when hiring for a business or hiring for my own team. I try to be authentic as much as I can, because that brings me a lot of joy when working.
What risks have you taken throughout your career and how did they help you get to the level you are at?
For me, if there's no risk, there's no success. I'm not saying everybody should be taking risks all the time, but I'm someone that leans into this. I think risk-taking is important, and I’ve learned the most from failures.
When you’re drawn to working in innovative environments, like Booking.com or Netflix, who are at the forefront of their industry, you have to get used to leaning into risks, and - for me - it's very rewarding and represents a lot of learning.
It’s not just this, however, that has contributed to the success in my career; I've had some great leaders and great teams that have allowed me to be successful, so it’s not just an individual effort.
What would have been your second career choice and why?
In my early career, I had to make a choice between going into organizational psychology or clinical psychology. So, I would have probably gone the clinical route, had I not chosen my current career. I really like learning about human behaviour and understanding human minds.
One day, I hope to go back to university and study Architecture, because I really like interior architecture - not necessarily decoration - but the building process. I hope I have the chance to do that, and I have a second life when it comes to work.
Who is the most inspiring person in business for you and why?
I have a very inspiring mother. She has tenacity and authenticity, and is someone very loyal to her principles. When it comes to business, I've had several leaders who I admire for the way they've led me and others.
If I go back to Heidrick & Struggles, for example, I worked with two principals, and they exposed me to clients and to the business, which expedited my understanding of organisations. This was something unusual for such a young associate to have the opportunity to do. Principals in executive recruitment firms don't often do this, and I learned that you can do things differently and then, when you trust that team member, you should invest in them like that.
When I was at Booking.com, I worked with a lot of amazing executives, like Andrea D´Ámico in Italy and Angel LIull in Spain. I looked up to them, because they were able to manage very big multi-disciplinary teams, while remaining very human and approachable to those teams.
I then had a boss, Jaap, who taught me how great it is to be a hands-off manager. Jaap was a boss that didn't monitor what I did; we didn't have one-on-ones, but, if I picked up the phone and I said I needed help, he reacted immediately.
At Netflix, I have had the best bosses anyone could ask for: Alix Jacobson and Valerie Tola - they are both incredible. My relationship with them is based on trust and authenticity, and the idea of being completely transparent, and they have become my rocks.
I go to them not only to report back on the work, but I use them as my sparring partner and sounding board; they are people I can be vulnerable with. It's a judgment-free relationship, which I appreciate greatly, because I think we as individuals judge ourselves a lot and I’ve certainly had imposter syndrome at many points in my Netflix career.
It was obviously more intense in my early days at Netflix, but it's something that comes and goes, and I think just by saying it out loud, it subsides a little.
In our minds, we all have a little judge telling us we're not doing this right. I have the judge in my head all the time. I've learned how to live with this little person, and I think we all have it - especially when we have demanding environments.
It taught me that relationships that are based on trust can include a lot of challenging and heated conversations where we provide feedback to each other in a very candid way; I think that brings people together, because you know the trust is there and is shared with good intent.
What are your tips on achieving work-life balance?
It's been a journey. When you're 23, you don't even think about it. However, when you're 41 - like I am now - I'm more confident in prioritising myself.
How people achieve balance is a very personal thing. For me, I think of it as work-life integration. When you’re recruiting for a business, unexpected things happen. If you work for an American company, you might need to be available in the afternoons or evenings, and - at Booking.com - I had to travel 75% of my time, so the idea of work-life balance was just impossible.
But, what I do aim for - and this is where I put myself first - I make sure my expectations are very clear and it’s in the integration. I am a high performer and I give 120% to the company, but I also expect flexibility in return. However, I'm talking from a position where I've been here for a long time - I have a leadership position, I have my credibility, and I don't think you can go into a new job and expect this immediately. I think, once you’ve proven yourself, you are in your right to set the boundaries that work for you, as long as the work is done. You earn the freedom once you have delivered great work.
I used to travel a lot at Booking.com and, when I joined Netflix, I said what's healthy for me is that I take a holiday every quarter, and that short, frequent breaks allow me to be healthy and give that 100% to the company.
I think, with time, you get to know yourself a little bit, you get to understand what works and what doesn't work; a nine-to-five schedule might not be the right thing for everyone. For me, my days normally start a little later; I have a dog and like to go for a walk, and then my day ends at eight or nine PM, because that allows me to connect more with my US peers.
For others, this might mean they'd rather start early on and have free afternoons, or have a big break in the middle of the day to work out. I think it's about asking yourself what makes you feel good, what's healthy, what allows you to take care of the rest of your responsibilities, and then making sure that you’re up front with your boss or manager about your needs.
There are small tips and tricks where you can find out what works best for you. I have colleagues that introduce themselves over email with a short bio explaining what works for them, like meeting-free Fridays or work-from-home Mondays.
Setting boundaries is not always easy, especially when you need to set boundaries upwards, but reminding ourselves all the time that we have the option to set boundaries is important.
Finally, asking for help is very important. We all tend to forget that no matter how senior you are, there are moments in work and life where you need to say, "Hey, I just can't do this, can you help me?"
Thank you to Marta for speaking to Katie Insley, Associate Director in our HR recruitment team in the Netherlands.
Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.