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I recently had a morning chat with Katie Radford, Head of Fun at DoSomething.org, one of the largest organizations (3.3 million members large) for young people and social change.
If you’re not familiar with the organization’s approachable vibe, Ms. Radford’s job title itself should give you an inkling of its fun personality. Head of Fun, a great title for the person who does “anything related to people” at the organization: hiring, recruiting, managing the internship program, and maintaining and communicating the organization’s culture. In our conversation, condensed and edited below, we talk about what they look for in candidates, how to stand out, and why you should always send a thank-you note.
Idealist Careers: How long have you been at DoSomething.org?
Katie: I’ve been on staff for two-and-a-half years but I was an intern 2007-2008. Before that, I was a DoSomething.org club leader in middle and high schools, so I’ve been involved with the organization for 12 years.
What was your favorite experience?
I came out of NYU’s design your own major program in 2011. It was a great experience, but left me with no employable skills after college. DoSomething.org gave me a career. I started as an Office Manager and learned a lot about how the organization works on the day-to-day level. I took an interest in operations and when the Head of Fun position opened, it was the perfect opportunity.
I never planned on and never thought about HR as a career because I had so many misjudgments about it. This has been the coolest thing about being here- having the opportunity to take an interest and grow in ways I didn’t even expect.
Tell me more about your great job title!
Head of Fun. I did not create that title, I wish I could take credit for that. I’ve held the title the longest though, so that’s something I’m happy to brag about. I do anything related to people – hiring recruiting, internship program, culture, etc. It’s super important to us to have a workplace that is fun, exciting, a little bit weird, but also provides plenty of opportunity and growth for our staffers.
This interview was prompted in part by one of your responses to our HR survey, in which you said, “HR professionals are people, too! Getting a job is just as much about building the relationship and rapport with the HR or hiring manager as demonstrating your skill set. You have to bring both to the table if you expect an offer.” How would you recommend a job seeker go about building a relationship with the HR or hiring manager?
Be open to opportunities that are not just full time employment. 25% of staff are former interns. Internships are an incredible way to get a foot into the door. We haven’t only had college students participate in our internship program, but also recent grads, grad students or people coming in to get a new skill set. An internship is an incredible opportunity to really prove yourself. We’ve had interns that have been so amazing that we saw a need for them to fill a role full time.
Additionally, for the nonprofit sector in general, it’s really important to do volunteering. DoSomething.org has a volunteer program where participants respond to text message inquiries. We have over 3 million members and most of them are members through mobile devices. Our volunteers help them answer these mobile questions. We had a great volunteer who volunteered nearly every day for a two weeks. Our CEO asked what he was going to be doing for the summer and if he wanted to intern with us. He wound up blowing us away by taking on a lot of responsibilities with our email list and intern program. After his internship, there was no question - we had to hire him full time.
A more traditional way to build a relationship is through networking. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met just on social media and had informational interviews with. If someone takes a particular interest in my Twitter account, @DoSomethingJobs, I’ll pay attention. The more they are responding to tweets, retweeting, etc, they are going to stand out. People have even tweeted to ask for my email and then asked me out to coffee. I’ve taken them up on it and it’s a great way to enhance our pipeline. I also post new opportunities, internships, and job tips. It’s been a helpful way to quickly engage with people about how they can get involved with us.
Please share a story of a time a candidate stood out to you. What did they do to set themselves apart?
One of the things that is super important is the thank you note. Know that there are hundreds of people who apply for our jobs, so if I interview you and you write a good thank you note, it melts my heart. We just hired someone for Business Development for TMI, our consulting agency. When he interviewed, we covered six or seven things and only talked for about 20 minutes. That evening, he wrote me the most incredible thank you email I’ve received. He was following up with very specific items that we talked about and was genuinely thankful for my time. Especially in a role where the emphasis is on developing relationships with people the thank you note made me think, “Okay, we have to hire him.” It’s something small, but really shows the thoughtfulness and someone’s desire to stay engaged in the process. If I can remember your thank you note I think that’s pretty incredible.
And the age-old question: email or handwritten?
I think the timeliness is most important rather than whether it’s email or handwritten. Email caters to that better. Handwritten is incredible. If you can get it to my office within 24 hours, you’re killin’ it.
What’s a common mistake you see among job seekers?
For me, it’s that they miss our tone and the vibe we are going for. It’s super easy to figure out what kind of culture we have (hint: it’s fun!). The Head of Fun has spoken. When I get a super formal “Dear Sir/Madam” letter, it puts me off. It’s important that we bring people to the team that really get us. We need to see personality.
What do you wish interviewees asked you?
What the metrics for success are for the position they are applying for. This tells me they are thinking about what their contributions to the organization could be. It shows they are really thinking, “Is this the right fit and can I be successful here?” Only about 5% of people I interview ask me that question. It’s so important to show you are thinking ahead and ready to hit the ground running.
Do you research candidates on social media?
Sometimes, but it is not a consistent practice. I have been turned both off and on by what I see from candidates online. I always advise people to err on the side of caution and plan that recruiters are looking on their social media accounts.
An instance when you were impressed?
Our campaign positions are specialized based on cause space. Recently we hired someone who was going to run campaigns in the education space. She consistently posted articles on Twitter regarding what was happening in education. She showed she was active in this space, and it resonated with me and the team about how she was already plugged into the issues she would be tackling here.
What aspects of the job search do candidates focus on that aren’t really that important to you?
It goes back to the hyper formality that people take in their job applications. All of our jobs require particular skills but I look to hire a person. You are more than your skill set. I would love to see more people focusing on that aspect. There are things that we can teach you here, so someone’s capabilities and potential rank higher for me than a list of hard skills.
What are some tips you can share about how an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) works at DoSomething.org?
Two big things come to mind. Always, always send your resume as a PDF. If it’s a Word document, the formatting can get jumbled and looks like a mess on my end. When people apply on LinkedIn instead of sending a resume directly the formatting also comes out weird, so I always caution against that. The second is use keywords from the posting. Hard skills- knowing quickbooks, for example- are things that would be included in your resume as recruiters can search applications for keywords, so if these aren’t there, you may not be considered.
What do you expect to see from a new hire 30 days after employment? Three months? One year?
We always ask ourselves three questions before bringing on a new hire:1) Would we want to be in a bunker with you?
2) Will you be doing something amazing in four to six years? (In general, not specifically at DoSomething.)
3) Can you hit a homerun in 90 days? And, this can absolutely mean an actual homerun on our summer kickball team, although we definitely focus on someone hitting the ground running in the workplace as well.
We give a lot of responsibility to all of our employees. In the first 30 days I want to see you totally owning a project on your own. In 90 days, you should be knocking a project out of the park. In your first year, you should be making a significant unique contribution to the organization.
At your organization, what is more important for a candidate to have: passion or skill?
Passion 100%. Being passionate about something doesn’t mean you are going to be proactive about it, so it’s more about a combination of passion and initiative. You have to know that you are going to do something about it. Skills can be taught. When I started, I didn’t even know what ATS meant (applicant tracking system), and now I can fully operate and customize the one that we use to review candidates and move them through the consideration process. I was trained on the job. The staff member who runs our text message program, creates mobile games, does testing, etc had no experience with mobile before she got here, but she is incredible at it. She has figured out when people are dropping off, when they are engaged, and why. Her work has been absolutely vital to us as we grow our membership.
What’s one trait that all candidates need if they want to work in this cause area (youth volunteering) regardless of role?
One is that sort of proactive passion that I mentioned before. I think that is true for the entire not-for-profit sector. We are super lean in our operations, so you need to come in and not just be passionate but proactive. And two, things change so quickly. We use a lot of new technologies – we’re on Snapchat, Kik, SMS… it’s a huge list. It’s important to pivot and react to what is going on with our member base. Being flexible is huge because young people are amazing at adapting to new things, and we need to keep up
What misconceptions do people have about your cause area?
People don’t understand that not-for-profits function as businesses. You’d be surprised at how many people have a reaction like, “awww” when I tell them that I work at a not-for-profit. But I have incredible benefits. I have a livable salary. We operate like a tech startup. There are a lot of things people in for-profit organizations can LEARN from not-for-profits. This is something we talk about a lot at DoSomething, so much so, that we put together a book which is coming out in February 2015, The XYZ Factor. It’s written by 13 staff members and is about how we can create a culture of impact here. More than, “Oh, sweet, you work at a not-for-profit.”
What roles are the hardest to fill in your org? Why?
1. Higher level management positions. A lot of roles are entry level because of turnover and because we promote from within. When we need someone to manage or direct the team, we typically hire someone who is already on the team and can rise to the occasion. We have such a distinct and unique culture, so bringing someone on in a management or director role is a unique challenge.
2. Tech positions. Being a not-for-profit makes it difficult because everyone is always scrapping for tech talent. We’re doing some really cool stuff with technology that once people know about, make us a real competitor for tech talent. About a third of our team writes or touches code every day. Our CTO is a very busy man.
I really enjoyed my lively discussion with Ms. Radford and have been eager to share her advice with our readers. I hope you enjoyed reading it just as much.
by Victoria Crispo