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[How We Hire] Character, competence, and chemistry

Published on: May 14, 2019

ASLA green roof

As a nationwide professional association with more than 15,000 members, The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) doesn’t just support the industry, it serves as a living example of the ways that green infrastructure can benefit society. From their partnerships with leading environmental organizations to their own state-of-the-art green roof, the ASLA fosters a healthy and progressive work culture for their employees. Human Resources Manager Richard A. Winston III, PHR, SHRM-CP, CCP deploys 15 years of HR experience to find the best people, and serve as the best possible resource and ally for them: “I’m always curious as to how we can fit into the grand scheme of each employee’s success story.”

Richard Winston IIISomething people love about working here: When polled by HR in July 2018, our staff shared that benefits and work-life balance are the top reasons ASLA is a great place to work. Comments included “low stress” and “wonderful benefits.” They also identified our flexible workplace policies (like telecommuting) as a “critical” value-added practice. The senior editor of our monthly publication, The Landscape Architecture Magazine, also pointed to the variety in work assignments, stating that “every month is different!”

Something I look for in a resume or cover letter: I look for applicants who make it easy to follow their career trajectory as they move forward, backward, or stay on an even keel. Today, it’s not uncommon for professionals to have multiple careers in the course of their lifetime. However, that means it’s very important for applicants to identify as someone who strategically aligns different opportunities in pursuit of their career pinnacle, versus someone who pivots repeatedly because they are constantly looking for the next exciting thing. Believe it or not, loyalty still goes a long way with employers.

Something I listen for in an interview: I want to know how the organization will help them achieve their desired career goals – whether that means through growth, exposure, transition, or something else. We do that by asking carefully crafted questions, and taking the interview process out of the conference room and into the workplace with a tour of the physical building, letting them see the environment firsthand and ask questions. We’re listening for “character” and “competence,” but most importantly we are seeking signs of obvious “chemistry.” I look to see if they will blend with the existing staff and ascertain, as best we can, the likelihood that they will stay.

One trait essential to employee success at the ASLA: Collaboration! We don’t work in silos. At ASLA, you have to be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. We strive to be like most design-oriented spaces: progressive and cutting edge, in practice and delivery of services.

My favorite interview question: The hiring manager and I have a lot of questions we stick to as part of our structured interview process. However, what I most often want to know is the candidates’ deciding factor in accepting a job. I normally ask a finalist something along the lines of, “What’s the most critical aspect in shaping your decision to accept an offer from us: the work you would do in this role, the salary, the people you will work with, or the mission?” I have asked this question when interviewing in all of my previous HR roles.

One way we help new hires succeed: Besides our standard orientation and onboarding program, I think the single most effective way we help our new people succeed is through our All-Volunteer Buddy Program. Nothing makes you feel more at home than having a friend. It is a great way to help new staff learn norms and the organizational culture, and gives them a secondary resource, beyond their immediate supervisor, to solve on-the-job challenges. It’s also designed to give junior staff who volunteer as peer “big brothers” or “big sisters” a leadership role on a trial basis. We found that this process helps them make an informed decision when considering whether to apply for a more senior position later.

How we advance staff diversity: Recently, ASLA created a new management position encompassing career diversity and discovery, aimed at exploring and expanding avenues to increase diversity in the landscape architecture profession as a whole. Last year, the HR office partnered with this position to develop and offer staff training in diversity, equity, and inclusion. This year, we’ll be exploring ways to grow that initiative in a more public and intentional fashion. In addition, ASLA recently adopted and incorporated two new principles into its organizational belief system: Our values statements now highlight diversity as one of our norms, and our culture statements have been broadened to also encompass inclusion.

Something cool we do to support staff: Our total rewards are top-notch, and cater to the vast needs of our team – including a one hundred-percent paid medical insurance plan for all staff; an award-winning commuter benefits program, inclusive of telecommuting and flex-time; philanthropic leave; matching charitable donations; a gracious parental leave policy; on-site/off-site yoga classes and gym equipment; fitness memberships and activities reimbursements; and two employee assistance programs.

Why our office is great: The Center for Landscape Architecture is a newly renovated, four-story building that’s LEED Platinum and designed to become WELL Building Gold-certified. It features a green roof, landscaped patio, flexible meeting and event space, collaboration spaces, and advanced lighting, air quality, and A/V systems. The building is also located one-and-a-half blocks from a major metro station. ASLA has received awards for its employee wellness programs and is recognized among the Best Workplaces for Commuters.

The American Society of Landscape Architects represents approximately 15,000 members, and works to advance landscape architecture through advocacy, communication, education, and fellowship; it is also a leader in demonstrating the benefits of green infrastructure. You can find out more on their website, or by following them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. You can also connect with Richard Winston through his LinkedIn page.