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[How We Hire] Spotlighting culture and seeing people in whole

Published on: Apr 15, 2019


At Rising Sun Center for Opportunity, a team of educators and experts help prepare Northern California communities for environmental and economic sustainability. Among a wide range of duties, Director of Operations Phil Miller heads the one-and-a-half person HR department, overseeing a team of 20-25 that balloons to 200-plus during their four-month employee training program for young people, through which they become Rising Sun employees. “It’s enough to keep me pretty busy!” said Miller.

My pitch for potential hires: People are generally drawn to us for the work we do and the impact we make, but one big selling point of ours is the organizational culture. We see our people in whole, not just as employees, so that’s what we lean into when we’re trying to recruit: themes of collaboration and work-life balance.

How we craft stand-out job postings: A couple years ago we began adjusting the tone of our postings – from standard, somewhat sterile language – to help people understand the type of workplace we have. For instance, we describe our culture and values with examples like, “We celebrate everybody’s birthday, and use the same candles until they’re gone;” “You might see a dog or two, and maybe an employee’s kid.” Since then we’ve heard pretty consistently from applicants, “It really jumped out at me.”

Something people love about working here: People enjoy the collaborative and congenial atmosphere. The majority of our staff work in a large open space, which we try to be intentional about: We don’t have cubicles, we arrange our desks in pods, and that lends to conversation and collaboration. We also do a significant amount of fun activities, bringing together our people to focus on something other than work. The rationale is to nurture a culture where people feel connected to each other and enjoy working together.

Something I look for in a resume or cover letter: For me, resumes and cover letters are primarily screening tools, so I appreciate concision. I like to see the most recent 2-3 jobs, but I’m sensitive to the fact that careers and career arcs change – I’m a living example – so what I’m trying to figure out is a professional story that indicates that this is the next logical step. One thing I try to push myself with is de-emphasizing education somewhat. There’s a school of thought that says when we hold to certain education requirements, or get wowed by a certain school, we’re putting up roadblocks to equity and possibly excluding people we shouldn’t.

One way to impress me: Show up early for the interview – but not too early. Though I’m not going to hold anything against someone who’s there on time, arriving 10-15 minutes early communicates something. Another way: Send a handwritten follow-up card. It’s a nice touch!

One trait essential to success at Rising Sun: Understanding how to be an independent problem solver, but also knowing when it’s necessary to seek help. Every situation is different, but I’ve seen people who lean too far in one direction – those who don’t know when input is needed, and those who feel they need guidance on too many things, which bogs down supervisors and keeps the employee from becoming fully actualized.

My interview pet peeve: Not answering the question – when someone spends five minutes giving a roundabout answer that never gets to the question itself.

How we help new hires succeed: We have a two-week orientation period that’s pretty evenly balanced between formal meetings and trainings, many with me, and less formal encounters with every executive and member of the leadership team. This includes a first-day scavenger hunt that obligates them to meet face-to-face with every person in the organization, which fosters that personal connection right off the bat and helps them understand, sooner rather than later, the full picture of the organization and the complexity of what we do.

Rising Sun Center for Opportunity is a green training, employment, and residential efficiency organization that provides job training and placement for youth and adults across the San Francisco Bay Area, and no-cost energy- and water-efficiency services for local residents. You can find out more on their website, or by following them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.