[How We Hire] Values and passion, startup sensibilities, and a sabbatical that makes a difference

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As Talent and Culture Manager/Head of Fun at DoSomething.org, Sam Arpino oversees all people operations for the global, New York City-based nonprofit recently ranked by The NonProfit Times as one of the top 50 nonprofits to work for in the country, and no. 1 in the state of New York. Arpino began on the campaigns team nearly two years ago, and relishes her new role helping people get on board with DoSomething’s mission: motivating young people to make positive change through innovative, impactful campaigns.

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What people love about working here: A lot of times, people in HR roles assume they know what their employees appreciate the most about the job. Instead, we give our employees an anonymous space to tell us what they appreciate, putting out a staff happiness survey every six months. Three points of appreciation that frequently come up:

  1. Our transparency practices, from our happiness survey to our quarterly dinners, where we can talk in-person to upper-level staff and board about anything we want—fluffy or serious.

  2. Our desire for constant improvement, carried out through open and honest conversation about failure and what we can learn from it.

  3. The phenomenal people we work with, who enable us to stay transparent, fail fast, learn, and commit.

My elevator pitch for potential hires: I wouldn’t call it an elevator pitch—I’d call it the truth. We tend to open up our conversations by saying, “You are capable of doing really amazing things, and I can see you have a lot of passion. We can put that to use here.” If you’re going to spend 40 hours a week someplace, it should be tapping into your passions and introducing you to people you who can help you grow.

Skill set vs. culture fit: We have 11 core values that we’ve codified to make sure people we bring in really fit. These include being passionate about changing the world, being informed by data when making decisions, and believing in all young people. These are must-haves: You can have all the skills in the world, but if you don’t have the passion and the values in place, then you’re not going to be happy, and we’re not going to be happy. Nobody wants that!

The outstanding qualities we look for: With those 11 core values accounted for, we want to make sure someone has it in them to push us to the next level: someone who’s curious, and who brings questions to the interview. If we are talking about something they don’t understand, they ask us to explain. We have less than 60 people on staff, so we don’t want anyone who’s coasting.

We also want someone who believes in our specific mission. There are a million different nonprofits and a million different missions—I want to know why you want to work at DoSomething. That starts with the first contact: We can tell if you have a blanket cover letter, so write something specifically for us. Or send us a video! Tweet us! Something that will make us notice you.

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Interviewing pet peeves: I have two big ones. One is when people don’t do their research. When it comes to hiring, we are very transparent: We let candidates know what’s going on every step of the way. When I tell you exactly who’s going to be in the room—name and position—it’s probably because you should be looking them up. Even if it’s basic research, we want you to show us you put some time into the process—because we put so much time in the process ourselves!

Another is when someone sees nonprofits as warm-and-fuzzy places, and working there as a way to feel better about themselves. We operate as a tech-forward startup, making tangible impact. We discuss revenue, we have KPIs across the organization—it’s a lot of hard and smart work. We want people who acknowledge that.

How we help onboard new hires: Before a hire starts, I send a welcome email and cc the entire staff. The whole staff replies-all with their welcome messages, including great photos and gifs. Getting 20, 30, 40 people welcoming them makes them feel great even before they step in. On day one, we assign each new hire a seasoned staffer as a buddy, someone they can use as a confidante, who they can come to with questions they might not want to ask their manager or me.

Another way we find recruits: We have a robust internship program, and we always keep our stellar interns in mind for opportunities that align with them. That’s been a key pipeline for us: Between a fifth to a quarter of staff is made up of former interns.

Something special we do for staff: Engaging our people mentally is what’s most important. One perk that gives them a real chance to stretch is, after two years on the job, each staffer gets a 4-week paid sabbatical to volunteer anyplace they want—from upstate New York to around the world. Beyond getting them out of the city—invigorating in itself—they can apply our methods to a new set of challenges, bring new methods back to us, and get a real cultural exchange going.

DoSomething.org is a global movement for good, activating 5.5 million young people to make positive change, both online and off. Find out more about them on their website, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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