As National 4-H Council Senior Vice President, Talent and Culture, Michael Watson works to ensure that the national nonprofit organization has a workplace that engages top talent. He spoke with us from the Council’s offices in Chevy Chase, Maryland, outside Washington, DC, about how the organization identifies its new team members and keeps them.
My elevator pitch for potential hires: If you care about making a difference in young people’s lives, building the pipeline of leadership and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) talent for the future of our country, and having a direct impact on individuals and communities, this is the place to be. We’re providing opportunities for young people who might not have the same options other kids have, and we get to see the impact that makes.
Skill set vs. culture fit: We’re growing a part of our team every time we hire, so the questions have to go beyond skills. Is this person going to reflect Council’s desired personal characteristics of competence, compassion, confidence, character and connection? That’s why job candidates begin by interviewing with the person they’ll be working for. That relationship has to work, or nothing else will.
In the second round of interviews, we introduce candidates to a wider variety of people, which gives them and us a better sense of the work environment, and how they’ll fit into it.
An “interview moment” to be aware of: Collecting feedback on one particularly winning candidate, we found that everyone had great things to say—except the receptionist. When it was just the receptionist and him, he was rude and disrespectful. Once the management team heard that, he was out. If you can’t treat people at every level of an organization with respect during the interview, we know you’ll mistreat anyone else you feel is “less than.”
My interviewing pet peeve: When candidates exaggerate their accomplishments. I was interviewing a college student who, towards the end of the interview, described his role as founder of a campus organization—and I happened to know the student who actually founded that organization. That lie eliminated him from consideration, negating all his positive qualities and accomplishments. My suggestion is never to exaggerate or lie in an interview. The world is too small a place—you never know who knows whom.
What people love about working here: The mission, the collaborative work environment, the variety of people they get to work with, the wide range of skills they get to use, and the new initiatives we’re pursuing.
I especially enjoy the opportunity to be innovative and grow—we’re not in a maintenance position, we’re working to get better. Support for making this a great place to work goes all the way up to the Board of Trustees. So not only do I get to build new programs and procedures that make a difference in employee’s work experience, I get to work alongside people who are committed to National 4-H Council becoming a top place to work.
Something we do to support employees: We’ve got a unique program called Youth at Heart, where young “4-H’ers” and their adult mentors and educators come to talk with our employees about the impact 4-H has made on their lives. Though everything we do as nonprofit employees is in service of the mission, those in office roles don’t always get to see or hear the impact of their work.
Why work environment matters to us: Here in the Washington area, people driven by causes have a lot of choices regarding employment. We have to stand out as a unique place to work—and we have to keep working on it. We’re planning many initiatives to make sure people enjoy working here, that we help them develop, and that even those who end up somewhere else can look back at 4-H and say we made a positive difference in their career.
National 4-H Council plays an essential role in supporting 4-H, the nation’s largest youth development and mentoring organization, as part of a unique and innovative partnership with America’s Cooperative Extension System and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture within the United States Department of Agriculture. 4-H empowers 6 million young people annually through experiences that teach critical life skills and grow confidence in life today and tomorrow. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn.
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