HR Insider: How I hire at Girls Scouts of Greater Chicago and NW Indiana

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Last week, we shared insights from two human resources professionals who work at the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana (GSGCNWI). This two-part series features Patty Fay, VP of Human Resources and Administration and Marissa Colgate, who joined the organization about a year ago as an HR Consultant. Each reveals insights based on their different work histories and perspectives, while having a shared love of working for a mission-based organization with staying power. In last week’s article, we gained a glimpse of each of their career backgrounds. Today, they divulge hiring practices of the organization.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today! Tell us a little about yourselves and how you got into this work.

Patty: I’m the VP of Human Resources and Administration and I’ve been with GSGCNWI for three years. I spent the first 20 years of my career working in different sectors (higher education, chemical, banking) and then took three years off when my family and I moved overseas.

Marissa: I have been working in HR for about seven years, and less than one year at the Girl Scouts as a consultant.

What things should candidates know about the organization and its mission when applying for a job?

Patty: We are a business first. We just happen to be in the nonprofit sector. We operate as a business and look at how we make decisions based on business cases. Also, you don’t have to be a “girl” to work at the Girl Scouts. We have men working for us as well. You just need to be passionate about girls making the world a better place.

Please share a story of a time a candidate stood out to you. What did they do to set themselves apart?

Marissa: Many applicants have told me about their fond childhood memories of being a Girl Scout, but the applicant who stood out to me was a young man referred to us by a current employee. His application spoke of the same passion and confidence born out of camaraderie and mentorship. He had mentors as a child, and when he entered high school, he became a mentor of at-risk youths. Today, he is pursuing an education in the helping profession. He let me know during his interview that a part-time position with us will provide him with meaningful work while he studied. I feel the fabric of our village became that much richer when he joined our staff of mostly female facilitators.

Patty: I met a candidate for an exploratory interview. Her background was not in the same area where we had an opening; however, as we talked, I could tell from the answers to my questions that she understood the area where the opening was. She had done multiple projects in this area, and was quite knowledgeable. Had I only looked at the qualifications on her resume, I would have not met with her. We extended an offer and she has worked out well.

What’s a common mistake you see among job seekers?

Marissa: Job seekers erroneously believe volunteers alone operate our organization. Many don’t realize we have employees and an entire infrastructure supporting the volunteers, the various programs, and the overall management of the organization.

Patty: Not explaining how their work might relate to the work we do, even if the experience is in a completely different area. Certain competencies are transferable, and candidates should talk about these competencies. The candidate should also have the energy, even if they don’t have all of the requisite skills. If they work hard, have energy, and enthusiasm, they will succeed. We can teach skills, but we can’t teach hard work, energy, and enthusiasm.

What misconceptions do people have about your cause area and organization?

Marissa: People think volunteers alone operate our organization. Our volunteers are wonderful, however, there is a dedicated staff working alongside them. We have similar departments that businesses have: Marketing, IT, Finance, etc. We have junior level positions up to executive level positions.

We have great leaders at the helm. In fact, through their leadership this year, we have implemented many changes that allow us to keep up or stay ahead of the shifting demographics. There is actually a lot of excitement in our organization right now- truly a thrilling place to work!

Patty: Perhaps the biggest one is that we are aligned with the Boy Scouts. We are two different organizations. Another common misconception is that the only things we do are cookies, camps, and crafts.

What else should candidates know about Girl Scouts?

Marissa: There are girl scouts all over the world, and there are over 100 councils in the US alone. Each council operates independently, and each is a separate entity from Girl Scouts USA. We, Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana (GSGCNWI), are one of the largest in the country.

Each council has challenges and needs unique to them, so hiring practices are adjusted accordingly.

What competencies should they demonstrate during their interview?

Marissa: There are four:

  1. the ability to express original and imaginative ideas and an aptitude for thinking out-of-the-box
  2. equally task-oriented and relationship-oriented
  3. good communication with a record of consistent and regular sharing of information with others
  4. well-versed in digital communications

Patty: Candidates should do their homework and have a good understanding of what we do. Different competencies are required for different levels of jobs. But generally, all candidates should demonstrate good communication skills, show examples of hard work and enthusiasm, and have ideas on how to improve our organization. We are looking for individuals who can help us become a better organization. Candidates should give that some thought.

What do you wish interviewees asked you?

Marissa: The rewards to working at GSGCNWI extend beyond compensation and benefits. During the recruitment process, I like to hear questions that indicate an understanding of and a motivation towards these rewards. Questions that explore our work culture and our mission demonstrate this: what is it like working at GSGCNWI, what makes GSGCNWI special, how does a particular position contribute to the mission, how have the changing times changed our approach to the mission and how has the position I’m applying for evolved.

Patty:  I wish more candidates asked about the culture of the organization. Culture fit can make or break a situation for an employee or an organization.  

Where do most of your hires come from?

Marissa: Equally from referrals, community board postings, and current volunteers.

At your organization, what is more important for a candidate to have, passion or skill?

Marissa: There’s ambient passion in our council, and it’s infectious! It preempts the need to choose between passion and skill. We hire the best person in the applicant pool, and at the end of the day, whether the source of passion is personal or from the zeal of the person sitting at the next desk, we are all driven to work for “the girl”.

Patty: It really depends on the role, and other positions this person will work with. Most people are hired because of their skill set, but passion for the mission needs to be there.

How does your organization manage its support of all its varied initiatives, from STEM career preparation to selling cooking to other fundraising responsibilities?

Patty: We hire talent with the competencies we are looking for, but ask that all employees are flexible. For example, you may work in finance, but one day you might be helping out at fundraisers or with camp. Everyone pitches in.

What’s one trait that all candidates need if they want to work in this cause area, regardless of role?

Marissa: The ability to think creatively and to see through original ideas is a valuable trait. This is especially essential for us at GSGCNWI because of our rapidly changing society. For us to find the opportunities to market our services, we must be innovative and relentless in seeking them out.

Patty: A drive to learn and improve whatever they are doing to make an impact.

What roles are hardest to fill in your organization and why?

Patty: Part-time staff-led facilitators. These roles have varying hours which make them difficult to fill.

Marissa: The applicant pool [for these roles]- students, retirees, stay-at-home parents- tend to have schedules that don’t fit our needs. And then this pool shrinks dramatically when we require bilingual skills. Also, many (students especially) don’t have a car for travelling to the communities where Girl Scout programs take place.

What do you expect to see from a new hire 30 day, 3 months, and/or a year after employment?

Patty: After 30 days, a new hire should begin to understand how their role fits into the bigger strategy of the council. After 3 months they should begin to have an impact, and after a year, they should be a valued member of the team and be helping to better the organization.

Patty and Marissa, thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and insights with Idealist Careers readers!

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About Author

Throughout my 15+ year career in resume writing, career coaching, higher education, and working with nonprofit job seekers, I’ve used an approach that is nurturing yet practical and driven to achievement. As Audience Development and Content Manager at Idealist for our online publication, Idealist Careers, I bring relevant tips to today's social impact job seekers and career changers with sensitivity towards the challenges they face. I also am the writer of our career advice column, "Ask Victoria". Understanding the roles that a positive outlook and holistic self-care play in career success, I share with our readers time-honored methods for improving confidence and productivity. Have a question? Ask at askvictoria@idealist.org. Follow me on Twitter @_AskVictoria.

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