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The inside story: How to get a job at Greenpeace

Have you ever wondered exactly what hiring managers are looking for when recruiting for Australia’s most sought-after NFPs?

In a new series on the Ethical Jobs Blog, we’re interviewing the people who hire at the organisations you want to work in – and we’ll give you the insider knowledge you need to make your next job application amazing.

To kick off, we spoke to Greenpeace Australia Pacifics HR Manager John Boylan. Though it doesn’t really need an introduction, Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organisation that uses non-violent direct action to expose and solve global environmental problems. The Australia Pacific arm employs around 70 people in functions as diverse as campaigning, ship crewing and payroll.

Hi John – great to chat with you. Can we start off by asking: We’ve all seen Greenpeace activists on the news, scaling buildings or crewing the Rainbow Warrior, but what do most of the people at Greenpeace really do?

It varies, but we have three departments: program department, fundraising and organisational support. Most new jobs come from the program department, so that’s all the outward-facing jobs like communications, the digital team, and the campaign team – things like that. They’re the most often recruited ones. But it really does vary. Some fundraising jobs come up a lot.

And what does your recruitment process usually look like?

We’re very transparent in our recruitment. For instance, internal candidates go through all the same things as the external ones have to.

There’s rarely straight promotion from within; you have to go through the whole process. And we don’t just pay lip service to that – there’s been a few tetchy instances where outside people have gotten jobs. That’s a good thing!

In terms of the difference in hiring process, generally our brand is so strong that we get a good pool of candidates anyway, regardless of the area you’re wanting a job.

The only way we vary it would be sometimes we try to advertise in certain niche areas for certain niche jobs. For a digital fundraiser or something, we might hit up forums or something like that.

The only other thing that we periodically do is tasks in either the application or interview processes, but that depends on the circumstances.

What are the top three things you look for when assessing a candidate?

First we look for a good cultural fit – that is key. And that’s not just someone who’s passionate about the environment or anything like that. It’s more to do with ensuring the good atmosphere and the office culture we have now are preserved by taking on people who will fit into that.

That’s tough for candidates because it’s a subjective thing. The office environment is the way it is and if you don’t fit that it’s kind of tough luck, even if you’d be really good at the job.

Common sense is also vital. Everyone who gets to the interview stage will have the rights skills, they’ll have everything right on paper – they’ll have the skills to do the job, basically. Assuming they convince us of that in the interview, we’re looking for a kind of rounded person who isn’t just blinkered by whatever area they’re in – someone who understands they’re part of a whole team.

The third thing would be positivity. We really look for positive people. We’ve got a great office atmosphere at the moment, and if we get someone negative with the wrong attitude coming in that could seep into everyone else’s psyche. So it’s really important.

What are some of the most common mistakes candidates make during the application process?

General mistakes like spelling, or addressing their application to the wrong person – even having the wrong organisation in a cover letter! People do that!

Don’t get me wrong, I understand firing out applications left, right and centre because they’re looking for a job, but it does say to me that you don’t particularly care where you work if you haven’t taken that time to get into the bones of it. It also shows a lack of attention to detail. So little mistakes like that make a big impact.

Not specifying why you want to work for us specifically is another mistake. We can tell when people have a template for their cover letter; you can tell it a mile off. It’s fine to have that but it’s not very personal – it doesn’t really tell me about your burning desire to work here.

That’s not an ego thing – like we need people to kneel in front of us and tell us why Greenpeace is so great – but we do want someone who genuinely wants to work for the organisation, as well as the actual job they’re applying for.

So if a job-seeker is lucky enough to get an interview for a job at Greenpeace, who will they likely meet on the interview panel?

One of our policies is that we’re always making sure an HR person is on the interview panel. That’s for two reasons: one is to control the whole process, and also just to make sure the other panel members follow protocol. I would be on as many panels as possible, and the HR coordinator would be on the others.

So the typical set-up is three people on a panel: along with the HR rep, there’d be the line manager of the position being advertised, and a person nominated by the line manager.

This way, there’s usually two experts in the field and the HR rep for a more general, rounded opinion, and also to offer guidance on the cultural fit.

And what are some other mistakes candidates often make in the interview with you?

There are plenty – where do I start?

Firstly: dress. Wearing suitable attire to the interview. This is just a very basic thing, but this will tie into what I said earlier about common sense.

We don’t wear suits to work or anything like that, but common sense to me would dictate that you’d at least wear a collared shirt to the interview. Even as a token gesture – you might never wear it again, but it means something and it’s important. If you come in with a stained t-shirt, it’s a lack of respect. I wore a suit to my interview – I’m sure I looked ridiculous! But it’s about making a small effort.

Also, bad posture in an interview – if you’re far too relaxed in there, it makes a bad impression. Over-familiarity is another big one that I hate. There’s a thin line between confidence and cockiness. If you’re cocky in an interview, it just comes across terribly.

The only other one I’d touch on would be nervousness. If you’re nervous, your personality won’t really come across as well. We do our best, of course, to ease people into it, to make allowances for when they’re feeling nervous. But if you can work on techniques to get yourself past that, you’ll get across your positivity in your own way.

One last thing – and this really annoys me – is when you’re asking about pay and benefits in an interview. If you’re offered the job, fine. But if you ask in the interview, it tells me things about the candidate: that it’s not really the job they’re interested in.

Is there anything you wish candidates would ask you about in interviews?

The interview should be two-way. The last thing you want is to take someone on and a month later they realise it’s not for them. I like it when candidates get into what it’s actually like to work here.

When someone asks me what the environment is like – what it’s like to work here, what do you think of Greenpeace as a place to work – when they generally want to gauge what it’s like, that’s good. They’re trying to see if it’s a good fit for them as well.

That’s opposed to when people feel they have to ask questions in interviews and ask about certain campaigns we’re running, which is pointless in that kind of situation.

What traits do new staff need to succeed at Greenpeace?

Creativity is big here. That’s not just for our program department, who have to be creative, but the rest of us have to be creative in the sense that we’re a not-for-profit – we’re not rolling in cash, so you have to be creative. You have to think outside the box in terms of how we can do things without paying loads of money for them.

Following up on that, a can-do attitude is vital. There’s lots and lots of obstacles for us, so how can we mould things to our favour?

Lastly, what advice would you give to someone who wants to work at an organisation like Greenpeace but is perhaps lacking the right experience or qualifications?

Ah, you gotta love them! It’s worth saying that lacking qualifications is not necessarily an obstacle to getting a job here. You just need to show us that you can do the job we’re asking you to do.

As an example, I don’t have any HR qualifications, but I did prove in my application that I could do everything on the job spec and that I had experience – if not exact then relevant experience. We’re big on transferable skills and recognising them.

In terms of experience, that’s a killer for everyone. But I would say volunteer. I constantly say this when I’m talking to colleges and universities. If you can show you made an effort to do volunteer work in the area you’re looking for, that’s huge. It just shows you have initiative; that you have a bit of enthusiasm.

Let’s say you’ve gone to university and that’s all you have. If you can pad out your CV with work experience and put them down like they’re jobs but they’re just volunteer positions, that shows something. It says, for instance, this person managed projects and knows how to project manage.

We get a lot of people offering to volunteer for us and we do ask for a decent commitment – one, two, three days a week, it’s a solid commitment. If you do that and make a good impression, that’s huge. That just stands to reason.

And it has happened in the past, where we’ve had people volunteer and then jobs come up and they’ve applied, and of course they have a head-start. We know them. We might know they’re a good cultural fit, for example. And that’s one of the big things we look for. But not willy-nilly volunteering – you have to be specific.

Thanks for your time and insights, John!

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