For nonprofit NPR, social media is ‘a great equalizer’ when it comes to hiring

January 6, 2013

As National Public Radio was sifting through applications for a recent batch of internships, the news organization noticed the size of the candidate pool was a bit smaller than usual.

Determined to land the most qualified people, NPR’s human resources team decided to try something unusual: They put the word out on Twitter — and only on Twitter — that they were extending the deadline for applications by one week and asked their Twitter followers to “re-tweet” the information.

That move led to 132 re-tweets and drove 140 people to submit applications. From that set of new applicants, the organization hired 15 interns.

At a time when many companies and organizations are trying to effectively marshal social media resources to promote their brand and attract talent, Washington-based NPR has put these platforms at the center of its recruitment strategy. It’s an approach that by nature targets a job candidate who is digitally savvy and an active user of social media.

Lars Schmidt, the organization’s senior director of talent acquisition and innovation, said he has found social media to be “a great equalizer” when competing for talent. As a nonprofit, NPR has limited dollars to put toward hiring initiatives, and Schmidt said social media allows it to better compete against other employers with bigger budgets.

Schmidt was a key architect of the “@nprjobs” Twitter handle, which is designed to not only trumpet job openings, but to give followers an insider’s view on what it’s like to work at the organization. The account has more than 13,000 followers.

He also devised the “#nprlife” hashtag, which NPR employees use on Twitter and Instagram to share tidbits or photos from goings-on at the office. Some recent posts have showcased scenes from an office holiday party, a big pot of chili from a company cook-off and the view from the organization’s future headquarters. The hope is that these posts provide potential employees with a window into the organization’s culture.

In this way, the NPR human resources team is working to turn every NPR staffer into a “brand ambassador” who can support the effort to lure new talent.

In addition to “#nprlife,” NPR started a second hashtag, “#pubjobs,” that is designed to be a collaborative recruiting effort across all public media organizations. The theory is that if many groups in this community utilize it, they can help each other spread the word about job opportunities in the field.

Teresa Gorman came to NPR about six months ago as a digital news specialist after finding out about a job opening on Twitter via the “#pubjobs” hashtag.

“I was at a full-time job already, so I wasn’t actively looking,” Gorman said.

But the posting caught her eye. She had interned at NPR during college, so she was already somewhat familiar with its atmosphere. So she began following NPR staffers on Twitter and checking out the organization’s page on social-networking platform Tumblr.

“It was kind of a way to get personal with them even before I applied,” Gorman said.

These items, she said, helped her make a more informed decision about whether to apply to and accept the job.

NPR has also shaken up its recruitment strategy by having more of its outreach efforts come from staffers who work in the same job category as a prospective employee, rather than from a member of the human resources team.

Developers, for example, are one job type for which they’ve tried this strategy.

“Developers in large part aren’t looking for jobs because they’re so in demand,” Schmidt said. “But they’re on Facebook, they’re on Twitter.”

Schmidt hopes that they can leverage these tools and NPR’s current roster of developers to get on a passive job seeker’s radar screen.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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