National Service

Are Hiring Decisions the Key to Improving Citizenship?

December 9, 2014

Employers of National Service, a new initative launched by President Obama, seeks to encourage national service participation and develop stronger employees by strengthening the service to employment pipeline. The Aspen Institute national service program The Franklin Project is a proud partner in this initative.

Some might argue that lofty words like “society” and “citizenship” are debated and etched into stone in far off places like the hallways of Congressional buildings and universities that politicians and academics walk. As important as those places are for developing our formal policies, it’s places like the interview rooms and career centers that we’ve all nervously sat in that the informal norms that define our culture are developed.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, we are motivated to do the things we think will prepare us for the job we want in the future. As David Brooks recently opined, the skills and values prioritized by hiring managers become the values we prioritize as a society. Conversations about the type of society we want are happening every day hidden under different names — they show up in our calendars under unsuspecting titles such as “hiring guidelines training” or on company websites under the title “what we’re looking for.”

We’ve gotten quite good at defining the skills we’re looking for in job candidates — college grad, Excel whiz, excellent communicator, etc. — but we’ve got a lot of room for growth in terms of our ability to articulate and identify ideal mindsets and values. According to research out of the University of Pennsylvania, we’d have stronger employees, and therefore organizations, if we got better at looking for non-cognitive traits. Imagine the difference to our organizations it would make if we were able to better hire for traits like grit, empathy, accountability, initative and adaptability. One challenge in this though, as a university admissions officer recently told me, is that character isn’t the easiest thing to measure.

A recent initative launched by President Barack Obama called “Employers of National Service” makes it easier for hiring managers to identify candidates that have demonstrated strong character traits. According to Obama, “If you’re an employer who wants to hire talented, dedicated, patriotic, skilled, tireless, energetic workers, look to AmeriCorps, look to the Peace Corps… Citizens who perform national service are special,” he said. “You want them on your team.”

Unsurprisingly, as a partner in this initative, we couldn’t agree more. Young people who spend a year or more serving their nation through programs like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and other national service programs develop the types of skills, mindsets, and values American organizations – and our society at large – needs. By learning about and communicating that national service experience is viewed as an asset in the hiring process, each organization has the opportunity to help improve our collective definition of citizenship while encouraging future candidates to seek out experiences that will make them stronger employees.

We are a country that accomplishes big things when we set our minds to them. Through the leadership of human resources departments across the country, our generation can leave a legacy of an improved society that calls upon all of us to answer citizenship’s call to service, connects us to each other and to something bigger than ourselves.

MacKenzie Moritz is the associate director for strategic partnerships of the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute. The Franklin Project envisions a future in which a year of full-time national service — a service year — is a cultural expectation, a common opportunity, and a civic rite of passage for every young American. Employers interested in becoming an Employer of National Service should feel free to contact MacKenzie Moritz.