S⁠t⁠a⁠t⁠e Pol⁠i⁠cy Ne⁠t⁠work News — How ⁠t⁠o F⁠i⁠nd and Keep Grea⁠t⁠ People for Your Organ⁠i⁠za⁠t⁠⁠i⁠on

By: The James Madison Institute / 2015



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State Policy Network SPN News How to Find and Keep Great People for Your Organization By Becky Liner September/October 2015 (Page 5 & 6)

One of the greatest challenges for any organization is finding, and keeping, the right employees. As businessman and author Lawrence Bossidy put it: “I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people, not strategies.”

Given the think tank world’s passion for engaging in the battle of ideas and focusing on the critically important policy issues of the day, we might find it a struggle to allocate enough time to the practical matter of recruiting and retaining talent. But by employing the best and the brightest talent around the country, state think tanks have armed their organizations with formidable weapons in winning those battles.

While The James Madison Institute (JMI) experiences the same challenges as our sister organizations do in finding and keeping the right people, we have developed several strategies that have allowed us to expand our sphere of influence and achieve success in the policy arena and beyond. In addition to applying these strategies to the recruitment and retention of our permanent staff, JMI has used them to maintain a vibrant internship program, a diverse young professional network through our Leaders Fellowship program, and a campus representative program at 11 colleges and universities in Florida.


We encourage our staff to make networking a priority 24/7 year-round and emphasize forming long-lasting connections. Our staff represents JMI everywhere they go and in everything they do, and they are great recruiters! Whether it is at a work-related event or meeting, volunteering in the community, participating in a sport or hobby, or just running errands, we make an effort to meet new people and learn their stories.

At a grocery store one weekend, JMI’s president struck up a conversation with the young man assisting customers in line. That informal conversation turned into interest in JMI and later an internship with the Institute. One of our vice presidents, a tennis enthusiast, has helped recruit interns, staff, and even board members and donors through conversations on the tennis courts. We routinely find interns through our participation in student-centered events like Boys State and Girls State, as well as staff affiliations with campus groups such as political clubs and Greek organizations. We’ve located employee candidates through our staff’s involvement in civic groups, alumni organizations, religious institutions, and even through our children’s schools.

In addition, our staff routinely utilizes their own personal social media accounts to alert their networks of any JMI job openings or opportunities. Many of our most recent job hires have resulted from our staff’s outreach on social media. Your current team members are often your best recruiting tools for locating talent!


When recruiting new talent, we try to be open-minded about resumes and qualifications. While we expect certain competencies and some positions require specific backgrounds and experience, we are willing to entertain the unique and unexpected.

Several years ago, a young woman approached JMI, looking for an internship related to her major in hospitality management. Like most think tanks, many of the interns who come to us major in economics, political science, public policy, or related fields. Hospitality majors? Not so much. But since we host several events throughout the year, we decided to create an internship for her. She interned with JMI one semester and completed a more extensive practicum with us the following semester. She taught us things about event management we had never considered before, and she made a significant and positive impact on our events. At the end of her practicum, realizing what we had been missing before she got here, we created and funded the new position of events coordinator. That position has now grown and evolved into our current director of events and logistics.

Although some may find our method for talent recruitment a bit unorthodox, we strongly believe that not every position requires an employee who is in complete understanding, or even agreement, with JMI’s political philosophy. We are open to hiring students who may not think just like us or whose political ideologies are not yet formed, believing we can help shape how they look at the issues.

For permanent staff, there are some positions, such as policy and development, where being a passionate supporter of the liberty movement is critical. However, we have found that hiring professionals trained in their specific fields, but not in the ways of the movement necessarily, has been a driving force in our success. They bring fresh ideas and strategies not shaped by the choir, and this is winning over JMI supporters en masse. By being welcoming of diverse views and backgrounds, we are better positioned to assemble a truly effective team that can utilize new tactics and messaging to reach untapped populations and build a lasting legacy.


Our fearless leader is fond of saying “Hire for attitude. Train for competency.” When hiring new talent, we focus on attitude and culture fit with the organization rather than on the “bells and whistles” of the resume. During the final stages of the hiring process for one senior-level position, we had three final candidates: one from a Florida university, one from an Ivy League university, and one from a wellrespected private university in Virginia. While all three had the core competencies and impressive resumes, the candidate from the Florida university had an attitude that would complement our leadership team and fit effortlessly into our established culture.

When it comes to retaining talent, we have focused on creating an environment where people enjoy working and where they would like to stay. We seek to provide a safe and nurturing learning environment, which we believe is one reason our interns often opt to stay with us longer than the one semester their majors require. Many of our former interns stay in contact with JMI long after they leave us—letting us know where they are working, attending JMI events around the state, participating in our Leaders Fellowship program and Boards of Advisors, and becoming dues-paying JMI members. We believe this environment is also why former interns want to work here when a full-time staff position opens up. In fact, four of our permanent staff members were once JMI interns.

We have sought to create a culture where we take our work seriously, but not always ourselves. We celebrate important personal milestones—graduations, weddings, babies—and we make it a priority to provide fun opportunities for staff interaction, including holidaythemed luncheons, Friday happy hours, team bowling competitions, Wear Your College Colors Day and Team JMI community service projects. We believe that in order to retain talent, it is important to create a culture where the staff enjoy working with each and feel valued and supported. Most importantly, our leadership team strives to provide employees the freedom to be creative and the funds to fuel the innovate efforts of each department.

We are proud of the team of brilliant, talented, and passionate people working in our movement. Offering a positive work environment helps retain that talent amidst the inevitable job offers they may receive as others notice their skill and professionalism. The challenge all of our organizations face is hanging on to the current staff while at the same time recruiting fresh talent to grow and expand our efforts. Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great and Built to Last, sums that challenge up like this: “If I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could because the single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people.”

By making talent recruitment and retention as important as providing thoughtful and accurate research on the issues, we can ensure even greater success for our organizations and for the liberty movement.

(pdf version)

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