Name: Michelle Cho
Job Title and Description: VP of Celebrity and Entertainment Outreach for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
College Name/Major: Columbia College Chicago; BA in Arts Management
Twitter Handle: @ChoMatic
Instagram Handle: @lavegan
What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Michelle Cho: My job entails engaging with celebrities, influencers, and other public figures to support the organization’s campaigns, programs, legislative priorities, and events. Taking action for animals comes in so many forms, and the breadth of issues that The HSUS takes on ensures that every day is different. For example, today I spent time reaching out to influential people from Kansas who might speak out against a bill we are combatting which – if passed – would revive cruel greyhound racing in the state. I also asked several of our celebrity supporters to contact their U.S. Senators to urge them to vote “NO” on SJR 18 which – if passed – would allow wolves and hibernating grizzly bears and their babies to be shot on wildlife refuges. Another chunk of time was spent writing a script for a video we’re producing to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint by eating less meat. And finally, I just wrapped up my day with a phone call from a movie studio interested in a promotional partnership on a major animated film with a terrific animal protection message.
What is the best part of your job?
MC: The very best part of my job is that I get to help animals. The second best part is that I get to do it with the most gifted, intelligent, and thoughtful team of people imaginable. Not a day goes by that I don’t take a moment to reflect on just how fortunate I am to be able to say that I help animals for a living.
What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?
MC: My first entry-level job in my field was as a project coordinator for another animal protection organization. It came after several years of volunteering in various roles; mostly grassroots, peer-to-peer outreach. My mentors believed in my drive and my ability to produce results. I’m lucky that they took a chance on me and we had many amazing years together.
What words of wisdom (well-known quotes, an anecdote from your boss) do you find most valuable?
MC: My dear friend and colleague, Paul Shapiro, who is VP of Policy Engagement here at The HSUS always says, “If you want a vegan-friendly world, it helps to start by being a friendly vegan.” It’s a great reminder to me that negativity has no place in a movement that needs all the friends it can get. There are so many industries responsible for harming animals and, in comparison, very few people who dedicate their lives to helping them. The best, most effective way to incite conversation with people who just might be the animals’ best allies is through kindness and an inherent willingness to reach across the aisle to those whose path or lifestyle may be vastly different from yours, but whose hearts for animals beat just the same.
What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?
MC: There isn’t a single mistake that has defined the course of my career – there is a bundle! What I’ve learned from them is that your mistakes don’t define you, but your reactions to them can. Early in my career, it was enormously difficult to bounce back from mistakes and disappointments. That got easier with age and experience. You have to expect (and accept) that you’re going to get knocked down once in a while. The point is, you must stand up and rise every time with your head held high.
What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?
MC: The most surreal experience in my career so far was a recent trip to Liberia in West Africa with actresses Kate and Rooney Mara to visit more than 60 chimpanzees who had been cruelly abandoned in March of 2015 by the New York Blood Center after the organization had used them for decades in harmful research. Fortunately, The HSUS stepped in to provide emergency care for the chimpanzees and has been working to hold the Blood Center accountable for their despicable actions. Seeing these chimpanzees in-person – and knowing all of the unspeakable agony they’ve endured – was humbling to say the least. Despite years of pain inflicted by human hands, the animals rejoiced at the sound of motor boats and familiar faces heading towards them because they now associate it with delicious and nutritious food and love. What a remarkable testament to resilience, survival, and forgiveness. We have so much to learn from other species. The HSUS and its international arm, Humane Society International, are now working to provide permanent sanctuary for these chimpanzees who deserve a rich retirement.
What do you look for when considering hiring someone?
MC: I look for someone who isn’t just passionate about the issues, but about the organization as well. They should be knowledgeable about the organization’s campaigns and its successes, and have a good answer for how they feel they can add value. Tardiness is also terribly unattractive and unprofessional so if you have a meeting in–person or on the phone, don’t be late!
What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?
MC: I would advise that they get active in their community or college if they are in school. There are so many cause-related clubs and civic groups all over the country and especially on college campuses. Creating meaningful, positive change in the world can happen long before one reaches their career. And chances are, through early activism, they just might meet the very person who takes a chance on them and offers them their first entry-level position.
What's the one thing that's stood out to you the most in a resume?
MC: What has stood out to me the most is ambitiousness. You can identify ambitiousness in a resume by what the applicant has does with their time. Those who are applying for jobs in the non-profit world are generally of the understanding that they aren’t applying for the big bucks. They are applying because they want to change the world and make it better so they are obviously passionate. But passion for an issue doesn’t necessarily translate to one’s ability to be an effective and valuable employee. Spending time wisely and actively can speak to how ambitious one will be. An employer will make their hiring decisions based on one’s actions, not one’s intentions.