Let’s be honest. As employers, hiring is probably one of our least favorite activities. It’s time-consuming, challenging and takes us away from working toward our mission. But, to paraphrase Jim Collins in his modern-day business classic, Good to Great, what separates great organizations from good organizations is the ability to get the right people in the right roles on the right teams. This is why we prioritized 2015 as the Year of Talent for the social sector. Now, with a tight job market and challenging trends, such as The Great Resignation, we have to be even smarter with our hiring.
To help make the process easier, I asked former nonprofit executive and fellow Fuqua School of Business alum, John Troy, to share some of his sage advice for employers. John is founder of WorkMonger, an innovative online employment matching service for the social sector. The service is free for job candidates, and employers only pay when a candidate is hired. Incidentally, I love that we finally have applied dating algorithms to the social sector!
When you learn to follow the best hiring practices for social impact organizations, finding the right candidate and filling roles won’t feel like such a daunting task. Instead, you set your organization up for success by approaching hiring through a thoughtful and efficient process.
Below, we cover seven things every social impact leader needs to know before their next hire, to set you up for success when making hiring decisions for your mission-driven organization.
1. Prioritize Organizational Culture Fit
It’s true that you want a new hire to have the skills to do their job; however, it’s not the most crucial aspect of hiring, especially as it pertains to employee retention. Employees will learn protocol, procedures and have a deeper understanding as time goes on—some more quickly than others. The most important attribute you want to look for during the search process is whether a candidate aligns with your organization’s mission, values and culture. You can teach many skills to most candidates, but job candidates are either a good fit for your organization, or they aren’t.
Culture is a broad umbrella, so thinking about how someone fits into your organization’s culture can include various considerations. Organizational culture and culture fit have received ample attention in recent years, often emphasizing hiring people that strongly align with your team and organization. However, some organizations and their hiring managers haven’t found a healthy balance between creating a strong culture and hiring the right people. The hiring choices you make influence your company culture, so you need to make thoughtful decisions that go far beyond simply hiring people you like.
Hiring managers often fall into the trap of gravitating toward others who have personal similarities. This natural tendency often influences hiring decisions to the extent that if a hiring manager feels a strong connection with a candidate, they mistake it for a culture fit. Liking or connecting with a candidate does not necessarily mean they are the best candidate for the role you are filling. These kinds of hiring decisions result in team members that share various characteristics ranging from socioeconomic status and educational background to religious beliefs and political views. Hiring for culture fit does not mean you want a homogeneous team. A bunch of people with the same background and ideas puts organizations at risk for groupthink.
If you hire people exactly like you, you miss out on having a diversity of perspectives, thoughts and approaches to problems and issues related to your organization’s mission. Instead, it’s best to hire people who align with your organization’s beliefs and values. This is the “fit” that matters most. Additionally, evaluate your culture and focus on how you want to strengthen or add to your organization’s culture. When you hire candidates that share your mission and values but positively add to your culture, the result is broadened perspectives, a deeper understanding of others and a strong culture that reduces employee turnover. You will have a well-rounded team that is willing and able to tackle any issue, problem or task.
2. Differentiate Between “Must-Haves” and “Nice-to-Haves”
You typically begin your candidate search process by creating a job description for the role you want to fill. You might post it on your organization website and one or more job boards. For many, the job description also doubles as a wish list for the dream candidate. This is problematic because perfection does not exist; a long list of attributes demonstrates the hiring manager hasn’t prioritized what they need and want in a candidate. Furthermore, a long list of requirements sometimes deters strong applicants from applying because they believe they aren’t a good fit for the role. The last thing you want to do is scare off great candidates.
Of course, you want to hire a candidate with as many of your dream qualities as possible. However, you also need to have a firm grasp of the difference between the things that you absolutely must have for your team and your organization and the things on which you can compromise. Before you draft a job description, take the time to make two lists: one list should include non-negotiable items, and the other should include low-priority items that you would love to see in a candidate but aren’t dealbreakers. Separating your “must-haves” from your “nice-to-haves” protects you from accidentally hiring someone who doesn’t meet your absolute requirements and ensures you don’t let a fabulous candidate walk away while you are searching for “perfection.”
3. Create and Use an Interview Scorecard
An interview scorecard is a tool that hiring managers use to evaluate interviewees. You can use the scorecard to both assign a numerical value to each quality that you are assessing as well as to each question, thereby allowing you to effectively evaluate each candidate and to compare them with each other. The most significant benefit of creating and using an interview scorecard is that it removes a large portion of subjectivity and allows you to make data-driven hiring decisions. You can decide what matters upfront by using your list of “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” and assign the appropriate weight to each category and question.
If you’ve scored questions accurately, those with the highest scores will be your best hire, and they will have all of your “must-have” job requirements and many of your “nice-to-have” job requirements. Aside from hiring top talent, removing subjectivity by using an interview scorecard also serves as an important tool to ensure your hiring decisions are diverse, equitable and inclusive. Rubrics such as interview scorecards decrease the likelihood of bias during the interview process, which increases the odds that candidates from traditionally-marginalized groups have a fair chance for consideration.
Interview scorecards also give you something to fall back on when you choose not to hire a candidate. By removing bias, you have solid data to explain why someone did not fit the role.
4. Decide How to Distribute Work During Your Candidate Search
It’s imperative that you make a plan before embarking on a job search for a critical hire. The hiring process typically takes at least three months from the day someone gives notice until your chosen candidate’s first day on the job. If you are filling an executive, managerial or senior role, the hiring process may take even longer. You must have a plan for how your future employee’s work gets completed in the interim.
It’s not always as easy as dividing the workload onto the rest of the team’s plates. You need to evaluate the impact more work will have on your team’s morale, especially if the search takes three to six months. You risk burning out one or more other valuable team members who might start looking for another job. Then you need to start the job search again to replace another person.
At minimum, it’s best to budget a portion of the salary from the open role and pay a bonus to employees who take on extra work for you. Another possible solution, and often a better one, is to use the same funds to hire an independent contractor for a short-term contract to fill in the gap. Regardless of your choice, communication is key. Talk with your team and give them a rundown of what needs to be done. You want to make sure to incorporate their feedback to the extent you can and work to ensure agreement on the best way to move forward. They might volunteer to take on specific tasks or tell you they are spread too thin and prefer you to contract a temporary employee to help out.
5. Be Mindful of Your Hiring Process Timeline
There is a sweet spot in how long it takes to complete the hiring process. It’s tempting to rush the process, especially so you do not have to unload too much work on others or spend too much on a contract worker. However, you cannot rush a new hire. You need to do a proper search that allows time for you to find potential hires. Additionally, you need to allow time to schedule interviews and let your top candidate(s) have some time to respond.
On the other hand, you have to move as swiftly through the hiring process as possible. The talent market currently is incredibly competitive, and top talent will have multiple offers. The longer you take to search, interview and choose, the higher risk you have of missing out on the best employees for your social impact organization. Streamlining your hiring process is an absolute must, and planning means you have a better chance to get your first-choice candidate.
You can keep your favorite potential hires on the hook with excellent communication. Give them a realistic time frame during each stage of the process, such as how long they should wait to find out if you want to interview them, how long they should expect to wait for a decision, and an approximate date you want them to begin if you choose them. It’s critical that you do not leave job candidates hanging and waiting for an answer. They will get frustrated and move on. You might find the person you want to hire has already accepted another position. General rule of thumb: do your best to keep the time from when a person applies to when they conclude the process, either with a rejection or offer, to no more than 6 weeks.
6. Expand Your Horizons When You Search for Candidates
To illustrate this point, when you are hiring for non-teaching roles in an education organization, you might assume that you need to hire those with experience in K-12 education. Some roles might require deep knowledge of education and your organization’s specific cause, but frequently, this is not the case. You can find candidates for many back-office roles from the private sector or from social impact organizations that serve different causes than your own, so do not limit your search to the usual places. For example, you can reach out to any sector to find great finance, accounting, operations and human resources professionals.
You severely limit your job candidate pool when you assume that all team members must have direct previous social impact experience. Remember to prioritize alignment with your organization’s mission and values. However, once you check that box, many skills are transferable from outside the sector. In fact, some of the best job candidates are looking to leave the sector they are in and are drawn to meaningful and rewarding mission-aligned roles.
7. Consult with a Recruiter
Finding the right talent for your social impact organization requires ample time and resources. It’s a difficult task, and not everyone has expert knowledge about the sector. Fortunately, you do not have to go through the hiring process alone. Sometimes, the right next step is to hire a mission-driven recruitment firm to help you with the search. You might even find that the budget savings that result from the vacancy may be sufficient to pay the recruitment firm’s fees while freeing your remaining team members to focus on the mission-critical work that needs to occur while the search is underway.
As an example, if your slice of the social impact sector is the education sector, WorkMonger might be the right fit for you. Since 2015, the dedicated team of professionals at WorkMonger has helped hundreds of education organizations in the United States find the right people for their teams. WorkMonger takes a profile- and data-driven approach towards matching employees and employers. We have a diverse talent network of JobSeekers, some of whom have years of experience in education and others who are leaders in other sectors and industries and want to transition to education. WorkMonger matches JobSeekers to a variety of non-teaching roles in education organizations, including difficult ones to fill, such as fundraising, policy, curriculum development, technology and data management. If you’re interested in learning more, check out www.workmonger.com or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Hiring right the first time will save you time and money. We hope John’s tips will help make the hiring process easier for your next job opening. We’d love to hear successful hiring techniques you’ve discovered.