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At some point (more often than most wish), nonprofit managers/directors become hiring managers for vacant roles. If you don’t have a human resources team to assist you, recruiting and selecting a candidate can be time consuming and challenging.

But recruiting doesn’t have to be difficult! I have a not-so-secret, secret. I love participating in the hiring process. I enjoy figuring out the requirements of a vacant role, understanding the competencies needed for a position, interviewing people, getting to know them, and learning if there is a good fit. For me, it is a puzzle that, when completed, is a mutually satisfying experience for the employer and the candidate.

How to make it work? There are five steps that, if you invest in each one, will ensure you find the right person for the role in a manner that is fair, consistent and free from bias.

Step #1: Define, define, define!

If you don’t know what you are looking for, how will you know when you find it? Whether you have created a new role or are filling an existing, vacant one,  being very clear about the knowledge, skills, competencies, tasks and duties for the position is essential. This will often involve conducting a job analysis. A job analysis will allow you to consider all the duties and responsibilities of the role, education and experience required, ideal competencies, reporting structure, salary range, work hours, and the career path for the role.

Once you have completed the job analysis, you will want to consider what is critical and what is preferential for the role. No one person will possess all the knowledge, skills and experience required. What are the top three must-haves in terms of experience? What are the top competencies that the applicant must possess to be successful in the role? What does the ideal candidate look like?

Understanding these key indicators will help you to develop your job posting, interview questions and provide direction when reviewing resumes and screening candidates.

At this stage, you should also develop a work back schedule. Book interview times in your calendar to ensure you keep on track. This is also when you should reserve time for resume review, screening calls and coordinating your interview panel. Knowing when interviews and decisions need to be made will make it easier to speak intelligently with a candidate about the process and it will help you stay on task so that you can get a candidate hired and in the role within a reasonable time period.

Step #2: Your job posting is a marketing tool

The job posting is not the same as a job description or a job analysis document. It is very much a marketing tool – you are looking to inspire a person to apply for the role and generate excitement about the opportunity to work for your organization.

In this competitive market, it is essential to highlight what is in it for the candidate. This is not the time to be shy with the merits and benefits of working for your organization. It is also not the time to be coy with what an ideal candidate for the role will look like or what is involved with the role. And you shouldn’t be silent about salary. While you want to inspire candidates to apply, you also want to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the duties and expectations for the role.

Step #3: Resume review

You’ve posted your job and the resumes are rolling in. How are you going to objectively and fairly assess which applicants move on to a phone screening interview? And what happens when you have 100+ resumes? If you are a typical nonprofit, you probably don’t have AI or algorithms to assist you. You will need to determine the cut-off criteria for resumes that get more closely reviewed and which resumes can be omitted from the process.

During your job analysis you identified the top skills, experience and competencies required for the role. Using these qualifications as a guide, develop a framework to determine whether a candidate has the necessary skills, experience and competencies. A way to ensure fairness (and hopefully avoid bias) is to develop a rubric or scoring system so you can be systematic in your assessment. Keep your scoring system simple. Ensure you have a very clear definition for each set of scores so that it can be replicated repeatedly.

Step #4: Interviews

When hiring a candidate, we may prioritize fit for the role or fit to the organization. Deciding which is most important is something that you will want to contemplate in advance of your interviews. Be clear as to which you need most– this will help you determine which candidate is best when you have two candidates who are equally strong, but for different reasons.

An efficient interview process is to conduct 30-minute phone screening interviews with your top 10 applicants, followed by in-person interviews with your top 4-5 candidates.

For the phone screening interviews, you should consider no more than five questions. This process will gauge who you invite to an in-person interview.

During the screening call, you will want to reconfirm the parameters of the role, ask about four key questions related to experience and one related to your top desired competency.

Be prepared to answer questions regarding the interviewing process, especially around timing, as this is typically the top question by candidates. Know that if they have applied for your role, they have also applied to other roles. By providing clarity on the logistics and process, you are being respectful of their time (and ultimately honouring your own schedule).

Once you have selected the pool of candidates for the in-person interview, it’s time to refine your interview questions. A structured interview, in which you ask each candidate the same set of questions, ensures fairness and eliminates potential bias. Your questions should help you assess if the candidate has the knowledge, skills, experience, and competencies required for the role. Consider behavioural and situational questions versus yes/no questions to ensure you gain better understanding of each candidate.

We often speak of cultural fit when assessing candidates. Fit is important, but it can be tricky. It can create unconscious bias in your hiring or lead you to only hire candidates who are like everyone else in the organization, creating a dearth of diversity.

To avoid this, seek to understand each candidate’s values to ascertain whether these values align with the organization’s own.  

During interviews be candid about the process: how you will communicate with candidates, by when and what steps are required to get to a decision. Not only is this respectful, but it leaves each candidate with a positive impression of your organization. Remember that they are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them. Interviews mark the beginning of a relationship that may go beyond the immediate process.

Step #5: Decision time!

You have interviewed your candidates and now you need to make a decision. A fair method that minimizes bias is to develop a scoring system and assign values to the various stages of the recruitment process. With your scoring system, be very clear about whether each component has equal value, or if you will weigh components differently. For example, do the answers to the interview questions related to experience and skills have a higher weighting than the results of tests you may have asked the candidate to perform? By scoring the different components, the top candidate should present itself.

Scoring is the clearest way to assess fit to the role and is a handy way to ensure you are being objective in your assessment. If you have been clear about the necessary requirements in advance, this process shouldn’t be difficult.

When making a decision, you may employ a backdoor reference. This is when you seek and obtain information about a candidate from a source that the candidate didn’t provide. For example, you may ask a mutual connection about a candidate. This is a common reality; however, it isn’t fair or objective and you may be violating the candidate’s privacy. Tread carefully.

Regardless of whether you select a candidate or not, be sure to connect back with them in a timely fashion to let them know your decision. You aren’t required to go into detail, but letting people know your conclusion is part of the process.

From start to finish, expect that hiring will take at least two months – if you are super organized. Most of your time will be spent defining the requirements, coordinating your time and developing assessment tools.

At the outset, know that you need to be very clear with yourself about the requirements for the role, how you are assessing those requirements, and how you are defining success. Be sure to block off time for each step and never forget to communicate with candidates throughout the process. Follow the stages outlined above and your recruitment and selection efforts will be consistent, objective and replicable.

Liz Rejman has spent her entire career working in the nonprofit sector serving arts organizations, healthcare foundations, and higher education institutions. She is currently Director, Fundraising Operations at Pathways to Education Canada where, among her other duties, she assists the fundraising team with the recruitment and selection of staff.