It’s open season in hiring for most organizations. Check with a colleague or visit a nonprofit and you’ll hear about “hard to fill positions” and “it’s tough to keep good staff” and “can’t compete with compensation”. On top of that, you’ll hear a general weariness about “not enough staff and no one to hire”.
Are you sure about that?
People ARE your organization. Without the best people, you will constantly be in a hiring race. After 30 years of serving as Executive Director, I know the race well. All the money you can raise has little impact if the day to day work is not driven by the best people. With over 25% of people changing jobs every year, it’s a mobile market. There’s plenty of talent on your doorstep.
What does it take to get them in your door? It takes both a unique way of thinking followed by a unique approach. You know exactly what you need. Yet so often you step over that, or you step sideways and settle for someone who you know in your heart isn’t a fit. Consider that when you interview, you want to look for and listen for a few little things that tell you a whole lot. They’re quite simple but powerful.
1. Watch how the person arrives for the interview.
If you watch carefully, you’ll see how they handle themselves when meeting strangers. Most likely, the first person they meet is someone they don’t know. Are they shy and timid? Overly boisterous and loud? Make a mental note of how they handle themselves when they arrive. Remember, your work is all about people. You know exactly how you’d want them to present themselves out and about.
2. Look for enthusiasm.
It can’t be manufactured, so look for it during the interview. If it doesn’t show up in the interview, it’s unlikely they’ll pack it when they come to work. Talk to them about things that matter to them instead of what you need done or what the organization needs. You want to hear them tell you with enthusiasm what matters to them and what they are good at. That’s something you can build on. Without enthusiasm, the spark is hard to ignite. Think about how many times you’ve hired dead embers that never caught fire. My guess is A LOT.
3. Drill for real.
Just as you are anxious and revved up to hire, the person you are interviewing should be equally revved up. It’s like the perfect storm in a pressure cooker. You have the questions and they have the answers. Somehow it all has to come together in 45 minutes so you know if they are the right hire. Your job is to drill to REAL. Who is this person REALLY? What do they TRULY offer? And do they TRULY want this job? Ask the questions that tell you what makes them tick.
4. Check those references!
It’s not that common in small shops. Is it important? Yes. Does it get done? Not often. It may be hard to believe that people get hired and no references get checked, but it happens more often than not. Small to mid-sized nonprofits don’t have HR staff to handle the hiring, so it gets added to the Executive Director’s task list.
References don’t get checked because:
– You’re rushed (you wear 9 other hats throughout the course of a day, after all)
– Your scarce beliefs (“There’s a real shortage of good people so I’m not going to delay”)
– Your gut instinct (you “feel it” and plus you “really like them” and you’re “sure it’s a fit”)
You convince yourself it’s the right decision and sign the paperwork. That’s how references fall off your desk and don’t get done. I’ve got my own little databank of proof that references get skipped. Of the last three staff who left our organization to take jobs in much bigger shops (two in business and one in government), not a single reference was checked. No calls in. No emails. No asks about what their work was like or the value they added.
Hiring great talent starts with YOU.
And it starts with listening, observing and deciding. There may be no rule book, no right or wrong – and there IS a way to do it better than you’ve done it up to this point. Let this be the year you truly OWN your hiring process.