In this blog, we present five strategies CompassPoint has adopted to shift our organizational approach to hiring and help us better reach the applicants we seek. They're strategies focused not on fanning out to more job sites and more contacts, but, rather, focusing inward and honing our outreach, communications, and internal processes to ensure we're reaching the right people with the right information.
Hiring can be challenging — especially for nonprofit organizations focused on a specific mission and set of values, goals for diversity and equity, and often lower pay scales. Casting a wide net by posting a job opening to numerous outlets was CompassPoint's go-to method, but we found it often didn't lead to a critical mass of candidates whose skills and interests fit the job's requirements and, more importantly, our approach to social and racial justice.
Here are five actions we took as an organization that have transformed our hiring practices. They've worked well for us on recent hires, so we thought we'd share them with you. Feel free to adapt them to your organization.
1. Be in recruiting mode all the time — and make sure staff know it and are a part of it
CompassPoint's Director of Operations Sarah Gort, who is in charge of hiring, was instrumental in shifting our organizational hiring mindset to a more proactive approach. Here is an excerpt from an email she sent to staff that set the tone and strategy for this new approach:
"We are now focused on having the right work that is Theory of Change-aligned, that is stimulating and engaging for us to be involved with, and that we can manage without running ourselves ragged! In order to do this well we must have the right staff and enough staff. This will require us as an organization to shift to being in an ongoing recruiting mode. We have to acknowledge, as much as we may hate to, that not everyone is going to stay forever and we need to be prepared for that."
2. Be clear about your organizational values and direction, and visibly integrate them into your hiring materials and job descriptions
Two years ago, if you visited the jobs page on our website, more often than not it simply said, "We are not currently hiring." That's it. Even if we were hiring, you'd probably just see the job description. Now our jobs page serves as an important first screen for potential candidates by including clear language about who we are as an organization (CompassPoint is an integrated, staff-led practice that leverages the collective experiences and expertise of all of our staff members), how we work (We build on the existing strengths and histories of social justice efforts so that: organizations are adaptive with bold leadership, impactful strategies, and effective management; a powerful and resilient critical mass of diverse leaders at all levels continue to contribute to social justice; social justice movements are powerful with strong relationships and aligned strategies; etc.), and our organizational values (learning, humor, relevance, integrity, multiculturalism, holism, and social justice).
The same goes for every job description. In addition, we share our theory of change with every candidate. In fact, we lead every interview with this discussion. We also integrate these values and goals into our hiring processes to the extent we can. (More about this in #5 below.)
3. Don’t just cast a wide net, but go to where the candidates you want will be most likely to find you
This requires some discipline, creative thinking, and investment in time on the front end to identify these sources, but it pays off by focusing your outreach to a more aligned, though likely smaller, pool of candidates. This could mean posting to some job boards or job sites. But for greater effectiveness, it likely means identifying organizations and partners with similar approaches and values and sharing your search through them, which leads to the next point.
4. Use your networks wisely and cultivate them constantly
We certainly used our networks in the past, sending them job postings and asking them to spread the word. But without a clear plan, we weren't maximizing these opportunities. There is a difference between asking contacts to share a job description versus asking them to share a job description to targeted candidates whose skills and interests align to ours. There's no harm in doing both, but we've shifted the balance to do more of the latter now. This includes providing our contacts with very specific and thorough language that they can quickly turnaround and use in their outreach on our behalf — from sample email text to social media posts complete with hashtags and tiny URLs.
In addition to enlisting our networks, we've taken the step of building our own pool of potential applicants by asking those who are interested in working for us to join our jobs email list. The individuals on this list are among the first to hear of our job openings, and since they've self-selected to be on our list, we are pretty confident that they "get us" and are familiar with our mission and goals.
5. Think creatively about ways to open up your pool to the full range of prospects
This includes thinking through the qualifications in your job descriptions and understanding how they might limit or expand your pool of candidates. Do you make sure your qualification requirements aren't unnecessarily exclusionary? Do you attempt to reduce unintentional biases? Here are three steps we took:
- We removed the educational requirements for all of our job positions. We believe that experience and learning happen in many ways outside of a classroom, so why create this barrier for those who may not have had access to the traditional educational experience? (And, yes, eliminating this requirement did increase our pool of prospects.)
- We make space in our hiring committees for open, safe conversations to challenge our thinking. In a recent hiring process, we had a group conversation about the education backgrounds of two top candidates: one with a high school degree and the other with a college degree. We were leaning towards the individual with the college degree. One committee member challenged the group to confirm that we were not unintentionally biased towards that candidate because of their educational background and asked if this was a time when we could disrupt inequality to give a less traditional candidate the position. Though we ended up moving forward the candidate with the college degree, the conversation gave us the opportunity to explore at a deeper level why we were moving forward a particular candidate over another and it cleared what could have been a tension in the group.
- We make sure multiple people are involved in the resume review process so that every applicant's resume gets seen by at least two people. As one staff member shared, "In reviewing resumes and cover letters recently, one particular cover letter rubbed me the wrong way and I almost dismissed the individual. I couldn't really pin down why the cover letter had rubbed me the wrong way and I asked my fellow reviewer their opinion. We discussed how I could possibly be responding negatively due to unintentional age and gender biases. The candidate made it to the interview process and turned out to be a fantastic candidate."
For others, this process may mean actively seeking out individuals from the populations you serve. One colleague heard about an organization that seeks only former offenders for their job openings. Of course, when making your hiring very proscriptive and exclusive to certain populations, it's always wise to run your practices by an employment attorney.
Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink tells the story of how orchestras in the 1980s began instituting "blind" auditions so those hiring couldn't see the person who was auditioning. The end result was a significant upswing in the number of female musicians who were hired and a better understanding about the unintentional biases in the screening process that existed. The popular reality show, The Voice, institutes a similar blind audition process to focus judges on the singing voices of those auditioning as opposed to the "whole package" of talent, attractiveness, and fashion style that could impact decisions. (The Nonprofit Risk Management Center's Melanie Lockwood Herman wrote a great blog about how practices on The Voice might be used in nonprofit hiring.) While the practicality of instituting blind auditions may be challenging, there are undeniably some steps organizations could take, like phone screenings, having applicants fill out a screening questionnaire, or having applicants write a piece that displays their experience and approach to a topic. The resources at the bottom of this blog include some articles that were helpful in re-orienting our way of thinking about recruiting and interviewing.
There's a lot that an organization can do to structure and impact its hiring processes and outcomes. Just as a job seeker needs to invest the time to find the right job, an organization needs to prepare to find the right candidates. In fact, all of the front-end work could make your job of hiring and retaining staff who are happy at their job and your organization that much easier in the long run.
Cristina is Grants and Communications Director at CompassPoint. If you have a suggestion for a blog topic, or would like to write a blog for CompassPoint, let Cristina know! She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- "The Way We Hire is All Wrong," Medium.com
- "Staff Screening and 'The Voice,'" Nonprofit Risk Management Center
- "The Best Way to Eliminate the Gender Pay Gap is to Ban Salary Negotiations," The Washington Post
- "Our Hiring Practices Are Inequitable and Need to Change," Nonprofits with Balls
- "Blind Auditions Could Give Employers a Better Hiring Sense," NPR
- "Guess Who Doesn't Fit in at Work?" New York Times