The search for a key employee is
the single most critical decision your organization can make. And if you are
like most NonProfit organizations, your board and/or Executive Director will
probably decide to take on this task themselves.
Most people figure that because
they've been in business (or been an executive in a NonProfit) that they know
how to hire. But if you ask, they'll tell you war stories - bad hires, bad
interviews, horrible candidates.
With the success of your
organization hinging on this decision, there are steps you can take (and, more
importantly, steps to avoid) to increase the chances of getting the very best
candidate for the job.
|The 7 No-No's of Hiring a
Don't start with the job description; start with your
organization's long-term goals
Don't look for qualifications; look for
Don't place a boring ad; advertise to sell
Don't rank resumes; sort by Yes or No
Don't go straight from Resume to Interview; get more
Don't interview if you don't know how; Get outside help and
know what you're looking for
Don't settle for references that can't verify facts; get the
information you need
Don't Start in the Present; Start in the Future
If you are like most organizations, your executive search will start
something like this:
- Form a search committee
- Assemble and write a job
- Discuss generally what you're
- Write and place ad / put word
out on the street / put out job announcements
All seemingly obvious first steps.
Unfortunately, they're wrong. And unfortunately they set the tone for the whole
rest of the search.
Before thinking about the job and
the employee, think about the organization. When we focus on the job, we are
thinking about the present and the past, when in reality, the key positions in
the organization are usually about the future. So look first to where your
organization is headed over the next 5-10 years - look to your long range
Wrong: We are going to take
on a number of construction projects over the next two years. Our CEO should
have construction experience.
Right: The next 5 years
will take this organization into many new directions. We need a leader who can
guide that transition.
Don't look for Qualifications; Look for Qualities
The search committee meets to determine the selection criteria.
They argue over the following items:
Should we require 3 years or 5 years experience in
Should they have a
degree? In what?
Should they have
any other professional
How often have you hired someone with 5 years experience,
only to find they don't have 5 years of smarts?
So stop looking for evidence of
what you want (experience and other qualifications), and start looking for
exactly what it is that you want (qualities, skills, talents).
10 years of experience isn't
really what you want. You want what comes with that experience. So define it up
front, clear and simple. Search for the person behind the qualifications.
Good with numbers. Understands the intricacies of financial
management and planned giving.
Visionary. Can take a plan and run
Life experience that gives them
good gut instincts about the right approach to take.
The selection criteria will be the
basis for screening resumes, for creating second-round questions, for creating
interview questions and eventually for making that final decision. So think
about them carefully.
Don't Advertise for Dullards; Advertise for
It's time to run the ad. Here's one from
Sunday's Arizona Daily Star, August 27, 2000. The names are changed to protect
XYZ Agency is seeking candidates
for its CEO position. The CEO will manage a budget of $1million and will report
to the Board of Directors. XYZ provides X service to X population, receiving
the majority of our funding from the State of Arizona.
The ideal candidate will have
management skills in the areas of finance, personnel, information systems,
quality management, contract development and blah blah blah (it actually names
quite a few more). Experience must include Masters or PhD in our field, with 7
years progressive experience.
Now picture this ad to sell your
"Home buyer wanted: must have
basic knowledge of plumbing and electrical work. People with no money need not
We forget that advertising a job is
just that - advertising. And the purpose of advertising is to inspire the
target audience to take action. In this case, you want the attention of the
most qualified candidates in the field.
So don't bore your candidates to
death, or you will get a boring sampling to choose from. Excite them and they
will respond in droves, strong job market or not.
In experiments done by ReSolve, we
have placed two ads for the same position. One was the sort of ad noted above.
The other was what we call the Mary Poppins ad, named for the way the children
in Mary Poppins listed all their wishes and dreams for what they wanted their
new nanny to be like.
Not surprisingly, the standard ad
received 30 responses. The Mary Poppins ad received 240
responses! And the level of respondent in that second ad far exceeded
those from the first ad. The most qualified applicants all came from the second
Don't Rank People by their Resumes; Sort Yes or No
The resumes flood in. The search committee is spending Saturday
morning reviewing them.
The committee wants to use their
criteria to sort the resumes, because now they know what they are looking for.
They read a few and realize it's hard to know someone from that single piece of
paper. They spend most of the morning figuring out a ranking system, and they
hope the best ones will surface during the interview process.
Well at least there are
The problem is that it IS hard to
know an applicant from their resume. So much of what we hire for just doesn't
show up on that single piece of paper.
So the only thing you can do at
this stage is to determine minimum standards, and weigh the resumes against
those standards. That leaves a resume to answer only ONE question:
Does the candidate evidence those
From your list of criteria, note
your minimum "must have" qualities. Financial acumen? Long-term
stick-to-it-iveness? The ability to motivate others? Whatever qualities you
agree upon as "must-haves," see if the applicants have those qualities.
Remember that this is a screening
process. At this level, if someone is included that may not be terrific, they
will be screened out in the next round.
You can already see why those first
few steps - knowing what the organization needs and establishing criteria to
meet those goals - are so critical to this process.
Don't Head Straight From Resume to Interview; Get to Know Them
Don't Head Straight From Resume to Interview; Get
to Know Them First
Next you will set up the
interviews. Or, if the pile is huge, you'll assign a few resumes to each
committee member, for pre-interviews by phone, and then you'll set
Well, not quite.
There are a couple of reasons to
create an intermediate step between resume and interview.
First, if you've written a great ad
to attract folks with just the qualities you seek, your "Yes" pile is probably
pretty big. We've done ads where 500 extremely qualified candidates replied,
over 100 of whom passed the resume hurdle. In cases like this, an extra level
of screening is essential.
Secondly, an interim step lets you
learn more about your candidates, which will lead to a more meaningful
interview. Unlike their resume, these questions will be designed to tell you
exactly what you want to know, according to your selection
We call this the Second Round
Screen. It can be done with a questionnaire of short essay responses, asking
candidates to evidence more of their talents and expertise. The package should
4-6 QUESTIONS requiring short essay responses. PROVIDE A FORM showing a
specific space for responses, so you are not reading novellas. PRE-DETERMINE
YOUR DESIRED RESPONSES, to help with screening upon receipt of the
A fact sheet with as much or as little information about the job and the
organization as is prudent to disclose at this time, to help the applicant
determine if the job is right for them. Also refer them to your
This second round screens in a
number of ways:
1) Some won't respond. From the
job description and salary range, they decided the position wasn't for them. Or
they don't want to write those responses, either because they don't like to
write (an executive had better be able to write!), or they feel it's not worth
their time. There could be a dozen reasons they don't respond, but in any
event, that person is probably not for you.
2) Those who DO respond are even
more interested in working for you than they were at first. Compare their
answers to your checklist of desired pre-determined responses, and you will
have a much better feel for whether or not there is a fit.
Question: "What would your first
action be on the job?"
Desired response: "Walk around and
listen to people."
Their response: "Call a staff
meeting and lay down the new laws."
I'm sure glad I didn't waste my
time in an interview with this person!
In our experience, these
pre-interview questions lead to great discussion during the interview, because
both you and the applicant have already been "introduced" to each
Don't Interview If You Don't Know How; Get Help
You have screened down to a handful of candidates you'd like to
A few committee members are
selected to perform the interviews. They gather and come up with questions,
deciding who will go first and how long each interview should
Ok, here's where it really gets
First, we would love to say the
choice of who does the interviews is based on their experience in interviewing.
But the truth is that the selection of who will do the interviewing is
generally based on who is the most vocal and/or aggressive on the
Interviewing is a skill. It
requires experience. Skilled interviewers delve, know where to push and where
to hang back. They know how to get the responses they seek.
Most of us don't have that skill.
To be honest, most of us are more intimidated about GIVING a job interview than
we are when we are the applicant. During the interview, we are uncertain about
our role, and so we concentrate more on how WE are doing at interviewing than
with what we are learning from the applicant.
In addition, although the group
generally comes up with questions beforehand, they don't talk about what they
are really trying to learn. And so questions are either vague or they are based
on what folks have read in articles on "10 Great Interview
A few recommendations for this
First, hire an HR consultant who
specializes in interviewing, and have them lead the interviews. A few committee
members should sit in as well, but the smartest thing we've ever done is to let
a professional lead the way.
Secondly, base interview questions
on the initial criteria. The applicants have already made it through the other
steps, so you know they have the minimum standards. So what do you still want
You want to see them in action,
get to know them, and most importantly, see for yourself if they have the
qualities you are seeking.
Finally, your checklist should have
a space for "gut hunch." Fill it in for each candidate. If it seems like there
is just the perfect "click," note it. If they twist every question to answer
one for which they were better prepared, note that. Your overall impression is
Don't Get Meaningless References; Verify the
You've narrowed it down to 2 candidates. The
committee will make the reference calls.
You call the first number.
"Can you tell me something about Joe?" The person is reluctant to give out
information, having been told that references can lead to lawsuits (whether or
not that is true, it is a common perception). You get
Or you get someone who tells
you what a great guy Joe was, how much they miss him, how they would love to
have him back.
From either of these, what
have you gained? From the first, you have obviously gained nothing. But from
the second, what do you really know? If you hadn't hit it off with Joe in the
first place, he wouldn't have gotten this far, so are they doing any more than
verifying that Joe is indeed a nice guy?
Most of us check references
as poorly as we interview. We ask vague questions and we get vague responses.
And once the committee gathers back together, all you can report is, "They all
said he's a great guy," or "They wouldn't tell me anything."
If you're lucky, you'll
learn that Joe never worked at any of those places. At least then you'll have
information you can use!
The beauty of a strategic
approach to Executive Search is that you can ask references about facts -
questions they are more likely to answer. You will have their resume to ask
about, their pointed answers to the essay questions, and their interview
responses. So what you really want to know is:
Are they really who they
say they are?
You may not get a reference
to "Tell me something about Joe," but they may just
"Did Joe really increase the
endowment by 20% his first year?"
"Did Joe really add 6 new
programs at no additional cost?"
If Joe really did everything
he says he did, and you already know his personality is a match, then your
questions are answered.
By going through the process
in this way, the reference call is to verify. You may be lucky and also learn
new things along the way, but they will be
Using this strategic approach
to finding key personnel, the Organization is more likely to find the right
person for the job. It takes time, but it is well worth the
wait when you know you can rest easy. You will have found a leader to take your
organization forward into the future.