Interview questions and structured interviewing
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Good Hiring Practice

Secrets to Non-Profit Hiring

Bob Corlett

Is your nonprofit chronically short-staffed? No time to focus on interviewing? Are major deadlines bearing down? Ironically, this is exactly when staffing demands the most attention. Rushing through the hiring process only sows the seeds for future turnover and time-consuming management problems. To build and retain a strong and committed staff, follow these 10 best practices.


Establish the schedule for the hiring process before doing anything. The organization’s major stakeholders will support an organized process. The best candidates will often wait for a decision as long as they know the hiring schedule. Don’t skip important steps in the hiring process because of external pressure from major funders, the board or anyone else. Desperation is the root of all evil in hiring; avoid it at all costs.

Hire for talent and skill, not personality. When a good person vacates a position, don’t automatically try to hire someone “just like” him/her. Design work teams to have people with diverse and complementary skills and abilities. To avoid hiring based on personality, list the skills and attributes that would make the team stronger. Identify the patterns of behavior that would help someone achieve the critical goals of this position. List what would be innately rewarding about this job, and what kind of person would thrive in it—then look for that person, not necessarily who is best liked in the interviews.

Network. Think creatively about how to reach people and don’t recruit exclusively via ads. Advertising will invariably miss applicants who are not actively looking and instead will tend to attract people who are perpetually looking—the dreaded job jumpers who are hardest to retain. Rather than spending precious time sifting through bad resumes, consider a different approach. Reach out to your Rolodex contacts, use your board of directors, your donors, your members and your professional associations. Write an attractive and clear one-page description of the job, including salary and benefits, and e-mail it to as many people as possible. Post open jobs prominently on the organization’s web site.

Tell it like it is. Market the job accurately and only to a small, targeted audience. It’s fine if 99 percent of job seekers are not interested in the job, because it only takes one to fill it! Employers earn respect from candidates by openly sharing both good and bad information about the job right up front. It is perfectly acceptable to share a job’s salary range with candidates prior to the first interview. Don’t wait until the end of the second interview to share bad news about a low salary, long hours or funding instability. The right candidate will rise to the challenge and candidates with major concerns will drop out before consuming valuable interviewing time.

Hiring is a team sport. Involve the work team and an objective third party (like a board member) in the interview process. Use the hiring process to build consensus on goals and expectations. If the work team helps to select a candidate, they will be more committed to helping that person succeed. Different people observe different things in an interview. The wisest decisions depend on including diverse input. Managers often find that they have a much better ability to evaluate the candidate’s responses when they are not leading the interview.

Listen in the first interview, talk in the second. Too many organizations spend the first interview selling instead of interviewing and then waste more time bringing back the wrong people for a second interview. Have someone phone-screen everyone prior to the first interview to be sure hours, location and salary are acceptable. Have a seasoned interviewer conduct the first interview and explain to the candidates that the first interview is primarily to learn about them, the second is for them to learn about the organization. Avoid giving a tour of the facility to anyone except a finalist. The best way to find time for the finalist is to save time with all other candidates throughout the process.

Focus the interview on the desired attributes and competencies. Don’t be misled by a candidate’s enthusiasm and commitment to the organization. Commitment to the cause is not enough to ensure success. The role must be a good match for the candidate’s attributes and skills. Determine whether the job duties will be innately rewarding or a constant struggle. People are more successful and far easier to manage when their job matches their innate abilities. Never hire an enthusiastic candidate who supports the organization but is not a match for the job—he/she will usually consume inordinate management attention without delivering significant results.

Avoid hiring from a field of one. Be sure to have at least two or three good finalists. When there is only one qualified candidate, the pressure to settle for him/her is almost irresistible—and often a mistake. It is better to start the interview process over than to hire badly.

Review performance expectations. Resist the temptation to put off potentially difficult conversations for “later.” Always put performance expectations in writing and discuss key performance measures in the interview and again when the offer is extended. Review expectations on the first day of work and again at monthly intervals for the first three months.


Follow through—the hiring process is not over until the candidate completes the first few months on the job. Some of the most crucial steps happen after the interview.

Check references very carefully before extending an offer. Have every candidate complete an application form in the first interview, read it carefully before the second interview and personally check at least three references. Don’t delegate this task. Get permission on the application form to contact previous supervisors. Good candidates will have good references. Don’t settle for neutral references, and don’t rely solely on references the candidate gives you.


Be sure to prepare thoroughly for the new employee’s first day. Order his/her business cards in advance. Be sure he/she arrives to a clean desk, a working computer and working phone. Demonstrate that this is a long-term investment for the organization and not just a quick fix. Lavish time on the new employee on his/her first day.


Check in with the new hire regularly and ask the candidate how the job differs from his/her expectations. Often major issues can be dealt with while they are small and this type of feedback improves the interview process for the next candidate.


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