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A blog for those interested in what affects, motivates and drives the New York City Nonprofit Sector — written by CRE’s crackerjack consulting team. We hope you use this space to share your thoughts, ask questions and engage in conversations about our city, social justice and the nonprofit sector.

HR Without HR, Part 2: Tips For Recruiting and Retaining Qualified Staff

By Pavitra Menon, Senior Consultant - One of the most fundamental and extremely critical functions of managing your human resources is recruitment. When a job opens up, it really is an opportunity to assess whether or not this is a position that is needed or is still relevant to the organization. In addition, by hiring the “right” candidate for the job you get an infusion of fresh ideas, perspective, and energy. In order to be done right this function needs to be given the critical attention it deserves. Here are some tips to engage in effective recruiting:

  1. Give up the “let’s just get it over with” mindset - one of the reasons managers do such a poor job recruiting, is that they just want to get done with it. Acknowledge that in order to find the best person for the job you need to invest time and energy to do it right. There is just no way around it and no short cut fix.
  2. Use consistent protocols that all managers involved in the hire are in agreement with. The job description should be revisited and revised as necessary before recruitment activity commences. All individuals involved in the recruitment process must be familiar with what is non-negotiable for a candidate to have (skills, knowledge, experience) to be successful in the position. As much as possible, articulate your important criteria in writing. These criteria should inform how resumes are screened and what questions are asked of candidates during interviews. Maintaining consistency is key; otherwise it becomes difficult to judge how one candidate ranks above another as you make selections. Nothing makes a worse impression on a candidate than managers on the interview panel sending out different messages or candidates hearing differing opinions about what constitutes success from someone who phone screened them vs. someone who interviews them at a later stage in the process. It then presents a poor image of the organization. 
  3. Enhance your candidate pool – Do not discount in-house candidates. Get the word out within before going outside. Sometimes, with some training and support, an in-house candidate can be the ideal candidate and can save you precious time and energy. Also, since they are already well-acquainted with the agency culture nothing will be too much of a surprise. If you have to go to market, remember that while it’s important to post the job on job posting sites and listserves, there is a chance that the ideal candidate is already employed and is not looking. Garner the support of your staff, board, partners, funders, and other well-wishers to get the word out. A personal e-mail from someone who knows someone who is not looking alerting them to the job might pique their interest. Develop relationships with university placement offices and alumni networks and get the word out about the job through that route as well. Another commonly used strategy is to reward existing staff when they recommend someone to a position. People within the organization have a unique sense of who can fit in well and are less likely to recommend someone who is a slacker.
  4. Ask the right questions in the interview process – Interviewing properly will get you pivotal information about whether a candidate can actually do the job and if they will fit culturally within your organization. Think carefully about what you want to learn from the candidate. Asking a candidate whether they function well under pressure is likely to elicit simply a "yes." Asking a question that directly applies pressure, such as "what makes you think you are better for this job than all the other candidates?" will likely yield an answer that's extremely telling. In addition, where appropriate, ask candidates to illustrate their answers with examples or give them real life cases and observe how they walk through them. Always follow interview protocols that are pre-determined and vetted by a few people so you avoid asking any illegal questions.
  5. Verify that you have made the right choice – Once you have identified the right candidate for the position through your interview process, make sure you check references, background etc. Candidates are unlikely to give you a list of references that are going to say unfavorable things about them so one strategy to dig deeper might be to tell candidates that you would like to specifically speak with their most recent supervisor or someone who is a direct report. While experts have differing opinions on this, look up the candidate on-line. If their Facebook page, for example, does not have privacy settings installed then whatever is on there is for public consumption. You can find “deal breaker” type information through these very public domains.
  6. Close the loop with candidates you decided not to move forward with. They, too, invested time and energy in your organization and need to be thanked. You never know who could be invaluable to your agency down the line. 
Tips for Retaining Qualified Staff

So, now you’ve hired the right person and your recruitment team is heaving a sigh of relief as their job is over and done with. Not so fast! If you don’t want them running right back to the drawing board it’s important that you “on-board” your new hire effectively. On-boarding, otherwise known as orientation, is one of the first steps to retaining your staff.

It’s important to remember that orientation goes beyond the first day. While day 1 is very important, employees usually spend it tying up administrative loose ends – getting familiar with policies and procedures, checking in with fiscal so that payroll and benefits are set up, getting acquainted with their desks and computers, etc. If that’s the end of a new hire’s orientation to the organization it does not bode well, as s/he has not made any deeper connections with the team or the work. Managers should make sure they schedule ample face-time with new hires within the first two days. This is the time to talk about all the nitty gritty details of the work. Ensure that you set expectations for the position and offer support to help them achieve these expectations. Make personal introductions to the rest of the team and maybe even set up a “buddy system” – have someone take the person out to lunch and show them around the neighborhood, especially the good eating spots! Ask pointed questions about how the new hire is feeling and what they think would help them out in their job, and reinforce that you value open communication and are willing to help them ramp up. Looking ahead, managers should check in with a hire after 30, 60, and 90 days. During these check-ins, get a feel of what is working and what’s not, and allow them to ask any lingering questions in a stress-free way.

As employees get settled in the organization, retention strategies take many different shapes and forms. In my next post I will be delving deeper into the next HR function – “putting the right people in the right place doing the right things” – this in itself, if achieved, is great for retention. In subsequent posts that speak specifically to rewarding and recognizing staff and planning for succession, I will be speaking to retention. Keep watching this space!!!

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Previous blog posts in this series: HR Without HR


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