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podcast: how to hire right the first time with Maria Rotundo

Have you ever felt bewildered by a new hire, who seemed fantastic on paper and in interviews but just wasn’t what you expected? How much time and resources do charities waste with bad hires?

It’s not your fault - most people are really bad at making effective hiring decisions. Maria Rotundo, Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management at the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, helps us find the right candidates, onboard them and help them grow within our organizations.

“best” isn’t always right

Everyone wants to hire the “best” people, but how do you begin to find the right person for your organization? Even those with the most impressive resumes may not be the best fit. So how do we find the right candidate for the job? The first step doesn’t start with your candidate, it starts with knowing your organization.

Ask yourself: why does our organization exist? What are we trying to accomplish? How are we going to achieve those goals and objectives? What core skills are needed to make it happen? Once you’ve answered these questions, you can look for those skills in candidates who are likely to fit and thrive in the environment of your organization.

Take that a step deeper and understand the position and what is required of the candidate. Of course, technical skills are a baseline (degrees, diplomas, etc.) but how those skills are applied can differ in positions and organizations. Do you need someone who can work independently or as part of a team? Do you want someone who is a strategic thinker or a detailed implementer? Those details are seemingly tricking to identify, but the reality is that we’re just not using the right tools to identify them.

designing your interview

Start with questions that help you learn as much as you can about the candidate outside of their resume. Ask yourself: What else can I learn? What other information helps me have greater confidence that a candidate has the core skills and will work well in the environment we have?

In addition to those core skills, the work environment is constantly changing. As a result, individuals are expected to have a variety of different skills. One of the biggest challenges is testing someone’s flexibility or comfort level with ambiguity.

Maria recommends to first reflect on your typical day-to-day duties, what and who is available as a resource for them, and in the case of a crisis, what traits and skills are needed to address and manage it.

One way to test this is by asking behaviour-based questions around day-to-day duties and asking the candidate to elaborate on their answers when necessary. One’s past behaviour is a good, practical indicator of their future behaviour. Looking at how they approach a specific scenario is a great way to assess how they currently work and predict how they will work if hired. The process is more important than the results here. If you’re hiring a fundraiser, you’re not asking for the largest gift they ever closed, you’re asking them to describe how the managed the full donor relationship and what steps they took to be successful.

testing 1, 2, 3...

Tests are significantly underused in the hiring process. A great way to evaluate someone’s skills is by giving them the opportunity to perform or demonstrate multiple traits and skills. This can be a task that they would be expected to do as soon as they get hired. Will they need to write on a regular basis? Give them a writing assignment. Present to groups? Have them prepare and deliver a presentation. This is a highly effective evaluation tool, but it’s not free labour - don’t expect to use or publish anything produced in this process.

There are many tools online that now provide evaluations around work style, EQ, and strengths. Use these to identify if the person will thrive in the position for which you are considering them.

Tests can be much better predictors of someone’s ability to perform in a job than traditional interviews, so think about what tests would uncover someone’s capabilities and fit.

keeping and growing your candidate

Once you’ve found the right candidate, it’s time to onboard them. Give them stretch assignments where they can play to their strengths but also challenge them to improve on their weaknesses. There is a lot of fear around failure and that first stretch assignment isn’t going to be perfect.

The stretch assignment is meant to give insight on a potential career path that they can take, allow them to explore different parts of the organization and have conversations with management about what they want and how they would like to grow. This gives them ownership over their responsibilities and development in your organization. Identify what support they may need so you can develop their weaknesses and leverage their strengths.

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The Small Nonprofit podcast is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano