Developing a Roadmap for Hiring

Navigating the hiring process can be daunting for even the most seasoned managers, particularly if hiring is the not your primary responsibility. When faced with an open position, most managers want to hire as quickly as possible and therefore may try to shortcut the process. We have found, time and again, that the organizations who lead the most effective searches have a clearly defined and strategic process outlined before they even post the position. This is what we refer to as a Search Strategy, and this strategy directly impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of any search process.

An effective Search Strategy includes defining the position, creating a job description and a job posting, developing a recruitment plan, and planning for the different phases of screening. This article will outline each of these phases in more detail.

Defining the Position
You are hiring because a new position has been created or because you need to replace an existing position. In either situation, doing a thorough needs assessment is the first phase in developing your Search Strategy. With key internal stakeholders and decision-makers, start with looking at the needs of your organization (or department) fully; what are the key functional responsibilities that need to be included in order for your organization/department to be successful? Then, determine what key competencies are needed in order to fulfill those functional responsibilities. Look at your current staff and map their responsibilities and competencies to your needs. Where are the holes that need to be filled in? Is there anyone currently in your organization whose role could be adjusted in order to meet those needs? If not, you will need to make a new hire.

If you are hiring for a replacement, make sure to avoid one of the most common pitfalls: hiring a clone of the exiting employee. More than likely, the organization has grown and changed since the exiting employee started, so their old job description is probably not relevant any longer. In addition, thinking in such a linear way will limit the opportunities available to your organization. For example, if you are committed to hiring someone with a very similar background to the exiting employee, you might not consider someone with a different profile but very relevant competencies who could bring some new ideas and perspectives to your organization.

Once you have defined the needs, it is time to more thoroughly define the particular position and identify the profile of your ideal candidate. To ensure an equitable process, gather input by survey or committee from other staff members to help shape the definition of the role.

Some questions to consider:

  • What are the key roles and responsibilities for the position?
  • What are the opportunities and challenges presented by the position?
  • What competencies are required for success in the role?
  • What organizational values would an ideal candidate reflect?
  • What kinds of people are generally successful in this organization, and in this type of role? What kinds of people are generally not successful in this organization, and in this type of role?
  • Where does this position fit in the organization?
  • What is the background of the ideal candidate for this role (e.g. educational background, professional experience, skills, cultural/personality characteristics)?

Now, it is time to think about one of the most challenging parts of position definition, particularly for a nonprofit organization: salary. It is important here to take into consideration both internal and external factors. Externally, you want to make sure that the salary you are offering is as competitive as possible in the marketplace. Start by conducting a market analysis by researching salaries for similar positions at similar organizations. Resources and job boards such as and Philanthropy New Digest can be helpful in this area, as is your own professional network; ask your colleagues for some benchmark data. If you are hiring for a replacement position, use the exiting employee’s salary as a guideline, but do not be constrained by that number; based on the needs assessment, you may well be hiring for a differently defined position or looking for someone with a different profile.
Internally, you need to ensure that the salary fits into the organization’s budget and takes into consideration issues of equity with other employees. Once you have a sense of the salary you will be able to offer, revisit the position definition and ideal candidate profile. Are you way off base? Are you hoping to find someone with 20 years of IT experience but can only pay them $30,000? Make sure that the background and experience you are looking for matches with the salary you are able to offer.

Creating a Job Description and a Job Posting
It is now time to develop two different documents: a job description is an internal document that will lay out, in detail, the exact roles and responsibilities of a particular position. This will be used during the onboarding phase for the new employee, to set expectations and help the manager to supervise, as well as during evaluations and performance reviews.

A job posting is an external document that is created to motivate candidates to apply to the open position. As such, it is viewed as a marketing tool. Visiting online job boards is a great way to see a variety of different types and styles of job postings to inform the creation of your posting. A strong job posting will include:

  • A compelling but concise description of the organization’s history, mission, and key programs; communicate what an exciting place it is to work;
  • An overview of the position that summarizes the key responsibilities while demonstrating the importance of the role to the overall success of the organization;
  • A well-constructed and organized list of key roles and responsibilities; you do not need to include an exhaustive list, but provide some detail about what the role entails, including highlighting the appealing aspects of the position, such as decision-making authority, participation in strategic planning, etc.;
  • A list of the qualifications required; try to focus more on the competencies required than specific levels and types of experience; for example, "exceptional relationship-management skills, especially working with high net worth individuals" is better than "4 years of experience leading major donor campaigns" because it encourages non-traditional candidates with transferable skills to apply;
  • Clear instructions on how to apply; we advise receiving applications only through email;
  • A statement describing your organization as an equal opportunity employer.

Creating a Recruitment Plan
A strategic recruitment plan outlines the methods you will use to solicit qualified applications for your open position and includes three key components:

Internal Distribution: Send a thoughtful email to your organization’s staff. This email should include a brief and appealing description of the role and the ideal candidate and should have the full job posting attached and/or included in the body. Your staff are very good sources of referral candidates because they know your organization best and have an idea of what it takes to succeed there. Be sure to thank them in advance for their willingness to distribute the posting to their personal networks and, if possible, consider offering a referral bonus.

Distribution to Your Constituents: Next, share the job description with your constituents. Post the job to an appropriate section of your organization’s web site and include information about the position in any newsletters or other external communications. If this is a new position, use it as an opportunity to highlight your organization’s growth and development. If appropriate, contact donors, board members, partners, and other contacts; you never know who may be the source of a great referral.

External Posting: Broaden your reach beyond your inner circles by advertising the position externally. For most positions, gone are the days of placing a want ad in the local newspaper; these days, it is usually more cost-effective to post positions on multiple online job boards. Even so, you should budget at least $500-700 for external postings. In order to determine how to most efficiently spend your recruiting dollars, research the relevant job boards or publications where you would find similar postings. Ask staff who have similar roles where they would look for jobs. Find out what professional associations people in the field belong to and see if those organizations have a job board or listserv. There are also job boards based on geographic region or job function (such as accounting, development, or IT) that may be appropriate, but are typically more expensive. When evaluating posting channels, consider both flow and quality; most hiring managers would rather have a smaller pool of qualified candidates than a larger pool of unqualified candidates. While job boards without a nonprofit focus may result in a large number of resumes, more targeted posting for candidates interested in nonprofit positions is often more effective. Sites such as and Opportunity Knocks are excellent nonprofit-focused job boards.

Outlining the Screening Process
The goal of the screening process is to assess each applicant across consistent criteria in order to make the most informed and effective hiring decision possible. Determining the screening process in advance also ensures internal alignment and accountability among all staff involved in the hiring process; be sure to share all relevant materials with appropriate staff to ensure that everyone is on the same page and to make any necessary adjustments before the screening process begins.

Screening is a process of gradually getting more and more detailed information about a smaller and smaller candidate pool and generally includes at least three stages:

  • Resume Screen: Before you review the first resume, determine what information you want to learn from the resume. Return to the job description and come up with a list of criteria you are looking for in a candidate. Now, cut this list down to include just those criteria that can be gleaned from a resume. Use this list of criteria to create a resume screening worksheet to complete for every application.
  • Phone Screen: We recommend a phone screen as the next step in the process. Because it is often difficult to decide from a resume who is a strong overall candidate, the phone screen allows the hiring organization to get more information about a candidate without investing the time to conduct a full in-person interview. Go back to the full list of criteria that you developed. Figure out what questions you are going to ask during the phone screen based on what information you are looking for. Types of questions for the phone screen typically fall into three categories: skill fit (e.g. "Tell me about your success managing employees new to the workplace."), culture fit (e.g. "In what kind of organizational culture are you most successful?"), and logistics (e.g. "When would you be able to start a new position?"). Make sure that you are consistent in all of your phone screens in order to prevent possible claims of discrimination. 
  • Interview: In-person interview(s) are typically the last step in the screening process. Use the in-person interview to probe for information you did not gain in the earlier stages of this process. As you did with the phone screen, plan your questions in advance. Create questions that allow a candidate to provide evidence of his or her characteristics and competencies that will position him or her for success in the role and the organization. Make sure that you allow the candidates plenty of time to learn about the role and the organization; you should consider sending your organization’s collateral material to each candidate in advance of the interview and you should definitely build in time for the candidates to ask questions during the interview. Remember that an important part of the interview process is marketing; at this stage, you think that you might be interested in hiring this candidate. You need to make sure that the candidate is interested in working for your organization. For more information about structuring effective interviews, read this article.

Communicating with Candidates
It is vitally important that you plan, in advance, how you are going to effectively communicate with candidates at each phase of the process. Remember that every single person who comes into contact with your organization is a potential donor, supporter, volunteer, Board member, staff member, etc. As such, all candidates need to be treated with respect. Although most hiring managers feel bad telling candidates "no", candidates would rather hear "no" than nothing at all. Ensure prompt notification of your decision, at each stage of the screening process, while communicating your appreciation of the time and effort that went into their application.

Ready, Aim, Hire!
Once you have a comprehensive Search Strategy, you will be armed with the tools you need to begin the actual hiring process. Taking the time up front to discuss the strategy and develop the required materials will pay off in the long run, ultimately leading your organization to the best possible hires.

This article was written by Commongood Careers and is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

For more information about nonprofit and socially entrepreneurial careers, visit Commongood Careers at

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