For U.S. nonprofits, finding great talent is more difficult than ever. Hiring has never been easy in this sector because of limited salaries and incentives. However, in today’s market, persistently low unemployment rates and the growing complexity of nonprofit jobs means even smaller candidate pools.
Since most nonprofits have little or no internal recruiting capacity, it’s not surprising that more and more organizations are pursuing help from professional recruiting firms. For nonprofit leaders this is an unknown process and they may have few ideas on how to judge a recruiting firm before they engage them.
Here are 6 questions I recommend every nonprofit leader ask a recruiter before signing a contract.
1. How will we front-end key decisions?
Most recruiters want to get your position description completed quickly and up on sites to advertise it. Nonprofit leaders and the recruiting firm see expediting the position description as a “quick win” and “progress.” However, most times, moving swiftly up-front means delaying on key decisions about the position. Rather than spending time in the beginning debating what capacities and experiences are most important, there is a push to include everything, get the position out, and argue later. Rushing this step leads to a weaker process since you are then making crucial decisions after your candidate pool is built.
2. What role will staff and board have?
A good search will engage people who are already invested in your organization and on your team. Depending on the level of the position, you should have board members involved and staff should be part of the process. This involvement may look like a staff member or board member sitting on the search committee or conducting some interviews with the prospective candidates. Their perspective will be invaluable to the process not only by sharing their expectations ahead of a hire, but also by showing the process was transparent and valid.
3. How will you headhunt for talent?
When we created our new approach to nonprofit recruiting Lean Recruitment, we interviewed dozens of nonprofit leaders about their experiences with recruiters. By far, the number one complaint was that the recruiter didn’t really find new talent. Typically, they relied heavily on the hiring organization’s staff and board connections to build the candidate pool. Though most recruiters will say they will push beyond your network for talent it is important to ask them how they will headhunt for candidates so that you can understand and be sure your investment will result in more than just vetting candidates you already know.
4. What worries you about hiring for us?
Nonprofit hiring is never easy (for all the reasons mentioned above and more). Knowing what the recruiter perceives as being the most challenging part of the hiring process for your position or where the greatest barriers lie is a great way to see if they really understand your needs and organization.
5. Who will we really work with?
Many times, recruiters will have a more senior person who designs and sells the project while the day-to-day recruiting and interface with the search committee will rely on more junior staff. While this is more cost-effective for the recruiter, it can mean a weaker candidate pool for you and a greater reliance on project management and facilitation by your search committee (since the assigned recruiter lacks the staff to guide more senior board members and staff).
6. How can I reduce costs and the timeline?
Costs are always a key issue with nonprofits and time can be as well, as you have to pay for interim staff or live with delays since you lack the personnel to proceed with daily activities. For these reasons it is important for you to ask if there is any way you can reduce costs. For example, can you use your staff or volunteers from the board to fulfill any of the activities? Or can you use the recruiter just for the parts of the process where you lack capacity (for example, engaging the recruiter to headhunt, but leaving your team to run the interview process)? Even a number of small changes in scope can result in a more cost-effective and faster process.
Don’t be afraid to ask
Engaging a recruiter is an expensive decision for any organization. Accordingly, don’t hesitate to ask all the above questions and more if you have them. This is a decision that should be weighed carefully not only for cost, but also because you hope to live with the resulting hire for years and want the best choice possible.
If you decide not to hire a recruiter, don’t hesitate to use our process for free. You can get a copy of Lean Recruitment, the step-by-step guide to our process for free here (a $9.99 value).
Also, don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions by finding a time to talk by phone.