Land Your Dream Job
Careers that help you move from intention to action

New to Hiring? 3 Critical Decisions to Make Before You Begin

One person interviews another.

From the outside, hiring can look like a breeze. But if you’ve ever been invited to join a hiring process, you likely know that a detailed plan and a dedicated coordinator can be mission critical.

If you’ve been tasked with managing the hiring process, use this simple guide to ensure a smooth and successful search.

Develop the hiring plan

The first step is to sketch out what the hiring process will look like. If you’re developing your own blueprint from scratch (perhaps without the help of an HR department), here are some tips:

  • Step 1: Draft a job description and find the right outlets and communities to share it with. After posting to, be sure to share it internally, as well as with your social media network and any professional or alumni associations that may be a fit.
  • Step 2: Determine how many rounds of interviews you’ll need in order to select your final candidate, as well as who should be in the room for each one. Many organizations kick off the interview process with a brief phone screen, followed by an interview, and then finally, one or two additional in-person interviews that often involve other members of the staff.
  • Step 3: Next, consider how you'd like to check professional references. If you have an HR department, this is generally something that they’ll lead. If not, you’ll want to be sure that you have a list of appropriate (and legal) questions to ask a candidate’s references.
  • Step 4: Have a plan in mind for how you’d like to extend an offer. Will you call first or reach out via email? Are you offering a salary with the expectation that your candidate will try to negotiate? What’s the plan if they do? When and how will you inform other candidates that they were not selected to move forward with the interview process?

Create an interview exercise

Hiring exercises are everywhere. The good ones evaluate how an applicant performs using a few mission critical skills needed for the job while also being respectful of an applicant’s time.

As a hiring manager, you’ll want to identify what skills are essential to the position and how they need to be measured.

  • Hiring a grant writer? Consider asking applicants to write a brief summary of the organization’s mission and identify one or two program areas they would highlight to a potential funder.
  • Need a data analyst? Structure an exercise that evaluates their ability to source data while solving an analytical task.
  • Looking for a communications professional? Have them draft a press release and brief media release strategy.

As you’re developing your interview exercise, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Will the exercise be done in the office or remotely?
  • Will the exercise be timed, and if so, how will I time it (honor system, timestamp, etc.)?
  • By assigning this exercise, what is it that I hope to determine about the candidate?
  • Who will review the exercise and how will it be judged?
  • Would the creation of an exercise review rubric help to ensure that the judging of the exercise is fair and universal?

At a minimum, most hiring exercises evaluate writing skills, how well an applicant understands the core functions of the position, and if an applicant can follow instructions. Each hiring exercise should contain clear instructions, a brief prompt, and details on how the applicant should submit the completed exercise including email address and document format (MS doc, PDF or Excel).

Establish a standard set of questions

Develop standard questions for each round of interviews and ensure that you're asking each candidate the same questions. In-person interviews should be designed so you get to know an applicant better.

Be sure to:

  • Allow yourself 45-60 minutes with each applicant.
  • Ask a mix of open-ended, scale and behavioral questions. Interview questions typically fall into two big buckets: culture/team fit and knowledge/skills assessment as it pertains to the position.
  • Open-ended questions are pretty straightforward. Just be sure to avoid inadvertently setting up your question so that you solicit a yes or no response.
  • One-to-ten questions, or "scale" questions ask an applicant to evaluate themselves on a scale of 1-10. For example, “On a scale of 1-10, rate your comfort level when dealing with conflict.”
  • Behavioral questions are scenario-based and attempt to evaluate how an applicant would respond in specific situations. Classic examples include “What are your greatest professional strengths and weaknesses?,” or “Tell me about your biggest professional challenge.”

Once you’ve developed your questions, be sure to run them by colleagues, HR, and any other members of the hiring committee for notes.

If you’re new to hiring, the process can seem high pressure. Hiring the wrong person for the job costs time, money, and resources, however, if you follow the suggestions listed above, you’ll be well-positioned to identify a strong finalist pool.

Did you enjoy this post? There's plenty more where this came from! Subscribe here for updates.

About the Author | Sarah Goff has nearly fifteen years of experience working in NYC’s public sector in what can only be described as an elegantly haphazard career path. She geeks out on politics and social policy and is deeply passionate about the the social sector. She has participated in numerous public sector fellowship programs and has her M.S. in Public Policy from The New School.

Explore Jobs on Idealist