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Hire Impact | How to Attract and Screen Great Applicants

Illustration of a woman on a laptop for Part One of Idealist's three-part Hire Impact Series.

Welcome to Hire Impact, Idealist’s three-part series on attracting, assessing, interviewing, and onboarding great candidates. In this article, we’ll dive into writing the best listing possible to showcase your organization as well as the specific role for which you’re hiring. 

We’ll also cover how to assess the candidates that come rolling into your inbox, ATS, or Applicant Tracker. While sometimes we yadda, yadda through these steps, finding great candidates is the key to hiring great staff who can maximize your organization’s impact.

Attracting the best candidates

Your job listing, whether on Idealist or elsewhere, is an advertisement. While you don’t have to have a Mad Men-level appreciation for spin, an attractive listing will be one that puts your organization and this specific role in the spotlight. 

Here’s what to keep in mind as you draft and post your listing:

  • Use the full job title for the listing title. 
  • Abbreviating “Program Manager” to “Program Mgr” or “PM” might mean some candidates miss seeing your opportunity. (Job seekers tend to use full words when searching.)
  • Sometimes we see organizations try something sales-y: “Exciting Program Opportunity with an Established Chicago Nonprofit.” In all honesty, our users tend to report these listings as spam. We know these listings aren’t spam, but if potential candidates don’t, that’s a problem.
  • Using “you” instead of “the ideal candidate” can help readers better envision how they fit.
  • Formatting is your friend! Bullets and subheadings will help keep listings easy to read. But be careful not to go editing-happy; too much bold, italics, underlining, and capitalization can be overwhelming.
  • Listings should be somewhere between 300-800 words. If any section is running long, you can always redirect to your website, ATS, or other resource.
  • Make sure to note if the position is part time, contract, temporary, or anything that isn’t a full-time salaried position. These are fields you’re able to select when posting on Idealist.
  • This next one is always true, and doubly so in the middle of this awful pandemic: it’s important to make explicit where you need this future staff member to physically do their work, whether it’s in person; remotely, for now; permanently remotely; and so forth. Idealist recently rolled out a way to make this extra clear for both organizations and job seekers.

Finally, we suggest reviewing role requirements and role nice-to-haves, and then removing the nice-to-haves from your listing. As you may know, potential candidates may take themselves out of the running (especially BIPOC professionals, women, and other traditionally marginalized groups) if they have, for example, everything a listing asks for except for one single item that could be taught on the job. Your candidate pool may be larger, richer, and more diverse if you implement this tactic.

Screening for candidate fit

Assessing candidates is so specific to what organizations and individual roles require. Despite that, we feel like there are a few tricks and tips that can help in this important process:

  • Keep the job description handy when screening, referring back to the exact needs of the role when assessing resumes, cover letters, and other materials. 
  • Some organizations even use a point system. If you’re hiring for a program manager and the requirements are previous program experience, one to two years of management experience, and expertise managing public health grants, you could allot points as appropriate to candidates who do and don’t meet these requirements.
  • All great candidates don’t look the same. Take care to consider the qualifications of non-traditional candidates, like an applicant for a fundraising role who has a sales background and rich volunteer experience; this sector-switcher might have the right combination of skills and experience to be an asset to your organization. 
  • If possible, hide names or other demographic information in your review. Even when our intentions are good, implicit bias and learned prejudice play in the background of many decisions, including whether to move candidates on to a next stage, or not. We’ll tackle this more in the next section of our series (where we’ll cover interviewing), or you can read more about bias in hiring.
  • If the role you’re hiring for is currently remote and a candidate is willing to relocate once your office reopens, perhaps a wider net—for the moment, or permanently—will actually pay off with more candidates.

Finding and reviewing candidates, and what comes next

This part of the hiring process is all about clarity: having an understanding of what a role requires, and then making it clear to the world who you’re hoping to find. Finding that right person means taking equity into account by considering what words are chosen for the listing and what criteria are used to assess who makes the cut––and even going outside of those who might traditionally be considered a good fit.

In the next part of our series we’ll take on the ins and outs of interviewing. Watch this space!

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