Two men in front of each other for an interview

Avoid These Common Recruiting Mistakes When Your Nonprofit Is Hiring

From sending a calendar invite to the wrong person to misspelling someone’s name in an important email, we all make mistakes from time to time—especially when we’re busy and rushing from task to task. Usually, we realize the mistake five minutes later (or moments after hitting send on that email) and wish we had a time machine. But when it comes to recruiting new talent, some of the biggest mistakes nonprofits make are ones they’re not even aware of.

Don’t let avoidable mistakes hold your organization back from hiring the talent it needs. Here are four common hiring pitfalls to watch out for. 

1. Failing to follow up when a great candidate doesn’t respond

You’ve found an incredible candidate on LinkedIn. They have all the skills you’re looking for and even a deep passion for your organization’s cause. You send them a message about the opportunity, excited to hear what they think, and… Nothing. They don’t respond. 

You may feel dispirited at this point—but don’t walk away yet. One of the most easy-to-make (and easy-to-avoid) mistakes nonprofits make is not sending a follow-up message or two when a promising candidate doesn’t immediately respond to their outreach.

There’s a big difference between being pushy and being thorough. The candidate may not have responded because they genuinely missed the message, or because they opened it at work and decided to respond later—then forgot. In these instances, they’ll likely be grateful that you gave them a gentle nudge, because the alternative is missing out on an opportunity they may really want. 

Send candidates a polite follow-up a couple of days after your first message, and if they still don’t respond, send another quick note saying you’d love to keep in touch if they’re interested in working with your nonprofit in the future. This signals to candidates that you’re about to move on, creating a sense of urgency if they are interested in this particular opportunity, while also leaving the door open for conversations down the line if a role that’s a better fit comes up. 

2. Asking generic questions that don’t tell you a lot about the candidate

At many nonprofits, the list of standard interview questions hasn’t changed much since the organization was founded. And since candidates get asked questions like “What’s your greatest weakness?” and “Tell me about a time you faced a challenge at work” at almost every interview they attend, they tend to have canned answers prepared. 

Throwing in a few unpredictable questions (as long as they’re relevant) means candidates will need to think on their feet, which often reveals a lot more about them than an answer they’ve had time to workshop. You may hear something really insightful that makes you view the person in a whole new light, or discover that they have lightning-fast problem-solving skills. 

As much as possible, tie your questions back to your mission as well. You don’t just need to know that the candidate can do the job—you want to know that they’ll find the work fulfilling and meaningful, making them more likely to stay for the long haul. 

3. Focusing too much on education and experience and not enough on skills

When you’re scanning resumes, it’s easy to be drawn to those that list prestigious schools and organizations. But education and experience don’t automatically equate to the right hard and soft skills, and focusing too much on these factors may cause you to overlook exceptional untapped talent. 

As you write your job descriptions, consider removing college degree requirements altogether (unless a degree is absolutely essential) and shifting the emphasis away from how much experience candidates should have and toward the skills and knowledge they’ll need to thrive in the role. During the interview stage, tailor your questions to help you test the soft skills your new hire will use every day, such as creativity or communication. You could even build some form of assessment into your hiring process (like a small writing test for a marketing or communications role) to see the candidates’ skills in action.

4. Not communicating enough throughout the process

With the people in charge of hiring at nonprofits often juggling a dozen other responsibilities and projects at once, it’s not uncommon for a week or more to elapse between each communication with candidates. While candidates understand that you’re busy, they also need to be kept in the loop to make informed decisions about their future, especially if they’re interviewing for multiple roles. If you go silent for too long, they may get the impression that you’re not really interested in them and accept another offer, even if you were their first choice. 

As a rule of thumb, aim to touch base with candidates at least once a week, whether you have an update to share or not. If the team needs more time to make a final decision, let them know and (if possible) offer a rough timeline. 

Many top recruiting professionals recommend blocking off time on your calendar every Friday to send check-in emails. That way, candidates will never go into the weekend worrying that your nonprofit has forgotten about them—and if you need anything from their end to move the process forward, you’ll likely find it ready for you in your inbox first thing Monday morning. 

If your organization is hiring, we can help. Contact our team to learn more about our nonprofit hiring solutions.

This post was inspired by the LinkedIn Talent Blog article “7 Common Recruiting Mistakes (and How to Avoid Making Them),” authored by Laura Hilgers.

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