Hiring right every time (without losing your mind)

Written by: Dan Erling
Published on: Jan 3, 2017


Dan Erling [square]

When asked why a system for hiring correctly is so important, the CEO of a 43 year-old recruiting firm, Dan Erling likes to cite a quote from Jack Welch: “Hiring good people is hard. Hiring great people is brutally hard. Yet nothing matters more.” More concrete evidence can be found in the 2006 and 2011 Daring to Lead reports from CompassPoint, which indicate a executive director mis-hire rate of 33 percent or more. In his over 20 years of recruiting experience Erling has developed a structured, step-by-step approach to hiring that he uses every day for clients in the nonprofit and for-profit worlds.

Detailed in his book, MATCH: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time, Erling admits that his system is no secret—it’s just a simple set of practices he’s witnessed in companies that get hiring right. In conversation with Georgia Nonprofit NOW magazine, he revealed some of those practices, and the reasons behind them.

The importance of a consistent process:

I see thousands of hires every year. As an objective observer, I’ve discovered the things that people do every time in an organization that makes the right hires. It all comes down to simple consistent steps such as: Create an organizational chart. Clarify the culture. Write an effective job overview.

Having a structured process allows us to be more scientific in our approach to people. We can’t forget that it’s all about people! But the more you can compare apples to apples, the better off you’ll be. If we address one candidate with question set A, and another with question set B, we have no way to compare.

Why culture is central:

The most important thing a nonprofit can focus on is aligning your corporate culture with the talent pool. In the final tally, a successful hire depends 75 percent on culture and 25 percent on skills.

The mistake that most companies make is hiring someone for skills, and hoping that person will change to match the culture. That won’t happen. Your hiring team needs to focus on people who are motivated by the mission first, because you can always teach the technical skills. Of course, you can’t give somebody a CPA, but if there are just a few skills lacking, it’s best to hire for culture and arrange for the training that’s needed.

Nonprofits don’t realize how much ammunition they have in the hiring process. We spend a lot of time working on culture with our for-profit clients, but I think nonprofits have an even greater competitive advantage because they’re so driven by the meaning of the work they are doing.

How to find the right candidate pool:

Going after people who are truly motivated is hard work, but there’s nothing more important because, as a nonprofit, you’re never going to be able to buy someone. There’s no magic wording to push in a job ad: You have to align souls with souls.

Social media is a fairly inexpensive way to find candidates: by creating groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, you can look to who’s following you and identify candidates there. But you can also look to your people: Who shows up when you ask for volunteers? Who’s giving on the financial side, and how can you use that data to work referrals? Cast your search high and low, and make sure you net a large enough pool to be selective.

Dan Erling is the CEO of Atlanta recruiting firm Accountants One. You can find him on his website.