If the Employee Fits, Hire Her

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Doug Dierking MBA Class

McCombs School of Business

Doug Dierking advises having a prospective hire work on a small project to gauge fit with the nonprofit.

Hiring the best talent takes more than assessing job skills. It also means knowing how to assess the all-important issue of fit.

Anyone who’s ever managed employees knows the challenge of finding the right employee for the job. When a hire doesn’t work out, it costs money, time, morale and sometimes even the organization’s reputation.

Nonprofits must look beyond a match of relevant knowledge and skill and screen for “fit,” the degree to which a prospective employee’s values and vision match an organization’s.

Fit may be harder to ascertain in a prospective employee, but there are lots of ways to find it.

The Children’s Village, an award-winning nonprofit based in New York with a history dating back to 1851, makes sure its employees are aligned with its values by articulating the values during the interview process and reinforcing them once an employee is hired.

For example, one of the organization’s four core beliefs is: “We value diversity and celebrate its power to enrich us all.” A potential hire is surrounded by the organization’s values when he or she interviews, with posters in every program and office area.

In addition, all prospective employees are required not just to interview but to attend values training, which includes role playing.

Children’s Village posts all job openings — with salary range — internally and encourages internal applicants. In addition, the leadership encourages employees to refer job candidates who would be a good match.

Taking this kind of care to ensure fit is worth the effort for employees’ morale — and a nonprofit’s overall success. The Children’s Village was the 2013 Gold Prize Winner for Overall Management Excellence from the New York Community Trust.

A bad hire can be detrimental, said Angelo Kinicki, a professor in the management department at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “And it can be even more dangerous in a smaller firm. If one person is a [problem], then that’s going to affect us all.”

It can also be expensive. A bad hire can cost 30 percent of an hourly worker’s annual salary, Kinicki explained, and up to 150 percent of an executive’s pay.

To find the right fit, organizations should have an articulated, clear statement of vision and values before they begin to recruit. The vision statement needs to be more than lofty principles; it helps if there are specific attitudes and actions. Some of those might be: “We believe in speedy responses to our customers,” Kinicki said, and even specifying that calls be returned before day’s end. Or, it can be about integrity and how fellow employees should treat one another and not just the public.

“I think those statements are very important, and they should be shared in the interview,” he said.

Doug Dierking, assistant chair of the management department at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, said having a prospective hire actually work on a small project with the people he or she would be working with can provide a good indication to fit, too.

“You can see firsthand how they approach things, and it allows them to demonstrate their approach to problem-solving,” Dierking said.

Traditional interviews are also important for number of reasons. “You want it to be a dialogue, not an interrogation,” said Amy Duggan, director for the Center for Nonprofit Excellence in Albuquerque, N.M. “If you and your hiring team come off badly in the interview, it’s not good for your organization.

“People have Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts,” reminded organizational psychologist Dr. Larry Stybel, president of Stybel, Peabody Lincolnshire, a leadership development company based in Boston. “We’re in an Internet-based economy, and power has shifted from the top-down to bottom-up and top-down. Power flows both ways.”

Of course, a savvy job candidate can cheerily review an organization’s values and say, “Oh, yes! I totally agree!”

The savvy hiring manager, however, asks open-ended questions to ascertain if the prospective employee’s values are truly in line with the organization’s.

“Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior,” explained Debbie Finley-Troup, vice president for human resources at The Children’s Village. “An interview should not be an intelligence test. So instead, you ask ‘Can you tell me about a time you had a difficult situation, or you had to de-escalate a crisis situation with a youngster?’”

Jeff Romig, executive director of VOX Teen Communications in Atlanta, said it is important to gear such questions to illuminate fit.

“The questions we design are very specific to VOX,” Romig explained, and are in line with the culture at VOX. For example, because VOX fosters and encourages a very open and trusting environment between teens and adults, a question might be “What would you do if a teen came in and told you she is pregnant?”

There are many answers to the question, Romig said, but the answer VOX interviewers would want to hear is something like this: “Listen to the teen and offer to get them help to discuss their situation.”

It goes back to VOX’s culture as a “teen first” culture, Romig said, which is also a reason that teens help interview potential hires.

“You just have to look at your culture, and design a process around that,” said Romig. “You can say, oh this is just a smaller position, but when you have the wrong fit, even for a small job, it’s a big deal.”

Make sure you leave time to allow a potential hire to ask questions, and listen to what kinds of questions he or she asks you, Kinicki said.

Don’t be offended by candidates digging for information; they need to be curious about their own fit, too, and not just hoping for a paycheck.

The experts made one last point: In addition to articulating your vision and mission at the beginning of the process, make sure you provide employees with training and a manual once hired. The Children’s Village, for example, has 10 days of training after a person is hired. It nearly goes without saying that they should be trained on all equipment, phones, computers, and parking, but Stybel noted something equally important he provides to new hires.

“It’s how to manage me, how to keep me happy, things to avoid that will drive me crazy,” he said. “Your employees’ success depends on your ability to work together.”


A perfect fit…

may be impossible, but you can get closer to it by following this advice from hiring experts.

  • If you haven’t already done so, before you post another job, define your organization’s values and mission. Avoid platitudes; be specific. If you believe prompt responses are important, spell that out with a statement such as: “because we believe in treating customers well, we strive to return all phone calls by the end of the day.”
  • Before you post that coveted job, define specifically what your needs are and what the duties will be. Don’t use generic job postings. Clarify to whom the position will report, and whether he or she will have direct reports.
  • Tell your candidate what the interview will be like.
  • At interview time, put your candidate at ease. Offer a cup of coffee, glass of water. Remember, if this is not the right fit, this is still an opportunity for you to put your best organizational foot forward.
  • Ask open-ended questions that reflect your values as defined above. If, for example, compassion is important, you could say, “Can you tell me about a time you had to decide between working late and giving a ride to someone whose car had broken down.”
  • Let the candidate ask you questions about your values.
  • Have several different people interview the candidate, but not necessarily all at one time. That can be intimidating and shows lack of planning on your part — unless being interviewed by several strangers at a time is part of the job.
  • Make sure the person has all the required professional skills.
  • Ask the person about the things in life she or he is proudest of.
  • Consider a default “no-hire” policy. That is, if you don’t find the right fit but you get almost the right fit, go back to the application process.