Recruitment: The Long-Term Relationship or the One-Night Stand?

ngos sustainability recruitment
Wednesday, 5 September, 2012 - 09:57

In this article, the author explains a few things that human resource practitioners at civil society organisations should take into consideration when recruiting staff

Every job has its highs and lows; joys and sorrows even for human resource (HR) professionals. As an HR generalist, I experiment in all areas of HR and must confess, I find it hard to get excited about writing up a job description or developing a policy about replacing the paper in the printer. But the sweet aint so sweet without the bitter and the sweet for me lies in recruitment.

I find it exhilarating from the inception of the job spec, to wading through an ocean of CVs and finally making the offer that will change someone’s life. We all know how getting the perfect job can make or break your quality of life and for a small period of time, your self-esteem, particularly if it is ‘regret’. A job offer from an organisation you want to work for is a lift-up, a fresh start and an opportunity to shine. But the impact lies on both sides of the employment relationship. It never ceases to amaze me how bringing in the right person can influence organisational dynamics, help improve processes, motivate a team, generate some healthy competition and have an overall positive effect on the culture, whether it is an internal appointment or an external candidate. The adverse is also true and I have witnessed the devastating impact of recruiting someone who is not able to perform according to expectations and is just not the right fit.

I like thinking of finding the perfect match for an organisation as the beginning of a healthy long-term relationship and not a one-night stand and just like hunting for the perfect partner, it helps to apply lessons learned from previous relationships and have a good idea of what you are looking for. The quality of this match is particularly crucial in civil society organisations where resources are limited and recruiting for attitude, culture-fit and ability to deliver are as important as one’s theoretical knowledge and expertise.

There are no secrets to recruitment success. I do not believe in a one-size fits all approach. Every organisation is different and the quality of a recruit is also very much dependent on the experience and input of those doing the recruiting. Finding the right person for the job is tough. I do not see myself as a seasoned expert who claims to have the recipe for success. On the contrary, I still see myself as a rookie recruiter who still has loads to learn about finding the perfect match. I have, over the years learned a few simple techniques that can help ensure that you recruit a long-term partner and avoid the impact of a ‘hit and run’ recruit.

  • Begin with the end in mind: Develop clear expectations of what you want this person to do and ensure that key employees who will work with this person are part of the selection process. This will help create buy-in for the person from day one;
  • The more the merrier: Panel interviews are an effective way to involve people in the organisation who will work with the candidate and ensure an all round assessment of the candidate from a range of perspectives. I would recommend anything from three to five panel members maximum. Any bigger and it may feel like a Board of Inquiry;
  • Make a case for the candidate: Case studies are a cheap and effective tool to get a candidate to apply their mind to the job and give the panel insight into how the candidate may perform on the job. In general, I think candidates should jump through hoops on a selection process. It may sound sadistic but a rigorous process will help identify the right person for the role. I always recommend two interviews and sometimes three for a more senior position;
  • Gentle interrogation: Be bold and do not be afraid to ask tough questions as long as they are non-discriminatory and are related to the inherent requirements of the job. It may sound like I am stating the obvious but avoid questions related to gender, marital status, religion and sexual orientation. The panel should discuss and agree on these questions before the interviews;
  • Get it straight from the horse’s mouth: Do not accept pre-written references. Take the time to make the calls and get fresh, first hand information. Avoid peer references, they might be biased and in some cases, rigged. You want to speak to a direct supervisor and probe. I once got a reference from a fictitious supervisor who was actually a candidate’s friend who did not even work at the organisation. It was 09h30 in the morning and I had just woken him up from what sounded like the aftermath of a rough night, so naturally I got suspicious. Prepare your questions beforehand so that you do not waste a reference’s time. You might also want to get a reference before you interview and follow up with a second reference at the end of the process. Wrap it up on both sides;
  • Pay attention to questions candidates ask: I have found that successful candidates are the ones who think about the role and ask intelligent questions. I like to see evidence of thought and reflection and candidates who just ask about money or opportunities for promotion may not stick around if they don’t get what they want.

I love recruitment more than I love writing a job description or a procedure. Do not get me wrong, these are vital components of the HR flesh and bone but it’s the recruitment that generates the fresh blood and the opportunities for growth and innovation in an organisation.

- Simone Brandi ( is freelance human resources consultant working with nonprofit organisations in Cape Town.

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