Recruiting Talent in a Competitive Market

“Economic Turmoil is Exacerbating the Great Resignation.”—Forbes
“Youth Summer Employment at Lowest in Decades.”—WTOC-TV
“Long Waitlists for Afterschool Care as Programs Struggle to Find Workers and Demand Soars.”Chicago Tribune

There has been a lot of coverage in the media recently of public and private sector staffing challenges. While some of these challenges are directly related to the COVID pandemic, it is also true that problems had been brewing for quite some time.

The pandemic has simply exacerbated trends that were already becoming apparent. For youth-serving non-profits, these challenges include:

  • Increased competition for talent from paid internships and other career development opportunities
  • Shifting youth attitudes to summer and part-time work opportunities
  • Growing pressure to raise wages, as traditionally low-wage private sector jobs start paying more

Luckily, youth-serving non-profits are ideally placed to attract engaged, values-driven talent that’s looking for more than just a paycheck. Doing so, however, requires some intentionality and strategic thinking. Below are some tactics and strategies that non-profits can use to boost their recruitment.

Exploring Non-Traditional Talent Pools
High school- and college-age talent has traditionally been one of the backbones of entry-level hiring within the youth-serving space. Some organizations, however, are now looking at alternative communities and demographics to help broaden their pool of potential talent. This might include outreach to senior groups and retiree organizations, or it might mean implementing impact hiring strategies that remove barriers for traditionally marginalized groups—for example individuals with disabilities, parents looking to get back in the workforce, or, where appropriate and safe, citizens with non-violent criminal records. Civic organizations like Civitan Clubs, Rotaries and others can also be a great source of engaged, community-minded talent that may be looking for new ways to serve.

According to Paige Bagwell, Redwoods Chief Operating Officer, the key to making these impact hiring strategies work is to tailor your positions to the specific strengths, skills and needs of the people you are hiring:

“There’s a lot of value in recruiting from non-traditional talent pools, both in terms of growing your pipeline and also bringing in a more diverse set of perspectives and skills. It’s important, though, to be intentional about providing support that fits the needs of your employees. Are older recruits able to work the same amount of time or full day like others, for example? Are there specific skills they may need additional training on? Starting that conversation early is a big part of making impact hiring work.”

One effective way to reach non-traditional talent is to market heavily to people who are already taking part in your programming. By posting information about career opportunities at your facility, you can both reach candidates directly—and you may also reach parents, guardians or other relatives who may be seeking to guide the young people in their lives toward more rewarding career options. Other tactics to consider deploying include a letter-writing campaign to local high school students, for example, or launching a media plan to get local news coverage about the fact that you have positions open.

Marketing Your Positions to the Needs of Your Audience
It might sound obvious, but in a world where there’s growing competition for talent, we are all going to have to compete harder to win that talent. That’s why it’s important to remember that potential candidates will be scrutinizing your ‘career product,’ just as they might scrutinize a potential product purchase. Start by defining what your selling points are:

  • Do you expect talent to come to your organization and stay for their entire career, or do they come for a couple of years and then move on to other opportunities?
  • How does your organization contribute to employees’ broader career journeys, and make sure that you become a meaningful part of that journey?
  • What do your ideal employees care about, and what are their values?
  • How does your organization align with those values?

Once you have a clear picture of what you are ‘selling,’ you are much better placed to frame your job opportunities in a way that directly aligns with the interests and values of your audience.

Job postings can help set the tone for what is to follow. Rather than just focusing on duties or requirements, it’s important to emphasize the values that the position embodies, as well as the career benefits you are able to provide. Consider the two fictional job listings below:

Listing #1

Youth-serving organization seeks a part-time assistant for our after-school programming. Duties include:

  • Supervising after-school programming (Grades 3-5)
  • Signing-in and signing-out program participants
  • Setting up after-school rooms

Must have a clean driving history, no criminal record, and be able to safely lift 50 lbs. Pay is $15 p/h.

Listing #2

Do you want to develop your leadership skills? Do you believe in increasing access to education? Are you looking for a career in education? As an After-School Assistant you’ll serve as a crucial role model for young people. Benefits include:

  • Fast-paced, team-focused environment
  • Career skills and leadership development opportunities
  • Optional participation in project management learning opportunity

Duties will include supervising after-school programming (Grades 3-5), and managing sign-in and sign-out procedures. We will of course provide references for your resume or college application. All candidates must have a clean driving history and no criminal record, and be able to safely lift 50 lb. Pay is $15 p/h.

Clearly, both listings describe the same position—but Listing #2 has been intentionally framed using both values-based language, and a clear and specific set of tangible benefits to would-be employees. The American Camp Association has been placing a lot of emphasis on this type of messaging, using their initiative Project Real Job to help camps communicate and frame their ‘career product’ as being a logical next step for many young people. (They’ve even developed a set of poster templates and other collateral in the online design platform Canva, which camps can directly adapt to fit their branding and their needs.)

Clearly, when candidates have many options open to them, it’s important that you continue to ‘sell’ your positions, as doing so will make sure you get the highest quality candidates coming to your door.

Reimagine the Interview
In a world where candidates are sometimes not showing up for work, even just after they’ve been hired, it is critically important to build enthusiasm and ‘buy-in’ for your mission from the start. That’s why, once you’ve taken steps to expand your talent pool, and you’ve created an accurate and engaging job listing, the next step is to think through the interview process.

  • How can you get candidates excited about the position they are applying for?
  • What can you do to make sure they understand the responsibilities they’ll be taking on?
  • What steps can you take to assess their real-world performance?

Traditionally, job interview questions have often focused on paper qualifications and professional experience, all of which are important. However, HR professionals recommend complementing this focus with other techniques and strategies that are designed to tease out practical, real-world performance.

Behavioral interviewing, for example, asks candidates to reflect on how they respond to specific situations. An interviewer might ask a candidate to reflect on a time when they had to react quickly in an emergency, or what they might do if they are dealing with a difficult parent. Similarly, situational interviewing is another technique that organizations can use to look beyond the resume. Rather than conducting an interview entirely in an office, situational interviewing involves placing the interviewee in the environment in which they will be working. In the case of a childcare worker, for example, an organization might give a candidate a tour of the childcare room, and then observe how they interact with children.

Not only are these non-traditional interview techniques useful for identifying suitable candidates, and weeding out unsuitable ones, but they are also a great way to get candidates genuinely excited about the position they are being asked to fill.

There Are No Silver Bullets
None of the tactics and strategies outlined above are, by themselves, going to solve all the problems of hiring in a tight labor market. But they are examples of how we can start to think about our role as an employer a little differently. Not only can organizations shape their workplaces to be more attractive and competitive, but they can also use hiring as a direct tool to deliver on their missions:

Providing rewarding opportunities for learning, engagement and growth.

Further Reading & Resources: