In nonprofits, your staff is your most valuable asset and it’s worth spending the time (and money) on the nonprofit hiring process to find the best people. Bad hires are costly and disruptive to your work. Moreover, most of us have hired a candidate only to find out they were not a great fit for the organization. When we are advising clients about staffing or an important executive search, I share these critical lessons from my own hiring mistakes:

1. Don’t rush the nonprofit hiring process.
You have no idea how long it will take to find the right person. If the right person does not come early, keep looking. Be patient and don’t settle.

2. Spend time getting to know the person.
Ask hard questions. Ask “why” rather than “what.” Why did they make a decision not what have they done? Make sure the person meets your team. The Strategy Group is beginning to use pre-employment personality tests (e.g., CliftonStrengths) to assess personality traits and professional behaviors.

3. Probe their references.
It is hard to get honest, professional references, but it is possible. Make sure you talk to at least two previous employers. Ask specific questions about their experience in the nonprofit arena. For example, rather than asking about weaknesses, ask about something you noticed in the interview that causes you to be concerned. Personal references are not helpful.

4. Culture matters.
The person must be competent and eager, of course, but also must fit into your organizational culture. Culture fit focuses on the question “can we work together?” What is the personality of your organization? How do people behave? There needs to be a match in terms of professional values, work styles, and goals.

5. Trust your gut.
If your gut is saying no or slow down or wait or learn more, listen to it. Pay attention to red flags. If the person is a “job jumper” and always has a reason for leaving, why will they be different with you? If the candidate speaks poorly about a previous boss, why will it be different with you?

6. Cut your losses quickly if necessary.
If the hire is not going to work out, act fast. Take responsibility. Say goodbye and move forward.

At the end of the day (or at the beginning), you are looking for high performance, low turnover, and a productive and healthy culture. Why? So you can keep your focus on mission impact and don’t spend unneeded time and resources managing the wrong hire (and, at times, cleaning up the mess!).

How are you doing attracting talent to your nonprofit? Do you have a bad hire (or a good hire) story? We would love to talk with you about your search challenges and talent acquisition needs!