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Recruiting for hard-to-fill roles

At TPP Recruitment, we recognise that some roles within the not for profit sector are
notoriously hard to fill. These traditionally include charity fundraising or marketing and communications vacancies, as well as roles for qualified healthcare professionals such as specialist nurses. Particularly for smaller organisations, filling these roles with the right calibre of candidate can be extremely difficult. Obviously using a recruitment consultancy with specialist experience of recruiting these candidates will help, but here are some further tips on ways to fill your difficult vacancies

Why are some roles hard to fill?

There are several reasons why your organisation might be finding it difficult to recruit a suitable new employee.

  • The most common reason is that the job requires skills which are in short supply, such as major donor fundraising 

  • Your organisation is in a location where there is a shortage of labour and attracting employees to the area is difficult

  • The salary you are able to offer is below market average and you are unable to compete with other organisations

  • The benefits package offered is not as attractive as those offered by others

  • The organisation has recently gone through a well-publicised restructuring or series of layoffs, or received negative publicity, which can put potential candidates off

Define your search criteria

If you are struggling to find candidates that exactly match your person specification, one of the most obvious places to start is by revisiting the qualifications required. Many skills gaps reported by not for profit organisations are related to job specific and technical skills, rather than soft skills such as team working. When it comes to recruiting the perfect new employee, TPP believes that cultural fit is at least as important as qualifications. Hard skills can be taught, but soft skills are generally much harder to learn.

Go through all of the skills and competencies mentioned in your person specification and decide which are easy to find, hard to find, easy to learn and hard to learn. Classifying the qualifications of a role in this way allows you to rank them in order of importance, and judge candidates accordingly. For example, if a candidate lacks skills that are hard to find but easy to learn, you may wish to rank them higher than a candidate who has those skills but lacks other, harder to learn characteristics.

Working with a recruitment partner, such as TPP Not for Profit, will give you an impartial point of view on whether your candidate expectations are realistic.

Widen your pool of candidates

Now you have considered which qualifications are essential, and which you might compromise on, you can look at bringing in different kinds of candidates in different ways.

One of the most obvious ways to give yourself a broader pool of candidates to choose from is to consider employing someone from outside the not for profit sector. As long as the candidate is still passionate about your organisation’s cause and has transferrable skills, a lack of sector experience may not necessarily be a stumbling block. In fact, having fresh blood with no preconceptions may provide your organisation with a valuable new point of view and ensure you have a diverse workforce.  Considering candidates from different industry backgrounds can really open up your options.

If the skills required for the role are relatively easy to learn, you could also consider taking on a less experienced employee at a lower pay rate and training them up on the job. This is a cost effective way of filling your role and although it will take at least a few months for your new employee to get up to speed, you should end up with a highly qualified and motivated member of staff.

Use Interim staff

If you simply haven’t got the time to train up a new member of staff, or you don’t have other employees with those competencies to do the training, consider hiring an interim or contract employee. There are three main ways to use interim staff to recruit for hard to fill roles:

  • Use the contract period as an extended job interview, to give you a low-risk way of testing how effective a new employee is in the role

  • Use an interim employee to give you breathing space to find your ideal permanent member of staff. This will take the pressure off and make you less likely to have to settle for a less than ideal candidate

  • Hire a highly skilled interim with the specific remit of training up new or existing members of staff so that they can take over the role in the future

Change the role

If you are still struggling to find candidates, especially if they are not in a traditionally hard-to-find niche, this may be a clear signal that the role needs to be redesigned.

Often job descriptions are based on the responsibilities undertaken by a previous incumbent, but it may well be that the role evolved over time to suit that particular individual and finding a straight replacement is making your candidate search harder than necessary.

Take apart the job description and consider each set of responsibilities individually. Could certain duties be undertaken by other existing members of staff, leaving the remaining responsibilities as part of a more consistent role? Or should you actually be recruiting for two members of staff instead of one (usually a senior and a junior employee)?

Review your offering

If you are struggling with other organisations for candidates, remember that competing isn’t necessarily about offering more money. You could offer better benefits, work-life balance or simply have a cause that resonates more strongly with the candidate.

Flexible working is one of the prime attractions for candidates working in the not for profit sector, and increasing the opportunities for this will almost always help to attract more or higher quality candidates. Consider whether the position could be suitable for a part-time employee or job share. Ensuring opportunities for working from home are advertised in the job description will also help widen your pool of candidates, particularly for organisations in less central locations.

TPP Not for Profit have great deal of knowledge on salary and benefits benchmarks within your sector, and will be able to advise you on putting together a realistic package that will ensure you get the calibre of candidates you require.

Finally, a word of warning…

When interviewing candidates for hard-to-fill roles, be particularly careful to leave them with a positive view of your organisation, whatever the outcome of the interview. Employees in these niche communities are often closely networked and a negative interview experience could damage your employer brand image.

TPP Not for Profit are experts in the recruitment to the not for profit sector, and are often asked to help fill difficult vacancies. We can manage your interview process to ensure all candidates take away a positive image of your brand.