18 Ways We’ve Improved Our Hiring Process

Over the past couple of years, we have been overhauling our hiring process. A lot of this is because a number of the current staff at COCo had challenging hiring experiences with the organization, where we felt our time was wasted, or our talents were undervalued – and those were the people who got hired! In fact, most of our experiences are pretty typical: ask any job searcher. 

Our process might not have been serving candidates – but it also wasn’t serving us. It was time consuming, and people didn’t feel more confident about the decision at the end. We were getting very few applications, despite above average working conditions. It didn’t reflect our values of equity and anti-oppression.

The changes we are talking about below are only a few- and they are the ‘smaller’ ones. Those changes taken together have been game-changing for us. Some of the victories we count in this area are:

  • We are getting lots of applications, of a higher quality
  • The majority of our applicants (vast majority!) qualify for employment equity
  • We are getting mostly positive feedback on the experience, not mostly negative 
  • Less of the candidates are people who already knew COCo

We’ll continue writing and sharing about this, but for now, here are some things we’ve been doing- and maybe they would be useful for your nonprofit!

Testing for What We Need

  • We’ve removed a lot of unnecessary qualifications that were causing barriers (especially around university degrees and only looking at paid experience) 
  • We ask people to do more interactive and scenario based questions, including things like example facilitation plans and role playing, especially as a lot of what we are looking for are soft skills and instincts 

No More Cover Letters 

One of the biggest changes we made to our hiring process was to get rid of cover letters. It was a huge time suck for applicants, and not giving us useful information. We’ve replaced it with a google form with targeted questions we wanted the answer to. 

We are still fine tuning parts of the google form strategy – including figuring out what character limits make sense so that people are not writing too much or too little. 

Way More Transparency 

Our guideline has become – as much as we can tell the candidates, we do. This includes things like: 

  • How many people will be interviewing them, and who 
  • That there will questions in English and in French
  • How long interviews should take
  • Our hiring timeline (application deadline, when you would hear back about an interview, when interviewed candidates would hear back about a decision, when the job would start) 
  • The topics we will cover in interviews (after an interview has been scheduled) and the interview questions (15 minutes before the interview, excepting scenarios)

Implementing Equity Principles 

  • We anonymize applications. This means someone (usually the intern, thanks interns!) takes off the names from people’s resumés. When we are reading them, we do so without our own bias. It seems simple, but even for a relatively ‘woke’ workplace, we are seeing this causes a big difference in who we screen – whether the person reading the CV’s is marginalized themselves or not. Read more here, although there are lots of studies on this.  
  • We use the google form for people to tell us whether they are applying for employment equity, and we don’t evaluate this until we have a longlist of candidates. This helps us evaluate candidates more easily with and without their employment equity requests, and get good data on how many ‘EE’ candidates are applying, and making it through our longlist and shortlist process. 
  • We try to make sure our hiring committee is itself diverse 
  • Accessibility of the job posting. Can they immediately get a sense from the name of what the role is?  Can they immediately assess whether they would be okay with the conditions of employment? For example, this means including information about our building and how it works (elevator, scents, etc).   
  • Personalized outreach. People from marginalized backgrounds are the least likely to ‘see themselves’ in a role. We get our whole team’s help in identifying candidates who might not have considered themselves candidates- and reaching out to them personally. 

Be Welcoming 

Interviews are stressful, no question. This also tends to have a disproportionate impact on marginalized candidates, especially due prior barriers to professional experience and imposter syndrome.  How can we create a context where people show up how good they are? What can we do to make it easier on candidates? 

  • Having people greet them as they enter, even if the interviewers themselves are otherwise occupied
  • Choosing a cozy or relaxed space for the interviews 
  • Having each interviewer tell the candidate at the beginning of the interview why they are excited about their candidacy (this also ensures everyone is familiar with all the CVs!) 
  • Providing drinks and snacks
  • Giving people written copies of the questions, in English and in French 
  • Offering candidates options to keep time (that we can remind them, or give them a clock, or not). For example “this interview should take an hour and a half, which means about 10 minutes per question. Would you like us to tell you if you have gone over that amount?”