We need to talk about a serious problem that’s been ignored for a long time. No, not the lack of gel pens given out by vendors during conferences. (Seriously, vendors, get better pens! Ballpoint is so cliché!) I’m talking about job postings—they suck. They have sucked for a long time. I bet when aliens dig up remnants of the human race, they’ll encounter our job postings and go, “……” which is alien telepathic language for “these documents suck; no wonder their civilization collapsed.”
We’ve been using the same format, the same tired language, and the same archaic requirements. We need to do better. Unemployment is down, meaning there is more competition for talent. Plus, while we talk about bringing diversity and inclusion, so many of our job posting practices—probably passed down from the 1900s, when ... Eli Whitney invented the, uh, printing press with ... moveable plates (I didn’t do so well in History)—are thoughtless, helping to exclude many diverse candidates.
So, let’s do better. I asked the NAF Facebook community for feedback on things that irritate them about job postings and what they’d wish to see. I got over 200 comments, which I distilled down to a few key ones below, listed in no particular order. This is by no means comprehensive. If all of us could commit to doing many of these things, it will do a lot for our organizations, and for our sector as a whole:
- Sound like a human being. A job posting is an ad, meaning something designed to entice people to check out your organization. But for some reason, we seem to think of them as some sort of legal document, making them sound very boring and stuffy, full of academic terminology and a formal tone. If they are ads, the majority of job postings are the equivalent of commercials for cholesterol-lowering drugs. Ditch the big words and talk like a human being. Show a sense of humor and personality. You are trying to attract candidates. Attract them, not put them to sleep.
- List your salary range. I wrote an entire post about this, so I don’t want to rehash this. Besides wasting everyone’s time, not listing salary range screws over people of color and women. There is no good reason for salary cloaking. None. For Equity’s sake, just list the range and end the charade. And make sure it’s reasonable, not something like “$28,000 to $94,000, DOE.” (If you’re going to argue with this point, please make sure to read the post above first).
- Be realistic with job duties. Yes, especially in the nonprofit sector, employees have to be able to do multiple jobs. But it’s gotten ridiculous, with the cramming of three or four jobs’ worth of essential duties into one. Also, ridiculously grandiose requirements. Says one colleague, “I saw one that required a ‘proven history of creating lasting social change’ or something like that. Who is this candidate??? I mean, Nelson Mandela is dead, so ...” Figure out what the key responsibilities are, and focus on those. Stop listing everything you can think of because you’re trying to cover your bases. That’s just lazy. And even if you aren’t lazy, you are looking for a team member, not McGyver or the Pope.
- Do not force people to send a resume and ALSO fill out an application. It’s the same information! Those online application forms are time-consuming and torturous, so to ask candidates to fill one out when all that information has been carefully formatted into their resume is redundant and excessive. If you do require an application (instead of a resume), make sure it’s user-friendly, such as asking for recent positions (not all of them since high school) and presenting a list of any essay questions in advance so candidates can prepare their thoughts in advance.
- Do not ask for references with initial applications. Who does this? Apparently enough people for this to be extremely irritating. People don’t want to bother their references until they are in the final stages of a hiring process. Plus, some candidates may not have informed their current employer that they are looking for a job, and it puts them into a bind when you ask for references with the initial application.
- Accept equivalent experience for degrees. I’ve written about the sad irony of so many nonprofits requiring formal degrees for even entry-level jobs when so many of us in the nonprofit sector are trying to fight education inequity. I’m not against formal education, but it is only one way—and a poor one—to determine if a candidate has the skills you need. You are leaving behind many candidates who may have incredible experience and skills but who may not have the degrees. Yes, some specialized positions do need a degree or certificate (doctors, accountants, mental health counselors, etc.). But the vast majority—even positions like CEOs and EDs—do not. We know the education system is inequitable and leaving behind many people; don’t screw them a second time with a degree requirement if the position is not specialized.
- Talk about your org’s values, culture, and what makes it awesome. Again, this is an advertisement for people to want to come work for you. Organizational culture is a huge reason why people stay or leave their jobs, and yet we barely talk about this at all on job postings. Discuss your values, why the team is amazing, what sort of culture you have. If you’re dog-friendly or kid-friendly, mention it. If you’re in an amazing neighborhood with 30 diverse restaurants and two artisanal ice cream stores or whatever, throw that in too.
- Describe your hiring process and timeline. Tell candidates when you plan to interview, for what length of time, how many rounds total, whether and when writing samples or other supplemental materials are required, when you hope to make a decision, and when you hope candidates will start. There’s too much of a tendency to make stuff up as we go along, even asking candidates, “If you get hired, when can you start?” when we don’t even know when we might make the hiring decision. This is disrespectful to job candidates and only builds the narrative that your organization is disorganized and treats people like crap. I’ve heard horror stories of people going through five rounds of interviews or waiting in limbo for six months without any warning. If you are not clear about your process and timeline, you are not ready to hire.
- Describe the work schedule and flexibility. “Occasional nights and weekends” is meaningless. How occasional? Is it every weekend? One weekend a month? Two evening meetings a week? 70 hours a week during gala season followed by the office being closed for three days? Are you closed between Christmas and New Year? Can people work from home regularly? These things are important and make a huge difference, especially in the nonprofit sector, where the pay may not be as competitive as we wish.
- Break down responsibilities by percentage. Says one colleague: "I always appreciate the breakdown of work (70% on donor stewardship, 25% on donor database management, 5% other duties) knowing what the priority or majority of work will be.” This is not just helpful for the candidates, but it is a good exercise for employers to do to prevent misalignment of expectations and priorities. It’s especially very helpful for combined positions such as the common Development/Communications combo.
- Ensure requirements match the level and pay of the position. “If a position requires a master’s degree and 10+ years of in-depth experience doing a variety of different tasks, maybe offer to pay more than $30,000 a year? Alternately, if you can only afford to pay someone $30,000 a year, maybe re-examine your wish list and prune it down to more realistic levels?” There are so many job postings floating around that seem to miss this point completely. Your organization will seem completely clueless and out-of-touch.
- Stop requiring a car, driver’s license, car insurance, etc. Unless you are hiring a driver to deliver hot meals or something, think about whether a candidate really needs to have a car. Because you may be excluding candidates with disabilities who rely on public transportation. Plus, cars are expensive, which also excludes low-income candidates. As a colleague says, “If y’all would just hire me already, maybe I could actually afford a car in the future.” And cars are terrible for the environment. We should be discouraging their usage, not thoughtlessly requiring it as a default.
- Knock it off with “must be able to lift 50 pounds.” Again, this is another requirement that discriminates against candidates with disabilities or others who may not be able to lift heavy things. But when has any of us had to lift a 50-pound anything that we couldn’t ask another team member for help? I’ve been using my veganism to get out of such tasks for 12 years, so it’s not exactly essential. Some jobs do need the skill of lifting heavy stuff—certain positions at food banks, for example—but most do not, so be thoughtful, or you end up leaving out awesome candidates.
- List reporting relationships. To whom does this person report, and whom do they supervise? Spell out the titles and, if possible, the names. Remember the adage about management: people don’t quit jobs, they quit supervisors. So it’s weird that they may have no idea when they apply who they might be reporting to.
- Spell out benefits. This is another segment in the listing that employers fail to take advantage of. “Generous benefits package.” Boring, and a waste of opportunity to attract candidates. List your vacation/sick/PTO policies, holidays, whether you have 403b plans or other retirement stuff, what percentage employees are responsible for paying of medical benefits, etc. If you have awesome benefits, tout them. (RVC has amazing health benefits, as well as awesome snacks, which we indicate in our job postings).
- No more “other duties as assigned.” This has become a joke. Other duties as assigned is just a way of saying, “Other stuff we can’t think of right now, but we want our butts covered in case we need you to do it.” It’s lazy. Especially in this sector, we all know we’ll be doing stuff that’s outside the scope of a job posting, so there’s no need to put this disclaimer. What we should all be doing is spending more time thinking through the job, its priorities and desired outcomes, and the primary duties entailed to reach those outcomes, and then being very clear in our job postings so that candidates are not surprised.
- Don’t surprise people. Says a colleague, “Five minutes into the interview they asked if I was okay with the position being part-time. Huh? This was not anywhere in the job description, nor did the HR person who scheduled the interview disclose that it was a part-time position [...] And mind you, this was for a Chief Development Officer position. This is a major detail that should have been disclosed!” Sheesh. If you have information that might discourage candidates from applying, put it out there. Don’t think you can get people in through deception, and then hope they’ll fall in love with you despite whatever sensitive information you left out.
- List a contact, in case people have questions. Good candidates will be thorough with their research and ask really great questions. Assign one person they can talk to if they have questions. Usually this may be the person in charge of the hiring process; sometimes it is not. Don’t keep candidates guessing.
- Have a thoughtful statement of equal opportunity and non-discrimination. Here’s an example. This statement, often put at the end of job postings, serves more than just a legal role. Many candidates check to see if it is there. It provides a degree of reassurance to diverse candidates that diversity, equity, and inclusion matter to your organization. Yeah, a statement itself is not enough, and many employers just copy and paste without thinking much about what it means to live up to it. If you haven’t examined your equal opportunity statement in a while, spend some time reviewing it with your team and board and update it and check to see if you are living up to it.
There are a whole bunch of other tips, I’m sure. Please list them in the comment section. We all need to do better. Because of the power dynamics, we have been taking job candidates for granted, thinking we’re doing them a favor by giving them an opportunity to compete to work with us. Many of us have been acting like jerks to our colleagues in the form of the hiring process, and we may not even realize it. Job postings are often the first connection people make with our organizations. Do we want this impression to be one of mutual respect, shared goals, and collaboration; or one of arrogance, boringness, and thoughtlessness? I hope the first set.
Here’s an example of a job posting for a Development Director, from my organization. We still have some improvements to make, but I’m proud of my team for putting time and attention into it. By the way, we received many great candidates, but that position—like all our positions—are open until filled, so it’s not too late to apply. And we are in a neighborhood surrounded by 30 diverse restaurants and shops, including two artisanal ice cream stores!
Vu Le's column, Point of Vu, appears monthly in the GuideStar Blog. The preceding is a cross-post of a May 8, 2017, article from his blog, Nonprofit AF (formerly Nonprofit with Balls). Vu Le is a writer, speaker, vegan, Pisces, and the executive director of Rainier Valley Corps, a nonprofit in Seattle with the mission of developing and supporting leaders of color to strengthen the capacity of communities-of-color-led nonprofits and foster collaboration between diverse communities to effect systemic change.