How charities can benefit from attracting extra-sector candidates

Leadership in the third sector is more crucial than ever and finding talented employees can be a challenge at a time when both employers and candidates are feeling cautious.

I’ve seen the benefits that recruiting from outside your own sector can bring to both employers and employees. Candidates from outside the sector can bring new perspectives and approaches and, ultimately, organisations perform better and report increased creativity by having a diverse workforce. Employees are often stronger and more adaptable if they have worked in different settings and they are flexible to new ways of working.

The good news is that cross-sector recruitment is increasing. Ten years ago it was rare for candidates to show an interest in leaving their sector but we’re now seeing more and more people who want to move from the private sector into organisations with a social purpose, operating in the third, cultural or educational sectors. This is particularly the case in roles requiring specific technical expertise, such as finance, IT or HR.

Whilst undoubtedly we operate in a much more integrated labour market where transferability of skills across sectors has become more and more frequent, charity sector recruitment has faced two main barriers in this respect: assessing cultural fit and addressing concerns about remuneration.

It’s therefore crucial for organisations to use the recruitment process to emphasise the benefits of joining a new industry in order to attract individuals who feel strongly about the mission, vision and ethos of an organisation. From the initial advertisement to the interview itself, the opportunity to work for an exciting, high impact social cause should be made clear.

Employers are more likely to attract candidates if they avoid too bureaucratic an approach and if they make sure process does not get in the way of the best outcome. Long-winded application forms can be off-putting for candidates and adverts that are only placed in trade media will be missed by many potential employees. Making use of engaging social media content such as video clips featuring case studies from outside the sector is a very effective way of advertising vacancies and providing information for candidates.

Whilst there is an appetite for extra-sector professionals to join charities, interview panels tend to be risk-averse and they are much more likely to select someone who uses language and references that are familiar to them. This means that recruitment processes don’t make for a level playing field.

Unconscious bias during recruitment is powerful and hard to overcome in any industry. But steps can be taken to mitigate it. The interview panel should be diverse and include someone who has made the transition from a different sector. Interview questions, presentations and tests should not require deep sector knowledge and a competency based interview testing motivation, and style becomes crucial for a successful appointment.

Integrating informal conversations into the recruitment process is also paramount for employers and out of sector candidates to have the opportunity to meet outside the context of formal interviews. Visiting the location and engaging informally with prospective colleagues is likely to inform the decision making process on both sides.

When considering candidates, look out for transferable skills, adaptability and enthusiasm over experience in a particular sector. The benefits of increasing the diversity of experience in your team are undeniable.

Kerry Shepherd is the co-founder of Minerva

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