Easing the Anxiety of the Search

by Sherry Heuser

Every staff vacancy can cause some stress and anxiety—you worry about how you will find the right person before the backlog of uncompleted tasks buries you. You also worry about if you will actually find the “right” person, and whether you’ll know it when you do.

However, if you are able to step back, take a deep breath, and think through what you are about to do, you’ll find that a bit of planning and preparation can make a world of difference. Whether working with a consultant or search firm, or tackling the challenge on your own, these tips can help make the search smoother, and often faster.

Tip 1: Plan ahead. If you have the time before a vacancy occurs, prepare transition plans for key positions on your staff. Determine who is responsible for what, and develop employees’ skills or cross-train team members to cover potential gaps during a vacancy. When a vacancy occurs, pull out your plan and start from that point.

Tip 2: Know thyself. Take a close look at the organization inside and out—not just what you do, but also who does the work and how. Understanding the corporate culture can help you target recruiting and applicant screening efforts to find the person who is the best fit overall, not just someone who meets the requirements. How do you know what to look for? Interview your current staff, volunteers, donors… anyone who can provide insight into who is really needed in the role. Don’t forget: you are hiring a person, not a resume.

Tip 3: Take your time. Although you’d really like the new person to begin work yesterday, your priority is doing a thorough search and making the right hire. Establish a schedule that allows ample time for getting the word out about your search, carefully reviewing the applications, learning as much as you can about the top candidates, and making an informed decision. This doesn’t mean the process should be slow and cumbersome, but don’t rush just for time’s sake.

Tip 4: Phone a friend. When you are ready to solicit applications, think beyond newspaper ads or online employment listings. Reach out to your network of organizational partners and colleagues. Share with them your organization’s plans and how this new person will fit in them. Spread the word about your search as wide as you can—not only will this help in recruiting a diverse pool of applications, but is also an opportunity to educate others about your mission and work.

Tip 5: Stay true to yourself. If the process gets bogged down or side-tracked, trust in the work you have already done to prepare for the search and get this far. When in doubt, you don’t need to go back to the drawing board, just go back a step or two until you feel comfortable, and move forward from there. You will save yourself time and hassle.

The Bottom Line:  Although your vacancy may be unexpected and cause you to have a moment of apprehension, you do not need to panic. Taking a calm, planned approach will pay off with an easier process and excitement about your new staff member.

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