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Beyond #firstsevenjobs: A Checklist for Attracting, Hiring and Keeping the Best Talent

This post was co-authored by Suzanne Smith and John Troy.

Law Clerk. Cook at McDonald’s. The first is my first job and the second is my friend and staffing and recruiting expert John Troy’s. The first jobs trend is taking the Internet by storm with #firstsevenjobs. (You can find out the rest of the list for each of us at @socialtrendspot and @theworkmonger.) We love these #hashtags because they start a conversation and dispel myths about career paths being a straight line or having to know from a young age “what you want to be when you grow up.”

The #firstsevenjobs trend also brings to light a topic we discussed in our conversation-starter blog on measuring and addressing turnover. Overall, people are changing jobs more often, and it is becoming lucrative to do so. According to ADP Research Institute, job hoppers in 2015 saw a 6.5 percent increase in wages compared to those who didn’t. For millennials, the difference is even greater – with job hoppers under 25 seeing wage increases of 17.5 percent. While turnover is a workforce trend, we as a social sector need to ensure that it does not impede our ability to attract, hire and keep talent, which continues to be the biggest differentiator between good and great nonprofits. To help nonprofits address this issue, John Troy and I developed a checklist of questions to continue the conversation about talent within your organization. We encourage your board and management team to compare this list against your personnel practices and address your weakest areas.

Attracting Talent

  • How do you currently attract talent? Do you post on job boards or your website? Do you hire a recruiter? Do you network and keep a short list of “rising stars”? We suggest focusing on the recruitment method(s) that nets the best talent. It is likely to vary based on position. If you’re in the education sector and struggling to attract great non-teaching talent, check out WorkMonger – we’d be happy to help.
  • How long does it take from posting the job to filling the job? We have found that when organizations start from scratch, i.e., they don’t have a list of “rising stars,” it usually takes about one to two months to fill junior-level jobs, three months to fill mid-level jobs (managers), and six months or longer to fill senior-level positions.
  • How often does your first choice accept your offer? We believe they should accept 80 percent of the time. When they don’t accept your offer, we suggest you ask first-choice candidates why to learn what you can do to improve. Remember that the interview process is not only the candidate’s opportunity to sell you on why they are a great fit for the role, it’s also your opportunity to sell the candidate on your mission and why they should want to join your team.
  • Do you have an intern program as an easy way to attract and try out talent? If not, check to see if your local college or mayor’s office has a program that you can apply for.
  • Do you participate in your community’s “Best Places to Work” lists and/or participate in career days at local colleges to raise awareness about your organization?

Hiring Talent that Fits

  • Do your job descriptions list both responsibilities (e.g., write grants) and key competencies (e.g., writing ability, time management) for each role? Have you delineated must-haves vs. nice-to-haves?
  • Have you bought or conducted a salary survey to ensure a match between your job description and your starting salary/benefits?
  • Does your organization conduct a salary and benefit review of all positions every three years?
  • Do you use assessments (e.g., Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder) to help you assess fit and personality?
  • Do you seek samples of past work or have a performance-based interview process?

Bringing Out the Best

  • Do you have an annual performance review process with regular feedback discussions, at least once a quarter, for both high performers and low performers? These should result in performance plans, including professional development needs, measurable, time-bound goals and action steps.
  • Do you have a regular supervisor training that covers key topics, such as delegation, leading teams and addressing performance problems? If not, or if you have questions on how to approach this, check out The Management Center’s book, Managing to Change the World.
  • Do you have a process to pair employees with coaches or mentors? While supervisors should coach their teams as part of their management responsibility, here we are referring to non-supervisors serving as mentors. We have found that mentorship programs result in more honest conversations and open feedback.
  • Do you track key metrics on talent – turnover rates (desired and undesired), average recruitment time and percentage of first choice candidates hired? Do you share these with staff and board as part of your organizational dashboard?
  • Do you conduct annual confidential climate surveys to gauge employee satisfaction, compare them year-over-year and act on the results in a transparent way?
  • Do you have early warning systems in place for high performers to have candid conversations before they decide to leave?
  • Do you have a Culture Working Group that monitors and works intentionally to improve culture within the organization?

Exiting & Learning

  • Do you conduct confidential exit interviews of all exiting employees without their supervisors present to learn about their individual situations?
  • Do you review exit interviews collectively to find themes to act on?

Keeping & Growing Talent

  • Do you have a culture as a learning organization? Do you encourage growth as an individual, as teams and as an organization?
  • How do you manage failure? Is the organization open to taking risks and learning from them?
  • Does your organization have a process for sharing positive and negative feedback across teams and between supervisors?

We hope this starts a thoughtful conversation internally about what it takes to build a healthy workforce – we welcome any additions to the checklist in the comments section below.


Suzanne Smith
Founder and Managing Director, Social Impact Architects

John Troy
Founder & CEO, WorkMonger

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