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Structuring Roles in the Hiring Process

September 2007

An important aspect of any effective search strategy is the search structure, which refers to the people who will be involved in each hiring process and the roles that they will play. Developing an appropriate structure for each search will ensure that the hire is made in accordance with the needs, values, and capacity of your organization.

In developing the search structure, you will want to make sure that the following stages in the search process are appropriately designated:

  • Who will provide overall management of the process?
  • Who will be involved in scoping the role and writing the job description?
  • Who will post the position and distribute it to your organizational networks?
  • Who will design the tools to be used at each stage of the search?
  • Who will provide administrative support (i.e., scheduling candidate interviews, communicating with candidates)?
  • Who will provide an initial screen of candidates?
  • Who will be involved in interviewing candidates?
  • Who will complete reference checks on finalists?
  • Who will be involved in decision making?
  • Who will make the offer and negotiate with the final candidate?
Generally, the categories of people who may be involved in these various stages include board members and other external constituents, internal hiring managers, administrative support staff, and human resources representatives. Who is involved in each stage depends on the following criteria:

  • Level of Position: Generally, the more senior the position, the more senior the group involved in the hiring process should be. For a CEO or executive director search, for example, it will be appropriate to have a search committee structure involving board members and possibly other external constituents (more on search committee structure below). For an entry-level position, it is possible (though not advisable) to have only the position's direct supervisor involved in the hiring process.

  • Style and Values of the Organization: Is your organization extremely collaborative or are decisions made by one or just a few people? Does your organization value input from various team members or is it more autonomous? If your organization values collaboration, then input from staff in any hiring process is probably important to consider, regardless of the level of position.

  • Structure of the Organization: Does your organization have a human resources department? If so, what is its role in any hiring process? It may range from leading the entire hiring process to only being involved in a sign-off for the final candidate. Similarly, does your organization have support staff? Many of the stages in the hiring process can be handled by strong administrative staff.

  • Availability: Finally, consider the availability of each of the groups you are thinking about involving. Of course, in most nonprofit organizations, everyone is already doing much more than their job description, but if you know that there is no way that one director will be able to dedicate the time to interviewing candidates for a particular position in the coming months, then there is no sense in including that person in the search structure. You want to make sure that the search will be able to progress quickly at each stage, with no roadblocks. When an organization has administrative support staff available, senior leaders will be more highly leveraged in a hiring process.

Common Search Structures

So, what are some options available to you? The following are four commonly used search structures:

Search Committees

Search committees typically comprise five to eight individuals and include representatives from a variety of organizational stakeholders, such as senior management, the board of directors, funders, and organizational members, participants, or alumni. The committee is typically chaired by a board member or whoever will supervise the hire, if different. Depending on the nature of the hire, internal staff may not be involved. This is especially true for high-level searches for a CEO or executive director, or for any search where information is confidential.

With a search committee, there are typically different roles for different members. At the start of the search, significant work is put into collectively scoping the position, identifying candidates within personal networks, and defining the systems needed to support the search—such as feedback collection and decision-making tools. Typically, the committee participates as a group in search-related tasks such as interviewing. The committee will also have regular meetings to review top candidates, share feedback, decide on next steps at each stage of the process, and ultimately make a hire.

While the committee members manage the majority of the search directly, it is preferable if there is administrative support available for the logistical aspects of the search, such as posting job descriptions and scheduling interviews.

Single Hiring Manager

In some cases, particularly for nonprofits with small staffs, a single hiring manager will be responsible for the majority of the search-related responsibilities. Typically, this individual is the person who will ultimately supervise the hire. Others might be involved in providing administrative support, but the onus of screening, interviewing, and decision making lies with the hiring manager. To manage a search adequately, a single hiring manager should carve out approximately two hours per day for search-related tasks.

In addition to owning or overseeing the many search-related tasks, the hiring manager is also responsible for communicating with other staff about the status of the search. This communication will help to prepare the organization for the addition of a new staff member and will initiate the before the hire is even made.

Group Process

For most hiring processes, a group process will be most appropriate and effective. There are a variety of ways to structure a group hiring process. In some cases, an entire department manages the search; in others, representatives from different functional areas may each own an aspect of the search. For more senior hires, a representative of senior management or even the CEO or executive director should be a member of the hiring team.

Like search committees, group hiring teams require a great deal of up-front planning and preparation, especially when creating systems and tools to facilitate the hiring process. For example, the group must decide how often it will meet, how it will debrief after meeting candidates, and what tools are required for collecting and assessing candidate information.

Groups will divide and conquer tasks, such as posting and sourcing, but may choose to collaborate on other tasks. For example, the group may work together to scope the role and write the job description or to create interview questions and evaluation tools. Typically, each member of the group will be assigned different roles during the actual interviews. In general, the person who will supervise the hire will handle the tasks of extending and negotiating the offer with the chosen candidate.

HR/Hiring Manager Partnership

For organizations with a human resources department, an HR/hiring manager partnership can make for a highly organized and professional search. In these searches, HR can participate in a variety of ways, from providing purely administrative support to acting as a liaison between the hiring manager and the candidate to having decision-making input. An HR representative can also act as a neutral third party when it comes time to make an offer and negotiate salaries. Candidates often appreciate the ability to negotiate their offers with someone who will not be supervising them directly.

For Quick Reference

To help inform what type of structure works best for your organization, consider the benefits and challenges of each search structure outlined in the table below.

 BenefitsChallenges
Search Committee
  • Effective for high-level positions reporting to the board of directors, e.g., CEO, ED
  • Candidates gain diverse perspective into the organization through meeting a variety of stakeholders
  • Communicates a high level of commitment to this hire and shows respect for the search
  • Requires significant time
  • Can be difficult to get to a shared vision for process and decision making
  • Process can get extended due to the need for consensus building
Single Hiring Manager
  • Single vision for the role simplifies the process
  • Works well when hiring manager has internal administrative support or is working with an outside search firm
  • Process moves quickly
  • Hiring can be too subjective, e.g., hiring manager can be looking to replicate self in new hire or find someone to compensate for personal weaknesses
  • Can be hard to "sell" candidates on the position and organization when they just have one point of contact
Group Process
  • Involvement of multiple staff members brings diverse perspectives on position and organization
  • Onboarding and team buy in are built into hiring process
  • Can take time to develop tools and processes and make hiring decision
  • Roles of different staff members need to be communicated clearly to candidates
  • Risk of alienating staff who are not involved
HR/Hiring Manager Partnership
  • HR expertise woven into the process
  • Supervisor relieved of negotiation aspects of the offer
  • Can be seen as more bureaucratic
  • HR process can be perceived as a "hurdle" to candidates


Commongood Careers, September 2007
© 2007, Commongood Careers

Commongood Careers is dedicated to helping today's most effective social entrepreneurs hire the best talent. Founded by nonprofit professionals, Commongood Careers offers personalized, engaged services to job seekers and organizations throughout the hiring process as well as access to a wealth of knowledge about careers in the social sector.