Finding an Executive Director, Part II

In May I discussed a process that is always a challenge for a Board – finding a new Executive Director. When Board members start looking for new agency leadership, they should already have completed a lot of preliminary work. They should have a clear, updated job description; have a clear and updated mission and vision for the organization; have a plan for accomplishing the interviewing and hiring process, including identifying members of the interview team. And, finally, have a determined salary range and the factors that will influence the level of salary offer. If you have all this done, you are probably exhausted, but the fun is just beginning.

Before advertising, study the applicable labor laws. Being a nonprofit is no excuse (in the government’s eyes) for unfair labor practices. I am only going to mention federal regulations, and I am grouping as applicable by agency size. For all agencies of any size, the following apply:

  • Equal Pay Act of 1963
  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act
  • Immigration reform and Control Act
  • Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)
  • Fair Labor Standards (FLSA)

And then there are some that apply if the agency has 15 or more employees:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Civil Rights Act of 1991
  • Americans with DIsabilities Act (ADA)

Of course, this is nothing. Type “labor laws” and do a web search. When you regain consciousness from that web experience, just follow some of my simple rules. Make sure the Board knows what they are looking for; knows what job must be done; knows, and defines, any physical limitations. It may be helpful to include the salary range in the employment notice. This will help screen candidates out of your price range. Require that all applicants file the same application forms. An office supply store carries generic employment forms. Then the information is there and easy to compare to determine appropriateness for the position. My summary of all the applicable employment law: Be kind, open, fair and honest with the people you interview. Treat them with respect and have a clear idea of what the agency needs that isn’t defined by gender, color, national origin, age or physique.

Design an interview script that will be followed for each applicant. Decide if there will be participation in the interview by the existing staff as well as the identified Board members. In the first meeting, listen. Learn about the candidate. It is important to ask questions that pertain to the job and candidate qualifications. The interview team may also ask scenario questions, such as how would you handle this type of employee situation? Or how would you organize this task? It is good to ask open ended questions that allow the candidate to talk at length. That type of question may be something like, “Describe the most difficult crisis you had to resolve.” Or “Talk about a conflict with a Board that you had to work through.” On the second interview, talk about the agency, the job, the facility. Be specific about job expectations and outline performance measures. Stay focused on performance expectations and skills that are necessary to do the job. Enthusiasm, sparkle and blarney are not what get a job done. A good interview team should know the difference between baloney and real beef.

A good team should know what not to ask. Nothing about age or ethnicity. No questions are appropriate if they are related to family situation, such as “Will you need to find day care?” Nor can the panel ask health related questions, like “Do you have HIV?” All the information gained must be related to the job and to the employment situation.

The chair of the interview committee should check the references personally. Look beyond the “handpicked” references supplied. But remember, the same “don’t ask “ questions also apply to references. Criminal and credit checks are essential at the ED level. Criminal checks usually involve researching public records, but credit checks do not. These checks fall under the “Fair Credit Reporting Act.” which states that with the applicant’s permission, you can gather this data. This law also requires that, should information gathered cause the applicant to be dropped from consideration, the applicant must be informed upon request.

A Board makes a time investment in searching for a new executive director. Once the position is filled, it is the Board’s responsibility to make sure the new ED has the tools to do the job as it was advertised and as outlined by the performance measures. A serious investment of time and thought in the hiring process should yield the Board a long term, capable employee.

July, 2004
July 2004 Hiring an ED, Part II

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