Hey, can we be a little nicer to job applicants and stop treating them like crap?


red-panda-1194504_960_720Hi everyone. I am in Washington DC giving a keynote at the Nonprofit Talent and Culture Summit on the importance of our sector’s investment in our most valuable resource: Sticky dots. No, just kidding: our professionals. So this post may be kind of hastily written, since I must find and put pictures of cute baby animals on my PowerPoint deck. (An entire post will be written later on the strategic deployment of cute baby animal pictures).

Today, I want to talk about being nice to job applicants. After doing lots of hiring, talking to friends who are applying for jobs, and having applied to jobs before (#OxfordCommaForever!), I realize just how demoralizing it can be out there for job candidates. A colleague told me he had three interviews with a panel of grumpy-ass people, got berated for asking a question “out of turn,” and didn’t hear from them for weeks. This was for a half-time entry-level position. WTF.

There are tons of tips out there for job applicants about how to stand out and improve their chances of securing that dream job. Today, let’s bring some balance. We in the nonprofit sector pride ourselves on equity, community, and social justice. And yet we still have some terrible habits that we need to break. For some reason, probably because of the power dynamics between employers and job applicants, otherwise-awesome organizations sometimes treat candidates like crap, like “others” instead of potential partners in our shared quest to create a better world. This often mirrors the injustice we nonprofits feel when treated like “others” by funders due to the power dynamics in funding.

Our sector relies on purpose-driven, hardworking, versatile professionals. Even if they are not a good fit for our organization, all of us have an obligation to the field to ensure that good candidates remain in the field and grow into their potential. The fate of our community depends on it. Some of us do a pretty good job being nice to job applicants, and some of us really need to work on it. 

I asked the NWB Facebook community for input on what we can do to treat our professionals with respect so they don’t run screaming into real estate or other professions (no offense to real estate or other professions). Here are 20 things we can do. This is not a comprehensive list. Please add your suggestions in the comment section.

  1. Disclose salary on job postings. I’ve written about this before (“When you don’t disclose salary range on a job posting, a unicorn loses its wings.”) This is the number one most frequent comment. Stop wasting everyone’s time, and stop perpetuating inequity against women and people of color, who are unconsciously punished for being assertive when negotiating.
  2. Don’t ask for salary history. Seriously, this archaic and disgusting habit needs to die. Yes, I said disgusting. Salary history is like ancient, moldy hummus; it has no place in our sector. Talented people who are underpaid should not continue to remain underpaid while those who are paid well continue to get paid well, especially when there are clear racial and gender disparities regarding compensation.
  3. Don’t play games with candidates if you are determined to hire internally: I know sometimes legally you have to post a job, even if you have someone internal in mind. Be transparent. If you have a preference for internal candidates, state that on the job posting and let candidates decide if they want to compete.
  4. List desired skills and required skills separately: According to this article, women often don’t apply for a job unless they feel they are 100% qualified. Not so for dudes, who will apply even if they feel like they’re 60% qualified (I’m still waiting for American Ninja Warrior to call me back). Separating out required from desired skills may help bring some balance.
  5. Auto-reply confirming receipt of applications: Yeah, you may not have time to personally confirm every application. So set up an auto-responder so that candidates don’t freak out and get into this existential crisis of “Oh God, did they get my application? Should I call them? They said not to call. But what if they didn’t get my application? I should show initiative. But what if I’m being too pushy? I should have listened to Miss Cleo and opened a business…”
  6. Knock it off with the automatic eliminators like typos. As I wrote in “Our hiring practices are inequitable and need to change,” it is inequitable to use automatic eliminators. Diverse candidates like me who grew up in other countries speaking other languages may have more typos than those who grew up here, but they/we will have other strengths. If you have a hard rule like “I eliminate all covers and resumes with any typos” or “I drop all candidates who don’t write a thank-you note,” don’t wonder why the diversity of backgrounds, talents, connections, and perspectives sucks at your org.
  7. Stop requiring formal education as a default: Another point I’ve talked about earlier, but it bears being repeated. One of our sector’s biggest goals is to address educational inequity. It is hypocritical then that we use education as a way to filter out people. If a job does not require a specific skill or certification (like an MSW for a counseling position), then see if experience will stand for formal education. Our default in this sector should be to NOT require formal education unless needed.
  8. Post clear process, including ending date and preferred job starting date: Lay out your proposed hiring timeline and what it entails. If you plan to do two rounds of interviews, spell that out. If you will require some sort of assignment or writing samples, spell those out. Do not add extra steps mid-way through.
  9. Knock it off with the drawn-out process: Yes, I know the common concept of hire slow, fire fast. But some of us are taking it way too far with the hire slow part. Do not make candidates do 10 rounds of interviews, meet personally with every board member, and write a three-act play based on your org’s strategic plan or something.
  10. Stop requiring a resume and cover and then a separate application that spells out the same stuff as the resume. It’s irritating. I know there are legal advantages to requiring an application, but think about when in the process you may require that. Maybe the first screening step is just the resume and cover, and candidates who move forward may be required to fill out the application (spell that out in the process).
  11. Be on time and prepared during the interviews. Respect candidates’ time. It’s ridiculous if candidates get penalized for being a couple of minutes late, and yet the interview panel starts late or didn’t print out the questions in time or whatever. 
  12. Share interview questions. Interview questions are getting more and more complicated, and this bias towards on-the-spot thinking disadvantages the thoughtful, deliberate thinkers that every effective team needs. Giving questions ahead of time does not hurt anyone, especially if you want good answers to questions like “Tell me a time when you were able to shift a dysfunctional systems paradigm using quantum principles of race relations.”
  13. Stop being holier-than-thou during interviews: Why do supportive, down-to-earth organizations with a great sense of humor suddenly get huffy and intimidating during the interview process? Wouldn’t you want candidates to see what they’re actually going to be experiencing if they work for you? If you’re normally friendly and warm, be friendly and warm when interviewing people. If you’re normally a crotchety, severe curmudgeon, then, uh, I guess carry on. Remember that applicants are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them.
  14. Stop asking for ridiculous assignments that require a ton of work: A couple samples of previous completed work can give great insight into a candidate’s accomplishments. Asking them to do brand-new, complex assignments—“Based on your understanding of our organization, please write a 10-page development plan complete with contingency plan and a draft theme song for the gala”—is out-of-line.
  15. Be transparent: About challenges of the position, about what you love about your job, about failures that happened and what your team learned from them. I’ve found that when both candidates and nonprofit respect each other enough to be forthright about the positives as well as the challenges, it makes for much better matching.
  16. Be flexible and understanding: This is a trait of our sector of which we should be proud. Offer evening interview times for those who may not be able to do day-time, and try to empathize when unexpected things happen. As one colleague puts it, “Remember that every candidate is a potential customer or advocate. I was asked to reschedule an interview due to a sick baby and never heard back…”
  17. Consider barriers to candidates with disabilities. Says a colleague, “Do you want folks with disabilities to apply but your interview requires several flights of stairs, a long walk, and sitting without a break for 3+ hours?” Also, do your essential duties really require lifting 50lbs or driving? Be clear, because you may be eliminating awesome candidates with disabilities from even applying.
  18. Communicate often, and get back to people on time with your decisions: This is a frequent and justified complaint. The waiting and uncertainty are the worst. Let candidates know your process, and if it deviates, get in touch with them. Sometimes it takes longer than expected to make a decision; if that’s the case, email people, apologize, and let them know what the new timeline is. It is better to get an outright rejection than to stand at the abyss of silence. Says a colleague, “I once drove to interview in person three times, a four-hour round trip, and they never notified me. Ugh.”
  19. Deliver bad news by email, with option for phone conversation: All candidates you interview deserve the courtesy of a personal notice. There is some debate about the best way to notify candidates who didn’t get the job. Some just prefer ANY notification at all, even a drive-by, “Hey, you didn’t get the job, sucka!” (Don’t do that). After doing this for a while, I recommend sending an email (with “Regrets from [your org] on [position]” as the subject line) and offer a time the candidate can call to talk to you on the phone, or ask them for times they are free for you to call. For many people, the shock is too much and they need some time to process before talking to you.
  20. Give feedback and be supportive: I know, there are liabilities involved regarding being too candid. But I wonder if we have become so worried about potential litigation that we neglect all the positive stuff that may come with being supportive and honest with candidates. I always offer to give feedback to candidates who make it to interviews, as well as when appropriate to introduce candidate to other orgs, and everyone has been tremendously appreciative. I hope no one sues my org, but I think it’s worth the risk to have candidates who feel respected and who may continue to remain and grow in our field.

These are just a few tips that we as a sector should think about following. There are others. We need to shift our perception of candidates as people who are lucky if they get a job with us, toward the belief that all of us are working toward building a better world. The success of our work depends on our people. Let’s treat everyone with consideration and respect and let’s live out our values of equity and community.

Next week: Hey job candidates, stop doing these dumbass things!

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53 thoughts on “Hey, can we be a little nicer to job applicants and stop treating them like crap?

  1. Karen Woods

    Great thoughts Vu…attaching a video link from last year’s TEDX here in Kanata sharing the problems with the traditional resume—challenging us to consider what’s missing. Have a great week everyone! https://youtu.be/97EvJk3_n6E

  2. Liz

    Be transparent about the opportunity (or lack thereof) to grow in a position. I am not currently working for nonprofits, because I kept ending up in positions with little to no chance for growth within the organization. At one I interviewed for recently (3 different interviews, by the way, and three weeks between my last interview and an offer), I talked to a friend who works in the same position in what would have been a different department (had I accepted the position) and the primary reason I took a part-time job without benefits in a for-profit over their (very slow, eventual) offer of a full-time position was how candid my friend was about the lack of opportunity to advance. The job I took was transparent and candid about their hopes to grow my position and to give me opportunities for personal and professional development.

    Prior to that round of interviews, I worked in a nonprofit where most of my colleagues couldn’t move into full(er) time positions. I was working 35 hours a week there, “part-time” because I was not only providing direct service to our clients, I was also writing grants (which I happen to be good at, and also have an educational background that supports that type of work) for the same $/hr as my direct service work — which was far, far, far below what a person needs to make to survive in my pricey, but mid-sized city. All of our direct service workers had other jobs since all direct-service positions were part-time (25 hrs/wk), and most were also receiving public aid — something we were trying to get our clients off of because one part of our organizational strategies to improve lives was to build self-sufficiency/self-reliance. My co-workers at that position actively sought opportunities for growth, but were rarely given them (or were asked to volunteer to do those positions with vague promises of maybe getting paid for that work one day).

  3. Eóghan

    As an expert at being rejected, I can offer some doozies:
    (1) NOT A NICE PLACE TO WORK? Nonprofits need to be able to answer what is good (for the employee) about working at that nonprofit (besides knowing every day that you’ve saved the world from ultimate destruction). At the end of a job interview with a very large historic-property nonprofit, I asked the interviewers (all employees) to tell me about the best thing about working for that nonprofit. Long silence. Finally one said, “When I sit at my desk, lean back, and look up and see the ceiling, I say Wow!” None of the others on the panel could top that. I would certainly want more of a wow to work there.
    (2) NOT NICE PEOPLE TO WORK WITH? After being kept waiting for nearly an hour in front of a stiff and military-like receptionist/guard I was finally shown into a room where with barely a “Hello” I was confronted with “Are you still working for the Girl Scouts?” Confused, I responded that I had never worked for the Girl Scouts. I was then glared at and accused of lying on my application just to get an interview. It was downhill from there, even after they realized they were looking at the wrong application.
    (3) UNREALISTIC ABOUT WHAT THEY WANT? After a lengthy interview which seemed to go well, I received a call from the director informing me that they had interviewed many good candidates for deputy director, but no one met EVERYthing they wanted, so they decided not to hire and instead share the duties of the post among existing staff. Two months later the director phoned me and asked me if I was available to step in to fill her job as an interim director immediately as she was fed up with the extra duties and was quitting. (No, she had her chance two months earlier.)
    (4) DID I SUCK THAT BAD? After what I thought was a decent interview the bearer of bad news proceeded to tell me over the phone in great detail why I did not get the job, and I’m sure that she thought she was doing me a big favor by not saying one nice thing. A “Thanks but no thanks” email would have been just fine. (Oh, and during the interview they key-locked me into a fire trap of a room while the panelists went out to think of more questions to ask me. Were they really concerned that I might escape?)
    (5) ALREADY DECIDED BEFORE INTERVIEW? At the start of an interview for a director job I was told that the person in the corner was an independent trascriber who was going to write down every word of the interview because the other candidate was the current assistant director and they wanted to be sure that they could refer to a transcript to prove that they treated me fairly. Not a way to put a candidate at ease, although that was probably the point.
    (6) NO TRUTH IN ADVERTISING? Had one encouraging interview where they said they would follow up with second interviews of the best candidates. They phoned the next day offering me the director job without the second interview because I was “clearly the best person for the job.” When I asked for clarification of the salary the figure was significantly less than the amount in the ad, and less than my current salary at the time (which was on my application). No thanks.

    GOOD PEOPLE, GOOD PRACTICE: I have had interviews where I didn’t get the job, but didn’t feel like they wasted my time, good suit, and emotional health with an interview. After one, a panelist called to say I wasn’t successful this time but they could arrange for me to do some contract work with another nonprofit. And after another interview where we all felt we really “clicked” I got a heartfelt call telling me that they had a hard decision to make and knew I was capable of doing the job well but it was offered to another candidate; however, they gave me some good leads on other work. I would have been proud to work for either of those two nonprofits — as I am for the one where I am now CEO.

    1. Cloggie

      I had someone misread my resume and berate me for it, at which point I tried to tactfully point out the correct information. The person calmed down and noted she had just misread it but I knew the interview was over at that point.

  4. jahphotogal

    I’ve been on both sides of the table, many times, and happily haven’t seen most of the awful behaviors you and Eoghan, the first commenter, describe, though recruiters do often ask for salary history. Since I’m an ED, I have been applying for other ED jobs. I usually look at their 990 to see what the last person got paid, so I can refer to it. (Hasn’t worked, particularly – no offer yet.)

    As a hirer, I do have one deal-breaker, though I’m reconsidering it in light of your post. I want a cover letter that is tailored to my organization. It does’t have to say much, but I’d like it to have my name and the name of my organization, and one sentence (at least) that says why they want to work here. (In the body of an email is also fine.) Otherwise, I get a lot of resumes that say “Career Objective: A challenging position in a growing business where i can use my customer service skills” — mass mailed on Indeed.com. I don’t make people jump through nearly the hoops that you decribe here, and I think I’m warm and friendly and transparent and respectful and all the rest. But I want to know that the candidate can write a few mostly grammatical sentences without the help of a job coach, since almost everyone here has to communicate by email from time to time.

    1. Patrick Taylor

      If you can’t bother to tailor a cover letter to a potential employer, you don’t deserve a job there.

      1. T Hal

        Not according to a growing number of employment specialists. Cover letters are becoming obsolete, to say nothing of the waste of time they represent for many applicants who are applying for dozens of positions at a time.

    2. tlcarr08

      I would like if organizations would tell you to whom you should address the letter. It’s ridiculous to snoop around and scavenger hunt for a name.

  5. Caroline Baker

    also annoying are organisations who leave the job posting up allowing people to keep wasting their time on applications when the job has already been offered to a candidate, and who has accepted. I know they do this because friends have accepted jobs yet the vacancy is still wide open! Employers don’t appreciate how long people spend on applications!

    1. John H

      Service industry companies are the absolute worst about this, but the white-collar world is definitely far from immune.

  6. Rhiannon Orizaga

    Way to catch the typos thing – when I was a GTA I graded papers from international students who had a lot of typos but demonstrated quality high-level thinking, and then there were native English speakers with few typos and hardly any thinking demonstrated.

    1. Cloggie

      Also, things that appear to be typos might be regionalisms. My colleagues and I have this all the time with my boss, who considers herself an expert grammarian but has always studied/worked/lived in a rather closed group of people.

  7. Carol Clarke

    A seriously excellent and badly needed article, one all employers in all sectors should read. I just want to say thank you for acknowledging all the pitfalls I have had to navigate to get to a part-time contract position, despite 30 years of experience, a university degree, and a passion for organizing. It would be awesome to be treated humanely as a candidate for a change. Looking forward to your wisdom next Monday to see how I can up my game. And see the cute baby animal pictures, too. You rock. I think you may be my new crush <3

  8. DallasRising

    “Stop requiring formal education as a default” <— This is my life right now. Due to a number of factors, some having to do with class, some with trauma experienced in my teen years (which arguably gives me an edge someone with a degree but not having had said experiences would not have), and some relating to the fact that neither my mom or any siblings graduated from college, I don't have my undergrad.

    I continue to hear, from friends and professionals, if I were able to score an interview, I would likely be hired. But without that degree, I'm not qualified to apply to many listings and fear the ones I have applied to may have not given me an interview for my lack of formal education.

    I try to emphasize my experience: been published in two anthologies, lecture to college classes on the regular, present and speak at conferences, developed/implemented/managed/grew multiple programs, saved two dying organizations and built successful brands/budgets/volunteer bases… but so far I have not landed an interview anywhere. Everything I've read says not to draw attention to the lack of degree and instead emphasize strengths, but I'm not sure that's making a difference.

    Side note: I was at 35/hrs week as an ED and repeatedly told the board I needed that extra five hours and a part time assistant or office manager given the rate of growth we'd been experiencing. They had me track my time and how, exactly, I was spending it for two months. Then the board president proceeded to call to go over the list of tasks I would delegate to an assistant, describe each in detail, and after each item say either "That doesn't sound like it takes much time" or offer to delegate the tasks to my very-very-busy-mother-of-two-kids under-three co-worker. Our major donor and I had a decent relationship and this person had indicated many times they would be happy to give extra for staffing, but the board didn't want me to ask (to this day I don't know why). I couldn't take it anymore and had to leave, which was so hard given my attachment to an organization I'd poured my heart into for eight years. I'm still grieving that loss over six months later.

    I'd like to send screen shots of the FB thread my volunteers made when I announced I was moving on in lieu of a degree. There should be an optional "include anything else that demonstrates your qualifications" instruction on job postings. I would seriously consider sending those screenshots. 🙂

  9. nicole

    Just a friendly reminder that Glassdoor.com is a great forum to share these employment and interview experiences with others.

  10. Patrick James Morley

    My peeve: stop putting “vehicle is required” as a requirement if the position does not require frequent daily trips between work locations! I have a vehicle: my bicycle. I live in a city with excellent public transit. At every job I have had a great attendance record regardless of weather; often far better than my motoring colleagues. Yet time and time again I see [motor] vehicle required on a job posting, and when I challenge that I am told that the job “may” require access to another location “sometimes”. Stop the car-centric discrimination.

    1. shimarella

      OMG this so much. Although admittedly in my city, public transit isn’t that great the further out you get, and it is Texas. Still, as someone who has chosen NOT to drive, this as a disqualifier just seems rather unfair.

      1. Rhiannon Orizaga

        I agree, and I also wonder how it contributes to inequity. Some people can’t afford a car and this is eliminating them from the job pool. We should be thanking them for not polluting!

    2. Roxana Ruest

      Yes! Yes! I was going to a training and called the contact person “with any questions, regards, or concerns” to simply inquire if they had a carpool candidate list since I was having to be resourceful about getting to and from the training. She had the nerve to reply, “If you don’t drive, how do you expect to get a job?”
      I told her: “Public transportation.” Lol

    3. DinaClare

      My last job was as a technical writer at a very large corporation. When I got the contract, it included “must have a current drivers license.” Never in the interview process OR the position description did it say anything about this!

      My current job actually did have the drivers license requirement, but I asked how firm it was and they ended up hiring me anyway 😀

      1. Rhiannon Orizaga

        I also wonder if this is dog-whistle discrimination – because not everyone has access to getting a driver’s license, and it is a way of saying “we want to hire people like us” or “we don’t want to ask you to prove citizenship, but we want you to prove citizenship.” I might be reading too much into this, but it’s a weird request.

  11. Sherrie Smith

    I’m super pleased to say I follow every single one of these pieces of advice and agree whole-heartedly.
    There’s nothing wrong with, when you see a terrified candidate, saying “hey relax, it’s okay to be nervous! We just have these clipboards so we can remember what you said.”
    We give out the questions 15 minutes before interview. It rewards the people who show up early with extra time (we give workshops here so it’s VERY important you show up early at work) and gives thinkers time for thoughtful answers. Even if you have just the copy of what we’re asking and you show up 1 minute early at least you can re-read the question after we ask it.

  12. Steampunk Sweetheart

    #10 should be a requirement for every job in every industry. I HATE filling out pages and pages of applications with information that’s on the same resume you just asked for (and don’t get me started on cover letters. In 99% of cases, an honest one would read “I need a job. This one sounds good.) It took me longer to fill out an application for a seasonal cashier position at PetSmart than it took me to fill out the background check material for the casino (and THAT you only had to do if they’d already offered you a job!)

    Also, I currently work for WAY less than I really would like because my job is awesome (I am a museum interpreter for an open-air history museum) and not only is the job great and I love my coworkers (though, seriously, if you’re in some weird world that’s not ours where you have an excess of men…send them our way? We struggle getting mixed and period-appropriate staffing in some of our sites because finding men to apply who are qualified is a nightmare.) but it was the first time I have not only had a flexible interview (they phone-interviewed me because the weather was so bad it wasn’t safe to drive the long distance for me), that is the first time in almost 13 years of interviews that I could tell they’d not only read my resume, they had Googled me. They asked about my Etsy store, my books, things like my animals they’d clearly seen on my FB…they were interested in what I as a person was bringing, not just what I had on my resume. This seemed like a really good indication they would be good bosses (for reference: every staff member from the previous season is returning.) They were not ticking off the ticky boxes, they were talking to us and gauging us as people. I’ve never had a work environment where everyone works together so well.

  13. Amanda Fagan

    Oh geez, I had an interview at a very well-respected nonprofit a few months ago and they were so incredibly rude to me. They had an office, but they interviewed me in their house which I was very put off by. One of the interviewers kept getting up to clean up around the house while I was trying to answer my questions, and would go upstairs where he couldn’t even hear me. It was very awkward. Then the other interviewer called one of my answers “lovely” but she said “lovely” in the same tone people use when they step in dog poop. They told me they’d let me know their decision within a week and nothing. They made me feel like I was wasting their time and they definitely wasted mine. I had better interviews for retail jobs.

  14. LaudholmTrust

    OK, OK… But if the applicant is clearly not foreign, not an immigrant, and not uneducated, then it behooves them GREATLY to have a friend read their application and *fix the damn typos.* Sorry, Vu – it matters.

    I don’t literally trash the application, but they do get major points off.

    I just finished reviewing 59 applications for a position we’re trying to fill. Five hours of a vacation Sunday evening. “I am a very detailed oriented person” was a killer.

    1. DinaClare

      It’s not just international folks – what about people with learning disabilities like dyslexia? And what of people who don’t have a lot of formal education, but do have a lot of valuable life experience?

    2. T Hal

      I just want to make a point. In advance, I understand that this is an informal comment section, so we aren’t scrutinizing our language usage. However, by your own reasoning, especially in a comment about language mechanics mattering, shouldn’t you have caught your own pronoun faux pas in your comment? I wonder if hiring managers would be so disdainful of applicants’ minor errors if the managers’ jobs and survival were equally dependent on their own minor language foibles.

  15. alice20c

    Yes to 4, 7, 8, 9! Some of the others, like unpleasantness, are fine. I’d rather have a heads-up if someone’s a jerk. It’s better than the realization that you have to restart your job hunt again or accept jerkishness in your life.

  16. Patrick Taylor

    These are great. I really wish people would do 12, share interview questions. I’m introverted, and it sometimes takes me a while to come up with a thoughtful response to complex questions, especially ones that aren’t standard interview questions. If the position doesn’t require someone to be quick on their feet and make snap decisions, giving them some time to ponder questions is a great idea, especially if you want to understand how they really think.

    The whole assignments thing is really starting to go off the rails. at the very least, give a time limit, and limit the assignments to candidates further up the chain. You shouldn’t be asking first-round candidates to spend 8 hours of their life writing a draft grant proposal.

    My final addition to this list would be to be realistic about what you are asking for. I have seen so many job postings and been on interviews where the people clearly want someone who will fix everything wrong with the organization, be all the things they are not, turn water into wine, and do it all for 30k a year. Your org can have high expectations, but be realistic about what one employee can potentially do.

  17. Marcindijan

    I’ve been disappointed by organizations which don’t have the foresight to hire people with new ideas, different approaches, i.e., those who may bring something new to the table. People who may be stronger than the hiring manager in a handful of areas. I’ve recently run across this very thing, as has a friend of mine. She got the following feedback from the recruiter she was working with: the hiring manager wasn’t going to give her the job because she (the hiring manager) was intimidated by my friend’s abilities.This is verbatim. What?!?! The best way for us to get stronger as an industry is to make room for diversity in thought, background and experience. I find it a little odd that the same people–many of whom are today’s industry heroes–who “just fell into development work” because someone recognized their potential, are the same ones now requiring Master’s degrees and umpteen years experience for even the lowest paying roles. EQ and transferable skills seem to play almost no role in the hiring process.

    1. Carol Clarke

      Yes, they want all kinds of experience that can only be acquired over many years, yet they don’t want you if you’re over 30. This discussion hasn’t covered ageism yet, but I sure hope it will…

    2. Mehitabel

      I think your friend may have dodged a bullet. If a hiring manager is intimidated by a candidate’s abilities, chances are that manager has no clue how to ‘manage’ someone like that. Because of the nature of my work, I often know more about my field than the person I report to. When my manager isn’t threatened by that and empowers me to do my job, it’s fine. When my manager feels threatened and therefore doesn’t empower me, or listen to me, it’s not so fine. Managing people who know more than you do about aspects of their job is a skill that has to be learned, and not everyone learns it.

      In general, I have over the years evolved a point of view which is that if I am a candidate for a job with an organization that fails to treat me, the candidate, with courtesy and respect, then it’s not an organization I want to work for anyway. The really sad thing about nonprofits that, in Vu’s words, treat candidates like crap, is that the vast majority of nonprofits live and die by their supporters and donors. It’s really sad to me that so many nonprofits fail to recognize that anyone who is interested enough in them to want to work for them is a current, or potential, donor/advocate/partner/supporter. And treating them like crap is just throwing that good will away. It’s so unnecessary, so short-sighted and so very unfortunate.

  18. House0fTheBlueLights

    I have an interview on Thursday. Can I get a preview of how not to be a dumbass, please?

  19. Roxana Ruest

    I can’t stand the “work (life) history” with empoyers’ xx amount of info. like 3 pages long, then under that, or last pg (if at all) the Volunteer work history with 3 blank lines. Hence the name, Volunteer WORK… What if you have a damn good resume made up of volunteer work history, plus xx amount of trainings, etc? oh… but wait… then where are they going to put the “past wages” spot? ….Sense my sarcasm?
    P.S. there is no place for adult continuing ed in the education section…grrrrr

  20. Mehitabel

    I agree passionately with most of this; I have had some seriously awful experiences interviewing for nonprofit organizations, and I have more than once stopped donating to a nonprofit based solely on how I was [mis]treated as a candidate. I do have some reservations about #6, however. Depending on the position I’m hiring for and on the overall qualifications of the candidate, I am sometimes willing to overlook poor grammar and punctuation in a resume or cover letter, but sometimes I really can’t — particularly if the job is one that requires clear and concise written communication.

    1. Amy B

      Totally agree and was going to post a similar comment! The reality is that many non-profit professionals have a role is preparing written products for external audiences (donor reports, funding proposals, website communications, training manuals etc.) and attention to detail in writing is a qualification for the job in these cases.

  21. WillowbyWhispers

    Hey Vu, if you’re going to discuss ways of being more considerate of a particular group, try practicing what you preach by changing the title of your nonprofit to something that includes women rather than just the old boy network.

  22. Aplos Software

    Vu, love the list! Especially like #2 about asking for salary history!

    Keep up the good work, and, I think your posts are only going to get more funny with the new kid in your life!

  23. Tempo

    Love what you guys are doing for the world but speaking as someone who majored in something that would have led into a non-profit career and seeing how you are treated I am so glad I did not enter this thankless field. In part it was the result of me getting fired from a BS non-profit for a BS reason fresh out of college. And I am so glad that happened. It ended up prompting me to go into another field where merit and skill actually gets you somewhere. Not just kissing some program manager or departmental head’s buttcheeks.

    Other industries have similar issues but the degree to which these issues occur in tech related fields is much lower in my experience.

    “Feel good” feelings aren’t enough. It is because I can help that orphan kid more by being a role model on how he can get his life on track and make more money. We live in a dog eat dog world and sometimes I feel certain non-profits as well as private donors provide the illusion that there will always be someone warm and caring to lend you a helping hand. This is a completely false narrative.

    The world is cold and competitive, you must be calculating, cunning and deft to survive. This is the “wild” of civilization. You must find innovative ways to put food in your mouth. Changing policies won’t do much, for example it is illegal to racially profile but cops do it anyways – But living in a middle class neighborhood sure subjects you to less discrimination from the police than living in a poor one.

    Do something that no one else wants to do. Learn Joomla. Ram it into your brain. Write code for drone programming. Evolve VOIP. Build something tangible. Create wealth for you, your family and friends. Forget about giving back because honestly you’re better off housing someone you already know who has fallen on hard times so the tax payer doesn’t have to. Do your part by teaching your friend who is in financial trouble how to get out of it.

    If everyone takes their closest friend by the hand, just one person each. We can make the world a better place, without these massive organizations mishandling funds and treating their workers (and would be workers) like complete utter crap.

    1. amaeve

      Not everyone going through a hard time has friends or family who are capable of helping, or friends and family at all.

      Some people only have connections with people who are going through equally hard times. (That’s pretty common since our society is pretty segregated by class.) Some people have been rejected by their family. Some people have lost their personal networks because of addiction or mental illness. Some people have trouble relating to other people at all.

    2. DinaClare

      Mate, I worked in the tech field for 8 years. The behaviors you’ve described, what with butt-kissing of program managers and all, were a BIG part of what I did every day. Completely different story at my small non-profit, though!

      Sounds to me like you worked for a shitty organisation. Those exist in both for- and non-profit.

      Also, the organisation I work for provides services, such as low-income housing, to young LGBTQIA+ folks, many of whom have been kicked out of home and have nowhere else to turn.

  24. MC

    I received a vague “we’d love to chat with you more about the position” email, responded, setup the skyper-view, etc.. It was a CMO position, so I anticipated and prepared accordingly. First question out of the CEO’s mouth is: “I figured you could just ask me questions you have about us.” Huh? I wrapped up my 5 or 6 solid organizational, future-forecasting, scenario questions (about 30 minutes) and then, tried to turn it over to him, “well, thanks for chatting. we’ll be in touch.” By far, the weirdest, most off-putting first round interview in 18 years.

  25. Mehitabel

    I have one more thing to add, and that is, think twice before you engage a recruiter to fill your vacancy. I’ve dealt, as a candidate, with pretty much every Seattle-based recruitment firm who works with nonprofits at one time or another, and I have never once had a good experience with any of them. Every single time I’ve gone through a headhunter to apply for a job, I’ve interviewed with them, been promised some kind of specific follow up, and then never heard from them again. I know more than a few people whose experiences with headhunters are similar to mine. My favorite recruiter was the guy who made an appointment with me for a phone call, and then didn’t call. So I called and emailed him to ask if we needed to reschedule. His assistant replied to me with an apology and rescheduled the call for the next day. And guess what — he didn’t call me the next day, either. I’ve reached the point were I simply will not apply for a job if I know I have to go through a headhunter, no matter how appealing the job may sound. It’s not worth the aggravation.

    As an employer, I had a headhunter call me once asking me if I would consider hiring him to fill a vacancy I had advertised at the time. Unfortunately for him, he was someone I’d dealt with in the past, so not only did I tell him “No thanks”, I told him I wasn’t interested in working with someone who I knew from personal experience was discourteous to candidates. He apologized six ways to Sunday and said that my experience with him had been an unfortunate oversight and that he didn’t usually do that with candidates. I told him that while I appreciated his apology, I did not feel I could take the risk.

  26. Patrick Dunn

    I’ve had a hiring manager leave me a voice message saying they’d love to speak to me about a position I applied for, and then never pick up or return my calls after that. You called me!

    Also, the ridiculously long hiring timelines.

  27. T Hal

    I very strongly considered non-profit work after finishing school at 26. Granted, my degrees aren’t in non-profit or policy fields, but I have an extensive community development background both in and outside of the USA. I was so demoralized by my experiences both applying for and interviewing with non-profit organizations on both US Coasts, including the bizarre and alienating agism that I met in countless ads (under 30, between 18 and 25…), that I returned to my field. Happily. Yes, I know many have excellent professional experiences with non-profits, but I’ve concluded that just as all countries have grave social problems, all organizations–for and not-for-profits–have major social and structural flaws.

  28. Nella

    During my most recent job search in my current city, I have STRUGGLED with #20. I can send a resume and get no response, I can get a response email and then get no response, I can get an interview and then get no response, i can get a SECOND interview and then get no response. If I’m getting this frustrated, I know there are others who are more so. My nonprofit community is both incredibly insular and completely uninterested in maintaining positive relationships for future hiring. Really discouraging as someone who’s decided to make a career in the nonprofit world.

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