By Faith Montgomery, Vice President and Managing Director, Lindauer

With contributions by Paula Fazli, Maureen Huminik, Chandra Montgomery, and Carmel Napolitano

Hiring for a newly created role in your organization? Expanding your existing team? Learn how to prepare in advance and set yourself up for a successful search.

Recruitment is always a complex task, requiring a deep understanding of your organization’s mission and goals, a clear vision for institutional growth, and a willingness to adapt and respond to the job market.

However, the process can be especially delicate when you are hiring for an inaugural position. In these scenarios, positioning your organization—and your new hire—for success involves navigating unknowns, managing the expectations of a range of stakeholders, and constantly refining priorities to find the right candidate for your organization’s needs.

Fortunately, leaders and hiring managers don’t have to enter this process blindly. Drawing from insights we’ve gained through years of leading searches for inaugural positions, we would like to offer some key considerations for your organization as it ventures into this hiring journey.

Before you Begin

Define the Role and the Expectations

Before initiating the search process, we recommend developing a comprehensive understanding of the inaugural role and the expectations associated with it.

This involves defining the responsibilities, desired qualifications, and objectives for the position. Consider factors such as the scope of activities, goals, and the level of experience required. Is the person who steps into this role expected to set strategy and build a program or play more of a complementary role augmenting existing functions?

Action Steps: Identify positions at adjacent organizations that are similar to the position you envision and compile existing job descriptions Work with experts who understand the industry and how to craft job descriptions that will excite your intended audience.

Engage Stakeholders and Socialize the Position Internally

Before embarking on the hiring process, set aside time to communicate with key stakeholders. Stakeholders could include board members, senior leadership, hiring managers, or peers who will collaborate with the incoming hire.

Educate these people about the responsibilities of the new position, clarify to them the role’s place in your organizational structure, and align everyone involved with the organization’s goals. By engaging in dialogue with stakeholders and providing clarity on the role’s expectations and future working relationships, your organization fosters buy-in and support heading into the hiring process. This proactive approach ensures that everyone involved understands the value of the new position and is committed to its success in advancing the organization’s mission.

Action Steps: Identify colleagues and teams who will interface with the new role; meet with them individually. Through open and transparent communication, you can manage expectations regarding the new role’s impact on team dynamics, donor portfolios, and organizational priorities. Emphasize the importance of collaboration and alignment in achieving shared objectives.

Align Title and Salary with the Job Description

Once you’ve crafted the job description, determine a title and set salary parameters that are commensurate with the responsibilities and required experience outlined in the description.

Another critical factor to take into consideration is the job market. A misalignment between title and salary could make it difficult to attract qualified candidates in what are typically very competitive markets for these types of positions. A Director-level position puts you in one slice of the job market, while a VP-level or C-suite position puts you in other bands of the market.

Are you willing to realign and recalibrate the title-salary combination of your new position if it will more accurately reflect the nature of the role and improve your ability to compete for top talent?

Aligning salary expectations with market realities can be a sensitive challenge to address. Initially, it’s sometimes easy to underestimate the level of skill and experience needed to successfully build robust new systems or augment existing teams. By establishing clear salary parameters based on market research, your organization can attract qualified candidates and negotiate competitive compensation packages.

Action Steps: Conduct thorough market research to understand salary ranges and industry standards. Industry reports, salary surveys, and online databases are a great place to start. Ask whether the market rate for this role fits your organization’s financial capacity. If not, revisit the responsibilities and expectations outlined in the job description, adjusting them as necessary to align with the salary your organization is comfortable with while remaining competitive in the market. Consider consulting with experts who have experience placing similar positions.

During the Search

Engage in Ongoing Refinement

The search process is dynamic, and priorities may evolve as you evaluate candidates and conduct interviews. As you engage with a range of prospects, you will likely narrow down the skills and experiences that are more important to you for this role.

Your organization must be prepared for ongoing refinement of priorities and expectations throughout the search process. This involves actively—and consistently—engaging stakeholders in discussions about candidate profiles, feedback, and potential adjustments to the role.

Action Steps: Schedule regular check-in meetings with key stakeholders, including hiring managers, members of the search committee, or relevant department heads to provide a structured platform for discussing potential adjustments to the role, making sure to stay within the confines of candidate confidentiality.

Consider Non-Traditional Candidates

While you and your organization may have specific criteria in mind for the ideal candidate, considering non-traditional candidates can bring fresh perspectives and innovative approaches to the role. This includes individuals from diverse backgrounds or who have relevant competencies in industries or sectors you might not have initially considered.

By being open to candidates with diverse backgrounds and skill sets, your organization can tap into a broader talent pool, benefit from new ideas and perspectives, and continue to refine your priorities.

Action Steps: Evaluate each candidate based on the competencies that are most relevant to contributing to your organization’s strategic growth. Consider conducting skills assessments or competency-based interviews to begin removing bias and more objectively assessing a candidate’s suitability for the role.

After You Make the Hire

Provide Ongoing Support

Once a candidate is hired, provide ongoing support and resources to ensure their success in the role—even more so in a new position than an established one. Having clear structure for support can position your new hire for success. This includes offering training, mentorship, and access to professional development opportunities. By providing ongoing support and resources, organizations can foster a culture of growth and development and retain top talent.

Action Steps: Develop a customized professional development plan tailored to the unique needs and objectives of the newly created role. Draw from internal and external resources, such as mentorship programs, online courses, conferences, outside experts, and professional workshops that align with the responsibilities and goals of the new role.

Evaluate Performance

While regular evaluation of a newly hired candidate’s performance is essential to ensure alignment with your organization’s goals and objectives, the metrics of performance may not be clear for a newly created position. Work collaboratively to identify areas for improvement and provide the necessary support for success. If your hire is an experienced professional, they themself may be a good resource. You can also reach out to industry experts or peer institutions for established frameworks.

Action Steps: Work collaboratively with the individual in the role to establish clear and measurable performance metrics and specific goals that reflect the desired outcomes and impact on the organization. Reach out to industry experts and peer institutions for guidance and best practices in establishing performance frameworks for professionals in similar roles. Drawing from established frameworks and benchmarks, you can refine your approach to performance evaluation and develop a comprehensive set of metrics to assess your new position’s progress and impact.

Adjust as Necessary

Flexibility will likely be central to the success of your new hire. Your organization must be prepared to adjust as necessary based on evolving organizational needs as well as the candidate’s performance.

Your new hire also must be comfortable with some level of ambiguity as the position launches. This may include revisiting job responsibilities, adjusting salary or benefits, or providing additional support or resources. Every organization is unique, and even the most thorough research and preparation can only predict so far how a new position will work within your organization’s culture. By being flexible and adaptable, your organization can ensure the long-term success of its talent.

Action Steps: Conduct regular reviews and assessments of the role’s responsibilities, objectives, and performance outcomes to identify areas for adjustment and refinement. Discuss any emerging challenges, changing priorities, or evolving needs.

Final Thoughts

Recruiting for an inaugural role requires careful planning, ongoing communication, and flexibility throughout the hiring process. By following these essential steps throughout the different stages of your search, your organization can more effectively navigate the hiring journey and find the right candidate to drive your mission forward.

Looking for more support? The Lindauer team has a wealth of experience placing inaugural positions across sectors. We would love to bring our expertise to your organization and guide you through the process.

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