Building a Strong Candidate Pool through Strategic and Effective Outreach

Laura Gassner Otting
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Narrowing down a finely crafted position description into a short advertisement is difficult. What should you put in? What should you leave out? Which nugget will attract that special candidate? And, almost as importantly, what key words will help those unqualified to stay away?

The Bad Example


The Best Nonprofit of Boston, Massachusetts, seeks a new Executive Director to manage day-to-day operations, staff and budget consistent with the mission and priorities of the organization. Fundraising experience and good communications skills a must. A deep knowledge of organizational development is necessary.
Salary $80,000 – $100,000.

Send applications to: Laura Gassner Otting, Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group,
75 Summit Street, Newton, MA 02458, 617-527-9661 phone, 617- 527-9618
fax, LGO@NonprofitProfessionals .com.

Getting Started

Rushing through the preparation is the most common mistake made when writing a vacancy
announcement. Many see the advertisement as something that just has to get done and they rush through it to meet a tight print or e-newsletter deadline. They don’t choose their words carefully or think through what an outsider might get from the ad they’ve written. As a result, they end up with an expensive, but relatively information-free ad which lists, for all intents and purposes, that the organization needs to fill a position and nothing more.

Include Relevant but also Interesting Information in Your Advertisement

First, let’s focus on what belongs in the advertisement. Obviously you’ll need the usual suspects like title, organization, location and a brief description of the job. But, you’ll also want to put a little something extra in it to pique the interest of a more passive job seeker. Of course the Executive Director will oversee day-to-day management, but will s/he be tasked with changing the direction of the organization, rebuilding a demoralized staff, diversifying a funding base in the face of major budget cuts, or continuing to steer a steady and well-worn
course? Stimulating the reader with a bit about the organization’s current priorities will yield candidates who better fit your needs.

Include minimum experience, knowledge, qualifications and experience required for the
position. You ought to consider both the needs of the organization as well as the qualifications and sophistication of the new hire’s staff counterparts in making this determination. Hiring someone with lesser experience or degrees into a more senior position, regardless of the wonderful resume s/he brings forth or interviews s/he gives, may upset some staff and set up your new hire for certain failure.

You should also consider asking for a salary history, cover letter and references. The salary history will give you another indicator of career development, and while a side by side analysis may not always be accurate to the industry, it will show a path of growth and advancement. A cover letter reveals writing skills as well as the reasons for particular interest in the position in question. Finally, references allow you to judge a candidate by his or her company. For example, are references suspiciously absent from his or her last two
jobs? Does s/he list only supervisors, but no subordinates or peers?

Finally, your organization may have rules, requirements or preferences around issues of equal
opportunity. Check with your human resources professional to see if you need to note that you are an “Equal Opportunity Employer” or that “Women and minorities are encouraged to apply.”

Omit Needless or Problematic Details

With all this information, it may seem like nothing should be left out. But there is one vital piece of information I never put in a job advertisement for any middle to senior level position: the salary range. There are two reasons for this. First, I get many junior candidates who expect to be considered, even though they are earning $25,000 less than the lower end of the scale, and they expect to be considered within the salary range offered. Second, I find it tends to push away more senior candidates for whom my search committee or board might be able to stretch for once they know who’s out there.

Removing salary information may, at first, give you more resumes to sort, but it will yield a more interesting variety of candidates. It might enable you, for instance to bring your hiring committee a group of individuals who fit into the expected salary range, but then also some that they would get for a little less money, or could get for a little more money. For positions that haven’t been vacant in years, boards tend to be surprised, and sometimes happily so, by what they need to pay their next hire.

Many job advertisements list “excellent benefits” or the “salary may be negotiable based on skills and experience.” I think this information is not only obvious, it is taken for granted if it isn’t written into the ad.

Other information that is unnecessary in a job description, although it seems odd at first, is detailed contact information. If your outreach strategy includes online advertising, and it should, you will have a full position description somewhere on the web, whether on your organization’s web site or the many free and paid advertising outlets available. Your ad can link to one of these spots, and from there an interested and motivated candidate can figure it out. If your advertisement is not limited for words, inches or other space – and therefore money – considerations, feel free to list all nine digits in your full zip
code. Otherwise, just list a web address where more information can be found, and save that all-important space for intriguing information about the position.

The Good Example

Using the same 67 words as the “wrong” example above, this improved advertisement uses words and space more effectively:

New Executive Director sought to raise levels of funding, advocacy and media attention for The Best Nonprofit, Boston. Diversification into private and foundation funding, professionalization of 25-member staff and 42- affiliate chapters, and effective creation and implementation of national media and political strategies expected. Masters Degree and fifteen years of progressively responsible experience directing programs about this issue in similarly complex environments required.
See for more information.


Setting up an outreach approach is a critical piece of any search. Yours should include the following five tactics:

  1. Online Advertising: Cost effective because most sites allow for virtually unlimited job descriptions and post them for 30-, 60- or 90-day periods. The Internet is open 24/7 and is quickly becoming the first place to which job seekers will turn.
  2. Print Advertising: More expensive than the web, but it is the tried and true method of looking for a job. The advertisement is only effective if your gem job seeker is looking at the ads on the day it runs, but most print media now throw in an online component as well.
  3. Mass Mailing: Most likely a third of your finalists will be known to you already, even if you don’t think of them at the beginning of your search. Develop a mailing list of community members, funders, friends and other stakeholders and send them the job description.
  4. Telephone Calls: Push, harangue, and cajole your senior staff, board members or other interested parties to make phone calls on your behalf. Another third of your pool will emerge from these calls.
  5. An Executive Summary: Be prepared to send anyone interested in helping a description somewhere in between your five line ad, from which they won’t get enough information, and your several page position description, which they just won’t read. Opt for a half to three-quarter page version, and don’t forget to follow-up for those promised leads!