January's guest blogger is Elizabeth Archer (known as Ed). Ed has held strategic roles at Mencap, Ambitious about Autism, Contact and is currently Head of Services & Service design at Toynbee Hall. She specializes in designing systems and structures that serve communities in the way they want and need. This has included supporting people experiencing structural inequality to influence local and national policy, supporting organisations to improve the way they listen to and work alongside the people they serve and finding ways to build fairness and transfer of power into our everyday ways of working.

Recently I feel like every conversation about recruitment is the same. The accepted knowledge is that at the moment it's really hard to find great people to work in the charitable sector. A question often posed is, 'in the midst of the great resignation when people are searching for meaningful jobs, why aren't people applying for this great role in my team?'

At Toynbee Hall our whole mission is to make London a fairer and happier place, and so when we were looking to answer this question we asked, is this about fairness? Is the sector struggling because while we think we’re offering up roles to everyone we’re accidentally shutting a lot of people out?

Our HR team has long championed removing emotive (and ableist) words like energetic as well as irrelevant qualifications from our job descriptions. And over the last year with their support our services, research and policy teams have gone further. We’ve collaborated and experimented with loads of ways to encourage applications from a broader range of talented people. Some innovations (community panel workshops, paid interview time) are still at testing stage, or only happening in particular relevant teams. Others we’ve adopted wholesale. Here’s the top three any organisation can do today:

  1. Make your personal specification about the job, not the candidate in your imagination.

We’ve stopped asking 'who is your ideal candidate?' when building a role description. It’s unhelpful and limiting. It hadn’t escaped our notice that recruiting managers would often describe themselves earlier in their career or people they’ve worked with in the past. And in a sector that isn’t as diverse as it should be that’s problematic. Instead, when we've identified a capacity need, we start by checking we're clear on what that 'need' actually is. What does the role exist to do? Then we think about what tasks go into getting that done. We use this to ask ourselves, 'what skills would I need to do those tasks?' Those become our personal specifications.

Just that. What skills do we need?

Realising it's not for us to dictate how someone gained those skills broke the recruitment field right open for us. We found ourselves meeting candidates with wildly different life experiences who wanted to (and could) do the jobs we were advertising. People who we could never have shortlisted if we'd scored on experience rather than skills. So pay attention to your personal spec. Filter out anything in the spec that isn’t going to make a difference when they are doing the job. It’s about equity folks, you want the best person for the job, not just the person who most closely fits the picture in your head.

2. Advertising

We advertised in different places. Yes, we still used Charity Jobs and The Guardian, but we supplemented this by local advertising - in community and mutual aid groups, in non-specialist recruitment sites, through our own newsletter. This move was so cheap it was practically free - and it was so effective. It turns out that when you work in a sector that isn’t quite as diverse as it should be, where we assume it’s obvious to look for jobs, isn’t obvious at all to talented candidates from other sectors. We’ve had applications from really experienced community members who worked in other sectors and who had never before considered working for us, but who were convinced of a values fit with us after seeing that we work hard to ensure local people know about jobs going here.

3. Transparency from day one

We play fair in the job pack. Applying for jobs is hard. As a job seeker, it’s difficult to know what will most interest a recruiter, what you should spend your time and space talking about. It often feels like a game you’ve been asked to play without anyone telling you the rules. And we’ve changed that. In our job packs, we describe in detail how we go about scoring applications to make it as clear as possible how to do well. Immediately we saw that we were getting fewer applications that we couldn’t shortlist - the quality of the information given was improving. Candidates understood that anything not stated couldn’t be scored. And we ended up shortlisting better candidates.

Three things, almost free. And they’ve allowed us to recruit a brilliant, diverse and incredibly talented cohort of team members in the last year.

I really hope these tips are useful, and I want to be honest, we're getting better, but we aren't there yet. This is an ongoing process of learning. Just last month I did a (paid) review of an application pack with an incredible applicant who we couldn't shortlist. I discovered so much I could do next time to make the next job more accessible to her.

I want to keep learning, we all do. I hope your next recruitment goes well - let me know what you learn from it.

I love to learn and connect - you can find me @edarcherthinks on Twitter.

To learn more about how to recruit talented people, come along to our free webinar on Thursday 20th January.