Hiring Zombie Fundraisers…not

In today’s zombie series, IFC CEO, John Baguley takes a close look at how not to recruit a zombie into your fundraising team…

When I worked at Amnesty or was it at Friends of the Earth or maybe at the Medical Foundation, I found that our new well organised recruitment process wasn’t working in the way I intended. We had carefully written the fundraising job descriptions to fit one side of A4: covering reporting relationships, a clear summary for the job and an agreed list of specific tasks plus an “and anything else we ask you to do” get out clause. Then we wrote a person spec which really showed the kind of person we wanted, and listed how we would discover each characteristic either in the interview, from their CV or with a test; though mostly it came down to the interview. We set aside three-quarters of an hour for each interview with a fifteen minute break between candidates and set of maybe 8-10 questions; which related directly to the person spec throwing in a human rights or a diversity question at the end.

All that tied the interview process together with a clear explicable logic, however, the problem was that I was faced with a set of people who answered all the questions quite well; which meant we really fell back on who we liked best, which easily becomes ‘people like us’. Of course we diversified the interview panel but I was not a happy bunny. Then I discovered how the zombies had slipped in – despite opinions to the contrary, zombies can be quite cunning, and the Human Resources people were dutifully sending out the person spec with job description, so given a modicum of astuteness, everyone could see the obvious lines of questioning and prepare themselves.

So, didn’t we ask for references? Of course we did and what a sense of relief it was for employers to give a reference to a zombie who wasn’t much good at their job, even when they made it all the way in to work, but wasn’t actually so bad they could be fired without a long haul through target setting, proof of incompetence and the fear of an unlawful dismissal case – where is Lord Sugar when you need him?

Today you might be willing to give your right arm for a set of fundraisers with the right experience – though that would be a bit of a give-away in itself – but losing the ability to really check potential employees experience and fit with the work and organisation was a nightmare.

Have you read the biography of Howard Hughes or seen the film ‘The Aviator’? There is a tale told of how he interviewed for his director of finance. Instead of asking the usual questions about finance he asked him questions like “How does a battleship sight its guns?” so that he would have to think through problems instead of giving an answer from memory. More recently Google has developed a system of questions with obscure answers or indeed no right answer at all, and finds that this enables them to choose between a set of over-qualified over-achievers and find the right person for the job. No zombies have been detected lurking at Google as far as I know.

“You are shrunk to the height of a penny and thrown into a blender. Your mass is reduced so your density is the same as usual. The blades start moving in sixty seconds. What do you do?” Quoted in ‘Are you smart enough to work at Google’ by William Poundstone.

Answering “Pray” won’t get you the job.

“You are surrounded by 25 zombies, half are drunk and half are sober but you can’t tell which is which. Those with red hands have knives and those with staves are sober. Given two vampires to help you how high can you build a zombie pyramid?”  Er, sorry that was a nightmare not a question.

I think most of us could improve our interview procedures by taking more time to engage with our interviewees thought processes and step outside the rigid grid and revolving door interview process, where candidates tend to blur into each other after a while and plausible zombies can sidle through undetected.

We may also find some of those candidates who don’t have the ‘right’ experience actually have experience which would enable them to come up to speed pretty quickly and avoid us re-advertising only to end up with a new list of seemingly unemployables. Maybe people who have done something other than climb a career ladder can cope with the challenge of fundraising today better than the ‘right’ candidate, but we may also need new tools to test these people’s suitability.

What do you think?