Recruiting Top Talent to Associations Requires a New View on Hiring

HR By: James Zaniello

In an evolving marketplace, the competition for attracting top talent to associations is fierce, and the stakes have never been higher. Success requires thinking beyond traditional hiring practices and building a brand that spells a welcome experience.

Recruiting top talent has never been an easy process. Done well, it takes time and hard work. We also know that the job isn't getting any easier. The marketplace is evolving, and associations must evolve with it. There is no choice, really. We all know what happens to associations that don't accept the realities of change and adapt to them.

One of the more subtle but nonetheless critical changes involves the rising stakes for our organizations. In the association and nonprofit world, the stakes have never been higher. What's more, these organizations play a larger and larger role in our society every day, as government resources seem to shrink and as groups clamor to be heard in the debate.

With so much at stake, organizations see the need for not merely good leaders, but great leaders. The result is a changed market for leadership talent, a market defined by greater competition for the best of the best.

Think Outside the Box

Not surprisingly, we have to be willing and able to reach across a world that is at once bigger and smaller than ever before. The ideal candidate may be next door or several oceans away. He or she may come from a more diverse cultural background or even from a professional background or discipline that isn't immediately apparent but is nonetheless valid. We have to think and act globally and be culturally more aware than ever before. We must be willing to think outside the box, looking not just at the usual suspects for any given position, from traditional professions or backgrounds.

We have to recognize a changed dynamic between the recruiter and the recruited. In a bull market, the law of supply and demand still applies. Highly sought-after candidates can make bigger, tougher demands; they negotiate harder, with considerations often extending far beyond simple compensation and the usual transitional accommodations. For example, school quality and day-care availability can be as important as the company car and the size of the expense account to some candidates. There is an increasing demand that our organizations understand such bigger considerations, and not just why we need to accommodate these candidates but also how best to accommodate them. 

In the quest for top leadership, there is also a need to find these leaders faster, more efficiently and with greater reliability than ever before, and at a reasonable cost. There is a rise of reliance on web technology and the social and professional media as a component of—and in some cases, substitute for—the traditional search process. There is an opportunity to use global technology to match written job specs with candidate resumes. More and more candidates turn first to sites such as LinkedIn as a critical tool in their career-development—a ubiquitous bulletin board for keeping tabs on the market, spotting relevant opportunities, and much, much more. Associations need to embrace helpful technology, but there is a need for the human factor in the search process: the application of experience, judgment, adaptability and so on.

Does Your Brand Attract Top Talent?

To effectively recruit top talent, organizations need to be able to identify and articulate the employer brand to appeal to these top candidates. This will be helpful in not merely finding but sustaining top leaders. To be competitive in the marketplace, organizations must be capable of telling their stories effectively and persuasively. We must be proficient at negotiating and facilitating the onboarding process. We must be willing to take on larger roles in performance assessment and career development.

As organizations are looking to recruit the top candidates, we must also remember to treat candidates fairly. Even if a candidate is not selected by the organization, candidates need to believe they have been treated fairly and with due respect and consideration. This reflects on the employer brand and how the organization is perceived holistically.

Finding the top talent in association management is an evolving process, with demand increasing for those who can take an organization to the next level. It is important to find unique venues to locating new talent, embrace technology that can make finding these people easier, and respect candidates that are in the search process.

James Zaniello

James Zaniello is president and founder of Vetted Solutions LLC in Washington, DC.