As the new year begins, headlines signal a shift in the job market, with fewer openings reported by the Labor Department and Indeed. But does this mean hiring top talent will be easier? Not necessarily. Even with fewer options, standout candidates won’t just appear. Hiring a top performer who can drive impact for your organization is less about reacting to a fluctuating job market and more about taking a structured, competency-driven approach. Avoid these common hiring mistakes that could stand in the way between you and your next great hire.

Mistake #1: Assuming Anything Is One Size Fits All

Hiring trends make it seem like candidates all want the same thing out of work. But it all just depends. Regardless of what’s happening in the job market, there will always be candidates who prefer hybrid over remote, in-person over hybrid, collaboration over independent work, etc. You name it, someone wants it. And someone else doesn’t.

To figure out what might attract a candidate to your organization, try engaging with your team. What drew your current staff to the work? What are they happy with? What would they improve? Use those insights to make a more compelling case for candidates (and improve the satisfaction of your current employees). For inspiration, check out SCAI CEO Francesca Dea’s strategies for gathering and using team feedback.

Mistake #2: Taking a Narrow View of Career Growth

Candidates often tell us they want to leave their current positions because they feel stagnant or plateaued—and it’s not always about money or title. What is the challenge of the job? What problems are you solving as a team or organization? What will a candidate be able to learn in the role? Emphasize those in your job ads and conversations with candidates (hint: top performers are drawn to a challenge).

Competitive compensation and attractive job titles do matter (see our guidance for determining compensation for new hires and defining a new job in your organization), but they are only one part of the bigger picture. Particularly in the nonprofit and association sectors, candidates are looking for more fulfilling ways to grow.

Mistake #3: Overcomplicating the Interview Process

In the era of virtual interviews, it’s a common mistake to add extra rounds that don’t really help the hiring decision. You may find it difficult to build consensus in fewer interviews (read how to make it easier here) or assume that virtual interviews are less taxing on candidates (they aren’t).

But more than three (four max) interviews can frustrate potential hires and increase your risk of losing them to another job. Read about the structured interview process we recommend here. In just three interviews and less than three additional hours of your leading candidates’ time, you should be able to gather enough information to make a well-informed hiring decision.

Mistake #4: Posting Lackluster Job Descriptions

Don’t underestimate the power of a well-crafted job description. Candidates often tell our team they were drawn to a position because the ad had so much context they could “see” themselves doing the work.

A generic listing fails to capture the essence of the role and your organization’s culture. Make the effort to create a compelling position overview highlighting the work’s opportunities and challenges.

And remember, every job description you post reflects your reputation in the market. Candidates equate the quality of the ad to the quality of your organization. For practical tips and examples, read our Guide to Effective Job Advertising or check out current postings on our careers page.

Mistake #5: Resisting AI

It’s 2024: Candidates will likely use ChatGPT, Grammarly, and other generative AI to craft resumes, cover letters, and even complete work assignments. And we think that’s ok. AI is just like any other resource. (Most jobs will require some AI proficiency in the future, so a candidate’s familiarity with these tools can actually be an asset. For example, NCMA CEO Kraig Conrad is already taking steps to integrate AI into staff workflows and member engagement.)

But the reality of AI requires updating your interview techniques. When talking with candidates, focus on real job challenges, emphasizing adaptability and problem-solving skills. Ask how they would shift their approach given an unexpected change or complex stakeholder needs. This will help you assess what truly matters: the human thinking behind the work. Here’s some specific guidance on how to ChatGPT-proof a work sample test.

Mistake #6: Focusing on the Wrong Things When Evaluating Candidates

We saved the worst (and most common) mistakes for last. It’s easy to focus on qualifications that don’t predict success—that’s what organizations have been doing for decades—but this limits your candidate pool. If you are looking for a certain level of education, domain or field knowledge, title, etc., make sure they are required to succeed on the job. Otherwise, move them to your “nice to have” list. Here’s a guide to help you evaluate candidates for the skills your team actually needs and take a more inclusive approach.

Hiring managers also often struggle with evaluating soft skills in the interview process, reverting to vague, generic questions. Soft skills are critically important to a successful hire, and there is a better way to interview for them. Here’s a guide to demystify soft skills for your hiring team.

We’d Love to Help You Hire Better

Helping clients identify, define, and measure key job competencies, soft skills, and working styles throughout the interview process is what the Staffing Advisors team loves to do best. If you’d like to learn more, check out the resources in our Employer Guide to Interviewing. Or better yet, contact us and let’s talk. We take pride in being thought partners to those in the Washington, DC, association and nonprofit communities, whether they become clients or not.