Rockstar Recruitment: How To Hire The Best People

by Joan Garry

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A year and a half ago, we finally met the person we had only known as #97. We knew only that #97 scored off the charts on the skills and competencies we were looking for. 

Miguel Espinal from Miami, Florida arrived in the U.S. at the age of 20 from the Dominican Republic. He is very, very good at his web developer job and a team player of the highest order. We often call him Lucky 97. But to be honest, we are the lucky ones to have hired him.

I don’t know how to find clever emojis on Slack, the platform our firm uses to communicate because our team is fully remote, but Crystal Casares – our project coordinator – sure does. One morning recently, I saw a cute little red backpack next to her name.

I ask my colleague Christie if Crystal is doing something for professional development.

Nope, said Christie. She is finishing her bachelor’s degree and there was one course she could only take in the mornings a few times a week.

I had no idea that Crystal was not a college graduate. I had zero judgment but I had all these feelings. I realized I had no idea about the educational status of Crystal. Or Miguel. In fact, I knew nothing about the educational status of any of our past four hires (all made in the last two years). Each one of these individuals is terrific and we feel very lucky to have them on our team.

I remember talking to each of them on their first day with us. I love to ask folks how they felt when they saw our job posting. Several of them told me something that was music to my ears:  That’s it! That’s my job! THIS is what I am looking for!”

As part of our work to be a culturally intelligent organization where everyone feels a sense of safety and belonging, we transformed our recruitment process in two very important ways. These two simple strategies brought us many more qualified and diverse candidates (I use this word broadly) and were key to making four hires that are great for us and our new team members.

For those of you out there who struggle to find great candidates for open positions, often leading you to fill roles with a sense of urgency – which is never a good approach – I believe these two strategies will help you with successful recruitment.

Spoiler alert: one of these strategies is simple and hard all at the same time. I’ll start with the easy one first.


My younger daughter Kit has been looking for work in the nonprofit sector and has asked for my coaching advice. As a result, I have looked at hundreds of ads on Indeed and Idealist. Together we looked at the facts, skills, and experience required. Fortunately, given what I do for a living, I can provide Kit with context for the kind of work the nonprofit does and why it matters. It has opened her desire to submit many more applications. There have been situations in which my daughter does not have the qualifications but because of the enthusiasm our conversation generated, she applied anyway with fingers and toes crossed.

To use your job post as a sales tool will not cost you more money – except maybe a little bit more based on word count. A very small price to pay.

There are two components to a successful job posting:

  • The WHY:  I should read your post and feel like I could make a real impact on real people in some way by being a part of this organization. The stronger the WHY the more likely folks will apply, even if the salary is not exactly what they hoped for.
  • The WHO:  I should read your post and feel in my bones that you have a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion. I should feel it, and a basic EEO statement may actually make me feel less confident about that commitment. I need to feel a real sense of authenticity with at least some connection to a broader commitment to DEI.


Kit arrived at a group interview for a case management job for which she was extremely qualified. The very first question was the last question she was asked because the interview ended with her response.

Question: Do you have a bachelor’s degree?

Answer: No. I completed 3 years toward my bachelor’s degree and then went right into the mental health field with four years of experience and excellent references.

I’m not sure the interviewer heard anything beyond “no.”

It was an experience that was terribly demoralizing to Kit and my bigger point here is that the nonprofit organization missed out on a compassionate, responsible, and capable case manager for clients who need and deserve one.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Why was a college degree required when she had been doing the same job for four years?

It wasn’t. By eliminating the requirement for a college degree, the doors open wide to a vast array of qualified candidates. Candidates like Crystal. 


1. Start with Education

Create a matrix of skills, competencies, and unique knowledge requirements for the position. In our case, we needed someone who was a whiz with the app, Monday. Next, remove any references to education from the job posting. Finally, have the incoming resumes scrubbed of any educational background information before you begin screening. (This can be done quickly and inexpensively through Fivrr).

Crystal checked all the boxes on skills and competencies and because education was scrubbed, the team could evaluate her purely on what mattered most to us, mainly: did she possess the qualifications and experience to do the job? (The answer proved to be a resounding yes and her formal education was immaterial to answering that question.)

2. Commit to Full On Blind Hiring

Eliminating the education requirement and scrubbing resumes for any reference to their education is a step. The full process can significantly reduce the risk of bias. In this process, identifiers such as name, address, education, and anything on the resume that may allow the reviewer to make assumptions about the applicant’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity are removed.


The changes to our recruitment process were made after our team had worked with a DEI firm for well over a year to craft a vision statement and business case. We completed some deep work to explore and strengthen our individual and team cultural intelligence.

Even so, eliminating educational requirements and identifiers about where potential candidates attended school (if they had) provoked some excellent (and hard) conversations that revealed the team’s blind spots around bias. Expect a conversation in which someone says: “But it matters to me that the candidate finished college or went to X kind of college” and dig deeper. Have a real conversation about what education tells you about the candidate or what that degree tells you about the attributes of the person. What are the values of your organization and how does a degree inform you about how your candidate will bring those values to life?

For us, these tough conversations strengthened our team and its resolve but it is a DEI journey for a reason. Don’t be surprised if you make the suggestion and it is met with resistance by staff or board. If you are not already doing deep work to be more inclusive as an organization, the conversation may be the catalyst your organization needs.


Changing your recruitment strategy and process is bigger than “just” improving your DEI intelligence. 

If we had not scrubbed our applicant resume of education identifiers – just that alone – we may have missed an opportunity to hire Crystal and that would have been a mistake. Even if we said we didn’t care about education, that bias that is always there with us might have found its way into the screening or recruitment process or in some ways led us to assume things about Crystal.

I don’t know a ton about Crystal’s story but I do know she is raising a daughter and going to school at night. I admire her for that. It tells me about her grit, determination, and her ambition. I might even assume it says something about who she is as a mom, modeling what she sees in the importance of education.

Here’s the moral:

There are many, many people like Crystal and my daughter Kit who could be rockstar employees that any sentient organization would be lucky to have. 

When we neglect to sell the opportunity to inject a big, fat dose of meaning and purpose into the life of a candidate and then create barriers for those looking for purpose who have the chops to do the job, our sector loses out because great candidates can easily – and unfairly – be overlooked.


So many nonprofit leaders complain about how hard it is to fill jobs. Many ask me how and where to look to recruit more diverse staff. There is no shortage of amazing people looking for jobs.

If recruitment is a challenge for your nonprofit, it may be time to think differently about how you approach the recruiting process. It begins with recognizing your own bias so that you can clear the lens through which you identify the candidates that are perfectly aligned to serve in the deep trenches of purpose and mission. 

Hope this helps.