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Section 1. Developing a Plan for Staff Hiring and Training

Learn how to establish clear guidelines for hiring and training based on the needs of your organization; get the hiring and training right every time.


  • Why should you develop guidelines for hiring, orientation, and training?

  • How do you develop guidelines for hiring staff?

  • How do you develop orientation and training guidelines?

Hiring the right people and training them properly are the most effective ways to ensure the success of your organization. In this section, you will learn how to develop guidelines for the hiring and training process, while later sections in this chapter discuss how to use those guidelines to design a position and hire and train the best person to fill it.

Why should you develop guidelines for hiring, orientation, and training?

Why do you need to establish guidelines for hiring, orienting, and training staff? Why can't you just hire people and get going, and encourage them to learn on the job? There are a number of reasons why it's important to think carefully about what you're doing before you hire and train staff.

  • The ways people are hired and trained constitute their first impressions of the organization, and will contribute to how they feel about it over the long term, and to how good a job they do.
  • Developing guidelines will make you think about your plan and philosophy for the organization. Your hiring and training guidelines should reflect what you want the organization to be.

An organization that sees itself as democratic or dedicated to empowerment might run a hiring process that gives applicants a chance to act naturally and show their true strengths, rather than to have to respond to pressure or intimidation. It might also involve members of the target population, other staff, etc. in the actual hiring, in order to reflect its inclusive philosophy.

  • Having a clear set of guidelines to follow simply makes the hiring and training processes -- which are often time-consuming and difficult -- much easier and less stressful for all concerned.
  • It's important to have clear guidelines to show funders, potential employees, the community, etc. Developing guidelines accomplishes two purposes: it shows you've done your homework, and that you're a serious organization; and it protects you in case of an accusation of discrimination or a lawsuit by a rejected applicant.
  • Life is full of surprises, not all of them pleasant. The better prepared you are, the fewer surprises you'll encounter, and the easier your life and that of your organization will be. Staff hiring and training are two of the easier things in life to prepare for.
  • Most important, good hiring guidelines make it more likely that you'll be able to find and hire the right person for the job; and good orientation and training guidelines will help her do the job as well as she can, and enjoy it more as well.

How do you develop guidelines for hiring staff?

In developing guidelines of any sort for an organization, the first question that needs to be asked is who will work on them. As with so much else, the answer should reflect how the organization sees itself, although it will also depend on its stage of life. (Hiring staff for the first time, at the startup of an organization, is somewhat different from filling ongoing positions that have gone vacant, or hiring for a new position in an established organization.) Will participants be involved? Other staff? Board members? The community? Or will the guidelines be the work of one person?

In practice, an activity like developing guidelines usually isn't accomplished by committee. One person might take on the task of writing a first draft, and then a number of others will discuss it and make suggestions, until there's a version that everyone's happy with. The real question here is how inclusive you want to be about who gets to make suggestions.

There also may be external factors that affect what the organization can do. Is there a union involved, for instance, with its own guidelines? You may be, or may choose to be, subject to Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity guidelines, or to the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sometimes a funder, particularly one distributing public money, will dictate some hiring conditions, or even push for hiring a particular person. You have to take all of this into account as you 're making decisions.

Once you've determined who's going to work on the guidelines, that person or group needs to consider a number of issues.

  • What kind of people do you want as staff members? You may have a number of criteria, and those may involve the applicants? skills, their personal qualities, their commitment to or passion for your issue, and/or their demographic characteristics (you may be looking for someone who will blend in with the target population, or you may be trying to attain a certain level of staff diversity).

Something to consider carefully here is whether it's more important that the person has specific skills or experience, or that he is a certain type of person -- one who can fit well into the organization, or who will be accepted by the target population, for instance. If you're looking for someone to provide treatment to teens with sexually transmitted diseases, that person must have certain skills and knowledge. But it may be equally important to your organization that that person has particular interpersonal skills or personal qualities as well; and sometimes these may be more important than a body of knowledge which can be picked up as he learns the job. It 's often a tough choice to make, but it helps to know what you're looking for.

  • What can you afford? Will positions be full time or part time? Will there be benefits of some sort, particularly health, and do people get some portion of them regardless of how many hours they work? Are you willing to pay more for someone you really want, or for specific skills or experience?
  • What will the hiring process look like? You need to consider who (not individuals, but segments of the organization and/or the larger community ) will be involved, and at what points in the process. Who screens applications, who does interviewing, etc.? Other major issues in hiring are:
    • The drafting of job descriptions and selection criteria. Who will be involved in coming up with a final job description and in deciding what standards will be used for deciding who best can carry it out?
    • The format of the application and interview process. What kind of impression do you want to make on applicants, and how does that fit with your organization's view of itself?
    • The timeline. When does the hiring have to be finished, and have you allowed enough lead time for that to happen? (You can always rush things, but the results might not please you in the long run.)
    • Where are you going to find candidates? What kind of advertising of the job will you do, and where? And what do you need to include in the advertising in order to be legal (AA/EEO, for instance)?
    • How many good candidates do you want to interview, and how will you decide who gets an interview? Who will read and make decisions on application materials? How many levels of this kind of screening do you want to do?

At both the screening -- i.e. reading application materials -- and the interview stages, it is really important that there be clear criteria and a clear procedure for choosing or not choosing particular applicants. These can be highly formal -- scoring systems and the like -- or based on the more informal needs of the organization, but they must be explainable, applied consistently to everyone, and non-discriminatory. Unsuccessful applicants can be very unpleasant, and can even sue, if they feel they have been discriminated against because of their gender, age, race, etc. As long as you can explain why you made the choices you did, and back up your explanation with the standards that everyone used to make their decisions, you're likely to be safe.

  • How many stages of interviews do you want to do? One? Two? How much time will interviewers have to spend on this process, and do they have that time?
  • How will you actually choose and notify the successful candidate? What's your procedure if he doesn't accept?
  • How will you inform the other applicants once you've hired somebody?
  • Will there be a contract or some other form of agreement with the new staff person? Will there be a probationary period? If so, how long will it be, and how will it (or the staff member, if he doesn't work out) be terminated?
  • How will the hiring process be evaluated, and how will new ideas for improving it be incorporated into the guidelines?

If your guidelines touch on all the above questions, you'll have laid out the general shape of the hiring process for your organization. That process, if you've thought carefully as you've developed the guidelines, should demonstrate the kind of organization you want to be, and should be consistent with your mission, philosophy, and goals.

How do you develop orientation and training guidelines?

There are really three areas of training that effective organizations pay attention to. Orientation is aimed specifically at new staff members, and is meant to help them become familiar and comfortable with the organization. What is normally called training helps new staff people do their jobs better by focusing on the particular skills and knowledge needed for the position, and on how this particular organization applies them. Finally, there is professional development: education and training which goes on throughout a person's working life, and serves to help her continually improve at what she does. An organization that cares about the quality of its staff 's work will provide, or help staff members gain access to, all three types of training.


New staff members, regardless of their experience and skills, need timely and time-limited orientation to their positions and to the organization itself -- how it operates, who the other staff members are, what it considers normal, etc. Areas that need to be covered in orientation include the following:

  • The structure and general functioning of the organization -- which positions cover which areas, the role of the Board, who supervises whom, communication channels, organizational policies and procedures, any specific rules or regulations the organization or staff might be subject to, etc.
  • The philosophy and mission of the organization. How does the organization see its role in the community and the world? What does it actually want to accomplish?

The stated goal of the organization may not be its ultimate goal. Providing preventive health information or adult literacy services, for instance, may be only a step toward increasing the political sophistication and power of a particular group of people or a community. The real mission of an environmental initiative may be profound social change, rather than just the defeat of a proposal for a particular toxic waste dump. It's important that the staff of an organization understand and share its real sense of mission.

  • The structure and general functioning of the position. What exactly is the staff member expected to do, especially those things in addition to the obvious duties that go with the job title? What exactly are the benefits that go with the position? What kinds of resources does she have access to in order to do her job?
  • The role of supervision. How, and from whom, does she get supervision? When does she have to check with someone before she does things, and when can she act on her own? Who will she supervise, and what is the role of supervision in this particular organization?

There are at least two ways of looking at supervision. One consists essentially of the supervisor as watchdog, making sure that the staff member does her job right, and follows the rules of the organization. Too often, this has been the model followed in education, the one that generates horror stories of teachers being fired because their skirts were too short, or because they were critical of an assigned text.

The other view of supervision sees it as a mentoring relationship, aimed at improving performance through constructive feedback, suggestions, and discussion of situations. This is the model used most often in counseling and psychology, and more frequently now in education, medicine, and other areas. It is, in the writer's opinion, far more effective and useful than the other, and more likely to lead to real improvement in performance.

  • The people the new staff person will be working with, including other staff of the organization, staff from other organizations, and people in the community.
  • The day-to-day routine of the organization and of the site where the staff person will be working -- where everything is; who to ask for what; the guidelines for the use of computers, copiers, and other office equipment; who answers which phones; when lunch and payday are; where to park; how to use health and other benefits; etc. This area would also include instruction in security procedures, the use of office equipment, software, phone and fax systems, etc.
  • The organizational culture -- how people treat one another, and what kind of work behavior is considered "normal."

In some organizations, for instance, everyone is expected to work long hours without complaint; in others, everyone takes frequent breaks for conversation. In some, the hierarchy is observed strictly enough that administrators and line staff don't eat lunch together; in others, no distinctions are made, and friendships (and status ) span job categories and responsibilities. The issue is not that one culture is more effective than another -- sometimes two that look completely different can produce similar results--but that fitting into the culture is usually necessary, both for a staff member to be happy and successful in the organization, and for her job to be done well from the organization's point of view.

  • Understanding of and familiarity with the population the organization serves.
  • Understanding of and familiarity with the community and context within which the organization operates -- local supporters and detractors, local politics, funders, other organizations, etc.


Regardless of his previous background, any new staff member needs to be able to employ his skills in the specific ways required by his new position and by the organization. He also may need to learn new skills related to what he already knows, since the demands of the position may be somewhat different from what he's done in the past. The organization's training guidelines need to take into account what it is about the position that is different in this organization than in others, and just what a particular new staff member is likely to need to learn.

There may be other issues here as well. The organization may expect participants to be treated in certain ways. Organizational vocabulary may be different than in other places. (Many organizations refer to participants as "clients," for example, while others consider that term disrespectful.) While some issues of this kind may be covered in orientation, others may be specific to the actual practice of the staff member's job, and may not come up until he is actually doing the work. The purpose of training, after all, is to ensure that every staff member performs his responsibilities as well as possible.

Professional development.

Many people and organizations believe that education is not a thing you get, but a process that continues throughout life. Effective organizations believe that training is an educational process that continues throughout one's working life, and that the more staff members can learn that relates to their work, and the more skills they can acquire, the more innovative and competent they will be. As a result, they encourage staff members to continue their training far beyond the basics that the organizations supply.

They may offer continuing in-service courses and workshops, and/or they may offer release time or financial support for external courses, conferences, and other learning experiences. Some organizations require that staff members spend a minimum number of hours a year in professional development; others leave it up to the individual, but provide some kind of support. The goal in all cases is to make sure that everyone in the organization is constantly learning, a circumstance that makes it possible to continually reexamine and refine the organization's practices, and to make an effective organization even more so.

Many organizations work with staff members to design an individual professional development program for each one. The employee might draft his own plan, or it might be a joint endeavor. If the organization offers substantial financial support (paying for college courses, for instance), such a program might incorporate a formal or informal contract, stating the individual's professional development goals for the year, and an annual review of some sort to see whether goals were met and to plan the next year's program.

In forming guidelines for orientation, training, and professional development, there are some general questions that need to be considered.

Who will actually conduct the training in each area?

Will it be in-house (i.e. conducted by staff of the organization)? Are there other possibilities (e.g., people from other organizations, from local colleges or universities, hired professional trainers or consultants)?

If it's in-house, will the position's supervisor be involved? The Director? If it's external, might it include college courses or professional development opportunities provided by the state or funders?

In Massachusetts, the Adult Basic Education system has its own professional development arm, which offers courses -- at several locations around the state -- for new teachers in adult education programs, as well as ongoing professional development seminars, workshops, courses, and learning circles for teachers, counselors, and administrators. Courses are free to all staff members, because they are funded by the state Department of Education, supplemented by federal funding which requires each state to have a similar state resource center for adult education practitioners.

When in the staff person's tenure will orientation and training take place, and how long will they last?

Will orientation happen in the first week? The first month? The first two days? It's important that it happen early, certainly, so that the new staff member can hit the ground running.

How about training? Will it start immediately, or will you wait until the person has actually begun her job, and has some first-hand experience to build on? How much training will be standard, regardless of the staff member's previous experience, and how much will be tailored to the individual? By when should training be completed? A month? Three months? A year?

What forms will training in each area take?

A training program might encompass a mix of formal and informal styles and methods.

Formal training could include:

  • Direct instruction, in a classroom or other setting, where someone passes on information, procedures, etc. through lectures, slides, or other "standard" methods
  • Planned tours of facilities, neighborhoods, other organizations, etc.
  • Reading materials to be digested on one's own, and/or directed research
  • Apprenticeship: observing and working with one or more experienced staff for an initial period
  • Attendance at regular meetings, seminars, workshops, etc.
  • Learning circles (formal learning or research as part of a group of peers which sets its own agenda and requirements)
  • Direct supervisory feedback on workI

Informal methods of training:

  • Conversations and informal meetings with the Director, supervisor, other staff, participants, community members, staff from other organizations, etc.
  • Learning on the job
  • Keeping a personal journal to reflect on
  • Visiting other staff and other organizations

As with other aspects of the organization, the shape of the training should reflect the organization's philosophy. If the organization sees itself as one that encourages people to learn from experience, then the training should emphasize, or at least include, experiential learning. If learning is seen as a collaborative process, then the training should be a collaborative process. This isn't just fluff: the organization is ultimately more effective at accomplishing its mission if it spreads that mission through everything it does.

What materials need to be prepared for the training?

Some necessary printed matter, whether self-produced or purchased, might include a staff handbook or brochure (description of the organization, philosophy/mission statement, policies and procedures, salary and benefit schedules, antidiscrimination policy, etc.); information about the community; information about the initiative or organizational issue -- statistics, demographics, arguments and counterarguments, economic information; information from one's predecessor; and academic or other material pertaining to the issue or to necessary skills.

How, and by whom, will the training be evaluated?

How will you know whether training was effective, and whether it was seen as helpful by the trainees? The trainee, the trainer, and the organization (probably in the person of the trainee's supervisor) are all possible evaluators. Getting feedback from all three is likely to give the most accurate picture.

The method of evaluation could vary from the use of a standard, multiple-choice form to face-to-face discussion to a longer, open-ended written evaluation. The method you use depends on the needs of the organization and the form of the training.

How will the evaluation be used?

Evaluation is futile unless it is actually paid attention to and used to refine the training process. Each set of evaluations can provide information to incorporate into the next training cycle.

In Summary

Hiring the right people and training them well are the most important things you can do to ensure that your organization is effective. Establishing clear guidelines for hiring and training is a way to help your organization get the hiring and training right every time. If you can develop guidelines that reflect the character of your organization, are consistent with its philosophy and mission, and speak directly to the organization's needs, you're well on your way to a great staff and organizational success.

Phil Rabinowitz