Skip to main content

Humanize Your Hiring Process — Here’s Why and How

Written by: Mordy Walfish
Published on: Mar 12, 2024

I was 16 when I applied for my first real job. Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, I set my sights on Tim Hortons, and one written application and two interviews later, I was in.

I’m pretty sure I was hired as a joke, or at least on a leap of faith. I was a scrawny, bespeckled Jewish teen, surrounded by brawny gentiles. When asked if I had any “heavy lifting” experience, I answered that I once did an archaeological dig in Israel … But there was something about the hiring process that felt so good, so human, and in many ways, it remains for me a model for a strong hiring process. The process was structured and clear. The interviewers were more interested in my ability to do the job than in a specific set of qualifications or background. They showed me what my day-to-day work would be like and what a possible trajectory for me would be (first you spend time unpacking boxes; once you’ve learned those ropes, you get to make, i.e., unfreeze, pastries; then you graduate to counter service). I had a chance to speak to other members of the team during the process and observe a typical shift. And my background was seen as an asset.

It’s hard to admit this, but in the early days of Leading Edge (the nonprofit where I’m COO), our hiring processes were weak. We didn’t really know what we were looking for, and we didn’t have systems that helped us reach clarity. We would put vague job descriptions out into the world and ultimately not hire for the role because we never quite found someone who fit the bill. That was a failure of our systems rather than a reflection of the candidates we reviewed or the state of talent in our sector.

Nearly two years ago, with the help of Kristen Dore and the team at Voyager Consulting, we completely redesigned how we recruit and hire employees. Our goals? We wanted to hire the best candidates from a diverse pool, and we wanted candidates to experience our values as they interacted with us. We envisioned a human process that treated applicants as equals, giving them the chance to evaluate a potential mutual fit between the role and themselves. Throwing one’s hat in the ring can take a lot of courage, especially when the work is so entangled with our identities and sense of purpose. For those who did not get a job with us, we hoped to leave them intrigued about working in the nonprofit world. We wanted people to feel better, not worse, about themselves after pursuing a job at Leading Edge.

Two years and six hiring processes later, the results have been outstanding. We are thrilled with our new colleagues and are more confident than ever that they are the very best fit for their roles.

We also have also received positive feedback from outside leaders and organizations that have seen our job postings — and from people who have applied for jobs but were not hired. Our process “creates equity and humanity in a hiring process that can sometimes feel shaded or intentionally secretive,” one applicant told me. “I really appreciated the experience with Leading Edge and the interview process,” wrote another person we didn’t hire. “Regardless of the outcome, this process is very humanizing.”

Here are six important things we do differently now at Leading Edge.

Highlight skills, not credentials. We work hard to first understand and then communicate in the job posting what it will take to succeed in the job that is open. That means defining with crystal clarity what the person will do, whom the person will work with, and the skills and traits needed. We avoid asking for credentials like specific academic degrees or years of experience, because those aren’t the things we actually need, and requiring them might lead us to overlook amazing candidates or discourage some from applying. When we know the skills and traits we need, we put them into a rubric and evaluate candidates based on that rubric — not on random feelings or reactions we may have. That keeps us away from phrases like “not a cultural fit” or “my gut tells me …,” which are ways of staying trapped in bias and vagueness.

Create job postings with all the information. Among the other basic details (full-time/part-time, location, skills, etc.), we always specify the salary range in our job postings, which goes a long way toward equity and ensuring that no one’s time is wasted. We give people much more than the minimum information.

We create an extensive FAQs document for every role and link to it the job posting. This keeps all applicants informed, democratizes access to information, and mitigates advantages for people who know the organization. Here’s one recent example of an FAQ. It shares information such as day-to-day role activities, what success looks like after one year, a little about the role’s supervisor, and even what might be challenging in the role.

It may seem a bit countercultural to be upfront about some of the “blemishes” in a job posting (e.g., a detail-oriented culture, periods of intense workload), but every job has challenges. It’s a sign of respect for candidates to reveal what ours are. Then, candidates can decide for themselves if they are willing and able to tackle these challenges.

We also clearly lay out each step of the process and the overall timeframe. We include a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion explicitly, and we try to be thoughtful about how the role might appeal across demographic groups (sometimes using external resources like Textio, which helps employers use more inclusive language). Beyond the explicit information we include, we also work hard to convey our organizational culture implicitly in the tone and voice of the job posting.

Cast a wide net. To get the most quality and diversity into consideration, we post our opportunities in many places — from LinkedIn,, and the major job aggregators to outlets like CareerHub and the Hire Black Initiative. For each recruitment, we mobilize all staff to spread the word to their networks. At the same time, we don’t want to create an unfair advantage for people we know. So, if someone reaches out to a staff member to chat about a role or ask us to “put in a good word,” we say no. (We do allow staff and other stakeholders to share thoughts about candidates in the final stage.) Even if a staff member knows of a great candidate at the start, we still post the job and consider that person among other candidates. This can both alleviate bias and ensure we find the genuinely best fit for the role.

Bye-bye to cover letters. Many organizations require cover letters and judge applicants based on how well they write them — even if writing letters has nothing to do with the job. Instead of cover letters, we have candidates submit a video introduction, which lets them show other forms of intelligence and personality and gives us a more multidimensional picture of applicants.

Avoid groupthink. We create a hiring committee that represents different perspectives within the organization, in terms of organizational operations and demographics. These team members review each candidate separately — evaluating them on a rubric without knowing what other team members think. Only after each person evaluates candidates separately do we talk about them together.

Structured interviews. To minimize bias and allow for the best apples-to-apples comparisons of candidates, we keep interview questions consistent for all candidates and evaluate their answers based on our prepared rubrics. Research has shown that structured interviews with evaluation on predetermined criteria are much better predictors of future performance than improvised conversations. Keeping all interviews close together in time (within one or two days) also reduces recency bias.

I admit that this highly structured hiring process is a lot of work and time — for me and for my colleagues. I can understand managers and leaders thinking, “I just don’t have the time.” Yet nobody has time not to invest in a robust hiring process. Getting the right people in the door is the single most important way leaders and managers can drive amazing results.

And it’s not just about the people we hire — it’s about the people we don’t hire. The applicants we don’t hire are still our community members, our consumers, or our stakeholders in some other way. Even if I hadn’t been hired by that Tim Hortons, I still would have been a consumer of coffee and doughnuts in Hamilton, Ontario — so I mattered to the company either way. A hiring process that respects and regards everyone who goes through it can enhance our brands, our teams, and ultimately, our communities. That’s more than worth the effort.