Navigating the Nuances of Hiring a Community Team Member

If you’re recruiting for a new member of your community team, how do you identify potential candidates, create a successful interview process and then support the on-boarding of your new team member? CEFP2019 Fellow, Liz Guzy, walks us through the steps.

As community managers we are often tasked with many different roles, including Human Resources. As projects launch and demands mount, we realize we can no longer do it all and must consider hiring additional staff, but this process can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing:

  • How do we carve out the time for the hiring process that we can be sure yields the best applicant pool?  
  • What if no one applies or wants to be part of our community?
  • How do we navigate adding members to our team when our community is still being established/growing?

But before getting too overwhelmed, it’s important to remind yourself that putting in the effort to hire the right person will make your job as a community manager easier! So, let’s breakdown the steps of the hiring process to explore some challenges and strategies.

Developing the Job Description

We all know the importance of the job description in attracting top notch applicants, but how do we best describe our community and the position if it is still developing/growing? Job descriptions should be a collaborative process and will never cover 100% of the actual duties of a position given the evolving needs of a developing community. Aim to engage your colleagues to participate in the creation or editing of an outline of a job description to help build buy in for the new position and to ensure it best represents the current needs of the community. However, this is also an opportunity for you to humanize and breathe life into describing the person you would like to hire and spend many hours of your life with.

So, your job description should:

  • Introduce your community
  • Describe the values, community overview, and vision for the community
  • List responsibilities and qualifications that you’re looking for in a candidate (“you are willing to learn, adapt, and admit you make mistakes” etc.)
  • Get people excited before they even get to know the job

When hiring within my organization, I develop a draft of the job description and pass it along to my team members for editing. We work collaboratively on a shared document to develop the best representation of what we envision the position to entail.

Working within an academic institution also requires us to include certain items like: job code and compensation grade assignments, percentage breakdown between tasks, and conditions of appointment (grant funded, travel involved etc.) The final posting must meet all university equity guidelines and must be approved by an employment specialist. Although this process is rather bureaucratic, I appreciate how collaborative it can be in ensuring an equitable hiring process. After the job has been posted on our university website, cross promotion with local and regional partners is key to helping cast a wide net for applicants we might not otherwise reach.

The interview

Your well-crafted and community vetted job description should yield candidates you would like to schedule interviews with. There is an enormous amount of pressure during interviews to present the best side of yourself or your organization. How do we ensure this representation is honest and that we are getting to know the applicant genuinely? When working with a hiring team, have you ever had drastically different opinions about the applicants during the interview process?

Are there interviewing tactics that can be used to see if potential applicants will realistically fit within the dynamic of the organization? Have you ever hired someone that turned out to be completely different from what you thought from their interview?

Some helpful tactics to address these concerns are:

  • Prepare! Do your research on the candidates.
  • Ask some off beat questions. This can help judge if someone is truly being genuine since they can’t prepare. This also helps gauge how they make decisions with little information (think of your best manager, what was their worst quality and why? What is your biggest career failure or success?)
  • Utilize the buddy system when interviewing. This allows for one person to make a personal connection with the candidate at a time while the other can take notes and think of follow up questions.
  • Develop benchmark questions with your hiring team to be used when interviewing multiple candidates. This way everyone has asked a few of the same questions so comparisons can be made more easily.

Try to remember that in an interview you are evaluating people less on their qualifications and more on their potential!

The on-boarding process

An essential step in setting up new hires for success and retaining employees is the on-boarding process. We have shared some great applications of the community playbook in the on boarding process through our CSCCE CEFP2019 cohort.

I plan to use the community playbook as an essential resource for new hires for learning the many processes, FAQs, code of conduct and navigating the dynamics of our community.

The persona development and “contact if” descriptors in the community directory are two tools that could be essential to a new hire’s success in navigating their first few months on the job.

Introduction meetings with key community members and the new hire can also help them better understand the community dynamics and create personal connections more quickly.

About the Author

Liz Guzy is the Administrator for the University of Washington, Center for Exposures, Diseases, Genomics, and Environment (EDGE) and the Superfund Research Program. She works to support the research community of these Centers including: access to resources, facilitating collaboration, and fulfilling the goals of these federally funded programs.


You can find more CSCCE-curated resources on hiring / becoming a scientific community manager here.