A new survey about hiring difficulties

Updated: Jun 7



Summary

We asked effective animal advocacy nonprofits several questions about which sorts of skills and expertise they find it hardest to hire for.


As with some of our previous evidence, this survey suggests that senior leadership roles are most difficult to hire for, followed by fundraising and development roles. There were some results that differed from our previous research, such as an absence of evidence that “IT or software” roles are particularly difficult to hire for.


We also asked some questions about what might make candidates for roles seem more or less promising. One surprising finding here was that having an additional year of volunteering with effective animal advocacy nonprofits using relevant professional expertise was evaluated more favourably than having an additional year of somewhat relevant paid experience.


Background

Much of the research we carry out at AAC — this survey included — is designed to help inform individuals planning their careers to help animals as much as possible, as well as to inform our own internal decision-making at AAC.


In late 2020, we carried out surveys of leadership and hiring managers at effective animal advocacy nonprofits in order to understand what the largest talent bottlenecks are in the effective animal advocacy community, i.e. which sorts of skills and expertise the community needs more of most urgently in order to achieve its fullest potential positive impact for animals.


We did not expect there to have been major changes since that time, and we are keen to avoid making excessive demands of our partner organisations, so we did not conduct a similarly extensive survey this year. However, we did ask a few questions relevant to talent bottlenecks when we sent out an expression of interest form about our ongoing recruiting service.


Methodology

We sent the expression of interest form to 93 organisations and received 37 responses (40% response rate). The inclusion criteria were the same as in our 2020 bottlenecks survey except that we also contacted an additional 17 nonprofits who had received funding from EA Funds’ Animal Welfare Fund in 2021.


In the tables in the “Results and discussion” section below, we use a five-part colour-coding system to visually represent what each analysis suggests about how difficult it is to hire candidates for various types of role:

These categorisations are subjective, so we encourage you to look at the numbers too. For ease of comparison, we also present the results next to the results from our recent analysis of our job board data: to understand the methodology of those analyses, we encourage you to visit that post.


Results and discussion

Category of work

We asked participants “How difficult is it to hire high-quality candidates for the following categories of roles or types of expertise?” We offered them the following options: “1 Not at all”, “2”, “3 Somewhat”, “4”, “5 Very much”. The “How difficult” column in the table below reports the average score for each category of role that was offered. Many of the limitations that applied to our 2020 survey would also apply to the findings from this question, although we used slightly different wording to last time.


We also asked respondents to “Think back to the past year or so. Are there any particular roles that you were hiring for where you would have been especially grateful to have had recruitment support from AAC? If so, why those roles?” This question was free form, but we categorised the responses into the same categories as offered in the other question. Some respondents provided no answer here, whereas others provided answers that fell into two or three different groups. The advantage of this question is that it forces respondents to think about specific, real-life hiring processes; it leaves less room for their biases or guesses to come into play. One disadvantage is that the issues that they encountered in the past may not apply going forwards for one reason or another.


Note, however, that the percentage of times that certain role types were identified in the answers to this question might reflect the relative frequency of different role types. Hence, in the table below, we report the frequency next to the percentage of different role types in that category that were identified in the analysis of AAC’s job board data, and colour code the findings based on their difference from that percentage.[1]

Many of the findings from this survey are consistent with our job board analysis and previously available evidence. For example:

  • Once again, we find evidence that leadership roles are some of the hardest to hire for.

  • Fundraising and development roles follow not too far behind.

  • We find further evidence that a number of role types are not as challenging to hire for as other role types, such as volunteer management, legal work, social sciences and strategic research, and operations.

There are a few findings that do not match up so well with the findings from the job board analysis. For example, whereas the job board analysis suggested that “IT or software” roles were likely some of the hardest to hire for, neither analysis from this survey provides further strong evidence for that.


Management responsibilities

We asked participants “How difficult is it to hire high-quality candidates for roles with the following levels of management responsibility?” We offered them the following options: “1 Not at all”, “2”, “3 Somewhat”, “4”, “5 Very much”. The “How difficult” column in the table below reports the average score for each level of management responsibility that was offered.

The findings from this survey broadly corroborate the finding from AAC’s job board data that the greater the management and leadership responsibilities, the more difficult it is to hire for. However, roles with volunteer/intern management responsibilities are notably less difficult to hire for, and specialist roles with no management responsibilities are still moderately difficult to hire for.


Indeed, in answer to the qualitative questions, one comment that came up frequently was that recruiting for roles that are quite specialised in one way or another can be more difficult than other roles. Interestingly, this wasn't very obviously related to the categories that we used; e.g. it wasn't just about technical IT roles or some such, but about people needing to focus on an unusual specific aspect of policy, marketing, or whatever else. (The only other theme that came up multiple times was that respondents found it hard to get people who were both mission-aligned and had relevant experience.)


One notable difference from the job board data is that the analysis here suggests that the difficulty of hiring head/directors of departments is more similar to the difficulty of hiring executive directors or C-level leadership than roles with junior management responsibilities, whereas the analysis of the job board data suggested the opposite.


Characteristics of excellent candidates for roles

As with our surveys from 2020, we also asked some questions intended to help us work out how AAC can best address the difficulties that the respondents faced. These questions are also relevant to individuals planning their careers to help animals as much as possible, because they provide evidence about which activities are most valuable to undertake in order to become an excellent candidate for roles in effective animal advocacy nonprofits.


We asked participants to “Imagine you are reviewing the applications from your top two candidates for a role with *no management responsibilities.* Imagine that they have a similar list of strengths, weaknesses, and experiences to date, but that one of the candidates has one of the following characteristics, that the other candidate does not. How much difference would each of the following characteristics make?”


We offered them the following options: “Would put you off this candidate” (coded as -1), “Little meaningful difference” (0), “Might narrowly break the tie” (1), “Slightly more likely to hire this candidate” (2), “Much more likely to hire this candidate” (3). We then asked the same question where we replaced “for a role with *no management responsibilities*” with “*for a senior management/leadership* role” and with slightly adjusted wording of the characteristics. The responses for both questions are reported in the table below.


(We defined “the effective animal advocacy (EAA) community” as “the community of organisations and advocates trying to work out how to help animals as effectively as possible.”)

Note that responses of “Would put you off this candidate” were very rare, with only 1% of responses, which compares 27% of responses of “Little meaningful difference.” Of course, undertaking the actions hinted at in the questions may have various other benefits and disadvantages not represented well by the wording of the question, which focused specifically on the likelihood that someone would be hired if they had undertaken them.


It is interesting to note that having an additional year of volunteering within EAA using relevant professional expertise (worded as “Has an additional year as an (unpaid) trustee, expert advisor, or pro bono leadership coach to EAA nonprofits” for the second question) was evaluated among the most promising options; even more so than having an additional year of relevant experience or participating in a selective EAA internship programme.


So readers preparing or testing their fit for roles in EAA may be interested to note that:


Footnote

[1] For example, although 25% of the respondents to this question mentioned that they would have been grateful for support with roles relating to marketing, communications, or PR, this is roughly the number we should expect given that 23% of effective animal advocacy nonprofit jobs advertised in the past year or so fell into this category. So while such role types are quite frequent, this analysis doesn’t suggest that they are unusually difficult (or easy) to hire high quality candidates for.

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