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How to Recruit the Best People for your Arts Organisation

The challenge of finding and retaining the most talented people should be approached with a great deal of care. Image credit: Nicola Young

For any business, recruiting the right people for the job is absolutely critical to its success. In the arts, it’s exactly the same. Often, there’s a long list of things to consider to make sure you’re recruiting the right person. Skills, experience in the sector, education, cultural fit and budget are just a few.

But with many talented people out there with plenty to offer and a highly competitive employment market, how can your arts organisation make sure it’s competing effectively? Are you benchmarking your organisation against the right sectors? And is your organisation doing enough to find and retain the right people while making sure those people continue to add value to your organisations? With tough questions like these, here are six ways to attract and retain the best people for your organisation.

1. Widen your search

Scanning job ads on various arts recruitment sites, it’s surprising how different organisations tend to look for quite similar types of people. Included in most wish lists is someone with ‘a passion for the arts’ and ‘a proven track record in the arts’. While there are obvious benefits to recruiting people from within the sector, no organisation should shy away from casting the net a bit wider to see what’s out there. Every team should have a diverse range of experience and skills to help make an organisation as successful as it can be, so the approach to recruitment should reflect the fact that those skills may exist in candidates who have not worked in the arts before.

2. Write a job description that reflects your organisation

Job descriptions in the arts can sometimes read like shopping lists, with essential and desirable criteria aimed at getting someone who can hit the ground running. When a job becomes available, either a new role or a position that has become vacant, giving careful consideration to the how it is described is vital. Rehashing an old job description is unlikely to reflect how an organisation has changed since it last recruited for a similar position and won’t reflect future plans. A better approach is to focus on the goals of the role in the medium and longer term and identify the essential skills and experience needed to achieve them. Making it a requirement that these are agreed by the internal stakeholders from all departments will help ensure compromises are not made simply to shortcut the recruitment process.

3. Focus on their value, not the cost

In order for arts organisations to compete for the best candidates, the salaries on offer need to be aligned with similar roles in comparable sectors. With budgets stretched, the temptation is to benchmark salaries against roles with similar levels of seniority and responsibility within the organisation and pitch at the lower end of the scale. While this may work for some roles, it may limit the calibre of candidates who will be attracted to roles with greater responsibility. In addition to looking to comparable sectors, looking also at the additional value a more talented candidate could bring to your organisation and being prepared to negotiate on salary to attract them will offer the best chance of getting the best person. A desire to work for an arts organisation, however high profile, will not always be enough to draw the most talented people to work for you.

4. Approach recruitment with a marketing mindset from start to finish

For many, the recruitment process will be their first introduction to an organisation and its culture. The time and effort put into a job description designed to attract the highest calibre candidates will be wasted if they are put off by an over complicated application process or unreasonably tight turnaround times. The interview process should reflect the role and the experience of people applying, with candidates given sufficient time to prepare. Attempting to catch people out in an effort to understand their ability to think on the spot may reflect badly on the organisation and discourage the best candidates from going through to the next stage. Instead, focus should be on a balanced application and interview process that will determine a candidate’s relevant skills, critical thinking and problem solving abilities.

5. Make sure they’re a cultural fit

Testing for cultural fit should form part of any robust recruitment process. This is particularly important for arts organisations, which are often made up of smaller teams with very different functions. Arranging time for candidates to meet team members in a social situation will help identify if there is a good fit and allow the wider team to be part of the process. It’s vital to have a balanced culture too, particularly if part of the aim of bringing a new person on board is to change existing thinking or practices. People who might challenge their new colleagues with a different perspective will benefit your organisation, but they must demonstrate the skills to do this in a constructive way.

6. Know that recruiting doesn't end with hiring someone

With many arts organisations facing significant challenges in maintaining a fully resourced team, there is probably plenty of work for any new starter to get on with. People are often thrown in at the deep end, being handed new or partially completed projects or a backlog of work on day one. There is a significant risk that this approach could swamp the talent and creativity which was identified during the recruitment process. A well planned induction period should give new starters a chance to understand the culture and practices of the organisation, develop positive relationships with colleagues and begin planning their approach to their role. It’s not just about finding someone, it’s about nurturing their potential.

There’s no doubt that a career in the arts is an exciting and desirable prospect for many, offering the opportunity to work with people who create amazing work that enriches people’s lives. The challenge of finding and retaining the most talented people should be approached with a great deal of care and arts organisations shouldn’t underestimate or undervalue the critical role operational and administrative teams play in the creative process. Being clear from the beginning on every role and the value it can add, the skills needed and the cultural values all team members should share will help strengthen the workforce with each new appointment and contribute to the overall success of the organisation.