So You Are Hiring. What Are Your HR Practices?

It seems the week to discuss Human Resource practices. Drew McManus posted the first in a series about the lack of good resources among orchestras to help address difficulties in the work environment today and Aubrey Burgauer mentioned something similar in post about hiring practice in arts organizations she made last week.

Since Drew is still rolling out his thoughts, I want to focus on Aubrey’s post today. One of the first things she mentions, along the same lines as Drew’s post is that never in her career, from the time she was supervising an intern to when she was overseeing a department of 17 people to when she became executive director of an orchestra, did anyone ever teach her how to properly conduct a search and hire staff.

Even if you have read a lot about good hiring and interview practices, there are a number of things she discusses that aren’t usually covered in articles and conversations on the topic. Given that people are looking for the arts organizations to really step up their efforts at equity and inclusion, it bears frequently examining your process.

Don’t count on outsourcing hiring to a search firm to alleviate your responsibility in this. Frankly, outsourcing may be a detriment to your search. I see ever lengthening lists of job openings in emails I receive and sites I visit, and have checked out a couple listings. One search firm with major clients in the industry uses a form for application submissions that not only requires you to attach a document listing four references–it then asks you to fill in fields with the contact information for those self-same people.

Again completion of every field and attachment is mandatory for one to submit an application for a job. I expect that from higher ed hiring sites. It is somewhat surprising to see a recruiter for mid to executive level arts administrators using it.  How can you look for leaders who will welcome audiences back to the arts when you erect inane barriers to application?  I wonder how much the plethora of openings is due to people saying “nope!” to these forms?

Additionally, they have a Black Lives Matter statement right on the top of their site, but don’t seem to have considered that many applicants of color may not have four industry references to help them get past the gatekeeping form.

In any case, Aubrey reinforces many of the things you may have heard recently about hiring practices like evaluating whether a degree or a lengthy amount of experience is really required for the job being posted.  She points out that doing something for a lengthy period of time or doing it at a famous arts organizations doesn’t mean a person can actually do the job well.  What you are looking for is capacity to be effective, not longevity or notoriety.

Aubrey also suggests examining the language being used, noting that some terms like “ninja” and rock star” have gendered associations.

She also addresses the big topic of the day – putting salary range in the job posting:

….Or sometimes organizations are embarrassed to publish the salary range because they think it’s not competitive. Just stop…the range is what it is. Do we need to be more competitive with our salaries (especially in the arts and nonprofit sector)? Yes. But if it is what it is, don’t try to hide it is the point here.


…You can say that when making the offer: “You know, you are absolutely the person for this job, but I noticed we’re going to have to focus on xyz as you ramp up here. And that’s why I’m coming in at the middle of this range.” That’s a very honest offer to make as well as very clear about setting that person up for how they’re going to come in and enter that role. Another scenario is maybe they are that superstar and they’re amazing. Then you get to make the offer and say, “You’re the one. You are everything that we’re looking for. That’s why I’m coming in at the very top of this range, putting out the best offer I can for you.”

In terms of the interview process, Aubrey discusses behavioral questions (“tell me about a time when…”) & situational questions, (“What would you do…,”) advocating for using behavioral questions whenever possible because that is the best predictor of the future.

I appreciated when she used the example of hiring someone with skills in an area arts organizations aspire to but haven’t really cultivated people with a lot of experience.

…I was hiring for a role that necessitated someone strong at SEO (search engine optimization)…But within the arts, very rarely are we focusing on SEO, so my candidate pool wasn’t full of people who had tons of prior SEO experience…. So instead I was able to use hypothetical scenarios because this would be a novel situation for the future employee. “What would you do if you were to come here and had to ramp up and become an expert on SEO? What would that look like?” And it really helped me determine who knew exactly where they were going to look for training and how they were going to become an expert in that subject matter.

In light of the post I made last Monday about signs that people without prior non-profit experience were migrating to arts jobs, I felt like this particular sentiment was among the best she made.  Whether they are coming from inside or outside the arts world, given the lengthy listing of job openings we see these days I suspect it may become necessary to hire people without specific experience in some of the job responsibilities and so interview questions will indeed be about how resourceful people will be in acquiring those skills.

And hopefully organizations will be supportive with resources and time in helping them acquire those skills rather than resorting to the sink or swim training methodology.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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