Earlier this week we shared the first half of a blog by Executive Director & CEO of Theatre Deli David Ralf on their recent artistic director appointments of Nathan Geering & Ryan Harston. He covered the thought and behaviour process ahead of the appliction procedure as well as imagining the role, what language to use and how to share job adverts.
In Part II he covers application methods, whittling candidates down, unconscious bias and more.
Last time I wrote a little about my own experience with arts recruitment, especially in the context of appointing senior roles and providing robust accessibility through the process. I also shared some approaches to flexibility about the nature of the role, as well as examining how you might describe certain responsibilities and share the role as widely as possible. This time I’m continuing a whistle-stop tour through some aspects of the process you may wish to consider.
As an industry we are shifting away from the big multi-page application forms which have dominated the last decade at least. These applications have benefits: they can flatten some of the often-irrelevant advantages that well-laid out CVs and letter-writing skills can give to some candidates but they create huge amounts of work that can be off-putting to a lot of other candidates, and they make comparing candidates holistically more difficult. I believe it is a better approach to offer easier application methods and allow people to express their enthusiasm and their relevant experience in their own way. And if the role is not Chief Word Processor, you can strip out candidates’ fancy formatting before sharing with the panel, if you think it necessary. Common now is to take this one step further and allow applicants to apply by video/audio – a move which can especially benefit neurodiverse and disabled candidates. Video can sometimes encourage fancy production and editing from candidates who think it is a more dynamic way to impress a panel which is not the purpose of this gesture – not dissimilar to the fancy formatted letter writer. You could transcribe everything sent to the panel (assuming the panel do not have access needs of their own that require some other format), but if you decide it won’t be a deciding influence, this kind of application ‘packaging’ can still convey a lot about candidates’ priorities and expertise.
From the closing date onwards, the focus shifts. If the advert and application stage are about encouraging as many completed and sent applications from as wide a group as possible, the shortlisting and interview stages are about keeping every applicant in the running until a better candidate is clearly and undeniably identified.
As in the first part of this blog, you may find it useful to think about those ‘extreme edges’ of the role, and the various different kinds of successful candidate there might be. Unconscious bias creeps in even with the most well-meaning process, and so documenting and creating checks within your process is important.
As you remove a candidate from the process, ensure you write down at least one reason that they are not moving to the next round, and compare notes with your panel. Similarly, if the panel use a scoring system to compare candidates, examine those scores both for what they tell you about the candidates, but also for what they might reveal about your biases as a panel, and don’t be afraid to discuss these issues and whether there is enough uncertainty to keep someone in the running. The same CVs can look very different to two different people, and getting more granular with your discussion of candidates than vague ‘levels of experience’ will pay dividends in terms of confidently moving forward with the best candidates without resorting to selecting based on your default image of an ‘ideal’ candidate.
Once you have appointed, especially if you have managed to keep candidates in the running from backgrounds and with experiences that are not already well-represented in your organisation, then you will likely need to continue thinking about access: not access from outside in, but access through, access to support and access to success. Your new Artistic Director may have different expectations and needs from those that served their predecessor, or serve the organisation as a whole. Ways of working may need to change, and regardless of who your new team member is, on their arrival there will be a process of negotiation whether you actively engage with it or not. If you can’t make some accommodation in your organisational culture for a team member from a community that isn’t widely represented in the arts, there is a real risk that you will not retain them, and the impact of this will reverberate through the communities in question, especially when it comes to senior roles. Making robust plans for the first few months of the new employment, and actively engaging with what the working culture of your organisation is, will be incredibly valuable.
Keeping a creative and engaged eye on what other organisations are doing and why is really valuable – and sharing our approaches as a sector will give us strength. That said, there are no shortcuts. This work is active and ongoing, and you will find it needs to be revisited every time you advertise a position, because the world keeps turning, and we all keep learning. The language you use to encourage applications will need to be updated. Easier and fairer application processes will evolve, and the networks that different communities are immersed in will shift. I have been hugely supported in working through these approaches by the colleagues I’ve worked with, and I’m proud of these processes, but they have come with lots of learning of their own, and lots of opportunity to do better next time. Regardless, I have seen repeatedly that when an arts organisation deliberately and attentively holds open its doors, the energy, perspective and opportunity that enter through those doors is profoundly transformative and creative.
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