Values Based Recruitment for Non-Profits [Ultimate Guide]

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
February 1, 2022
9
 min read

Non-Profit Interview Question Cheatsheet

How do you find value-aligned talent without compromising on quality or diversity?

Here at Applied, we believe that by focusing on values and skills over someone’s background, you get the best, most diverse hires who are more likely to stick around.

Any candidate could find your organization’s values on your website and repeat them back to you - below we’ll show you how to inject your values into every step of the recruitment process to find people who will live and breathe them in their everyday work.

Hiring for your non-profit? Find out how we can help you debias and data-proof your hiring here.

What is values based recruitment?

Values based recruitment means assessing how aligned candidates are with your organisation's core values.

Although this style of kind of recruitment is typically used for thing like healthcare and social care, we work with mission-driven organizations across all kinds of industries who care about finding people aligned with their values, from tech companies to non-profits.

You can read our Full Guide to Debiased Third Sector Recruitment here.

Values mapping 101

Your first step in building a values based recruitment process is to decide on the values that you'll be assessing.

If you're starting from scratch, you can check out this guide to how we redefined our own values.

At Applied, we crowdsourced ideas from the team - asking them what they think your organization's goals, strengths and guiding principles are.

Below is an example canvas (not our own):

Team Canvas Example

Once you have your values down, you'll need to make sure they can be translated into characteristics and beliefs that can be used in everyday work.

This means you can easily look for them when assessing candidates.

Applied values

These core principles will form the bedrock of your values based recruitment process.

Whilst you won't be able to test for every value in every role, we'd recommend taking one or two of the most important or relevant values and adding them to the list of skills you're looking for.

Values based recruitment vs culture fit

Whilst you absolutely should be looking for people who will embody your core values, problems arise when we start framing this as ‘culture fit’.

Company culture is largely subjective, and when viewed as something that must be ‘fit into’ ,this can result in unfair outcomes as a result of bias.

If your organization is made up of a fairly homogeneous team, then chances are, your culture will be reflective of this dominant demographic - and anyone outside of this will be (albeit subconsciously) penalized. 

Culture fit isn't just unethical, its also pretty poor at identifying the best performers and those who are more likely stick around, as we can see from the study below.


By looking for values-alignment instead of ‘culture fit’, you’re able to find people who will work harmoniously with your team without their identity, hobbies and interests influencing decision-making.

You’re not looking for people who will be fun at the Friday social…

You’re looking for people who value the ways in which your non-profit works.

Start by listing the skills needed for the job

The first step in your values based recruitment process should consist of deciding on the skills needed for the job.

All too often, people will jump straight to the job description to reeling off requirements and duties. However, probably the most important part of your recruitment process is thinking deeply about the skills, capabilities and values that you want the person to bring in this role.

We use the term skills as a catch-all for a skill, capability, trait, characteristic, values or any other thing that we feel is important.

Knowing what you want before starting the process means that you can not only be more targeted in your job adverts, but also more objective when it comes to assessments.

We'd recommend listing 6-8 core skills...

  • Hard skills: SEO, PPC, Javascript, SQL etc
  • Soft skills/working characteristics: Communication, Organization, Stakeholder Management, Prioritization
  • Values: Trust, Empathy, Own and Drive Change

Here's an example skills map for a Data Scientist Role:

Applied example skills map

As you can see there is a good mixture of value-based and technical skills.

Once you know what you're looking for, you can begin to build assessments around them.

Make sure you’re attracting value-aligned candidates

Values based recruitment starts with sourcing. Your job ads will be the first touchpoint for most candidates - so make sure you get your organization’s values across.

At Applied, we embedded our values into our job descriptions in two ways…

1 - Treat values like skills that are needed to perform in the job

Company values can be vague and ambiguous at the best of times.

This is why we phrase our values as if they're working characteristics, rather than abstract ideals.

Take a look at how we listed the requirements for our VP of Marketing role…

Our VP of Marketing should:

  • Understand our brand and positioning
  • Be creative and have an eye for visuals
  • Understand marketing analytics and what the right questions to ask are
  • Feel comfortable with abstract goals and breaking them down into manageable, executable chunks
  • Have a bias for action
  • Understand that great ideas are nothing without brilliant execution
  • Be self aware and know how to build out a team that complements their gaps
  • Be able to paint a vision and bring the team with them on its realisation

Although they’re not listed explicitly here, this skillset points to two of our core values: 

Have a bias for action = Own and drive change (core value)

Understand marketing analytics and what the right questions to ask are = Be curious and true to evidence (core value)

2 - Describe what makes your team unique

We make sure to give candidates a sense of the way we work by outlining the characteristics of the team (and wider company) they’ll be joining.

Again, you don’t necessarily need to list your values word-for-word - the idea is to attract candidates who actively want to be part of a team like yours.

Here’s how this looks in practice...

We’re a team who:

  • Are passionate about making high quality digital products that add real and meaningful value to people's lives
  • Can collaborate effectively, inspire those around them, and start from a position of empathy.
  • Understand the business objectives, the needs of the broader team and work with engineering and commercial to prioritise accordingly.
  • Are comfortable working in an early-stage environment, and the autonomy and uncertainty that change can bring.

The values we signal here are: Trust is our foundation, Create a fairer world and Champion the user.

P.S. We went deeper on writing non-profit job descriptions here.

Swap CVs for skills and values testing

Let’s get one thing straight: traditional screening practices are as broken as they are biased.

In your typical CV screening, candidates with ‘impressive looking’ credentials will be shortlisted for interview, and the rest discarded.

At a point in time, this may have been the most effective means of thinning the candidate pool…

But we now have decades of research that tells us there are fairer, more predictive means of doing this.

CV meme


The research speaks for itself - CVs lead to underrepresented groups being overlooked and don’t actually tell us much about someone's ability to perform on the job.

Take a look at the results of this study from the University of Oxford…

Applications needed to receive a callback by ethnicity (chart)


Researchers found that candidates from minority ethnic backgrounds had to send 80% more applications to get the same results as a White-British person.

Worse still - these outcomes had barely improved from when they conducted similar experiments back in 1969.

And this is by no means a UK-specific issue. Results like these have been replicated across the western world. 

Although there may be a handful of particularly bad actors that should be removed from hiring processes, most of our biases are unconscious - we’re mostly unaware of our prejudices.

If we then look at how predictive CVs actually are, they’re failing us here too.

The Schmidt-Hunter meta-analysis looked at 50+ years of research on assessment methods.

It concluded that years of experience and education (the basis of a CV) are fairly poor at predicting ability.

Predictive validity of assessment methods (chart)


As you can see above, the most predictive form of assessments are ‘work sample tests’...

What are work samples?

Work samples take parts of a job and turn them into hypothetical tasks/questions.

The philosophy behind them is to simulate the job as closely as possible without making assumptions about someone’s ability based on their background.

Instead of asking a candidate whether or not they have a given skill or embody a given value, work samples simply pose a scenario that tests these directly.

Work samples are most effective when tied to the skills needed for the job - as well as the relevant values.

Example work sample questions


When it comes to values based recruitment, you don’t just want someone who can recite your values back to you...

You want someone who will genuinely embody these values in their day-to-day work. 

Work samples enable you to see how someone would work should they get the job. 

You don't need to create questions specifically to test for your values - what you're looking for is answers that naturally embody them.

We recommend using 3-5 work sample questions instead of a CV/cover letter.

To avoid unconscious bias around candidates’ names, addresses, gender etc, we have candidates submit their answers anonymously.

Value based interviewing

At the interview stage, you can use another set of 3-5 work samples for each round.

These can be longer, more detailed questions that provide candidates with a case study or real-life project to talk through.

Case studies: give candidates a bigger task to think through. This is an opportunity to present candidates with a real (or near enough real) project that they’d actually be working on. After giving them the context, you can ask candidates a series of follow-up questions to see how well they understood the task and what their approach would entail.

Job simulations: these take parts of the role and ask candidates to perform them. Whilst not appropriate for every role, job simulations are well suited to client-facing roles that require skills that are hard to test via regular interview questions (presentation skills, sales pitches, handling pushback etc)

True values based recruitment isn’t just a few questions tagged on at the end of an interview - it’s making sure your organization’s values are being tested for at every stage in the process.

At Applied, we believe that value based interview questions don't have to ask candidates what they think about our values directly.

Here are the kinds of values based interview questions to avoid:

  • "Tell us about a time when you had to exhibit Value X"
  • "Tell us about an ethical dilemma you faced in the workplace"
  • "How do you feel about Value X?"
  • "Why do you think Value X is important in the workplace?"

Asking about past experience might offer some insight into how a candidate would behave should they get the job...

But this will also depend on the circumstances - how they acted then might not be how they would act today.

This approach will favour those most willing to bend the truth, which we're guessing isn't what you want your values based recruitment process to do!

Even when we move away from past experience and ask candidates their thoughts on values, some will naturally be better at knowing the 'right thing' to say, whether they genuinely mean it or not.

Instead, we bake our values into our scoring criteria...

Using criteria to score against

In order to data-proof your hiring process, you’ll need to create scoring criteria for each of your work samples/interview questions.

At Applied, we use a 1-5 star scale and a simple bullet point guide.

If you’re looking to see your values reflected in candidates' answers, then be sure to add this to your scoring matrix.

At Applied, for example, we might ask candidates a question about dealing with one of our customers.

Since Champion the user is one of values, we’d want to remind reviewers that this is something we’re looking to see shine through in their answers.

Below is an example of a matrix we might use to hire new team members. As you can see, we've specified that we're looking to see our value of Empathy exhibited in candidates' answers.

Example review guide


For the most objective scores, have three team members score each round of the process.

Why? Because collective judgment tends to be more accurate than that of an individual - a phenomenon known as crowd wisdom.

Key takeaways: building a values based recruitment process

  • Bake your values into the skillset you’re looking for
  • Include your values in job descriptions
  • Test skills and values upfront using work samples
  • Ask questions that give you an insight into how candidates would work in the role
  • Create scoring criteria to assess candidates against - be sure to add your values

For a deeper dive on fairer, mission-driven hiring, read our Full Guide to Third Sector Recruitment.

Applied is the essential platform for debiased hiring. Purpose-built to make hiring empirical and ethical, our platform uses anonymized applications and skill-based assessments to identify talent that would otherwise have been overlooked.

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