Strategy Session: Screen Test
How the International Association of Fire Chiefs used video to help hire a new executive.
Most employees give two weeks’ notice before leaving a job. Mark Light, CAE, CEO and executive director of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, had the benefit of a three-year heads-up when his COO/deputy executive director decided to retire. He took advantage of the extra time to change up the way IAFC identifies qualified candidates.
When the hiring process began in earnest last January, Light’s first step was to make sure it happened exclusively online. That cut down on paperwork, but it also made sure that the person they hired would have some baseline tech savvy. He then went a step further: He asked the 15 finalists (from a pool of 115) to submit a five-minute video discussing how they would address changes in the IAFC’s industry and the association world in general.
The video element was essential, Light says, because whoever got the job would play a sizable public-facing role at the association. “It lets you evaluate who makes the final cut before you pull people in and you have three or four people say, ‘Gosh, if we knew they couldn’t stand in front of a group of people to make a presentation, we never would have brought them in,’ ” he says.
Karin Soyster Fitzgerald, CMP, CAE, aced the process and started on the job in September. She doesn’t claim to be a tech wizard. But she displayed plenty of persistence and a willingness to call in help: She spent a full day recording the five-minute video and had three people assist with preparation and uploading. “It made me think more about being better prepared for interviews,” she says.
The IAFC wasn’t just screening videos and resumes. It asked candidates to respond in depth to eight scenario-based questions. (For instance, one asked how the candidate would respond if he or she held the job and a high-profile board member were arrested for spousal abuse.) Finalists were also interviewed by a four-person panel that was a mix of insiders and outsiders: Light invited two fire-service professionals and two leaders in the broader association community to participate. Because, as Light says, “it’s hard to normalize experience levels,” the mix of input gave the organization better perspective on candidates’ skills and talents.
“It’s definitely the most extensive process that I’ve been through, on either side, as an interviewee or interviewer,” Fitzgerald says. And though it may have been more time-consuming than the typical job search, and harder than hiring a headhunter, Light thinks it was more valuable for the candidates and staff. “It was a good process that didn’t cost a significant amount of money,” he says.