Using Data to Improve Your Hiring in Human Services

You are looking for really talented, compassionate, skilled, dedicated people. You know you are not going to be able to pay them a lot. And you don’t want there to be a lot of turnover.

You think the answer to this is to talk about how great your organization is, how they can join an exciting team, how they can contribute to helping those in need in your community.

You will hire a really keen person. They will work with you for less than a year. Then they will leave. And you will go through all the effort again of posting and hiring for the position.

Maybe, just maybe, if you had used data and transparency in your posting you’d end up hiring the right person for the job, being transparent about the demands of the job, and making sure they are up for the challenge before they get started.

Here is a mash-up of job descriptions I’ve helped provide some organizations in the homelessness services world over the past couple years. The result? Hiring people that are highly skilled and motivated who did not leave because the work was harder than they thought it would be.

(name of organization) is a national leader in working to end homelessness – and we want you to be part of our team to provide leadership in our emergency shelter if you:

  • believe every person that uses the shelter can and should achieve housing, regardless of presenting issues;
  • marry your compassion for helping people with intelligence and strategic problem solving to get individuals out of homelessness;
  • understand – but are not crippled by – the complexity of homelessness;
  • do not confuse opinions about homelessness with facts about homelessness;
  • motivate staff to share a vision of homelessness ended one person, one family at a time regardless of whatever issues they may have in their lives;
  • have a passion for creatively solving complicated issues;
  • can put the mission, vision and values of our organization into your day to day practice;
  • believe that shelters are a process, not a destination;
  • exude positivity and promote positive change;
  • can successfully manage programs and people when there is no clear right/wrong answer;
  • are persistent when staff or shelter users try to tell you that they cannot or do not want to get out of homelessness.

Here’s what we don’t want:

  • people that have pity or sympathy for homeless individuals (empathy is okay);
  • people with no experience in human services;
  • people that hate data;
  • people that think shelters and permanent housing are the same thing;
  • people that refuse to grow, learn and innovate on the job;
  • people that are judgmental or punitive in motivating change in others.

(name of organization)’s shelter has 86 different people under our roof each night. Approximately a third have been with us for greater than three months, approximately a third have been with us 1-3 months, and the remaining third less than a month. The average length of stay across all shelter users last year was 79 days per person. It is our target within the next year to get average lengths of stay to under 45 days per person, and to know for certain that at least 80% of the people no longer staying with us have moved into permanent housing (including reuniting with family when that is appropriate and safe) at the end of their stay in our shelter. Currently we only know for certain that 59% of our shelter users move into permanent housing, and this is unacceptable to us.

Here are other things you should know:

  • on average, in the course of any given month, more than half of our shelter users meet the HUD definition of chronic homelessness;
  • on average, more than 70% of the shelter users in our facility each night have stayed in another shelter in the city directly prior to staying in our shelter, and 8% were living outdoors directly prior to staying in our shelter;
  • on average, 18% of shelter users in our facility on any given night are tri-morbid (have a co-occurring chronic physical health issue, mental health issue and substance use disorder);
  • almost 15% of shelter user information in our Homeless Management Information System is incomplete;
  • the staff group of 24 people you will be supervising has an average of 2.3 year experience with us and 3.5 years of experience altogether working in the homelessness field, with over 70% having a degree in Social Work or comparable degree;
  • each week you will spend three hours on Thursday mornings meeting with the entire senior management team of our organization, because the shelter is one of 8 core program areas we operate;
  • your base salary will be $62,300 to start with incentives for meeting performance targets such as improved housing access and decreased lengths of stay in shelter;
  • you will be expected to spend 14 hours per month working directly alongside your line staff to see how she/he is performing and to monitor opportunities for operational improvements, and we expect at least half of these hours to be between the hours of 10pm and 7am.

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong