Tips for Hiring Lifelong Learners for Association Positions

In a competitive talent marketplace, jobseekers can be pickier about where they want to work. But you have to be pickier too. Think about your association’s future. What kind of person will help your organization adapt and respond to changing conditions, discover new opportunities, and increase the value you deliver to members and customers? Hiring lifelong learners is a must if you want to create an exciting and sustainable future for your association and industry.

Lifelong learners have a growth mindset. For them, learning didn’t stop when they received their degree or diploma. They understand the need to continually improve and acquire new skills and knowledge. They’re not overly concerned about credits and grades; it’s the learning journey that counts most. They relish the experience of exploring new information and ideas.

Why hiring lifelong learners is imperative

Countless pundits have described lifelong learning as an economic imperative for individuals and the organizations that employ them. Your employees must be able to respond and adapt to new conditions and directions. Change and disruption are business as usual. ‘Normal’ is a security blanket they’ve outgrown, not how to run an organization.

Lifelong learners know they must seek out new information, increase their knowledge, and improve their skill set. They take a proactive approach to learning. This mindset is especially important in remote and hybrid workplaces, where you must learn new ways of communicating, collaborating, and managing others. Lifelong learners are more likely to:

•    Be curious about new ideas and trends
•    Spot new opportunities
•    Better respond and adapt to change
•    Stretch their comfort zone
•    Pick up new skills more quickly

They appreciate and value their employer’s support and investment in their professional development. As long as they can keep learning, they’re more engaged at work. If they feel stagnant, they’ll start looking for a better opportunity elsewhere.

Lifelong learners give your organization an advantage in the competition for the attention and time of your members, customers, subscribers, website visitors, learners, and prospects. Only when you win that competition can you even think about competing for a share of their budget.

hiring lifelong learners

Interview questions that will help you spot a lifelong learner

Some potential hires will self-identify as lifelong learners. They’ve read enough career articles to know it’s an attribute. You can tell if they’re genuine by asking questions that elicit the truth about their learning habits and mindset.

How do you learn?

Find out what routines or habits help them update their knowledge and improve their skills. Ask about the last time they had to improve or acquire a skill or learn more about a topic. How did they approach it? What are their usual methods?

Check your biases on this one. People learn in all kinds of ways. Some prefer formal methods, like classes or courses. But make people take a different type of learning journey via books, articles and posts, films and videos, webinars, discussions with colleagues and mentors, trial and error, observing other people at work, and self-reflection.

When discussing their learning methods, watch their reaction as you suggest other things they could try. Do they seem stuck in their ways or inquisitive about alternative approaches?

How do you decide what to learn?

Find out how they identify the skills they need to improve or acquire. Why was learning this particular skill so important? If their nervousness causes their mind to go blank, ask if they’ve had to learn new skills related to working remotely, using a new technology platform, or implementing a new process.

What’s something you’ve recently learned and how did you apply it on the job?

Find out what motivated them to learn this skill. Did someone else suggest it or did they do it on their own initiative? Ask about their experience applying what they’ve learned. Did it go smoothly the first time?

What do you read for personal and professional development?

Ask about the newsletters or magazines they subscribe to or read regularly. How do they find time for reading?

Hopefully, they mention ASAE’s Associations Now, other SAE publications, and/or industry partner blogs like this one, but go beyond the usual suspects. Find out what they read regularly in their specialty area, such as marketing, adult education, event planning, advocacy, etc.

Do they read narrowly or broadly? Ask what they read to stay attuned to broader developments in society, technology, careers, and other areas affecting your association and its members.

hiring lifelong learners

Does your current employer support your professional development?

If they don’t, find out how the prospective hire managed to further their professional development without the employer’s support. Did they invest their own money? Did they dedicate time outside of work to professional development?

Do you participate in any online or in-person educational programs?

Find out what kind of professional or personal educational pursuits they’ve taken on recently.

Do you belong to any professional groups or associations?

Get a sense of their involvement in groups that could widen their network and exposure to new ideas, for example, formal groups like membership organizations, informal Facebook and LinkedIn groups, or regular meetups with colleagues. Find out how they participate and what they get out of their experience.

How do you deal with information overload?

Lifelong learners encounter more information than they can digest. Share your own challenges and solutions. How do they decide what’s worth their time and what isn’t?

How have you handled change in the past few years?

Ask them to discuss a specific example, perhaps switching to remote work, creating new member programs because of the pandemic, or implementing new technology and processes.

If they’re a career changer or have frequently changed jobs, ask about the reasons behind these moves.

When have you stepped outside your comfort zone and how did it go?

Growing means stretching your comfort zone, taking a chance on something, and learning through trial and error. Ask for a personal or professional example that shows their willingness to stretch.

Do you have questions for me?

If you haven’t discussed the learning culture at your association, expect a lifelong learner to ask about it. Be ready to explain:

•    How your association supports the professional development of its employees, including the budget and support they can expect
•    What employees at a similar career stage do for professional development
•    How a learning culture is nurtured at your organization
•    How learning is recognized and rewarded in performance reviews and whether it’s an expectation for everyone
•    Whether employees discuss professional goals with their manager or HR, and how invested managers are in their employees’ professional development

Remember, prospective hires are checking you out too to determine if you’re a good fit for them. If they’re lifelong learners, they need to determine whether your association will provide the growth and development experiences and opportunities they seek.

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