A key aspect of the Asylum Access model is the use of Volunteer Legal Advocates, who are volunteer lawyers or highly-qualified law students who dedicate a minimum of 6 months to our organization. They participate in the legal functions of the office, conducting client intake interviews and assessing needs or making referrals as necessary, providing legal assistance for the RSD process, submitting written briefs and appeals, advising clients on their rights as asylum seekers and refugees, develop unique legal tactics to assist clients in their legal needs beyond RSD (such as asserting their rights to employment, education, security and social services), and conducting Know Your Rights trainings.
As the turnover rate for VLAs is relatively high, it is essential to have an organized and efficient recruitment system. Having highly qualified and enthusiastic VLAs ensures that new energy and knowledge is introduced to the organization on a regular basis. This section of the Toolkit serves as a step-by-step guide on how to manage VLAs and other human resources for the office in a streamlined way.
Step 1: Advertising
The first step in the recruitment process is to advertise the Volunteer Legal Advocate position (or whichever position you wish to fill) within all of your networks. Law schools are a great place to advertise for VLAs, and contact information for career centers or human rights clinics directors is easily accessible on university websites. You may also advertise through your professional networks and any other personal networks you believe to be a good way to connect with volunteer lawyers enthusiastic about refugee rights!
Below is an example of a Vacancy Announcement for Volunteer Legal Advocate positions with Asylum Access, as well as a sample job description for volunteer positions other than VLAs. You may download and adapt either to fit your recruitment needs.
Step 2: Application screening
Once you have widely advertised the open positions, you will start to receive applications. You may decide to interview each applicant, but if not, you will want to screen them beforehand to determine which ones will be offered an interview. Here are some suggested steps in screening applicants. They serve as a sample timeline and set of processes to follow during the application screening process.
A: Screen each applicant
You will need to decide who in your organization will be responsible for screening applicants. You may choose to have all applicants send their materials to a separate Email address, which can then be checked regularly by the person in your organization in charge of screening applicants. The specific protocol will depend largely on the size of your organization and whether or not there are multiple offices. Asylum Access utilizes a central screening process by which a Headquarters staff member in charge of Human Resources regularly checks an Email account designated solely for receiving applications and Volunteer inquiries. The applications recommended for interview are then forwarded on to various Legal Services Managers in the organization.
As a tool for this screening process, it will be very helpful to create a spreadsheet to track the basic information and time frame of applications recommended for interviews. This way everyone in the organization involved in the hiring process will have access to a list of candidates in the recruitment process. You will find a template below for download.
Not all candidates will provide all necessary information in their original application; they may not specify a possible start date or how long they will be able to commit to your organization. Before you decide whether or not to recommend them for a formal interview, there are certain screening questions that you may want to ask. This will avoid Managers taking time to interview candidates who do not fit your organization’s specific requirements.
(Organization name) is interested in your profile and your application, but we would like to make sure that you fulfill other requisites before we take your application to the interview stage:
- May I confirm that you would be available to start on XX-XX?
- May I confirm that you will be able to work full-time?
- I would like to confirm that you realize that this position is entirely self-funded.
- The minimum time commitment we require of all VLAs is X months.
- Would you be able to stay with us for at least X months?
Thank you. I’ll be looking forward to your reply,
B: Make a recommendation
If you decide to interview the applicant, continue on to Step 3. It is helpful to state in the Vacancy announcement that only candidates selected for an interview will be contacted. In this case, no action is taken for applicants not selected for an interview.
Step 3: Manage interviews
For this step, your office will determine its own protocols on how best to manage applicants who have been offered interviews. However, it is important to clearly indicate which applicants have been offered interviews so that tehy are scheduled, executed, and followed up on in a timely manner. Many applicants are also applying for other opportunities, and not being punctual in managing their applications can sometimes lead to losing them to other organizations.
Some ideas for managing interviews:
- Create a shared calendar for the entire office to see when VLA interviews are taking place.
- Indicate on the Applicant Spreadsheet (step 2) once an interview has happened
- Have the same person who screens applications assist in scheduling interviews to ensure that all top candidates are interviewed.
- Create a specific email account just for managing volunteer applications, and distribute that email address on all advertisement materials.
- Use www.timeanddate.com to double check time zone differences.
Step 4: Conducting an interview
The interview is an important step in the recruitment process. It is an opportunity to hear the candidate elaborate on their written application, clarify ambiguities, and get a general sense whether their personality would be a good fit with your organization. It also gives the candidate an opportunity to get to know your organization. For this reason, it is vital that you are well-prepared for an interview that puts both the interviewer and applicant at ease.
Over time, your organization will develop specific interviewing protocols best suited to its logistical needs. Below, you will find some general guidelines and suggestions on how to prepare for and stay organized throughout the interview process.
When contacting the applicant to arrange for the interview, make sure to set out guidelines for the following information:
- Who – Interviews are usually conduced by leadership staff, or in certain cases, senior volunteers.
- How long – An interview should be about 45 minutes long, allowing for questions from both parties.
- When – The Meeting Planner is a very useful tool for planning interviews across time zones.
A: Plan in advance
Different organizations are going to develop their own protocols, and individuals will also have their own ways of preparing. However, it is helpful to have some uniformity when it comes to taking interview notes and saving those files in the event that an applicant needs to be revisited or a group decision made.
- Create a file for the applicant. Use the interview notes template featured below.
- Open the template.
- Save the interview notes with the applicant’s name.
- Save the notes in a central folder determined by your office.
- Review the applicant’s CV and note any specific questions you would like to ask, adding them to the end.
- If you are conducting a more formal interview, choose one or two scenario questions from the interview notes template.
- Ask leadership staff if there are any other positions you should consider the candidate for. (Sometimes, for example, a VLA applicant may not be offered that position, but that of Community Educator or Admin Officer.)
- Adjust interview questions as required.
B: Conduct the interview
- Use the interview notes you created in Step A to take notes during the interview.
- Save ALL interview notes. This is an important human resources practice.
- At the end of the interview, thank the candidate and tell him or her when he or she can expect to hear back. It may be helpful to create a reminder in your calendar for a deadline to respond to applicants, regardless of whether you make an offer or not.
- Send a “Thank you for taking your time to interview” email.
C: Make a recommendation
- If you are not the sole person making hiring decisions, make a recommendation to the other deciding individuals regarding whether or not to make an offer.
- If applicable, update the Applicant Spreadsheet to reflect that the candidate has been interviewed.
Step 5.1: Turning down a candidate
Turning down a candidate must be done carefully and tactfully. They have taken time and effort to prepare and meet with your organization for an interview, so you should always send a follow-up email on the results of the interview process, ideally within three weeks of the interview, but always as soon as possible.
If you have not interviewed a candidate, it is not common practice to send a rejection letter. Rather, include a note in recruitment materials stating that only those selected for an interview will be contacted.
There are various types of rejection letters that you can send to candidates depending on your hiring decision:
- No offer: This is for candidates that you do not seeing being a good fit for the position or organization.
- Apply at a later date: This is for candidates who do not currently fit your hiring needs, but who you think might be good additions to your team at some point.
- Later offer: This is for candidates that you’d definitely like to hire, but not for the current time period.
Step 5.2: Offers and acceptance
Once you have decided to make an offer to a candidate, there are a couple of steps to take.
A: Draft the memorandum of understanding
The MOU is an agreement between your organization and the new hire about the conditions of the offer as well as the job expectations. It should be sent along with the offer letter and signed and returned if and when the applicant accepts the offer. These MOUs should be saved in a central place.
Below you will find a sample MOU, as well as an MOU Template, which you can download and use as a starting point to draft an MOU for your organization.
B: Send an offer letter
Once you have decided upon the terms of the offer and specified these in an MOU, you are ready to send an offer letter. Below you will find a template letter for making offers to VLAs. Make sure to attach the MOU and provide instructions on returning it with a signature.
Step 6: Pre-departure documents and communications
Once new hires have accepted an offer from your organization and returned a signed MOU, you are ready to begin to prepare for their arrival. Make sure to add them to the Annual Volunteer Planning chart (use left side navigation to visit this section).
In order to prepare for a VLA or new hire’s arrival, there are certain documents that you will need to request such as a Waiver of Liability and Proof of Insurance. You should also consider sending any documents or readings that will help them prepare for their position.
Examples of the documents to request and send to your new hires and VLAs are available for download below. You will also find a sample letter to send at this stage of the hiring process.
- Sample Letter: Post-MOU Communications
- Waiver of Liability Template
- Proof of Insurance
- Sample Pre-arrival Information Packet
Step 7: Set-up for new volunteer or hire
Once you have received all required documents, the VLA has their visa arranged and has a set arrival date, you are ready to prepare for their arrival. There are a few key steps that will help manage any risks and ensure a smooth transition for the VLA.
- Add new staff to record keeping spreadsheets and Annual Volunteer Planning document. Use the left side navigation bar to visit these sections.
- Introduce New Email: Create the Email account that the VLA will be using, and provide clear instructions on access to this account.
- Arrange for a Welcome and Office Tour: Make sure all new arrivals have access to your office’s Office Basics Manual, or whatever materials provide key information about office logistics, information organization-wide policies etc. Below is an Office Basics Template, outlining the main topics that should be addressed. This document will help get new VLAs oriented, but you should also have more experienced staff give them a tour of your office and operations, making sure to answer any questions they might have.
- Schedule a Training Week: Providing core training to your volunteers is important not only to the quality of their work but also a key component of the volunteer experience. Volunteers are often willing to donate their time because of the knowledge and skills they will develop through the experience, and providing a quality training week will help fulfill this. Please see our VLA training curriculum under the Learn section of the Toolkit for further guidance.