This month I have been interviewing candidates for a new entry level position in our nonprofit organization. I was very impressed with the caliber of candidates, which makes me very optimistic about the future leaders of nonprofit organizations. It was a great group of dedicated, educated and diverse individuals who want to join the nonprofit sector.
With so many great candidates, it is even more important for those seeking a job in the nonprofit sector to be appropriately prepared for the interview to ensure they are the one hired. Here are some practical interview tips for those who are striving to be hired at a nonprofit organization:
- Be Prepared: I was most impressed with candidates who arrived to the interview prepared to answer my questions. I was not impressed by candidates who made comments during the interview such as: “I hate those questions,” “Your questions are hard,” “I should have been more prepared,” or “These are hard.” If you think these questions are hard, chances are the job might be too hard for you as well. To this day, everytime I have interviewed for a job, I’ve prepared by reading a handout called “The Art of Interviewing” by Margaret Kratz, from my alma mater, Hanover College. Through the past 10 years and 4 successful job interviews, this guide has helped me think through an interview before I even set foot in the door… I’d encourage other job candidates to do the same to ensure they are prepared for the interview.
- Get Excited: If you are excited about the job – don’t be afraid to say or show it. I was very impressed when candidates shared their excitement about the position with me, it demonstrated that this was not another desperate attempt for a job, but rather a true desire to be part of the organization. During recent interviews, sometimes, this excitement even translated into the candidates responding to questions about the organization with words such as “we,” “our,” and “us” – already placing themselves within the organization and part of the team. It was great to see that high level of excitement in some candidates.
- Ask Questions: I was super impressed with candidates who showed up to the interview with very well thought-out questions for me. For example, one candidate framed a question for me around a recent donation we posted on our nonprofit’s FB page. It demonstrated to me that the candidate had done homework on our organization and connected with our organization. However, I was less impressed when candidates either didn’t have any questions for me or only had questions about details of the retirement plan or how many days vacation they would get.
- Remember it’s not all about you: When going into a job interview, remember it is not all about you and how great the job would help you advance your career… it is really about selling what your talents are and how those can best help and serve the organization. As the interviewer, I may care about your career plan, and I obviously know this job will help you move forward in your plan, but that is not going to be why I hire you. I am going to hire you if I think you can help advance the mission of our organization. So, when answering questions, be sure to include responses that focus on what you can bring and offer to the organization, not merely what the organization can do for you and how it would help your career plan.
- Follow Up: I was impressed by the follow up emails and notecards I received after interviewing candidates. I’d encourage all candidates to send a follow up to the interviewer thanking them for the interview, reiterating your interest in the position, and reminding the interviewer of a qualities or skills you have that will help the organization. And if the interviewer asks you to follow up with them and send them anything after the interview – be sure and address it in a timely fashion. If one candidate takes a week to follow up and the other candidate takes only hours, then the quick responder may earn some bonus points.
There is not a magic formula of things you can do to get hired when interviewing at a nonprofit organization. However, based on my recent experience as the interviewer, there are steps you can take to improve your interviewing skills which may lead to an offer of employment.