Meeting the Nonprofit: Ten Interviewing Tips

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Posted July 7, 2019 | Commongood Careers

The job interview can be a stressful experience if you’re not prepared. Interviewing in the nonprofit sector is no exception – especially as every organization has its own unique mission, culture, and expectations. That’s why the staff at Commongood Careers has compiled their expert advice to help you put your best foot forward when interviewing with a nonprofit organization.

Tip #1: Connect with the Mission
Gone are the days when just wanting to “do good,” “give back,” and “have a positive impact” were acceptable reasons to pursue work in the nonprofit sector. Today, hiring managers value true commitment; candidates need prove their individual connection to the organizational mission with specificity and demonstrated action. Think about the real reason you are applying to the position and be thoughtful about communicating that. Describing volunteer work or board affiliations can be a great way of illustrating your commitment to a mission.

Tip #2: Do Your Homework and Prepare Questions
Many hiring managers base a great deal of their decision-making on the questions a candidate asks during the interview. Come prepared with questions for each of the interviewers with whom you will be meeting. Make sure the questions are ones that will demonstrate the research you have done on the organization/field and showcase your critical thinking skills. “What is your budget?” is a question that a good candidate would already know the answer to after having done some simple on-line research. A question such as “I recently read that the state is considering cutting its funding for after-school programs. How is your organization prepared to handle this development?” shows that you are up-to-date on developments in the field and have made the connection between something you read and the potential impact on this particular organization.

Tip #3: Practice Responses Ahead of Time
Hiring managers are smart and savvy people who are trying to uncover every stone. If you are currently employed, they will likely ask why you are interested in leaving your current position. If you are not currently employed, they will likely ask you why you left your last position and what you have been doing since leaving. If you are switching careers or sectors, they will likely ask you about this decision and your motivations. Think ahead about what questions the interviewer(s) might ask you about your career progression, gaps in your resume, and other experiences. Be prepared to answer these questions in a manner that is honest, positive, and forward-looking. Put yourselves in the interviewer’s shoes and decide whether your planned responses would seem logical and plausible.

Tip #4: Inquire About the Interview Structure
Every nonprofit organization will structure their interview processes differently. It is important to get a sense ahead of time about how the interview will work: with whom you will be meeting, how the interview will be structured (one-on-one, panel, case, etc.), and approximately how long it will last. Arrive early, making sure you know exactly where to go and planning enough travel time. Remember that you never know who you are talking to when you arrive; the person behind the reception desk could be the Executive Director or another important decision-maker.

Tip #5: Dress to Impress
There is a wide variety of dress codes among nonprofit organizations, ranging from jeans to suits. For any interview, unless specifically told otherwise, it is best to dress professionally in a tailored suit or professional separates; it is better to over-dress than to under-dress. Keep everything subtle: perfume/cologne, clothing, makeup, and accessories. If time permits, go to the restroom upon arrival to ensure that you look presentable. If part of the interview includes visiting the program site, for example, you may ask an organizational representative prior to the interview what would be appropriate attire.

Tip #6: Bring the Goods
Bring at least 2 copies of your resume and cover letter, a list of references, and 2 – 3 work or writing samples. You never know what the interviewer will request. Also, having work samples available can be a good visual to demonstrate your competency in certain areas.

Tip #7: Sell Yourself
Know exactly why you want this specific position and exactly why you want to work at this specific organization. Be able to outline clearly and concisely the skills, experience, and value that you will bring to the position.

Tip #8: Illustrate a Can-Do Attitude
While hard skills are very important to nonprofit hiring managers, personality and culture fit are equally, if not more, important. Being positive, smart, articulate, energetic, thoughtful, flexible, and passionate are crucial characteristics in most nonprofit environments, so maintain your confidence and positive attitude. Job searching is difficult but no one wants to hire someone who seems unenthusiastic, demoralized, or defeated. Remember that body language is an important technique for communicating interest and engagement.

Tip #9: Be Discreet About Past Employers
The nonprofit environment is small and close-knit. It is likely that the person with whom you are interviewing knows one or more of your previous employers or organizations. Be prepared to give thoughtful and professional answers if an interviewer asks you about your experience with a certain person or organization. No one will want to hire someone who criticizes or gossips about former employers, as they will expect that you will do the same to them or their organization.

Tip #10: Highlight Your Flexibility
Nonprofit hiring managers are very busy and unexpected situations arise frequently. Your reaction to unexpected circumstances will say a lot about how you might handle such circumstances if employed at the organization. At the same time, you want to make sure that you are being treated professionally. If it looks like an interview isn’t actually going to happen, or if the hiring manager seems too distracted to have an effective interview, offer to come back at a more convenient time.

Finally: Remember to Follow-up
Just as many hiring managers decide not to proceed with a candidate because of typos in a cover letter, they also may not proceed with your candidacy if you do not send a thank you note after your interview; this is viewed as a professional courtesy as well as an example of your ability to identify and execute effective follow-up. While hand-written notes are still ideal, email thank-yous have become generally acceptable.

This article was written by Commongood Careers and is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

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