Surviving an Initial Job Interview

I love conducting job searches.  Throughout my career, I have had the honor of coordinating searches for presidents of foundations, nonprofit executive directors, pastors, senior-level staff members, development directors, and more. In any search, there is one objective and that is to be the very best matchmaker for the organization and the candidate.

The most rewarding aspect is the opportunity to speak with remarkable people. The cast of characters operating in the nonprofit realm is talented, creative, successful, accomplished professionals and possess an extraordinary understanding of the field.

It is not unusual to receive more than 125 candidates for a position, so a careful review of the initial application materials is essential to narrow the pool. The first impression is the game changer.

Below are tips to help you prepare for the professional job interview:

  1. Be prepared to speak about yourself and listen to the questions. The interviewer has read your resume and if they are asking for an interview, they are interested.  My first question is always “tell me about yourself.”  It is amazing how many people are taken aback with this question. Be ready to tell me your story. I want to know more about your professional path, experience, and lessons you have learned along the way. What makes you unique and qualified for the job?
  2. Before the interview, review the job description and the website. Learn as much as possible about the organization. The questions you will be asked are closely related to the required qualifications listed in the job description.
  3. If the job requires demonstrated success in fundraising, be ready to discuss your success working with donors and in raising contributions. What are the largest gifts in which you were personally involved? Often people claim to have raised millions of dollars. Professionals know no one raises big gifts in a vacuum. Fundraising is the result of cultivation, access, strategy, a great case for support, and strong leadership. The interviewer wants to know your specific skills and involvement. Did you write the case for support? Train the leaders to make asks? Tell your story and provide details but don’t exaggerate.  
  4. A primary responsibility for executives in the nonprofit sector is an ability to work with a board of directors. Discuss your role in helping the board be more effective. Provide examples of how you engaged a board and encouraged them to assume leadership.
  5. Most positions require strong management skills. Describe your management style and how employees might define your leadership.
  6. Does the job description require the individual have a financial background? If so, you can be sure there will be questions about your ability to develop and manage a budget and read a nonprofit financial statement. Discuss your role in preparing these documents as well as any role in an audit if applicable.
  7. Organizations look for visionary, strategic leaders. Describe a time you were involved in crafting and implementing a vision for an organization.
  8. Leaders are adept in strategic planning. Be prepared to discuss your knowledge and expertise in strategic planning and skills you bring.
  9. Every organization wants an individual with leadership skills. How have you assumed a leadership role in the past and what were the outcomes?
  10. A passion for the mission is critical. Working in a foundation or nonprofit is challenging. It requires time, dedication, and commitment but, first and foremost, passion for the cause. With passion and a belief in the mission, you will find the work inspiring and joyful as a vehicle for service.
  11. Strong written and oral communication skills are vital for building a case for support with your donors, board, employees, and clients. Your communication skills will become evident throughout the interview, and in your cover letter and resume. Proofread your letter and resume. Nothing is worse than a flagrant typo or addressing your letter to the wrong person.
  12. Promptly respond with dates and times when the interviewer calls. Time is of the essence in a job search. If you wait a week to respond, you may have lost your edge.
  13. Finally, be positive and upbeat throughout the interview process. Organizations want to hire confident employees.

Prepare yourself before the interview. As Will Rogers said: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

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