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Interviewing is a critical skill for any executive, whether you're a nonprofit leader or work in the for-profit sector. But for those seeking a new role in the nonprofit sector, there are some specific interview strategies that can help you land the job of your dreams. Here are the five tips I recommend most often to Koya clients:
Do Your Homework. Nonprofits are required by law to share more information than their for-profit counterparts – a huge bonus for interviewees. Seek out anything and everything you can find online about the organization you are hoping to join. Start with the website, which probably has financial information, staff lists, detailed information about programs, annual reports, and – in many cases – strategic planning documents. Prepare yourself for the initial interview and any follow-up interviews by reviewing the backgrounds of senior staff to identify potential connections and shared experiences and interests. Spend some time poring over the organization's financials and program information to get a sense of its priorities and challenges, as well as who the key players in the organization are. You should also check out the organization's GuideStar profile for past financial information, and Charity Navigator to see how highly rated it is. Last but not least, do a Google search to get a sense of how the organization is covered by the press in its community as well as at the regional and national levels.
Demonstrate Your Connection With the Mission. A nonprofit job may require all the same skills and expertise as a similar role in the corporate sector, but it also requires a deep affinity with the organization's mission. Candidates for nonprofit executive positions often forget to demonstrate this sense of passion and personal dedication to the mission – a critical error. The people interviewing you have devoted their professional careers to that cause or mission, and they want to hear – and believe – that you have the same level of commitment. So, whether it's child hunger, youth literacy, or microfinance, be prepared to speak directly and authentically about why you are interested in what the organization does and how it does it. It's not enough to say, "I love kids," or "I believe in helping others." Instead, share a personal story that demonstrates your commitment to the cause and why this is an organization you are ready to dedicate yourself to.
Focus on the "Why." Mission fit is critical, but it's just part of a larger story. Even if you're not explicitly asked, interviewers should leave your meeting knowing why you want this particular job at this particular moment in your career. There's no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, but it should include a combination of the following:
- Why it's the right time in your career for this job;
- Why you're seeking to make a move at this particular time; and
- Why you believe you'll fit in well with the organization's culture.
Be Yourself. This is good advice in any interview situation. Don't pretend to be someone or something you're not. Bring your whole self to all your interviews – thoughtfully edited for your audience, of course. But don't be afraid to let who you are as a person shine through. This can be achieved by mentioning your interests outside of work, by making a joke or laughing at something amusing said by the person interviewing you, and/or by asking thoughtful questions. Remember, you and the person on the other side of the table are trying to determine whether you'll be happy working with each other every day. It's impossible to know the answer to that question if you are not willing to be yourself.
Prepare a List of Questions. The research you do in advance of the interview should help you in preparing a long list of questions for the interviewer. Chances are you probably won't have time to ask all of them, however, so run through your list and choose the two or three that are most important to you – both in terms of the information you really need to know and in demonstrating that you've done your homework. If you expect to be interviewed by more than one person, tailor your questions for each individual. For example, identify questions that are appropriate for people at your level in the organization (Why did you join the organization?), board members (What's your preferred method of communicating with leadership?), and/or program experts (What are the top three program challenges you face at the moment?).
By following these five tips, you'll be prepared for any interview at any organization. All that remains is to wish you the best of luck!
Molly Brennan is managing partner of Koya Leadership Partners, a national executive search firm dedicated to the nonprofit sector.