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Preparing for Interviews? Nonprofits, Heed This Advice

In today’s job market where so many individuals are either out of work or are looking to transfer in to new roles, nonprofit organizations must develop a strong interview process to find the right person that properly fits a job description.  Regardless of whether you are looking for an Executive Director or a Major Gifts Officer, it is important to analyze each candidate so you can decipher the strong candidates from the less qualified ones.  While there is no scientific process that can guarantee a candidate will work out at your organization, the following stages will help to find the best possible candidate.

1. Have a detailed candidate profile

It is impossible to hire good people if you don’t know what you are looking for. “I’ll know it when I see it” does not work. Instead, have a detailed candidate profile that includes both what the person needs to accomplish along with the critical skills and behaviors necessary for success in the role.

2. Do your homework

If the position is a new one, make sure that all stakeholders have agreed on how the position will fit within the organization’s priorities. Revisit the position description and analyze how each credential, skill or personal quality fits into your organization’s operating priorities. If you are sure about what you want, you are more likely to identify professionals who fit the bill. If you are still working out politics, funding or personalities, you are better off waiting to start the hiring process.

3. Prepare your interview questions in advance

You need your interview questions prepared in advance if you are going to be effective. Trying to manufacture questions on the fly is too hard and leads to missed information. Build your list of interview questions to ask in correct chronological order. Work from the beginning of the person’s career to the present. Make certain you have questions for each of the critical job requirements and get multiple examples for each.

4. Develop a consistent evaluation process of each candidate

Before starting your interview process, meet with key leaders at your company to hammer out which skills/priorities are most important for success. Then, work to create a concrete list of assessment benchmarks. Evaluate all candidates methodically based on your consensus check-list. For example, if fundraising ability becomes the focus of an Executive Director role, then make sure that you ask all candidates similar questions about their involvement and results in this regard. Some organizations find a checklist helpful. When a multi-person committee is involved in the hiring decision, it is good to conduct both a numerical and quality analysis of all candidates. When you ask all candidates similar questions, you can compare their responses more precisely.

5. Sell your organization

Candidates come to an interview in essence to pitch their skills and their willingness to work with your organization. As employer, you have a similar mandate. You want to sell promising candidates on your organization. They should walk away feeling intrigued by your challenges and encouraged by your past achievements.

6. Listen and watch carefully

Most candidates will tell you who they are. That is, if you are listening. Pay attention to tone, word choice and delivery. They can often tell you more of the message than the words. Watch body language, too. When a candidate’s posture shows stress, believe it that he or she is stressed. Correlate the body language to the current topic for discussion. See what the candidate is communicating at the non-verbal level. Process the words. Figure out what is being said.

7. Follow up with qualified candidates who did not receive the job

When you have run an efficient interview process, you will have identified a number of talented professionals. Keep in touch with all of those whom you identify as competent, with the kinds of interpersonal skills which fit your company culture. Send them brief updates from time-to-time. Notify them of significant company successes. Keep them in the loop. You never know when you may need to contact them again, for referrals or to test their interest in a new opportunity. Keep the channels of communication open and their interest in company alive. Good relationships mean good business.

Patton McDowell & Associates specializes in executive search needs for nonprofits. The firm has experience in helping organizations to hire Executive Directors, Directors of Development and other development & communications roles. Contact David Ibsen at for more information.