Tuesday, June 09, 2015

A Few Tips for Intervewing with a Search Committee

When you are being considered for a position in the private sector you may first have a telephone interview with a Human Resources manager and then a hiring manager.  Sometimes there may be additional people you meet with, but generally there is one person that is most important in the hiring process.  If you are being considered for an executive director of a nonprofit the process can be much more arduous. If you make it past a screening telephone or in person interview, you will have to interview with a Search Committee.  And if you make it through that there is another group interview with the Board.  I have sat through many of these interviews as a consultant and I can tell you they are not easy for candidates.  All of us have opinions about what is important to us in a candidate.  You don’t have to put too many people together to have conflicting opinions.  What can a candidate do to prepare and cope with all of this?

Be Prepared
First of all be well prepared before you come into the interview.  Make sure you have read every bit of information about the organization on the internet.  Start with the website but don’t end there.  Follow them on social media and read what they have posted in the past.  Check out their followers and employees (LinkedIn) to see if you know people with connection to the organization.  If you know people, contact them and learn what you can about the organization.  The more you learn about the organization, their activities and what is important to them the more prepared you can be.

If you have gotten as far as an in person interview with the Search Committee they think there is relevance in your background for their organization.  It may be your fundraising experience or experience with the same types of program – even better, both!  Review the job description in detail to see what is important for the position and be prepared to describe how you are a good fit.  Be as specific as possible.  If you’ve done your homework about the organization, weave your connection to their priorities into your answers.

Be Honest
In a group interview, there will be different opinions about how situations should be handled and the kinds of experience that are most important.  Some questions may seem to contradict each other and it may seem like conflicting answers would be the “right” one.  My advice here is very simple – BE HONEST.  It is so easy to spot an answer that sounds like “This is what they want to hear.”  You don’t know the opinion of the other people on the committee and the answer that satisfies one person may be the one that sinks you with others.

Be Confident
Be confident in who you are.  I have seen some candidates begin to squirm and look flustered when interview questions seem scattered and contradictory.  A good candidate who is honest and believes in him/herself is much more effective. An Executive Director will have to deal with difficult situations.  Interviewers will appreciate your straightforward, honest answers even if it isn’t the answer they were looking for.

Be Thoughtful
In a group setting many interviewers will provide background information before their question.  It is perfectly okay to pause a moment to consider the question – either the questioner or someone else may jump in with additional information that helps. Give your answer by describing how you would approach the situation rather than saying exactly what you would do - sort of Supreme Court Justice candidate style.

Be prepared with you own questions.  The time frame and process remaining, board-ED relationship, and the organization’s finances and all fair game subjects.  I always have the salary discussion with the candidates in a one on one conversation before the Search Committee interview.  I will only recommend a candidate to a Search Committee if I think this won’t be problem issue.  So this usually doesn’t come up in a group interview.  I don't recommend bringing up salary with a group unless they do.  Best answer - honesty.

I strongly recommend that if you meet with a Search Committee you document the questions asked and conversation within 24 hours.  If you make it to an interview with the Board, you will want to have this for your preparation.  And don’t forget the thank you note – email is okay – with your main contacts.

If a consultant is your main contact and was present but not a questioner - at the Search Committee interview and you are making it to the next step with the Board definitely initiate a conversation with her/him.  They are unlikely to give you specific feedback but they may say something helpful.  For instance - "X is important to them and your answer on that was strong."  Good to know - it most likely will be important to the Board too.

The interview process on the road to becoming a nonprofit CEO is definitely arduous.  But nobody is perfect and the Board and Search Committee will be choosing someone who is the best fit - not someone who is perfect.  Be confident in yourself and honest and GOOD LUCK!

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

10 Important Steps to Take for Your LinkedIn Profile to Present As A Wow Executive Director Candidate

When you are seeking or hoping to be discovered for a Nonprofit Executive Director position, you need to pay attention to your online presence. Even if you have the most professional resume ever written, the person conducting the search will be checking you out online. Your facebook page may be private, but if it is public make sure it does not have anything that would be offensive to anyone on it. Same goes for Instagram, twitter, etc. But more important than what you don’t say is what you do say and the site that needs your attention is Linkedin.   Linkedin is being used more by nonprofits and many nonprofit executive level jobs are now posted on Linkedin. Here are 10 things to do to make your Linkedin Profile present you as a wow candidate for executive director positions.

1. Consistency between your LI Profile and Resume
You should give your Linkedin profile as much attention as you do your resume. But they are not written in exactly the same way. Resumes are essentially a paper document and a Linkedin profile is an online document. The LI profile should be crisp and use bullet points. It does not need to be complete with details on every job you ever had but it does need to be consistent with your resume. For instance, if a hiring manager looks at both and they have different dates with listed companies that would be a problem. This could easily happen if you have written your LI profile at a different time than you did your resume and didn’t check the details as you did later when you were completing a resume for a job search. Make sure they both are consistent.

2. Thoroughness 
 Your Linkedin profile should be as long and as complete as possible. Linkedin puts the most important sections first and someone can just stop scrolling whenever they want. However, Linkedin provides the opportunity to include things that may be helpful that would not be appropriate to include with a resume. Make sure you take advantage of all this extra information. Here are some possibilities that you should not overlook.

3. Volunteer Experience and Causes
Are you a regular volunteer or have you served on a Board. Make sure you include it in this section. There may be an ED opening in a field not related to your current job but related to a field you have volunteer and/or board experience with. This section of your LI profile can be the most important one you will ever fill out and it is often overlooked. It is especially important for people who are seeking a career change into the nonprofit sector to complete this section of the profile

4. Slideshare
Are you asked to give talks to groups? Is it something okay to share publicly? Consider posting your presentations on slideshare and linking them to Linkedin. EDs and CEOs has expected to be good speakers and are the voice and face of the nonprofit organization in many venues. It does not hurt for your LI profile to show that you are experienced at public speaking.

5. Skills and Endorsements
This is a very important section to complete BEFORE you send out invitations to join your network. List the skills you have – especially ones you think will be important in the type of job you are seeking. Look at the Linkedin Profile of people you know that have the kind of position you seek and see the skills listed high on their profile. When you complete this section of the profile make sure you check all of the boxes about endorsements.

6. Connections
The more legitimate connections you have on LinkedIn the better.  Stay away from people you don’t know who look like they will just be bothersome to you.  Linkedin makes it easy to grow your network. First they will connect with your email address book and invite all or selected people to join your network. When people accept your invitation they will also have the opportunity to endorse you for skills listed. You profile is improved by people endorsing you for skills you have. When people accept your invitation in most cases you will be able to see their connections. Scan through them and if there are people THAT YOU KNOW and would like to connect with invite them to join your network. They don’t have to be your BFF but they should be someone you know. How well do you have to know them? When I get someone’s business card at a conference, client meeting, etc I feel comfortable asking them to join my network. The sooner, the better – while they still recognize my name. You will want to grow your network of nonprofit connections as much as possible because you never know who will be an important connection later. I have seen this happen at the most unexpected times.

7. Recommendations
People can endorse you simply by checking a box next to your name and this will be shown in tabular form on your profile. More important are actual written recommendations. People ask for recommendations through LI. Sometimes someone will write one for you and you should consider writing one on their profile if appropriate. Don’t feel shy about asking people to write recommendations for you. If you see a profile with many recommendations I can guarantee that an email was sent to connections asking for recommendations.

8. Projects
The LI Profile has a special section for “Projects.” If you have been part of or led a major project or inter-agency project, this is a good place to highlight it.

9. Other
There are a bunch of other sections and they are not all appropriate for everyone. But some of them are right for you and add value to your profile.

10. Be vigilant, Appreciative and Current
Update your Linkedin profile in real time. Received an honor last night? This morning is a good time to add it to your profile. Be sure to check off skills you know about for people in your network and thank people when they write a recommendation for you. If appropriate always write a recommendation for people who have recommended you. Like your connections updates. In brief, use LI as the networking tool it is meant to be. Of course all of this should be done in moderation. You don’t want to spend an excessive amount of time on LI, but you do want to make good use of it – especially if you are interested in advancement.

You can check out my profile on LinkedIn here.  And please feel free to ask to connect with me.


Monday, February 02, 2015

How Does Your Nonprofit Board Stack Up? New BoardSource Report Gives You the Tools

Boardsource  just released the report on its latest  study on Board performance. They asked over 1000 CEOs/EDs  and Board Chairs to complete a detailed survey and in these days when “big data” is king – here it is - all nicely analyzed and tabulated for you. “Leading with Intent – A National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices”  provides important insight into board practices. It is a treasure trove of information enabling you to see how your Board stacks up against similar Boards. 

I recommend that you read the whole report.  You can download it here 

The report is divided into three categories – People, Work and Culture. 

Leading with Intent - BoardSource Report Structure

There is too much data to cover in one blog post so this one just features the results in the “work” category. 

Leading with Intent - CEO and Board Chair Grades for Board Responsibilities

Boardsource asked CEOs and Board Chairs to rate their Boards in the 10 basic areas of responsibility for Boards.  This chart shows that there are some important areas that need improvement: Fundraising and community relations are on every list of desired improvement in Boards.  But equally important are these areas in the middle that are too often neglected: I believe that nonprofits can be much more effective if Boards  took their responsibilities for strategic planning, CEO evaluation and monitoring programs more seriously.  These areas are much more tied to fundraising and community relations that we give them credit for. One of the most important results from strategic planning that I have seen is a dramatic increase in awareness and involvement by Board members with the organization.  Being excited about the strategic direction of an organization equips a Board member with the tools to be involved in fundraising and community relations.  In essence it gives them the belief and the storybook to go with it – the ingredients so often missing to enable board members to be effective ambassadors.

Next lets take a look at this chart:

An interesting question:  In your opinion what are the three most important areas the Board should address to improve performance? 
The predictable:  The Board Chairs and CEO agree that “Strengthening fundraising” is the most important by far.  There is also 100% agreement at 41% that “Strengthen Outreach efforts and act as ambassadors for the organization” is important. 

More interesting:  While 28% of Chairs said “strengthen the approach to strategic planning was one of the most important areas needing improvement, only 17% of CEOs did.  Conversely, while 22% of CEOs thought that Boards should be more accountable, only 12% of Board Chairs saw this as a priority.  Hmmmm.  I quick survey and conversation on these questions would make an excellent board development exercise and a board meeting or retreat.

None of us – individuals or organizations - are perfect.  However, you can use this data for benchmarking your own Board performance and see how you stack up compared to similar organizations. There is data presented in this report by size and type of organization so that you can compare yourself to your peers.

If you are interested in working with me on board development using this report data, please let me know.  I can’t wait to delve in even further.


A popular resource all year long:

2014 Wishlist of Books for Nonprofit Folk

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letter – Making a Big Bet on the Future and Asking Us to Join In

Bill and Melinda Gates write a personal annual letter - separate from their Foundation’s Annual Report every January.  This is the 15th year of the foundation and they say that they started with the bet that by backing innovative work in health and education they could help dramatically reduce inequity.  They are excited by the level of progress made and this year they are doubling down on the bet. Rather than rest on their laurels, this year they are inviting all of us to join them in making their bet of the future a success.

The theme for this year’s letter: Our Big Bet: The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than in any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s.  
The four areas that are part of this bet are health, farming, banking and education.  Some  key specifics of the bet are:
   1.       Child deaths will go down and more diseases will be wiped out
   2.      Africa will be able to feed itself
   3.      Mobile banking will help the poor transform their lives
   4.      Better software will revolutionize learning

Very much like Bill and Melinda there are specifics – both of accomplishment in the last 15 years and expectation for the next 15 for each of these categories.
The letter ends with a call for each of us to join in as a Global Citizen at http://www.globalcitizen.org/ . It is time again this year for the world leaders to meet to set goals and make commitments to make the world a better place 15 years from now.  Bill and Melinda are using their influential annual letter to encourage all of us to sign up and be part of the global citizen team supporting the goals and staying with the movement to meet the commitments made.

To be fair, the Gates' letter is taking some heat for being so upbeat and not providing more balance of the realities and enormity of what is required to make this happen.  But I must say, we have enough of that "it is too overwhelming" information and it is good to have this clean, visionary, "it really can happen" view.  They are familiar with knowing what can happen if you set goals.  First, you have to have the vision.  Here it is.
This year’s letter is different than the ones in the past.  Bill and Melinda are taking the next great leap in their journey to make the world a better and more equitable place.  They have already gotten billionaires to take the Giving Pledge which gave a huge boost and changed philosophy about how the rich give.  Now the Gates are asking all of us to join in and be part of this effort to bring about global change.  I’m in.  It’s a great idea.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Be More Productive Online – Blue Chips and Monkeys

The topic for this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival is personal productivity online. In a nutshell my advice is to spend time on your blue chips and don’t let the monkeys sit in your lap.  Let me explain. 

Years ago, when I worked in corporate America, I was in a training class where we did this exercise.  Everyone was given a long list of questions to answer and 20 minutes to finish as much as we could.  You handed in your answers and got your chips as you completed each question/task.  Some of the questions could be answered easily and some took more time and thought.  For each answer you got a white, red or blue chip.  White chips were 1 point, red chips were 5 points and blue chips were 10 points.  You only needed to answer two blue chip questions to win.  If you spent the whole time on white chip questions you would never get to finish 20 of them in the time available.  The point of the exercise – spend your time on the blue chips (most important items) first. It’s true that they usually take more time but it is worth allocating the time. This lesson has stayed with me for a lifetime.

I think this is a particularly important advice for nonprofit leaders – especially small nonprofits with limited resources and people wearing multiple hats.  Small nonprofit leaders always seem to talk about all the things they have on their plate and why they aren’t getting to something they think is really important.  Often they are in the self-imposed white chip trap. 
When I was first promoted to be a manager my boss gave me this advice.  He said, “People will come to you - not because they want you to solve their problems – but because they want you to understand their difficulty and why something isn’t getting done.  Be careful that you don’t take the monkey from them because before you know it your desk is full of monkeys and you can’t do your job.”  It was great advice.  Each of us should be accountable for our own responsibilities.  Nonprofit executives can be too quick to take the monkeys and feel personally responsible for everything Do you recognize any of these scenarios?   

  • ED takes on answering phones during lunch hour every day rather than letting calls go to voicemail. 
  • ED gets involved in the details of what interns will work on when it could easily be decided by an immediate supervisor. 
  • ED gets involved in daily operations in ways that establishing policies and protocols could eliminate their involvement. 

Notice anything familiar yet?  We all spend some time on the white chips.  If you want to improve your personal productivity you need to to step back, identify your white chips and monkeys – especially the repetitive ones – and re-engineer the process to eliminate duplicate or unnecessary work.

The topic of the carnival is supposed to be about personal productivity ONLINE.  So let’s talk about online.  

The first step is to know your objective and audience.  Are you using online activity as a resource, for marketing, fundraising, advocacy, awareness?  Who is the audience?  Where do they hangout? If your answer is everyone and everywhere you will be spending too much time on the white chips.  If your answer is everything, then I suggest you send some monkeys packing.

You can use measurements, analytics and soft data too to figure out where you are getting the most bang for the buck online and which areas have the most potential for growth.  I use google analytics to analyze which of my blog articles get the most attention and how the traffic is being driven.  I peel the information in several ways.  Since I am mostly – not completely – a local business I analyze how much of the traffic is coming from local sources.  I look to see which articles inspire people to look at additional pages and not just the landing page. I analyze the data in different ways depending on what I am trying to accomplish.  I actually have two blogs this one and The Grandma Chronicles.  At the Grandma Chronicles I write about being a grandmother and product reviews.  What is so interesting is that the drivers to each blog are very different.

I have not had much luck with my nonprofit consulting blog facebook page.  In my case linkedin groups, pinterest (yes, pinterest) and participating on other blogs is most effective.  I use twitter for resources and peer interactions but not for business development.  At both of my twitter accounts I have about 8 lists and when I am at twitter I don’t go through the feed.  I use my lists so that what I am reading is focused.  For consulting the topics include governance, nonprofit technology, NJ nonprofits, philanthropy, executive search, etc. MyWishlist of Books for Nonprofit Folk Pinterest Board drives traffic all the time since I post new pins throughout the year.  The Wishlist is my signature piece so I give it attention all year long.

For the Grandma Chronicles, facebook is more effective.  This page likes a bunch of grandparenting, parenting and toy company pages and it is very easy to have interesting stuff to post all the time.  I intersperse this treasure trove with my own original material and the facebook page drives traffic to my blog where people do click on my Amazon links.  Pinterest is also effective with the grandma crowd.  Participating on twitter or linkedin is a zero and participating on other blogs is not very effective.  For this “business” I would like to have readers anywhere in the United States and being local is irrelevant.

The monkeys?  There are lots of them in your email.  They are jumping around and want desperately to land in your lap.  Delete, unsubscribe and forward with a copy to sender – letting the sender know they will hear back directly from the responsible party.

So to sum up – be more productive online by playing your blue chips instead of the white ones and staying away from the monkeys.