Tuesday, June 09, 2015

A Few Tips for Interviewing 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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