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Interviewing - Broaden the View!
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Contributed by Deb Anderson
I fondly recall the days where a volunteer interview was a relaxed, friendly affair over a cup of coffee. It usually occurred in the office library, in the upholstered rocking chairs. The focus: chatting. We chatted….about the organization, our accomplishments and needs. The candidate revealed their availability and when they could start. Often we talked about our personal lives… children, jobs, and other volunteer work. I didn’t take many notes. My purpose was to make the candidate feel comfortable enough that they would make a commitment and keep it.
Wow! Have times changed! Expectations have increased substantially since those days of fond coffee and book smelling memories. Expectations for effective screening protocol come from our service recipients and funders, our boards and leaders, government, insurance agencies, the voluntary sector and society at large. We are charged with the task of protecting others from the harm of a dangerous volunteer. Our peers, those who supervise the volunteers we recruit, have higher expectations that we will make the right match between volunteer skills and interests and the position requirements. In these days of resource famine, staff does not have extra time to spend on a volunteer who isn’t going to work out. It may be that they have distinctively different values, expectations that differentiate from what we can provide, lack necessary skills or have a personality that will not mesh well with the personalities of our current team. Vision-sighted leaders expect volunteers to buy into and demonstrate corporate values. It’s a tall order but the interview is our best tool to learn most about a candidate. It’s the time when we make a great match between volunteer and position.
The interview is also an opportunity for the candidate to screen the organization and determine whether to make a commitment. That means, while screening, you need to be selling! Paint a picture that helps the candidate see how volunteering fits into a busy lifestyle and feel the great personal satisfaction that comes with involvement. These high expectations have initiated increasingly sophisticated interviews for volunteers. Interviewing is complex and yet something that few Volunteer Resources Managers receive adequate training to do well at.
Make the Interview Worthwhile
Preparing effectively for an interview is a significant amount of work. You need a good understanding of organizational needs and to be able to see the big picture about how volunteers could be engaged. You’ll also need a list of vacancies of existing volunteer roles and up-dated position descriptions for those roles. Armed with this information, you can develop interview questions that explore whether or not a volunteer is a good fit and if so, what position would best utilize their skills and maintain their interest.
There are two schools of thought about developing questions. One is to write questions for each specific role. The other is to develop an interview guide, with multiple questions to choose from, that address the main competencies required for all volunteer positions in your organization. Our Guide at the NHS assesses a volunteer’s ability to demonstrate our core values, ability to work independently and as part of a team, provide excellent customer service, manage conflict and maintain a safe environment. Each competency is rated, as well as overall communication skills, producing a consistent evaluation for every applicant.
Regardless of how you develop questions, it is essential that the questions be legal. In Canada, we have Human Rights Legislation that outlines what is acceptable and what is not. Other countries have different legislation, but the principle is always the same… questions must be based on the bonafide requirements of the position. Questions about race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status, family status, disability, pardoned conviction, or sexual orientation are all "no no’s". That said there are exceptions to every rule, and if one of these "no no’s" is a requirement, you can express that and ask a question about it. Examples: a catholic priest for on-call chaplain service at the hospital must be catholic; two-spirited native counsellor must be native and two-spirited; a new comer’s from China coordinator must be from China; a female chaperone on a youth camp trip must be female; families adopting seniors must have children in their families. If the position has no special requirements, then it is not appropriate to ask questions about these protected topics. EDITOR’S NOTE: These exceptions may still be interpreted differently in different jurisdictions, so be sure to learn more about your own.
Once you are prepared with questions, you can schedule the interviews and meet with candidates. For most people, an interview is a bit nerve-racking. Set the tone with a friendly handshake and warm welcome. Chat for a minute or two about the weather (ten years of interviewing and I’ve finally learned it is indeed the only safe small talk for an interview!). Explain what is going to happen during the interview. My script goes like this… “I have some questions here to ask you (point to the guide) that will help us determine whether we have a position that suits your interests, matches your skills and will help move the organization forward. I’ll be taking notes that I can refer to later to help me remember our conversation. If you have any questions, feel free to ask, and if any of my questions stump you, feel free to ask me to repeat it or ask it a different way or give you some time to think about it and come back to it at the end. Ok?” Knowing what is in store helps the candidate to feel comfortable, think more clearly and provide you with their best answers.
Tailor the Type of Interview
There are various types of interviews that we can employ to collect the information we need about a candidate. Most VRM’s interview one volunteer at a time but that is not our only option, nor is it the best option for all situations. Using different types of interviews can help us better assess a candidate.
The Screening Interview is usually short, conducted on the phone and is a chance to assess key things like whether available positions interest the applicant, and whether the candidate’s personal schedule works with the position timeframes. You may also ask questions that would assess whether the individual fits with the organizations mission, vision and values. You may decide to move to a more formal interview or to end the relationship here. The Screening Interview respects both your time and the candidate’s time, saves on travel and could easily be delegated to an office volunteer with a bit of training.
Once you have decided to move to a formal interview, you have a variety of format choices. A Candidate Group interview involves a small group of potential volunteers. Questions are posed to the entire group and the interviewer can easily determine the best candidate(s) for the position available. Of course, no determination of hire would be discussed in the group forum. You would need to get back to them as individuals to let them know whether they are successful or not. I have used this technique with co-op students and it works very well. It’s also an effective tool if you are building a team of volunteers who will work together or recruiting families.
The Employer Team Interview involves a group of individuals from the organization meeting with one applicant. They decide to accept or reject as a team. Despite the value of this approach, most organizations could not afford to use paid staff resources in this manner. However, it is an excellent way to create a volunteer leadership position that supports the Volunteer Resources department. All interviewers ask pre-determined questions from the interview guide to stay on track. A rating scale helps interviewers come to consensus.
Technology is changing volunteering and therefore must change the way we interview sometimes. Virtual volunteers, volunteers who are employed full-time or volunteers that will work from home may not be able to get to your office during office hours. Conference calls, MSN and web cams are alternatives to consider.
There are also choices about how you conduct the interview. Case Studies present a real-to-life problem and ask candidates to identify solutions and action steps. This is a good tool to use during part of an interview, but other types of questions would be necessary as well. Behavioural Interviews focus on past performance to determine how a candidate will respond to future situations. The questions are not easy nor are they expected by most candidates. The interviewer is looking for the situation, the action steps taken by the candidate in that situation and what the outcome was. Questions like “tell me about a time when you demonstrated your personal values in action” or “Describe a situation when you were involved with or observed something that was unsafe. What did you do about it and what was the outcome.” Situational/Assessment asks candidates to identify how they would handle hypothetical situations. The situations will be in line with current or recent circumstances experienced by the organization or volunteers in a specific role. Mix things up and use a variety of these ideas to get the most out of the short time you have during an interview.
At the end of the interview ask if candidate(s) have any questions and explain the next steps in the screening process. It’s best not to hire or reject a candidate at the interview. Let them know that you will be in touch after you have checked references, etc. Thank the candidate for their time and confirm that their willingness to contribute to the community as a volunteer is a great thing.
Use What You Learned
Shortly after the interview review your notes, contact references and follow up with applicants. I suggest that we also monitor our own growth and development in becoming better interviewers, support volunteers who have the task of interviewing with training and feedback, and update interviews once in a while. Feedback from your new volunteers is helpful information about how you can improve the interview from a selling perspective. Time and effort spent on creating an effective interview is a good investment as it makes the greatest use of our most important screening tool and helps us make the best match between a volunteer and a position.
Got to run, I have an application to review for my 3:00pm interview!
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