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Strategies For An Interview Overhaul

Have you ever encountered the poor performer, the difficult volunteer, the underachiever or the volunteer who disappears rather than tell you what they need? If you have had your share of these performance issues, then the problem may be your interviewing technique and placement decisions.

The following points will demonstrate what an interview is not and what it is.

An interview is not:

  • A pleasant chat. While you might enjoy the conversation, it will not target the things you need to know in order to make an effective placement decision.
  • An exclusive opportunity to market your organization. Marketing is a by-product of effective recruitment.
  • A cookie cutter approach, i.e., asking all candidates the same question for all positions. Each position has its own requirements.
  • An intellectual exercise. Decisions about placement should always take place in your gut. If you pay attention to your gut, you are rarely wrong.

An interview is:

  • An opportunity to view candidates under stress to see how they respond.
  • An opportunity to assess the candidate’s problem solving skills.
  • An opportunity to observe the candidates self-perception.
  • The moment where the match between the right volunteer for your organization takes place. It is about chemistry as much as qualifications.

The best strategy when developing effective interview techniques is to give serious thought in advance to how you frame the questions. Who hasn’t been asked what your strengths and weaknesses are? Everyone comes prepared to answer these questions, but their pat answers do not tell you what you need to know. It is therefore important to ask the unexpected. Doing so will enable you to observe the potential volunteer in a somewhat stressful situation and also to witness their problem solving skills in action. It is important to ask all candidates for the same position the same questions, so that you are comparing “apples to apples”. Remember that each position requires questions that are tailored to target the best placements for that specific assignment.

How you open an interview is very important. Most people begin interviews with a question like this one: “Tell me about yourself and why you want to volunteer here”. Candidates often expect this question and come prepared with a flattering answer. Or, they will ramble on and on in their response. The purpose of a good opening question is to provide a quick and efficient glimpse into the soul of the candidate. A very effective opener is, “What are the three accomplishments that you are most proud of?” The answer to this question can tell you everything that you need to know. If the candidate cannot give you three examples, or if all the examples are work related and show a lack of balance, you may not want to place that individual.

Additionally, always ask the candidate what they know about your organization. Someone who has done careful and thorough research is often a better placement than someone who knows very little about what the organization does.

End the first section of each interview with the question “Why do you want to volunteer here”. While passion for the cause is important, you want to make sure that the candidate has realistic expectations about the mission of the organization as well as what they can accomplish as a volunteer.

Questions in the body of the interview should fall in two categories, experiential and situational. Experiential questions relate to the specific experience of the candidate that is relevant to the assignment that you are recruiting for. For example, if the position involves customer service, you might ask, “What was the best and worst customer service that you have received and why?” The answer to the question will tell you a great deal about the candidate’s attitude toward customer service and how they might respond. Situational questions relate specifically to the things that you expect will happen in the assignment. Here, you are trying to see if the candidate responds appropriately. Since many volunteer assignments involve problem solving ability, you could present a problem to be solved. For example, you might say, “You encounter a client who is very upset about the services they are receiving. What do you do?”

Always close an interview with describing the culture of the organization. This “climate setting” can be a one to three sentence summary of the culture. Encourage the candidate to think about whether the culture represents an environment in which they think they can be successful. Follow this up with the next steps so the candidate knows what to expect. Never reject a candidate at the interview, as you don’t want to take a chance on how he or she will respond. Instead, send a friendly letter stating that you have determined that there is not a match between the volunteer and your organization.

Time devoted to strategic interviewing is always time well spent. It is respectful to the candidate, to you, to your organization. The benefits of such a procedure are immeasurable. Consider yourself a modern matchmaker. If you do the job right, there will be a lovely wedding, a great honeymoon and a strong and viable marriage between your organization and the volunteers whom you place.

Jill Friedman Fixler

About the Contributor: Jill Friedman Fixler

I N  M E M O R I U M
Jill Friedman Fixler, one of the original members of the CharityChannel professional community, died over Thanksgiving weekend, 2014. She is greatly missed.

She was a nationally known leader recognized for her innovative approaches to re-inventing, re-engineering, and re-vitalizing nonprofit and public sector organizations. She combined her skills as a trainer, facilitator, public speaker, and coach to promote excellence in volunteer engagement, strategic planning, and board and organizational development for organizations throughout the United States and Canada.

Jill had more than thirty years of experience. The list of organizations with which she worked includes: health and human services agencies; community centers; faith-based organizations; government; and cultural, environmental, and animal welfare organizations.

She was a frequent presenter at national and regional conferences, including the Ontario Hospital Association, National Multiple Sclerosis Society Leadership Meeting, American Society on Aging National Conference, Hostelling International-USA National Council Meeting, Professional Administration of Volunteer Resources-Ontario Training Meeting, American Hospital Association – Association of Volunteer Resource Professionals National Conference, and the National Conference on Volunteerism and Service.

Her many articles on volunteer engagement and board development have appeared in CharityChannel’s Volunteer Management Review and Nonprofit Board and Governance Review, as well as E-Volunteerism Journal.

Jill was a contributing author to YOU and Your Nonprofit, published by CharityChannel Press, as well as the author of Boomer Volunteer Engagement: Collaborate Today, Thrive Tomorrow and the Boomer Volunteer Engagement: Facilitator’s Tool Kit. In September, 2010, Jill received the prestigious Marlene Wilson Award for contributions to the profession of volunteer resources management from Denver’s DOVIA (Directors of Volunteers in Agencies).

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