In my last article I offered 7 out of 9 interview secrets to prepare for your next fundraising job. Today I’ve got 2 more biggies!
- Pump yourself up
- Ask others to pump you up
- Strike a Super Hero pose
- Refresh your research and review the job description
- Prepare talking points
- Demonstrate how you’re a good cultural fit
- Avoid talking salary at first interview
- Prepare ahead to answer common questions
- Prepare ahead to ask important questions
Together, these 9 secrets are all you need to ace your next interview and land the job of your dreams.
Get Ready for Q & A
8. Prepare answers to traditional getting-to-know-you questions.
Your answers must be personal and authentic. Don’t use cookie cutter answers you find on the internet. In addition to the specific talking points you’ll have prepared about your suitability for this job, be prepared to answer these common interview questions:
- “Tell me about yourself.” This is when you want your elevator pitch (aka verbal branding) – generally a 45-second to one-minute summary of your professional background and goals. Usually interviewers are looking to see a logical progression (not just of your job trajectory, but also your thought processes) that leads you to this particular opportunity.
- “Why are you interested in this organization/position?”
Whenever I’ve interviewed for a job, I’ve let my potential employers know that the number one thing I’m looking for is an opportunity to be successful (this should translate in their mind as wanting to raise lots of money, bring in lots of donors, and build a great infrastructure so that development runs like a well-oiled machine). The other thing employers care about is your passion for their cause. Yup. Don’t say you’re looking for “nice colleagues.” Or an “easy commute.” Or “flexible hours.” Or “getting to meet new people.” Or “having a chance to grow professionally” and “move up the ladder.” Be employer-centered, not you-centered.
- “What are your long-term career plans?”
Interviewers want reassurance you’ll stick with this job for a while. If you’re applying for an entry level job it’s fine to say you want to gain experience and continue to grow into other development jobs. But if they’re hiring a database manager, they may want to know you LOVE data and will always want to be in this job. If you can’t suss this out, play it safe with “I’ve one goal now… to be the best employee for this job.”
- “Why did you leave your last job?” / “Why are you leaving your current job?”
Whatever you say, avoid criticizing your last boss, co-workers or volunteers. It’s a small world, and this can come back to haunt you. Also, no one likes to hear public criticism because this raises the specter that you may one day criticize them.
- “What are your strengths?”
Answer as though they asked, “What strengths of yours would most benefit this organization/position?” Be prepared to offer a specific example.
- “What are your weaknesses?”
Frame this answer as the flip side of a strength; then describe the challenges you faced in the past and what you did to overcome them.
“I keep a busy schedule and enjoy getting a lot done. But sometimes it’s hard for me to take a step back and look at the whole picture. So I’ve learned to do this.”
“I consider myself creative and enjoy developing new approaches. I’ve had to recognize that a new approach may be less successful than the tried and true. I now consider this, and don’t always jump to implement the newest thing.”
“If by asking me what experience I’ve had supervising people you’re wanting to find out how I manage interactions with subordinates, I can tell you this: I’m a parent. I’m a spouse. I’m an employee. I’m a neighbor. I’m the head of the PTA. Even though I’ve never had a department to manage up to this point, I’ve lots of experience managing people and encouraging them to do what I want.”
9. Prepare thoughtful questions that demonstrate to your interviewer you care about what success will look like to them.
Keep in mind that an interview is a two-way street: it’s your chance to learn more about and evaluate the employer as well as their chance to vet you. You really don’t want to accept a job if you’ll end up being so miserable that the first thing on your mind will be “how can I get out of here?” Then you’re just back to square one, and you’ll have to start the search process all over again. Life’s too short!
So, ask questions that (1) convey your interest and appear proactive, and (2) unearth whether necessary pre-conditions are in place to assure your success. This is your opportunity to find red flags. Some of my ‘go to’ questions for a fundraising position are:
About the organization and department
- How large is your budget, and what percentage must come from contributions?
- How do contributions break down by campaign (e.g., individuals; foundations; businesses; events, planned giving, etc.)?
- Do you believe any of your top income sources are threatened in the next few years?
- How many donors do you have?
- What do you consider a “major gift” and how many are you getting?
- How large is your board and how much is your board donating?
- How are board members involved in fundraising?
- What do you use for a donor database? CRM? Who knows how to use these?
- Do you have a strategic development (fundraising and marketing) plan?
- How are fundraising and marketing integrated (formally and informally)?
- What is your marketing budget to acquire new donors?
- What is your stewardship budget to renew and upgrade ongoing donors?
- What percentage of the E.D.’s time is spent on fundraising? Ideally, would this become more or less?
- What kind of staff support is available to this position? To the E.D.? To the board and other volunteers?
- What are your top challenges? (Ideally, once you learn what keeps your interviewer up at night, you can offer a glimpse as to how you might address these challenges).
- What are your strongest assets?
- What is your strategic planning process? How is development involved?
- What is your board calendar and how often is development on the agenda? Would I attend meetings?
About the position
- Can you tell me about the history of this position?
- What are the initial short- and long-term projects for this position?
- What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the person who accepts this job?
- What would be the goal for my first three months? My first year?
- How is performance measured here?
- How would you describe the organizational culture here?
- What’s the hiring process? When do you expect to make a decision?
Try to tie the answers you get to these questions back to the value you can bring to the employer. For example, if one of the long-term projects they mention is an overhaul of the organization’s website, and you have web design, copywriting, or analytics skills, make a point of describing your experience and how it could help the project.
Making a matching between you and your prospective employer is remarkably similar to making a matching between the values your nonprofit organization enacts and the values your donor seeks to express. It’s an exchange relationship that boils down to:
What are the needs you are able to address? What are their needs?
To secure the fundraising job of your dreams, all you need to remember is this exchange equation. Then simply:
- Research the organization to determine their needs and how you can help them.
- Do a skills self-assessment and relate your skills to the job description.
- Have clarity as to the top points you want to make about your qualifications.
- Stick with these points so they’ll remember them when they think of you.
- Make these points relevant to the job for which you’re interviewing.
- Prepare answers to common interview questions.
- Prepare questions to ask your interviewer to assure the job’s a good fit.
- Actively practice your personal pitch, interview answers and questions.
- Decide on a salary range with which you’ll be satisfied.
Throughout your preparations, your main focus should be on articulating the contributions you could make to this employer.
If you can convince them you’ll add value to their organization, you’ll have aced the interview!
Photo taken at an art museum where it was allowed.