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Interviewing for a Nonprofit Job? Be Ready for These Questions


Employment interview over coffee.
Bloom Productions/Getty Images
This is a continuation of our list of favorite interview questions for nonprofit job seekers. How many are you ready for?

  • "Brag to me about the biggest failure you've ever had." If their answer shows they made a bold move for the right reasons and embraced their experience as a teachable moment, they score big time. If they brag about working too hard or dress up self-promotion with false humility, I send them packing.

    Another good one is to ask them to share an experience where they took an unpopular stand and held their ground. Then I ask them what is the trigger for them to support the chosen path even if they did not initially support that path? I don't want a team of yes people. I applaud a staff member taking a principled stand if, in their opinion, it is in the best interest of the organization and its mission.
    Ellen Ferber, Points of Light & Hands On Network

  • I ask how they see their skills/experience transferring to the position/organization. Not everyone comes to an interview with the exact qualifications, but many arrive with transferrable skills. It is important to be open to bringing a variety of backgrounds to a team.
    Erin Tanenbaum, Nonprofit Organization Management Consultant
  • What inspires and excites you about our mission? What questions or concerns about our mission, if any, would need to be answered before you could enthusiastically support this mission in the future?
    Frank Martinelli, Center for Public Skills Training, Milwaukee
  • "After all of the questions we asked today, what is the one we didn't ask and should have asked?"

    After they come up with a question, I have them answer it. This question gives hints to their decision process and how they handle surprises.
    Eric Duchinsky, MS, CAE, Edison Solutions, Urbana-Champaign, IL

  • I'm on the job market now, and a good two-part behavioral question I've had from a couple of organizations in different sectors is "You're the team leader for the first time. You want to move forward one way with a project, but your two team members disagree. Each of them has different reasons for disagreeing. What do you do and why?"

    What I like about this question is that it's a signal my interviewer is interested in both my leadership ability and my consensus-building skills, as well as my thought process and how I act on my ideas. In my experience, situations like this happen all the time, but successfully handling them is the real challenge.
    Jason Malikow, Nonprofit Advancement Writer/Philanthropy Coordinator in Chicago

  • "What are your long term goals for your career?"
    Lara Tewes, Long Island University
  • In an environment of fiscal uncertainty and massive budget cuts, I like to ask what ideas they may have on sustainability...whether they are comfortable with developing market-based solutions to help solve the larger-picture issues that, in turn, move toward supporting our mission.
    Ryan Gilbert, Group Alaska
  • Ethics is an important component in my work as a fundraiser. I would present an ethical dilemma for a discussion with a new candidate. I would want to hear the pros and cons of each solution available to resolve the issue, and why one would be preferable over another.
    Shelita G. Bourgeois, Xavier University of Louisiana
  • I like to ask the candidate "What is it about this profession that makes you passionate?" Another favorite question of mine is to ask why the candidate chose the college they went to and how that affected their career path.

    I hope to hear from a development officer candidate something about how the close of a gift cycle gets them excited. Usually what I hear is that they love people and love to listen. Not the best answer.

    For the college question, it gives me insight (sometimes) as to how they got where they are now. The answer to the choosing the college is often by default, but what they got out of it can be telling.
    Lou Ann Krawczynski, Smith College

  • "Do you remember when you first supported an organization and when you first volunteered?" Most people respond with adult donations or volunteering - they often forget they collected for charities as kids or volunteered in sports or community groups. The reason I ask is to see how perceptive they might be. I also ask about their most recent book/film etc. to see if they really do have an outside life and what their community involvement is.
    David Zerman, Royal Melbourne Hospital Foundation
  • "What are you passionate about and why do you want to work for the nonprofit industry?" I then ask them what is the difference between a job and a career? I'm trying to learn more about their passion for nonprofit work, and how they will be a follower or a leader no matter where they start their career. Folks work 8-12 hour days, and my clients don't need someone who has a hamster on the wheel mentality. They want people that are engaged and driven by a passion that is so deep that it inspires them to move mountains.
    Patty Hampton, CSP,Nonprofit Staffing Solutions in Washington, D.C.
  • "If you suspected your supervisor was doing something unethical, what would you do?" I always ask that one. I think the answer tells me a lot about the person's thought process and their commitment to ethical behavior. Do they report it right away? Do they investigate further? Do they talk to the boss and ask for an explanation? Do they just let it drop? I want someone who knows that perception is not always reality and does not automatically assume that their suspicion is fact. I also want someone who will not stand for any type of unethical behavior.
    Alan Harrison, CDC Foundation, Atlanta
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