Interviewing for a job? Be prepared to answer these questions.

A lot happens in one year…

In 2014, I posted an article on the Top 5 Questions fundraisers should be asking in a job interview. Not realizing, at the time, I would get to put my words into action…many times over. Questions like:

  • Does the organization have a development plan?
  • How involved is the board in fundraising? Do they make their own gifts?
  • How diverse are the organization’s sources of income?
  • Does the organization have an endowment?
  • Does everyone on staff understand the importance of their role in fundraising?

In 2015, after more job interviews than I care to share with you, I can now confirm that YES, those are good questions to ask! I can also now tell you the top five questions you absolutely need to prepare for prior to your interviews.

These questions were asked of me, often without fail. So fundraisers, drum roll please…the top five questions you WILL be asked in a job interview:

1) Tell us about yourself.

Okay, not a question, but oh, so important. It’s usually the first thing you will be asked. This is your opportunity to shine, and to set the stage for the tempo of the interview. Come across as optimistic and positive. Don’t get to personal. Stick to aspects of your experience that relate to growth in your professional development and pertain to the job you are interviewing for.

It might be impressive that you are an avid collector of postage stamps, or you have just completed your second marathon, but if you are applying for a position as a planned giving officer, maybe not so relevant.

Often, I would use this time to explain how my career had evolved and the life events that shaped it. You might want to think about what inspired you to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector. How you first began fundraising. And what motivates you as a fundraiser. Keep it brief.

2) How would you describe your work style?

Here the interviewer is trying to determine how you will assimilate with others on staff. Think about your communication skills, leadership ability and management style.

While you may have a good sense of your style, you could begin with “I’ve been told that…” and reference interactions you have had with co-workers, volunteers or donors.

It might also be helpful to study your style. I took a StrengthsFinder survey that provided insight into my strengths. Once completed, I learned among many things that I recognize and cultivate the potential in others. I know what to do and say so individuals feel useful, valued, appreciated, and important. I grasp the concept of ‘less is more’ better than many people do. I was able to refer to some of these findings during the interviews.

3) What’s the largest gift you’ve closed?

Know your numbers!

I would say 99% of the interviewers asked this question. While I don’t particularly think it’s good to gauge of the quality of a fundraiser by his or her largest gift, it is unfortunately how we are often evaluated.

It would be extremely helpful to begin tracking how much you have directly and indirectly (with the help of others) raised from foundations, corporations, special events and individual donors every year. Maybe you are already doing this? I never did until I was asked for this information in my CFRE application. Now I track it religiously.

This information can be especially important for people pursuing a career as a major gifts officer, where experience closing five and six figures gifts from individuals is expected.

4) Why have you decided to leave your current place of employment? Or why did you leave your last place of employment?

You may be tempted to dwell on the negative here. I’m bored at my current job. I find my responsibilities frustrating and uninspiring. My boss is an idiot.

Don’t say that! Do even insinuate that, however true it might be. Always explain how much you have learned in your previous, or current, position and your desire to further expand and enhance your career, and how working for their organization will help you to do that.

If you lost your job, again stay positive. The interviewer might have concerns about your competence, motivation or ability to get along with others, and why you are unemployed. Stress that you are a hard worker. Focus on your achievements and what you learned at your last job despite the final outcome. Maybe the circumstances of your dismissal provided a learning opportunity that you can bring to a new place of employment. This is where having really good references, who can vouch for your work ethic, might be helpful.

5) What do you like best about what you do?

Open-ended questions like this are great, but be careful. Make sure your response is consistent with the responsibilities of the job you are applying for. If you say you are very good at and really enjoy managing people, but the job opportunity doesn’t have any managerial responsibilities you might want to think of something else.

This question provides an excellent opportunity to tell an inspirational story about your experience where you describe a challenge you faced, what you did about it, the results and why it reinforced your love of fundraising.

Final Thoughts

Interviews can be fun. They can be intimidating. And they can be a learning experience.

I think the most valuable advice I can provide is to be prepared and be yourself!


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