by Sara Pacelle

Interviewing for jobs in the nonprofit sector has certain nuances, according to Sue Dahling Sullivan, Chief of Staff of the Citi Performing Arts Center in Boston.  I recently heard Sue speak at an assembly for career counselors and I welcomed her pragmatic approach to interviewing.  Although her talk was geared toward nonprofit interviewing, her advice can be taken for any interview. She stressed the importance of respectful interview attire, showing enthusiasm and passion in the role and the organization, and being thoughtful and prepared when answering and asking questions.

Many thanks to Sue for sharing her six simple tips for shining in a nonprofit interview.

1.     Connect the dots:  Your resume should contain experience that is relevant to the posted nonprofit position.  Even if you don’t have the actual work experience that is listed in the nonprofit job description, reference volunteer work, board experience and civic engagement to show strong nonprofit connections and your mission-driven capabilities.

2.     Do your homework:  Search the organization’s website and any online news to fully understand its mission, culture and goals.  Demonstrate this familiarity and knowledge in correspondence and in your interview.  You may not get that job, but you will get the employer’s attention by being perceived as a valuable candidate who “gets it” for consideration in future positions.

3.   Write a cover letter worth reading: Sue considers this one of the most effective ways to get noticed. She also says she sees it often underused. The well-crafted and customized cover letter is an opportunity to demonstrate to the employer that you are the right candidate and to show your personality and passion for the position. It is also the perfect place to link your skills to the needs of the nonprofit.

4.   Preview the interview roster: Knowing with whom you are interviewing and doing a bit of research into their position and background can help you formulate specific questions for them. Asking generic questions about the organization shows a lack of focus on the position and the organization. The best candidates prepare by customizing questions and their own past experience
stories that match the interviewer’s interests and goals.

5.  The key to closing: This tip is really important because it is the last impression you leave your interviewer. Sue says to make sure you close  strong. At this point in the meeting, you have already demonstrated your skills match and you have asked strategic questions. The interview is at its end, so what’s the best way to close the interview? Sue suggests preparing a
well-crafted and succinct closing statement that reinforces your ability and desire to make a “measurable and mission-driven difference.” Seal your commitment with a firm handshake (and a thank you.)

6.  No thank you, no offer: Sue was fairly adamant that if an interviewer does not send a simple thank you to each of the interviewers within 24 hours, that can mean the end of the interviewing journey. Even if you nailed the interview, this oversight can demonstrate lack of follow-up. Particularly in the nonprofit sector, offering gratitude is an essential part of their relationship building strategy, so a prompt thank you is required.

Sue added that these steps may seem obvious, but in her experience where she has interviewed hundreds of candidates for non-profit jobs, “a surprising number of job candidates overlook them.” With all the details and stresses of a job search, it’s easy to let some things fall through the cracks. Staying organized and prepared can keep you focused and confident to remember these steps once you get that interview.



09/03/2013 1:52am

Excellent article, quite interesting info. I came across your website on Google. I am going to recommend it to our close friends.

12/28/2017 12:58am

I've been in a nonprofit organization for almost six years. I never applied for the position, I volunteered for it. And yes, the job is salary free, we don't have any salaries, but we have sponsors who help us in our events. I never experience applying for a nonprofit sector. But when the time comes, I will surely have an advantage because of your article. I know that your article will help me, If I will try applying for a nonprofit sector job.


The worst thing is when they don't even respond to you. And you just like don't know what happened.

12/28/2017 12:40am



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