Just the other day a close friend was telling me about a bizarre job interview he had for an accounting position at a nonprofit.
The interview panel consisted of eight people who asked a total of 30 questions, none of which pertained to the actual responsibilities of the job.
He suspected that he knew more about their finances and what the job entailed than they did, which made the situation extremely awkward. Fortunately for him, that afternoon he received another job offer which saved him from having to decide whether or not he should consider working for that organization.
The story was painful to hear yet all too familiar from the many times I’ve seen poorly conceived nonprofit executive searches that needed to be straightened out.
Many interview panels, with the best of intentions, throw the kitchen sink at job candidates rather than first taking the time to carefully consider exactly what type of qualifications and characteristics they are seeking in a candidate.
Determining the qualifications and characteristics you need in a candidate is essential to conducting a good executive search process.
If you don’t do that, then person A on the committee thinks that X is the most critical thing that’s needed for the job while person B on the committee thinks that Y is the most critical thing that’s needed and so forth -- with each interviewer coming to the table with a different set of criteria.
The result is an alphabet soup of needs rather than a picture of a clearly defined candidate.
For example, for an accounting position you could determine that the candidate must understand how to work with a specific kind of software, produce certain types of reports on a regular basis, and have experience with managing an annual budget.
In addition, you might want to be sure that your accountant could:
work effectively with department managers (including those who had little budget experience)
explain things clearly and patiently to board members with varying levels of financial expertise
be someone who is passionate about the mission of your organization
Those types of personal characteristics are somewhat different from the qualifications you would include in a job description, yet they might have a great impact on how smoothly your organization functions.
Since each organization is different in size, scope, mission, structure and expertise, each search should begin with a meeting of key actors who will deliberate, identify and agree upon what your organization needs.
Then, the expectations of the candidate who is ultimately hired will be tailored to what works best for your organization.
When I do executive search consulting for nonprofits and philanthropies, I encourage my clients to go one step further and weigh the relative importance of the qualifications and characteristics of the ideal candidate. That way, everyone is sure to be on the same page when interviewing candidates.
It works like a charm.
The interview questions will practically write themselves once you’ve completed the hard work of deciding exactly what you need.