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Prepare to commit

By Avi Vince

Interviewing for a non-profit organisation presents its own challenges, writes Avi Vince.

Orthoptist Kylie Gouliotis sat nervously in front of a panel. This was her first interview with a non-profit organisation. She had so far enjoyed a successful career in government agencies and private practice andwas making the move to the non-profit sector. She chose the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) to continue to dedicate her career to improving the lives of children with hearing or vision loss.

RIDBC is Australia's largest provider of services and education programs for hearing- and vision-impaired children, intensively assisting more than 1000 children and providing assessment and diagnostic services to more than 2000 babies a year.

Being interviewed for a non-profit position was a brand-new world for Gouliotis. "The biggest difference is that there are multiple people on the panel from all different parts of the organisation," she says.

The director of people and performance at RIDBC, Marcella Lazarus, says there is a key difference between non-profit and corporate interviewing. "The first thing we look for in an applicant is the commitment to the organisation and that people really get it, really have a passion and a commitment to what we deliver here and the services and outcomes," she says.

Lazarus, who has worked with corporate organisations for nine years and with non-profit groups for four years, says applicants in the corporate world focus on whether they want to work for a company based on how cool they believe the product to be. Whereas in the non-profit sector, "everybody knows and believes in the mission. They live and breathe it every day. Even those in accounts. Applicants need to demonstrate a connection to the organisation."

The first tip to interviewing for a non-profit organisation is to demonstrate a commitment to its mission and values. Include this in your cover letter when applying, but also prepare a response to a question about commitment to the organisation's mission.

"I checked the website to give me information about the mission statement - what they stand for," Gouliotis says. "Looking at what their goals are helped me to understand what they were looking for in an applicant."

The next step is to prepare answers for likely questions. Non-profit organisations base these on the criteria found within the job description. "You need to draw on your past experience to see how you can best present yourself to fit those criteria," Gouliotis says. "You need to prepare in advance; if you are put on the spot, it is hard to think of a particular example."

Lazarus says, at RIDBC, they ask broad questions, too. "We ask what is their proudest achievement?" She says the best answer for this type of question is matching the answer to the skills required for the role. She explains how an applicant for a managerial role gave an example of developing her previous staff.

For those without experience, Lazarus says it is not only work experience they are after. "I have recruited a lot of graduates and the fact that they don't have a lot of experience doesn't matter," she says. "Look at what you have done in your life; maybe you have helped out with a project in your local community, or volunteered. Demonstrate that you could do the job. Collaborating on a university project demonstrates great team skills."

She says non-profit organisations are more competitive in recruitment than ever. "We are looking for the best and brightest professionals that we can recruit," she says.

However, interviews for non-profit organisations are unusual; they do not focus on the job applicants demonstrating how much they can sell but rather on empowering the disadvantaged. If applicants do their homework, connect to the organisation and prepare great examples based on the selection criteria, they may soon receive a job offer to a fulfilling career.


Published: 01 December 2012

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