Hiring Smart: Strategies for a Better Interview Process

Been there, done that, right? We’ve all marched through the interview process at one time or another, sitting at the table, suited up or asking the questions, gathering war stories to share.

When you’re the one making the hire, what you ask is more important than what you say. Today, we offer a few key strategies and questions to use when interviewing people—ED to intern—to elicit key understandings about your candidates, and to help you and your team ultimately arrive at the smartest hire.

Think “standardized testing”: No, of course we’re not suggesting those beloved circle-the-bubble tests of long-ago school days. But when it comes to interviewing job candidates, some standardization will make the process easier.

We suggest using three to four standardized questions for every candidate. They’ll help you and your team assess candidates’ responses, and compare and contrast their strengths and weaknesses from the same benchmark. Apples to apples, you might say.

Mix it up. Make it people to people: Schedule a rotation of one-on-one interviews with group interviews comprising other staffers or a mix of board members along with a member of your management staff. This mixing strategy allows you to see how the person will respond and interact in a variety of frontline “eye-to-eye” situations like board meetings, community events, donor luncheons and individual donor interactions, for example.

Tip: Different people pick up on different things about a candidate. Encourage honesty and an open environment in which your hiring team can freely share opinions and insight after the interview. Honesty and substantive discussion yields compromise and hopefully, a better hire.

Details differentiate: Mannerisms and manners still hold sway. Does he stand up straight and extend his hand and smile upon first meeting? Does she reach out with hand gestures and lean forward when talking, or does she sit back when questioned and look at an empty chair when responding?

Note: We often tout “passion” as a nonprofit-world virtue. It is. But so is perseverance and grit, the ability to bounce back from failure. You want someone who can successfully manage his passion for the long run and through setbacks. Good questions to assess this trait include, How have you turned a dream into a reality?” or “How have you dealt with failure and bounced back from it?”

A Word to the Wise: What Not  to Do or Ask

  • It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Treat others like you would want to be treated if the interview shoe was on the other foot. Focus on them; be engaged; don’t bring your cell phone/laptop/tablet/favorite online game to the interview to entice or distract; no grimaces, guffaws or other derogatory facial expressions; smile; offer a glass of water; sit up straight and keep the interview on schedule.
  • You can’t ask questions related to age, religious practice, medical history, marital status, sexual orientation or racial background. Or ask if he or she has been arrested or convicted of a felony without having proof of necessity for asking, among others. It’s always wise to consult your HR resource or another trusted expert before beginning the interview process to ensure you’re buttoned up and within legal boundaries of what you can and cannot ask.

Rounding out this read, we wanted to pass along some interview questions that either we have used or that should yield deep candidate insight. Use this list as another resource the next time you find yourself across the table asking the questions. A full list and other great questions are here.

Before we go: What are some questions you like to ask and what qualities do you look for in candidates when you’re conducting new-hire interviews?


Click here to download these interview questions!

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