Charity careers and recruitment: from nervous wreck to interview guru

As the recession intensifies competition in the jobs market, Gordon Carson asks some experts in charity recruitment for their top tips on interviewing and being interviewed

Interview illustration
Interview illustration


- Preparing for an interview

"It is the people who have clearly prepared for the interview and can demonstrate a good understanding of our work and key priorities who are most likely to succeed." - John Ellis, deputy director for volunteering, Barnardo's

"Find out whether the interview will be based on your CV or the application form. Look at the way you've behaved in certain situations in the past as an indication of how you might behave in the role. And have some questions of your own ready." - Rebecca Clarke, adviser, organisation and resourcing, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

- Personal presentation and interview body language

"Dress to match the professional standards of the workplace. Arrive early for your interview to settle in and do a final run-through of your script. During your interview, control stress by taking deep breaths." - Andrea Heffernan, HR manager, Rainbow Trust

"Look like you want the job. The interviewers are often as nervous as the candidate, so the sooner the interview becomes a conversation and allows you to shine, the better. Be positive in your body language, look them in the eye, give a firm handshake - and smile." - Matthew Page, head of human resources, Mind

- Dealing with interview nerves

"Take your coat off before you sit down. It's amazing how many people sit in an interview in their heavy coat, which immediately makes them feel awkward and uncomfortable. Make eye contact with the people who are interviewing you. If it's a panel interview, address all of them." - Rob Hayter, associate director, recruitment agency TPP

- Not for Profit

"If you have prepared properly and know the role and the organisation well, there is no reason to be nervous. Remember that the organisation needs you too. Try to control your nerves by speaking slowly. And make sure you allow plenty of time to get there: being late is not good for your nerves." - Borge Andreassen, head of senior and executive recruitment, ProspectUs

- How much knowledge should interviewees have about the employer?

"Carry out as much quality research as possible. This is easy to do on the internet, using the organisation's own website and other relevant sites. Research the activities of the organisation and the latest news, its overall mission statement, values, finances, key players in the organisation, services it provides and competitors and business challenges. In-depth research demonstrates true interest and gives you an edge over other candidates." - Andrea Heffernan, HR manager, Rainbow Trust

- The best sources of information on charity employers

"If the employer is a registered charity, find it on the Charity Commission's website and look at its annual accounts. And don't forget to research your actual interviewers. If the ever trusty Google fails, LinkedIn, Zoom and are good starting points. Remember to look at the obvious and the less obvious. The organisation's website is a good place to start, but you should also remember to search back through press releases and newsletters to get a flavour of the key issues it is dealing with." - Sarah Illingworth, director, executive search and selection, People Unlimited

- How to handle salary negotiations

"If a recruitment consultancy is involved, salary negotiations tend to be left to the consultant. This can be more comfortable for both sides, because very few people like discussing salaries. You might want a £10,000 pay rise, but it is important to consider the whole package when you are negotiating your basic salary. Remember that your new employer will see your former salary when they receive your P60, so don't exaggerate." - Rob Hayter, associate director, recruitment agency TPP

- Not for Profit

"Wait until you have been offered the post, be reasonable in your requests and ensure you can justify what you request." - Matthew Page, head of human resources, Mind

"My philosophy has always been to tackle this head-on at the first interview. This will give the interviewee the opportunity to look at negotiations in a more controlled way, especially if there is room for clever salary planning." - Claire Ayerst, director, Charity HR


- Interview formats

"Employers should start with the role and the skills and experience required. What are the crucial skills you need? How can these be demonstrated in an interview? For example, a presentation on a relevant topic is usually an excellent way to get an idea of a person's thought processes and how they engage with people, especially for a public-facing role.

I would recommend always having at least two people on the interview panel, partly to ensure a fair and equality-focused process. Questions should cover the candidates' career history and focus on the specific skills and abilities required for the role they are being interviewed for." - Borge Andreassen, head of senior and executive recruitment, ProspectUs

- How to deal with nervous interviewees

"There's no point putting the candidate on edge; you won't see the real person behind the carefully planned CV. I prefer a relaxed style of interviewing, because this puts the candidate at ease. Try not to sit across the desk from the candidate because this creates an added barrier, and always offer them refreshments. If the candidate is junior and has not been to many interviews, it's a good idea to walk and talk them around the site and show them the surroundings. This will relax them before a more structured interview." - Claire Ayerst, director, Charity HR

- Tests for interviewees

"You should always let the candidate know that they will need to complete the test and, where possible, let them know what it consists of." - Claire Ayerst, director, Charity HR

"Something fairly simple but specifically tailored to the job and its immediate challenges might take a little time to put together, but can be a cost-effective way of testing candidates beyond the traditional interview format.

You might, for example, ask a finance director to analyse and summarise some complex data, or get a chief executive to prepare a 'soundbite' in response to breaking news." - Sarah Illingworth, director, executive search and selection, People Unlimited

- How much emphasis should interviewers place on a candidate's commitment to their charitable cause?

"Although the key objective is to recruit someone who can do the job well, it is important to keep in mind the key values and ethos of the organisation. In this sector, candidates also self-select the causes and organisations they want or do not want to work for." - Borge Andreassen, head of senior and executive recruitment, ProspectUs

"During my 10 years in executive recruitment, I have noticed that although 95 per cent of candidates are great at saying why they'd be good for an organisation, what they'd do for it and how excellent a choice they'd be for the job, a scant 5 per cent remember to tell me why they really want the job and why that particular organisation is one they really want to work for. A subtle reframing really does differentiate candidates in a recruiter's deliberations." - Sarah Illingworth, director, executive search and selection, People Unlimited.

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