Interview Guide for Candidates

An interview is an opportunity to confirm that you will be an asset to the institution and the team. 

We are grateful for valuable feedback received from candidates and clients on successful interview preparation and provide this article, an update of an article published a year ago, to assist you in preparing for interviews. Interviews are not a test—they are an opportunity for you to connect personally with individuals who have expressed an interest in getting to know you better. 

  • Be on time for the interview—not too early and never late. Research parking and transit information in advance.
  • Every aspect of your dress and grooming should communicate professionalism and attention to detail. 
  • Know in advance who will be on the interview team, their titles, and roles. Assume that every person you meet will be involved in some way in the hiring decision including administrative staff and others you encounter as you approach the interview.
  • Research the institution thoroughly. Be prepared to ask questions that show that you are familiar with the institution and prepared for the responsibilities and opportunities that the position will provide. The quality of your questions is as important as the quality of your answers. Be prepared to discuss why this is the right position for you, as well as the institution, at this particular moment in time.
  • Be prepared to discuss your missteps as well as your successes. No one will think less of you for taking a risk, but prove that you learned something from the experience. When discussing your successes—don’t brag; inform.
  • Be concise and direct in your answers. Make sure your answers are responsive to the questions asked. Do not “over answer” or exaggerate. Know your audience. Read non-verbal cues. Know when to speak and when to listen. Make eye contact with members of the interview team. Try to appear relaxed. Don’t fidget.
  • Be positive. Never speak negatively about a former employer or colleague. In general, it is best to avoid making negative statements of any kind in an interview. Give credit to colleagues, mentors, and donors. Consider ways to present less-than-ideal experiences in an optimistic manner.
  • When speaking of donor relationships, be discreet. Carefully consider the implications of referring to donors by name, and do not hint that you will bring donors with you to the new institution.
  • Use discretion and good judgment when sharing personal information. “Read the room” and be cognizant about what is resonating with the group and what is not.
  • If the position involves relocation, consider all of the ramifications of a move in advance of the interview, including the impact on your family and finances.
  • Write thank-you notes to all key interviewers. Refer to specific comments that were made during the interview. Make sure your notes are free of errors—don’t rely on autocorrect if you are sending electronic thank-you notes.
  • A few comments on video interviewing. Video conferencing technology is routine in many institutions, and facility and confidence with video technology is mandatory for individuals in the job market. The sooner you reach a level of comfort with this technology, the less worry you will have and the more time you will have to focus on your interview. Dress for a video interview as if it were an in-person interview and conduct yourself in the same manner that you would were you in the room with the interviewer. Prepare your surroundings. Find a room with a neutral background and good lighting for the time of day. “Test drive” video technology in advance with a friend or former colleague. Consider taping yourself in an effort to refine your video conferencing skills.

You are being interviewed because you have exhibited talent and skill in the presentation of your materials and interactions so far. An interview is an opportunity to confirm that you will be an asset to the institution and the team. Above all, be relaxed, cordial, and confident.

The Aspen Leadership Group builds long-term relationships with current and aspiring philanthropy professionals. We are a career firm, not only a search firm. We’ve established the Philanthropy Career Network as a free resource for all who work and volunteer in the field of philanthropy, and its leaders and members regularly contribute content such as the article above. The more we know about you and your aspirations, the more we can help you throughout your career.