How to Prepare for an Interview at a Nonprofit Organization

High angle portrait of young woman answering questions during job interview in office, copy space

The best-intentioned applicants looking for a new career struggle to understand the nonprofit interview process, especially though standout candidate strategies are simple and inexpensive. You can beat the competition with these six easy, time-tested essentials recommended by Recruiterie.

I have interviewed hundreds of candidates for director-level and junior roles over the past few months. After reading hundreds of resumes and going through dozens of frustrating interviews, I learned that the best candidates understood nonprofit job interviews. 

Modern nonprofit job searches are high-tech, yet ways to stand out are simple and inexpensive. Despite greatest efforts, nonprofit interviewing appears impossible. With a nod to nonprofit transparency, here are six easy time-tested essentials that should give you an edge over the competition: 

Relate to the Position

With one-click application portals, I’ve received too many resumes that don’t relate to the nonprofit position (transferable skills, experience, or knowledge). The hiring manager should rapidly understand how your experience connects to the position. Volunteering, board service, and civic participation can help transition for-profit employees to nonprofits. Candidates who demonstrate these links are notable exceptions and unquestionably better positioned early in the process.

Read-up On the Potential Employer

Strong online and offline applicants who researched the organization are simple to detect. Before applying, research a company’s website and news. Show how you can uniquely contribute to the organization’s mission-driven success in your cover letter and interviews. I recently interviewed a talented young candidate for a post outside my field who had prepared well. I hired her shortly after to fill an opening in my department since I thought she’d be a good organizer. 

Write a superb cover letter

This is one of the most successful (and overlooked) methods for turning applicants into interviewees. A cover letter can answer “Why me?” if used properly. It can clarify transitions, link your talents to the nonprofit role, and express your love for the organization’s mission beyond resume facts. A solid cover letter can make the difference between “delete” and “keep,” especially for nonprofit transitioners. 

Prepare for the Interview

Many candidates go into interviews unprepared for who they’re meeting with and why. Interview roster research can pay off. We interview candidates with supervisors, departmental colleagues, and other relevant workers. Integrating organizational viewpoints helps find “fit compatibility” in our strong team-oriented culture. Good candidates ask questions tailored to the interviewer’s position and background. Memorable applicants customize how their former expertise might help nonprofits. 

The Key to Closing the Deal

Many applicants miss this simple chance to impress. Short, prearranged interviews are typical. Smart candidates will prepare many key questions that show they understand the organization. If offered the job, enquire about salary and resource limits. Make sure your final remark reaffirms your abilities and commitment to creating a meaningful and mission-driven difference.

The Secret Deal-breaker. 

Don’t forget this final step—thanking board members and donors is vital in the nonprofit sector. The “old days” required prompt handwritten thank-you notes. After each interview, ask for a business card or email address because a thoughtful and personalized email can be beneficial today. Poor follow-up (spelling and grammar errors, duplicated prose to several individuals, or lackadaisical timeliness) can raise severe red flags about an otherwise intriguing prospect, and a complete absence of follow-up can halt the interviewing journey. Give a quick thank you to close the deal. 

Despite their simplicity, many job hopefuls fail to follow these six methods. If you want to work in nonprofits, start by interviewing well.