The Fundraiser - Practical advice and insight for the charity sector

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How to ace an interview for a fundraising job

Matt Cull - fundraising at Blue Cross

New legal and technical requirements for fundraising bring with them new opportunities for recruitment. Here is Matt Cull with top tips on how to succeed in a fundraising job interview

 

I’ve recruited many fundraisers in my time, and hope you’ll be reassured to hear that many of the general principles of successful interviews are the same as in any sector. Here’s a refresher on the basics – plus my top tips for nailing that job interview.

 

Making a good impression: the fundamentals

 

We don’t need to start with the basics, do we? We all know about appearance, knowing where you’re going, and giving yourself enough time to get there, don’t we? Don’t we?

 

Apparently not. A colleague of mine told me a candidate walked in 20 minutes late and the first thing they said was, “Oh, you can see my house from here”. Needless to say they did not get the job.

 

Okay, very quickly: check where it is. Check how you are going to get there. Check your second best way of getting there. Lorries tip over on motorways at the most inconvenient of times, trust me.

 

First impressions count. Dress smartly. It is not an option. I interviewed someone last month who wore jeans. Jeans. To an interview? Seriously. Don't make the mistake of thinking that just because it's a charity, you can get away with anything less than a suit in the interview. Make an effort, everyone else will.

 

Once you’re looking the part, then it’s time for the pleasantries. Go up to everyone on the panel, smile and personally introduce yourself and shake hands. Say their names if you recognise them from your research, say their names – “Mrs Smith? I’m Matt, really pleased to meet you”. Then: “Thank you for inviting me in, this is a really exciting opportunity.” It may sound formulaic, but most people won’t do this, so be bold enough to lead the introductions.

 

Top tip: Unless it’s horrid, add a compliment about the room (“lovely view”), the building (“wow, it’s so impressive, what a great open space”) or the location (“Those hills behind the office are stunning”). It all helps break the ice.

 

But wait… have you done your research?

 

An essential part of preparing for your interview is getting to know the charity inside out. So make sure that before the big day, you:

 

– read the charity's annual review

– learn the chair’s and the CEO’s names

– know what the key achievements of recent years have been, and their aims for the future

– know their overall fundraising target, and what the previous years’ have been.

 

Do some research on the interviewers too. You will be given their names beforehand, so use this information. It can only help to know what their roles involve and what their job titles actually mean. Google them. If nothing else, do LinkedIn checks on your interviewers. You will learn about their backgrounds and the different experiences they have had.

 

Top tip: Your interviewer(s) may have spoken at an event recently, scooped an award, or written some stupid article about going to an interview. Mentioning this in your interview may well appeal to their ego.

 

Overcoming the fear factor

 

You have taken the trouble to make your application everything it can be; you’ve emphasised your successes, demonstrated the recognition you have received for a job well done and all the bits you are justifiably proud of in your application. Now, you need to represent that in person.

 

That can be scary. Especially if it’s been many years since you’ve had to do an interview. But remember, your prospective employer wants to see you, or they wouldn’t have invited you in. You have obviously impressed them enough to be shortlisted, so you have a good chance. All that’s left is to visibly be all you’ve been on the written page.

 

Top tip: You are allowed to be nervous. It shows you care. Don’t be afraid to say you are feeling a little nervous. Remember that the interviewers want you to do your best, otherwise everyone is wasting their time. They seriously want you to do well.

 

Preparing your answers

 

Unless you’ve never been interviewed before, you’ll probably know the sort of thing you’re likely to be asked, so think about the really obvious stuff and make sure you’ve got answers ready. Such as (deep breath):

 

– career history

– greatest successes

– learning from mistakes

– areas you would like to improve in

– strengths and weaknesses

– difficult situations you have been in

– how you like to be managed

– being a team player

– examples of working on your own

– meeting deadlines and targets

– managing budgets

– overcoming challenges.

 

Make sure you have lots of examples of projects you have worked on, and particularly money you have raised. If it’s in your application or CV (and it should be), the interviewers will expect you to mention it. An interview is a chance to really take pride in what you have achieved. It is not bragging to go on about your success – it is what they want to hear.

 

Top tip: If an answer seems obvious, say it anyway. I score 90% of the candidates I interview down because they do not say the obvious.

 

Imagine that you need to score three points for every question you get asked. That gives you scope to:

 

– say the obvious (1 point)

– develop the answer with further detail (1 point)

– add something to finish the response (1 point).

 

Bear in mind that interviewers want you to say what they want to hear. The first couple of questions I always ask are: "Why do you want this role?" and: "What is it particularly about this charity that appeals to you?" Two really easy questions to put you at you ease and tell me why my charity is so great. You should score three out of three for both questions, because you should know why you want the job. It is that easy.

 

Be prepared for the tough questions

 

We are all asked questions we hate, so prepare for those most of all. I hate the strengths and weaknesses one. Of course you know you have no weaknesses (you’re amazing obviously), but have something that isn’t too glib or groan-worthy to say. The next person who says “I’m a perfectionist so I guess my weakness is I don’t know when to be satisfied with a piece of work” or “I never like to say no to anyone” will witness me stabbing myself with my pen. You may as well say “My greatest weakness is needing alcohol before 10am”. At least that would make me sit up.

 

Top tip: Try not to quantify an answer at the beginning of your response, eg “there are five key priorities…” If you only remember three as you start to list them, the interviewers will be disappointed, rather than impressed that you got three. And you will feel a sense of failure when you don’t need to. Whereas if you say “key priorities include…” then it doesn’t matter how many you remember.

 

It’s a fundraising job – so talk about fundraising

 

You may have skated over the less appetising points of your career –  we’ve all made the occasional wrong move, and let’s face it, we’ve all worked in burger bars or pubs at one point or another. You don’t need to mention those once you’re over 17 years old. Honestly, you don’t.

 

Remember this is a fundraising job you have gone for, so whatever professional background you’re coming from, you need to talk about money you have raised in the past. You need to know what your current job targets are now and were in the past, give hard numbers as to what difference you made, and examples of how you made it all happen.

 

Top tip: It is essential to explain what you did, and not just what your team achieved. “During the year my team raised £2m” will frustrate the interviewers. How you personally made a difference is what your interviewers want to hear.

 

Presentations

 

You may have been asked to prepare a presentation for the interview panel. Presentations are there to help you get a feel for the interview, and all your answers are on the screen, so don’t worry too much if you read the first couple of slides robotically. It will prove you have made an effort and you will eventually relax into it.

 

Make sure your presentation answers the brief you were sent. It is amazing how many candidates don’t do this. So you could do worse than start by telling your interviewers what the brief was, and take it from there. You will probably see a look of relief in their eyes.

 

As much as possible, try not to read out an entire script for each slide. Crib sheets are fine, but try to just have key words that remind you of key points, rather than extended long sentences that are just as likely to trip you up instead of helping you.

 

Top tip: Always have printouts of your presentation with you, in case the laptop/projector/ memory stick decides it’s not going to work today.

 

Finally… just do your best

 

Confidence comes with experience; you will get better at interviewing the more you do it. So maybe apply for a couple of jobs to get some practice in, and you may get a surprise success – or, if you just need to leave or are desperate for a change, apply for a load of roles and see what comes from it.

 

Remember it is the interviewers’ jobs to make you want to work with them too. It is a two-way street after all.

 

Matt Cull is deputy director of fundraising at Blue Cross

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