Be Selective, Be Prepared
Instead of mass applying to every job that looked semi-interesting, Katherine Cross took stock of the hiring organization and the job description. In 2021, she decided the career path forward at her current organization was ultimately not where she wanted to go long-term. In her decade of experience in the nonprofit sector she credits mastering the art of when to move on as an essential skill for career management development. When that time comes to move on, she makes a point to go for bigger roles (ones that scare you a little bit). than she is in currently.
Once she decided it was time to make the transition, she first defined what she was looking for: a large organization, still within Development, but more of a focus on stewardship, storytelling, and project management, and stepping away from a frontline fundraiser role. Next, she began identifying organizations of interest, and started looking at job boards, nonprofit LinkedIn groups, and reconnected with past colleagues. As job postings caught her eye, she evaluated the opportunity thoroughly before applying, and was very intentional and deliberate with the positions she chose to pursue. You can use her process to help you decide if a job opening is the right fit for you:
- Really look at the job description. The top bullets on a job description tend to focus on the main responsibilities of the role. Look at the top three: What could I bring to those? Could I see myself doing these responsibilities day-to-day?
- Check out reviews on Glassdoor. Do I like what you I see? Are there any patterns and trends that are worrisome or encouraging? Do salaries seem competitive? It’s a definite plus if the salary range is already included in the job description.
- Spend time on the organization’s website: At a glance, does it resonate with me? Take a look at recent news articles, pictures of staff on the website, and leadership. Do they appear to reflect myself and/or my values?
- How would this role advance my career? How would it help me grow or expand my current skills and interests? Would it help me get to the next level versus being more of a lateral move?
- Check out other people with the same role on LinkedIn. If there are any other employees in the same position, how long have they been at the organization? Do their skills align with yours or are they completely different? Have they been promoted within the organization?
By being selective with which jobs she applied to, Katherine was already more invested in the opportunity as she began interview preparation. Generally, the first round of the interview process is an HR screening, then the candidate moves on to meeting with the hiring manager, would-be peers, and department/organizational leadership. To prepare for every round:
- Look up more general information about the organization: leadership, the department, the team you will be a part of. It doesn’t take a lot of time to do a LinkedIn search on your interviewers and pull out a few details and connections to draw from.
- Take some time to write down your own value-add and go-to examples of your work. Have anecdotes in your back pocket of times you went above and beyond, ways you streamlined or improved processes, and how you overcame certain challenges. Try to keep your responses detailed, but concise (try to avoid rambling). Also leave room for flexibility with your answers – some curveball questions can come up and you don’t want to be caught off-guard.
- Review the most recent annual report, and current news or events relevant to the organization. It’s certainly a plus if you reference one or two things in your interview, and they can be helpful to insert in the “why do you want to work here?” question that is typically asked.
- Ask your network about their experience with the organization or the department staff. You might be surprised how small of a world it is and you can gain some great insights into the culture of the organization.
For her new role in 2021 Katherine had five rounds of virtual interviews and several of them were with a panel of three or four interviewers. In a virtual setting, it was more difficult to read the room, making it all the more critical to be prepared. Here are the interview questions Katherine heard most often:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why do you want to work here?
- Why do you want to leave your current organization?
- Share a major accomplishment or what you’re most proud of.
- Tell me about a mistake you made and how you overcame it.
- Tell me something that’s not on your resume.
- Scenario-based questions relative to the organization and role.
Prior to the interviews, Katherine was sure to review the application that she submitted along with the original job description, highlighting where her background and experience overlapped with the specific skills that they were looking for. She also pulled together common interview questions and wrote down notes and sample responses. Often, the interview was more off the cuff, but it was helpful to have some bullets written down as a backup. She also watched YouTube videos about interviewing with tips and advice (check out Self Made Millennial, Linda Raynier, and Don Georgevich).
Interviewing virtually was something Katherine didn’t usually do prior to the pandemic. It is important to have the interview take place in a comfortable setting: a quiet room with stable internet, good lighting, a background that is not distracting.
The up-front investment of time during the application and interview process was worth it. She received a 60% response rate on the jobs she applied to and made it to a few final interview rounds before landing her current job. As she nears the first year into her new role, Katherine describes her work as fulfilling, challenging, engaging, and interesting.