Getting a new job can be exciting. You get that initial thrill of excitement at the opportunity to make your mark in a new organisation. For many leaders of volunteer engagement, that feeling often disappears when we realise volunteer management has low status and we have little or no influence to make change happen. How do we avoid getting into jobs like this?
Helpfully, my friend and colleague Andy Fryar wrote an article in 2015 to address this very question. I was reminded of it recently whilst talking with a colleague and, having read it again, I reached out to Andy to see if he’d be willing for me to share it as a guest post on this blog. Happily he said yes, so here it is!
As leaders of volunteers one of our specialty areas is (or at least should be) the ability to properly interview someone:
- To ask the right question.
- To draw out that extra layer of information.
- To determine a candidate’s suitability.
- To safeguard our programs.
- To get the very best out of each candidate.
Over the years I’ve interviewed thousands of people and if I might say so myself, I am damned good at it!
Recently, however, I have been thinking a lot more about interviews from a completely different angle. This different line of thought has been spurred on by a number of independent discussions I have had with volunteer managers who have taken on new positions, only to find that the job that was advertised – that was promised – was not the job that was delivered!
Of course, by the time many learn this cold hard fact, it’s far too late to turn back. They have already given their notice and embarked on a whole new journey – and sadly for many, the new job that promised so much, is often actually a role made up of lacking resources, little support, cultural clashes and working in isolation.
The typical scenario that ensues over the months that follow gaining a new (but unsatisfactory) position often reads something like this:
- Happiness and excitement
- Oh really, that’s not what I was led to believe?
- Hmmm – OK, well I can still fix this!
- Wait – WTF!
- You gotta be kidding me!
- OK – I am outta here
Which brings me to my point about interviewing.
I think that for far too many of us, the opportunity to work in a new agency, for a new cause and with new people often sweeps away our usual common sense. It takes us to a point where somehow we morph into simple starry-eyed applicants, champing at the bit just to get started, not asking clarifying questions and, all too often, resulting in us letting our guard down.
The most important part of any interview, for me at least, is that point in the process where our potential new employer asks that critical question, “So do you have any questions of us?”
Here’s where we need to force ourselves to think beyond simply clarifying what our new pay packet will look like and blurting our details about pre-planned holidays we have booked!
For it’s at this point that we get to do some of the interviewing – and remember, we are good at this!
So to this end, I have prepared ten questions that I believe we should all be asking of our potential employers during the interview process, to ensure the environment we are walking into is worthy of the skills that we bring to the table.
So, here goes (in no particular order):
Question One – What is your agency’s philosophy surrounding the utilisation of volunteers?
This is a pretty broad question, but what you are looking for here is a response that gives you some assurance that the agency you are about to throw yourself into has a well thought through position on how volunteers add to the delivery of services and the value of the organisation. You want to know that volunteers are not some sort of ‘add on’ – but a properly planned human resource within the organisation.
Question Two – How does having the support of volunteers impact the mission of this organisation?
Taking it one step further – and if the previous answer does not draw this out – you’ll want them to be clear about how the involvement of volunteers helps to achieve the organisation’s mission. If they can’t clearly demonstrate that, then perhaps volunteers are more of added ‘extra’ rather than a core part of the agency and its drive.
Question Three – How do you measure the successful engagement of volunteers in this agency?
This is an important one. If they talk only about growing volunteer number and hours for the simple sake of growing number and hours then run! Their response should ideally demonstrate that the engagement of volunteers is measured alongside the organisations mission – these two factors are inseparable!
Question Four – Do you have clear goals about where you would like to see the volunteer program head / grow?
You would hope this response is able to be clearly articulated, especially as they are heading through an interview process. However, that may not be the case! Be sure they are not simply working through a ‘replacement’ process but rather that they have clear ideas about the future of the program.
Question Five – What resources have you committed to this growth?
Possibly, the most critical of all these questions. This is also a direct flow on from the previous response they would have given to you. If they are serious about program growth and development they will not only know where they want to head but what resources they have to throw at achieving it! If you are going to accept an offer from this group, then be as sure as you can be that adequate resources (financial, physical and emotional) are available to you
Question Six – Does this agency value the input and feedback of volunteers and the volunteer department in its planning and review processes? Please explain.
It’s one thing to involve volunteers – another to seek their input. Ask them to articulate!
Question Seven – Who will I be answerable to and what are their direct views of volunteer engagement?
It’s critical to understand that your direct line manager is on the same page as you. If they are not at the interview be alarmed! And if they are, don’t be afraid to eye ball them and ask. This person will be your first line of both defence and support. It’s such a critical relationship you need to make sure it is a good one.
Question Eight – What is the agency view of the position / role of the VM in an organisational context?
We are moving away from the role of volunteers now and focusing on the volunteer management role more specifically. Listen out for clues that give you an assurance that the Volunteer Manager is seen as a lynchpin in an organisational context. Is the Volunteer Manager part of the decision making team? Is the role valued and critical to the agency?. Do they consider your role to be that of a volunteer management ‘specialist’ and do they expect you’ll jump up and down and challenge stupid decisions they might be considering? Do they see your role as the one that just does the ‘busy work’ of volunteer recruitment or do they consider it to be more strategic?
Question Nine – What mechanisms are in place for me to be able to undertake professional development?
Make sure you can subscribe to journals, attend conferences and participate in network meetings. Ensure that the agency understand that this is a critical part of the role and that professional development is central to growth.
Question Ten – Ask for a referee!
By now they’ll either be sick of you or caught up in your zeal for the role! So why not hit them with one more whammy?! If they can ask you for a referee, there’s no rule to say you can’t ask for one back! Ask for the name of some employees or department heads – or even volunteers – to see if the rhetoric they are spinning you matches reality! If nothing else you’ll gain their attention and they’ll know you are serious about the role.
As Volunteer Managers I don’t need to remind you that an interview process should always be a two way process and by asking a series of the right questions there is a much higher possibility that you are going to find a suitable match for the skills that you bring to the table.
Try it – I’d love to hear the outcome.
I’d love to hear your feedback too!