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Generally speaking, job interviews are not fun. You spend hours revising and updating your resume, answering application questions as thoughtfully as you can, and composing an attention-grabbing cover letter. Then, after many rounds of phone interviews, the big day arrives. You've rehearsed your responses, and the interview goes well — or so you thought. But you don't get an offer.
What happened? More than likely, you committed one or more of these interview sins:
1. You stretched the truth. We know it's sometimes hard to accept, but an ugly truth beats a pretty lie every day of the week. If you got fired from your last job, the prospective employer almost certainly knows that. You should also assume that prospective employers can and do check 990s, and that someone who sits on your board knows someone who knows someone who sits on the board of the organization you are hoping to work for. So please, be honest.
2. You didn't follow instructions. The employer (or recruiter) asked you to wear blue and show up with a writing sample. Instead, you showed up in red and decided you were going to "mix it up" and do a presentation instead. They said "no handouts,” and you brought a stack of them. You wanted to stand out from all the other candidates, but now the employer just thinks you can't follow instructions. And even if your presentation was amazing, no one at the table was able to get over the fact that you either weren't paying attention or simply chose to ignore what you were told.
3. You didn't do your homework. It might be acceptable to get a few facts mixed up during the phone-screening stage, but by the time you get to the third interview you really should know everything there is to know about your prospective employer. When you go into the interview, you should go in prepared with smart questions — questions that reflect both what is happening at the organization now and your own curiosity about its mission and activities. If you show up for the interview without any questions — smart questions — most employers will assume you're not interested in the position or in working for them.
4. You asked the wrong questions. You had a long list of questions, but they were not the questions you should've been asking at this point in the interview process — questions about compensation, insurance, vacation days and sick leave, et cetera. Some employers may be willing to discuss such things with you politely before moving you on to your next question, but you can be sure your name will be crossed off the list of prospective candidates as soon as the interview is over.
5. You didn't send a follow-up thank-you letter or email. I know, this is kind of old school, but sending a thank-you letter or email after any interview, no matter how well or poorly it went, is a must-do. Your note doesn't have to be novel-length; even a one-line email or thank-you note will reinforce the fact that you are interested in the position. As you might imagine, this is especially important if the position for which you are applying includes a fundraising or donor interaction component. Most employers will assume that a lack of follow through on your part will carry over to your work with donors and will move on.
Don't be too hard on yourself if you manage to land an in-person interview and don't get the job; we've all been there. But if you pay attention to the above tips, you'll at least have a fighting chance the next time you sit down for an interview. Now go out there and get that job!
Allison Fuller, a partner at Envision Consulting, has more than ten years of nonprofit experience in executive-level positions and brings her planning and logistical experience, including contract administration, strategic planning, and operations, to her work with nonprofit organizations.