5 Questions to Prepare For When Interviewing in the Nonprofit/Service Industry

Thinking about joining a nonprofit? Preparing for the interview will be a key factor in determining your success, but chances are, you won’t be able to anticipate every question the interviewer throws at you. Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of five big questions that come up often in the nonprofit and service industry. Take a look:

  1. “Describe your passion for our mission.”

If you’ve ever worked in the private industry, you know that mission statements are not unique to nonprofits. However, nonprofits typically place a much stronger emphasis on their mission statement, so your passion for that mission will be critical to identifying whether you could be a good fit for the organization’s work. It is very important that you are able to articulate your personal connection to, and enthusiasm for, the nonprofit’s values and cause. Therefore, we recommend approaching this question as you would a ‘Tell me about yourself” question, explained on page nine of our Interview Preparation Guide. By demonstrating how the nonprofit’s mission connects to your experiences, values, and goals, you can ensure that the interviewers gain a better understanding of how you fit into their organization. And, as is often said in the industry, passionate employees will be engaged employees.

  1. “What key values do you implement in your personal life?”

Given that nonprofits tend to be very mission-driven and values-oriented, a key component of the interview will be to assess whether your values align with those of the organization. Consider the transferable skills on page six of our Resume & Cover Letter Guide, as well as this list of core values offered by WiredImpact, and think about what role they play in your own life. If you want to ace this question, you’ll want to do your research on the nonprofit itself, and then use your knowledge of its mission and values to demonstrate how yours connect.

  1. “Why do you want to work for a nonprofit organization, and what attracted you to this role specifically?”

Working in the nonprofit sector can be incredibly rewarding, but chances are that this explanation alone will not make for a particularly compelling response. In answering this question, you’ll want to be able to thoughtfully and authentically articulate the personal appeal of both the industry as a whole and the organization more specifically, including examples about the unique qualities of the organization and how they connect back to your life and experiences. You’ll want to demonstrate that you’ve engaged in careful reflection, have a clear understanding of who you are and how you fit into the role you’re applying to, and can identify what makes their position a more appealing choice than a similar position anywhere else. Try to show how your past experiences have informed your thought process and prepared you to work in both the nonprofit sector more generally and this role more specifically.

  1. “How do you view diversity, equity, and inclusion and how would you ensure these values are met in your work?”

As companies seek to make the workplace more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, nonprofits have led the way in championing value-driven hiring practices intended to ensure the selection of candidates who will positively contribute to the organization’s culture. Therefore, if you plan on interviewing for a position in the service industry, it may be wise to consider in advance the role that diversity, equity, and inclusion have played in your own life, and be ready to speak about these experiences in your response to the extent that you feel comfortable doing so. Be genuine about your commitment to these values, and explain how diversity, equity, and inclusion can contribute to a workplace in which every employee can learn and thrive. Avoid speaking about the experiences of others, and try to include an example of a workplace or academic environment you’ve been in that reinforces your perspectives.

For additional practice answering questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, take a look at this article by The Muse. Note that although the article proposes the use of the STARR method with only one R (Result), we recommend using the additional R (Relate) to connect your response back to the position and demonstrate its relevance. Take a look at page 11 of our Interview Preparation Guide for more information on the STARR method. You may also find it helpful to prepare for ethical interview questions more broadly.

  1. “What do you think are the greatest challenges facing our cause today?”

All organizations value knowledgeable members with a realistic expectation of immediate and forthcoming challenges facing their industry—nonprofits are no exception. To prepare for this question, or others similar to it, you’ll want to first be sure that you’ve done your research on nonprofits with a similar mission to the one you are interviewing for. This will give you a sense of the challenges facing the industry as a whole. From there, you’ll want to research the specific nonprofit you are interviewing for. Try to read a few articles about the cause your nonprofit of choice seeks to address; you can use this information to identify key challenges, such as fundraising obstacles or temporary political roadblocks, which you can incorporate into your response during the interview. However, it is key to note that demonstrating industry knowledge constitutes only a partial response. Every organization values innovation and strong problem-solving skills, so if you are really looking to ace the interview, you’ll want to wrap up this question by suggesting some ideas for how the nonprofit may be able to approach these challenges constructively.

Looking for more preparation?

If you’d like additional practice with your interviewing skills, schedule a practice interview with the Center for Career Development. During the appointment, you’ll have the opportunity to speak with an interview professional about any questions or concerns that you have, and you’ll receive personalized feedback on your interviewing skills and responses.

If you’d prefer to practice on your own, you may want to try out Big Interview. This online platform allows you to record yourself as you practice your responses, and you can program the settings to ask you industry-specific questions.

For further preparation, check out this guide to Common Nonprofit Interview Questions (With Sample Answers) by Indeed. You may also like this blog we wrote on Nonprofit Careers: The Myths to Avoid & How to Avoid Them.

Last but not least—don’t forget to pay close attention to detail when it comes to the professional documents you submit in your application. You can always schedule a resume critique with the Center for Career Development, or meet with a Career Coach to look over your cover letter and additional documents.

By Irene Soteriou
Irene Soteriou