Q: I’m being considered for a job that would be a healthy step up the career ladder for me. I’d be doing something similar to what I’m currently doing, but I’d have a larger budget and a larger staff, which I feel ready to take on. The organization has a great reputation – built under the founder, long-time executive director, a beloved man who is now retiring and who I would be replacing. I just found out, that my interview will include members of the senior staff. Is this normal? Frankly, I feel a little uncomfortable being interviewed by people who would eventually be reporting to me.
A: First, let me offer my congratulations on your having made it to the interview stage. The situation you describe is becoming more and more common as nonprofits see the value of including a range of stakeholders in the interview process, particularly when filling key positions.
Consider this a wonderful opportunity to get to know the organization, the personalities and even to some degree the competencies involved. And, understand that if the senior staff give you the nod, your life is likely to be much easier if you eventually take the job. After all, they helped choose you, you weren’t just “foisted on them” by the board.
I’d actually be grateful for the approach the organization is taking. You indicated that you would be replacing the founder and long-time, “beloved” executive director. Under the best of circumstances this can be difficult. I used to work for an organization that had the same executive director for 40 years. The organization went through six executive directors after him, most lasting no more than six months, as they sought to find another “Simon.” They lost the chance to take advantage of some excellent skills and move the organization forward – albeit in a different direction – during this process. My guess is that in this economy, you want to be sure you are taking on the right job before giving up the one you have. So, forgive me if I depart a little from your original question and make several suggestions that hopefully will help you make the best decision for you.
Come prepared with your own questions – questions that get at how well the staff interacts together, how they interpret the vision and values of the organization, the degree to which they welcome direction from the top, how valued they have felt under the current administration and what they saw as the outgoing director’s strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, you’ll have to be careful how you phrase some of these! You might use the old interviewer’s trick of posing hypothetical situations to see how they would respond to your style.
Ask to look at the budget, audit and organizational policies. Go through these carefully to be sure you understand not only the organization’s current position, but the implications of that position. If you meet resistance to this request, volunteer to sign a confidentiality statement. If there is still resistance to sharing these documents, run. You must know what you are facing.
Talk to your colleagues in the community. What rumblings have they heard, both good and bad? Realistically, are you comfortable taking on the obvious challenges?
Finally, if you should be offered the job and you decide to take it, I suggest you ask for a contract. Get yourself a labor attorney to read and/or prepare it so that you ensure your interests. Good luck.
Jane Jordan, Principal
Jane Jordan & Associates, Inc.