Q: I’ve a job interview next week, but the employer is not your typical corporate or public organisation – they’re a community group. The successful candidate will be their first full-time employee and will manage a centre that provides a range of services to the community. I know I can do the job. But I am worried about how best to convince a voluntary committee of my suitability. Any tips? (JH, email).
A: Every job has its nuances. In every job interview, candidates should be conscious of those nuances and tailor their interview accordingly. Here are points I would make:
- Voluntary committees reach this point because of what they have done well to date. What’s the exact scenario here? Have they driven this initiative to the point where it now requires a full-time employee? If yes, be respectful of this. They have made something out of nothing. And they have done it in their spare time. Make sure that you acknowledge their efforts and vision to bring the project to this stage. Familiarise yourself totally with the project, particularly the back story leading to this point. For voluntary committees, the path is often far from smooth. They persist in the face of the most daunting of obstacles. They’ll be happy to know you appreciate this.
- They may have a reluctance about handing over the project to a full-time employee. Voluntary committees develop an attachment to what they have set up and the methods they have used so far. Reassure them that you will be respectful of what they have done and that you will introduce change, where needed, at a pace that does not frighten the committee. You need them on your side. Show them you’re a safe pair of hands. Building good relationships will be crucial here. The bulldozer is not your friend.
- If you have experience of working in a voluntary committee, highlight this. This will allow them to feel you understand where they’re at and what needs to be done to advance this project. Have you served as a secretary of a club or organisation? Been involved in fundraising? Contributed to strategy?
- Notwithstanding the foregoing, do not fall into the trap of underplaying yourself. While they might be wary of handing the crown jewels over to somebody new, they will want to know that you have ideas for pushing it on. Playing it safe the whole way through is unlikely to get to the job. In your preparation, make a list of realistic initiatives you can pioneer over the coming years. Demonstrate that you can deliver on these initiatives. Delivery of a humble idea is infinitely preferable to the dissolution of an overly ambitious one.
- Be enthusiastic about taking on the job. Dealing with a voluntary committee may mean some evening meetings and weekend work. If that’s on the agenda here, embrace it. Make it clear that understand there will be a requirement to work antisocial hours. This is not to set yourself up for exploitation, rather to accept the inevitability of certain elements of the role. Your contract can protect you in terms of time off in lieu, but it is unlikely that a straight nine-to-fiver win the day here.
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