Prepping for behavioral interview questions

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at


You've got this. (Photo: Steven Depolo, Flickr/Creative Commons)

In a recent post on our nonprofit HR blog, we encourage hiring managers to ask behavioral questions:

Behavioral interviewing enables you to deeply evaluate candidates’ past work experiences, their knowledge, and their behaviors in order to accurately predict how they will perform in your organization. This type of system … focuses on their behaviors and results in various situations. It’s more about how they’ve used their knowledge – which often gives you a better understanding of how they will react and apply what they know in your environment. [Read more….]

But as a job seeker, how do you prepare to answer behavioral questions?

For many job candidates, thinking about specific past experiences can be challenging under high pressure situations. Below is a method to get ready for the interview. Download the full exercise here (PDF).

  • Looking at the job description, identify about 5-10 qualities, skills, and experiences the prospective employer wants.
  • Circle the qualities, skills, or experiences on your list that you possess.
  • For each of these, think of one or two anecdotes that illustrate your expression of the quality, your use of the skill, or your experience.
  • Write up a summary of each anecdote and practice telling each one orally for the interview.
  • Prepare to name the competency or skill, give an example of a time when you used the skill, and identify ways the skill applies to the job you want.

By the way, the “practice” part doesn’t just mean reciting your anecdote once or twice. You want it to sound natural, have an economical use of words, and be as captivating as possible while also clearly conveying your point. Practicing these anecdotes is akin to practicing an elevator pitch during networking situations. See the section on elevator pitches in Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers.

And how do you remember these anecdotes?

That’s easy! Type up your list of skills, and give yourself a few key words to jog your memory about the experience you plan to share.

Turn the tables at your interview

Finally, remember that any interview is and should be a two-way street. Pose behavioral questions to your hiring team to understand the work environment, culture, and leadership styles of the people you’d be working with, if hired. Here are our tips for presenting yourself in person, including when to ask the most important questions (hint: don’t wait ’til the second interview).

Good luck!

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Can social media help you land your dream job?


Social networks can help you with your job search. Photo by Dean Meyers (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Remember when people said you should hide your social media profiles during a job hunt? Now I would argue the opposite. Become active in social media – just remember that the person reading your tweets, blog posts, etc. could be your future manager! Here are some tips.

Twitter: Follow the organizations that you’re interested in working for, and the causes that you’re passionate about. Tweet about topics that are relevant to the job you want to land. Interested in fundraising? Follow, RT, and engage in conversation with people already in fundraising. Staying on top of new developments in your field, and being public about it, highlights your growing expertise to future employers.

Facebook: Stop reading and go check your privacy preferences. Put up a photo that’s at least semi-professional and make sure to include your past work and education experience in your profile. Unlike pages that might scare away a potential employer and replace them with the pages of the organizations that you’d like to work for. Engage with their posts when the opportunity presents itself; it will help demonstrate that you’re knowledgeable about their work if and when the time comes for them to hire.

LinkedIn: I’m not even job hunting and I’ve received offers for interviews just because I have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile. Take the time to make your LinkedIn profile as beautiful and informative as your résumé. Keep it up to date with your accomplishments and find and connect to everyone that you know professionally. It can definitely pay off, especially when you’re applying to jobs and looking for someone in your network at a company or organization.

Google profile: For whatever reason, you may have something showing up in a Google search that you don’t want employers to see. Cultivate online content that you control by creating a free Google profile. (And read my last post to learn more about how free Google tools can help you manage your job search.)

Idealist: Create a free profile and let hiring managers see your skills, interests, experience, and the causes that you’re passionate about. You can also connect directly to the organizations that you’re interested in so that you’re in the know when they post new opportunities.

Free blogging tools: If you’ve got a skill, a talent, or a passion for something that is related to your career, start a blog on a free blog service like WordPress. A well-maintained blog is an awesome way to show off your expertise, writing skills, and personality to potential hiring managers. (Not sure where to start or how to maintain your blogging mojo? Lots of folks have written about these topics, including Rosetta Thurman, Badi Jones, and Allison Jones.)

And finally: Put the networking back into your social networks. Whenever you apply for a job, check your social networks for contacts that you have at the organization, or even friends of friends of friends at the organization. If you’re looking for a job, be proactive and message your contacts on all of your networks to let them know what you’re looking for. People usually want to help, and if they know what you’re looking for, they’ll think of you first if something similar opens up at their organization. Knowing someone that can vouch for you to the hiring manager is the easiest way to land an interview.

Your turn to weigh in! What other ways can you use the social web to make your job search more successful?

Other posts you might enjoy:

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Advanced Search: Tips for Job Seekers


Find the perfect job by targeting your search. (Photo by Flickr user

Since we re-launched a month ago, we’ve made several improvements to the search functions based on your feedback. In the short video tutorial below, we show an example of a job seeker using the latest version of our Advanced Search, which now includes a way to refine your search based on the Area of Focus and Job Function.  The video also offers tips on searching in general, whether it’s for an organization, a volunteer opportunity, an event, or any other content on Idealist.  We have more improvements on the way, so please keep checking the blog for updates.

If the video doesn’t load, try accessing it directly from here:

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Have you tried our daily Email Alerts to aid your job search?


From Flickr user Dean Meyers

If you visit Idealist frequently and get tired of entering the same criteria into the search bar every time, our site re-launch brings some new features for you: now you can save your searches and take advantage of our revamped free daily Email Alerts.

If you’re logged in, you can run a search, then click “Save this search” on the left side of the results page. Name your search if you like (e.g. “Internships in NYC” or “Volunteering ideas for 2011”), and come back anytime to view updated results with just one click.

To take it a step further, you can get the results of saved searches delivered directly to your inbox. Just sign up for an Email Alert after saving the search. You’ll get a nightly digest email from us with up to 100 of the latest listings that match your search criteria. You can save as many searches as you like, and get separate Email Alerts for each of them.

If after a few days you don’t receive any matching listings, your search criteria may be too specific. To make changes to the criteria in your Saved Search, start by running the search, then add or remove filters and save the results as a new search. Once you’re satisfied with the new one, just delete or turn off the old one.

You can also temporarily disable alerts, or delete them. Just go to the Manage page to do this.

Already a subscriber? The search parameters on the new site might not match your old Alerts precisely. To make sure, you may want to log in and update your Saves Searches. Please contact us if you need any help with this.

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Recent changes to our search function

Thank you all for your feedback.  There’s nothing like getting more than 100,000 pairs of eyes on a new website to help us organize our development priorities.

In the three days since we went live, we’ve received lots of emails, blog comments, and tweets, primarily regarding our search function. We’re listening! A few things we want to share: first, a summary of the things we hear you saying; second, what we’ve done about that so far; and lastly, what the new search can do that the old search couldn’t.


From Flickr user Christine Schmidt

What we hear you saying (and what our development team is prioritizing right now):

  • Search needs to be faster.
  • Location is arguably the most important criterion in a search, and it needs to be easier to find a city, and other cities near it.
  • Jobs should be sorted by newest first.
  • After clicking on a listing, it should be one click back to the original search results.
  • Some of you miss the old “categories” we had on the search pages.

What we’ve done about this since we launched:

  • Made it faster: We’ve improved performance and we have a few more fixes coming soon that will make the entire site even faster.
  • Advanced search: We added an advanced search page, where you can quickly enter a  location, select the type of content you’re looking for, and get help for including and excluding keywords. (We’re still working on it, but we wanted to share what we have as soon as possible.)
  • Proximity search: Fixed! Once you have selected a city, you’ll see options to search within 10, 20, and 40 miles of that city.
  • Newest first:  We’ve fixed a glitch that didn’t allow you to organize search results by posted date, and we made it the default sort order.
  • Back to results: When you click on a listing, you’ll see a blue banner at the top with the option “Back to results” which will send you right back to where you left off.  Added bonus: if you’re interested in many of the listings on the page, don’t waste time going back to the search results each time; just advance through all the listings of your search by clicking “Next” or “Previous.”
Listing Browser
We’re still hard at work this week on a few more improvements based on your feedback.

What’s the deal with the new search, anyway? (If it ain’t broke, why fix it?)

Search filters

We made a conscious decision to update our search feature to a faceted style – those are the filters you see on the left side of your search results now.  Facets, combined with a good search engine, can show you ways to search that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of (like a job’s salary range or a volunteer opportunity’s time commitment) while simultaneously giving you an idea of how many results will be available.

We also found that the advanced search forms we had in the old site sometimes caused people to narrow their results too much and, consequently, find fewer results.

Another challenge was trying to categorize all the organizations and jobs into a finite list of areas or categories, which didn’t account for an evolving job market and sector, nor always apply to every single organization.  This new structure allows organizations to self-identify more accurately, and we are in progress on solutions to help individuals find them regardless of the particular word choice.  For example, we can mine our database and find patterns, make smart suggestions based on that data, and ultimately produce much better results than we ever could with the categories.

Other fun things you can do now that you couldn’t before: save a search, and bookmark, share, and recommend listings.

Thanks again for the feedback. This has always been a community-driven site, and we appreciate your commitment and your patience.

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Career Corner: Where Are the Jobs?

By Meg Busse.

From Jeremy Barwick (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Since you’re on Idealist, you know that in terms of numbers, this is where to find the most nonprofit jobs. However, if you’ve been working in the sector for at least a little bit, you also know that there is no such thing as one-stop shopping in terms of nonprofit hiring. You have to look on national sites, chapter sites of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, local job boards and listservs, Craigslist…and even then, there are plenty of jobs that are never posted but filled through word of mouth or (more likely) by hiring volunteers and interns.

However, I do think that job boards can be useful tools in the nonprofit job search.

There have been two interesting aggregations of nonprofit job boards. I really like the one the Blue Avocado developed in December. It’s a great PDF with detailed information about each site/organization, knowledgeable comments on useability, and notes about key features such as fees, number of listings, and search and alert options.

I also just saw list on Guide to that features an alphabetical list of 97 job boards, with their top ten separated out. The comments for this list aren’t as detailed as the Blue Avocado resource, but it could be useful if you’re looking for job sites that are more specific to your interests, skills, or geographic location.

For more information on where to find volunteer opportunities, networking events, information about the sector, and more, also check out the Career Resources page on our Nonprofit Career Month site.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner: Don't Search for Jobs; Search for People!

From Meg Busse.

From Christine Schmidt (Flickr/Creative Commons)

All right, all right — the title is a tad misleading. You’ll still have to search for jobs a little bit. But what if you changed your focus so you weren’t doing the constant Idealist/Craigslist/local job board shuffle and instead spent more of your time searching for—and talking with—people who are doing interesting things and who may be able to hook you up with a job much more easily than you can on your own?

I have a friend who has lived in the same town for 20 years and needs to find a new career after 15 years in the same job. Sure, it’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s an opportunity…but mostly, it sure was tough for him to figure out where to start. So he started with what he knows really well: his vast network of friends, family, colleagues, and clients.

He emailed all of these folks (yes, all of them) to let them know he’s looking for a new opportunity. He highlighted a few of his most transferable skills and experiences, and mentioned a few types of roles he’s interested in. It was very similar to my other friend’s Club Laid Off email — short, funny, and direct.

In writing that email, he figured out some of the companies, positions, and industries that interested him. With that self-knowledge, he began doing research.

His People Research included:

  • looking through organization websites
  • reading industry-specific journals (most libraries have a great selection)
  • searching for friends-of-friends through LinkedIn and Facebook
  • Googling keywords to find people who seemed to be doing interesting things in any of the arenas he was looking

From these searches, he:

  • kept a running list of people he wanted to talk with
  • searched LinkedIn to see if he had any connections with them
  • contacted those folks to set up informational interviews
  • looked over their organizations’ websites for job postings that weren’t posted elsewhere
  • followed up with leads he’d been sent by people in his network (there were tons!)

While doing all of this, of course he kept an eye on the job boards in case anything came through that fit his criteria. However, more of his effort was spent searching for people, expanding his network, and gaining a better self-awareness of what he’s looking for in his next job.

By the end of the month, he’d had four interviews, two second interviews, and one job offer. He decided not to accept the offer because he’d gotten tips about two soon-to-be-vacant jobs that he was more interested in. Those tips came from people he’d met over the course of the month and neither of the jobs was going to be posted.

So don’t delete your Idealist/Craigslist/local job board bookmarks quite yet. Instead, maybe put some time limits on your online job searching. Then with the rest of your time, start your People Research (your PR?) in earnest.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner Podcast: Nonprofit Careers Q&A with Meg Busse

Posted by Meg Busse, who is not a fan of her recorded voice.

Any of these questions sound familiar?

  • I hate networking but I hear it’s essential to get a nonprofit job. Where should I start?
  • How can I get an employer to see my value if I don’t have a lot of work experience?
  • Should I follow up to see the status of my job application if I haven’t heard back?
  • I’m thinking about starting my own nonprofit. Any suggestions?
  • Where are all the jobs?!?

Have you asked any of these questions? Had people ask you about these topics? If so, check out this week’s Career Corner podcast.

My colleague Jung interviewed me to get some answers to ten of the most common questions I hear from folks who are looking for a nonprofit job these days.

And while listening to this podcast will not offer up any golden tickets to finding your ideal job, hopefully you’ll hear at least one new tip that will help you in your search. Or perhaps you’ll listen and get confirmation that you’re doing everything right. Sometimes that reassurance is as much needed in the job search as more advice.

As always, leave a comment if you’ve got thoughts to add, examples to provide, or exceptions to offer up.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner Podcast: Transitioning into a Nonprofit Career

By Steven Joiner, one of the Directors of the Career Transitions program.

Our Career Transitions team has the pleasure of attending lots of events, giving presentations, and otherwise conversing with professionals looking for meaningful work in the nonprofit sector. Everyone’s experiences are unique, but I do get plenty of frequently-asked questions. I recently sat down with my colleague Jung Fitzpatrick to discuss some of the common answers I often share with experienced professionals ‘sector switching’ into the nonprofit world.

Here are the seven questions we cover in the podcast.

  • What are the job prospects for a senior level sector switcher? Would I need to start at a lower level and work up?
  • I want an upper-level management/leadership role. Where are those jobs?
  • I have [insert exhaustive list of impressive skills] from decades of work in [insert industry]. Why can’t nonprofits see this? or How do I make myself stand-out from the 100’s of resumes organizations may receive for a given position particularly if I don’t have paid experience in the non-profit sector?
  • Generally, for-profit positions earn more money than nonprofit positions. Are non-profits less likely to consider candidates with for-profit experience because they expect that the candidate would have to take a significant paycut and therefore not really consider the position?
  • What may be some red flags in my resume or cover letter if I’m coming from the for-profit sector? How do I address those?
  • What kind of further education (certificate courses, community workshops) can help me improve my candidacy for nonprofit work?
  • Is there any other advice or resources that may be helpful to for-profit professionals hoping to transition into nonprofits?

Click here to listen to the podcast, and make sure to check out “The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers” for more in-depth information about finding work in the nonprofit sector.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner: Elegant Pizza, Elegant Resumes

By Meg Busse, who pretends to be a pizzaiola.

I read this interview with Matthew May, the author of In Pursuit of Elegance, a few weeks ago, and it’s been rolling around in my brain since then. In May’s book, he defines something as elegant when it is both unusually simple and surprisingly powerful.

One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed thinking about this interview is because I love how the mirror of elegance can be held up to anything with interesting results. Lately, I’ve been thinking about elegance in terms of pizza and resumes.

There are few pizza places out here in Portland, Oregon that are really, really good. However, most people agree that Ken’s Artisan Pizza is the best. The crust is gorgeous. The sauce is fantastic but not too showy. The cheese and other, high quality toppings are simply and perfectly paired — no meat-lovers supreme here. I love this pizza because I can taste each component; there is no overload of ingredients, and each element (crust, sauce, cheese, toppings) can shine. It’s simple and powerful — an elegant pizza.

By Flickr user eyeliam (Creative Commons)

I feel like one of the key goals for a resume is for it to fit into this definition of elegance; a resume should be powerful and simple.

I’m sure you’ve heard that a resume (and cover letter) needs to be tailored to each position you apply to. This is where the elegance comes in. Because not only does it need to have all of essential, tailored information, but it needs to not have any extra stuff.

One way to do this is to sit down with each job posting you’re interested in. Look at the list of required skills, responsibilities, and qualifications. Can each of those points be easily found on your resume? Because the folks who do hiring are not going to search, infer, assume, or guess that you have qualifications if they’re not spelled out clearly on your resume. Similarly, they don’t have time to wade through a lot of excess information to figure out if you’re a good candidate for the job.

This is where a master resume (see Chapter 8 of The Idealist Guide, Presenting Yourself on Paper) can be incredibly useful. Put your master resume next to the job description and get rid of any bullet points that don’t match the job requirements. Obviously, if you’re left with few to no bullet points, the job may not be a good fit. But if you’ve got a good number of points left, go through them and make sure all of the bullet points add value to your resume from the perspective of each job’s hiring manager. If not, they’re just fluff. The subtractive process through which your resume is tailored to a specific position is key to making it effective and elegant.

So for both pizza and resumes, the ultimate goal is to allow each individual element to shine while creating a powerful impression of the whole. Granted, one is much better with a glass of red wine…but that’s another post.

Got any other resume tips? Or pizza suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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