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Marketing your ability: Part II - The interview

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If you are called in for an interview, you deserve to be. Your understanding of the agency's needs has been clearly outlined in your covering letter and you have enticed the reader with possible solutions. Don't stop there! You now have the opportunity to convince them: (1) that you can do the job better than their other candidates (2) that you are excited about this particular position and (3) you have the ability to be part of this agency's team.

Effective job seekers invest time practising. Be prepared to answer how your skills and abilities fit the job. Think about typical interview questions: your strengths and weaknesses; how your experience relates, or what qualifies you for the position; how you work with people; how well you work under pressure; salary expectations; your career goals and why you are currently seeking employment. Rehearse your answers aloud, preferably role-playing with a friend who can help you clarify your points.

Be Prepared, Relax and Enjoy Yourself

Like it or not, first impressions count. With that in mind, take control. Be sure to allow plenty of time to find the agency, park your car and get to reception without being breathless. In fact, remembering to breathe calmly from your diaphragm will be a key to your success. Turn your nervous adrenaline into positive energy. Arrive early enough to sit and review your notes and questions in final preparation.

When introduced to the employer, make eye contact, smile and give a firm handshake. Dress for success and remember, one area often overlooked, is the adverse reaction many people (interviewers included) are developing toward perfumes and colognes. The safest approach, when meeting new people is not to wear any scent at all. You might also consider that people with a keen sense of smell will also recognize if you have just smoked a cigarette prior to your appointment. Make every effort not to send the wrong message in the first minute of your interview.

Once you are seated be prepared to offer the interviewer(s) a fresh copy of your resume. Take a moment to focus your thoughts and collect your wits. You'll probably be told how long the interview will run; make every effort to respect their schedule. Keep in mind, even the calmest person usually has perspiration trickling down their spine at some point during an interview - that's human! The objective is to prepare yourself well in advance so you appear relaxed, whether you feel it inside or not.

Nervous gestures are distracting. Try to be aware of how you are sitting and what you are doing with your hands and your hair. Hold your pen and note the main point to address, if that helps you focus, instead of fiddling. Listen carefully to the questions; if you are confused, ask for clarification, then - pause, breathe (get oxygen to your brain) and think clearly - before you launch into your response. Watch the interviewer's body language for cues. Are they maintaining eye contact, nodding in agreement? ... or just nodding off!

Toward the end of your interview you will probably be invited to ask your own questions. Use this opportunity to get as much information as possible; this will help you make an informed decision if you are offered the job. Focus on points that remain unanswered, despite your research. For instance, what's the agency's policy on training; how is success measured or performance evaluated; can you meet "the team"? (this may be more appropriate after a second interview). Note your queries prior to your meeting and then add any that come up during the interview.

Follow up

Thanking the organization with a personal note may be a little out of the ordinary, however, that could be just the edge you need. It demonstrates your willingness to go the "extra mile" for this position. If done promptly after your interview, it gives you one more opportunity to reinforce the qualities you possess that fit the agency's needs.

In conclusion

Most fundraising positions require an outgoing personality. That doesn't mean you must be a flaming extrovert to get the job, but remember your competition may be just that! You can be eloquent on paper but if you aren't comfortable marketing your ability during the interview, that will raise some doubts. A sense of confidence may be partially ingrained, but there's always hope! If you feel extremely anxious during interviews, proper preparation and practise will pay dividends.

Development is an exciting and expanding career. It requires business savvy, patience, curiosity and commitment. Not all these qualities necessarily go hand-in-hand, so you must be adaptable. One minute you are identifying untapped potential; another minute you are appeasing a disenchanted volunteer or donor; the next minute you are buried in research and at the end of the day you are still rushing to meet multi-deadlines. It's a challenging profession but a very rewarding one with opportunities to create many new relationships. You can start that relationship-building experience the moment you respond to an agency's ad, just by practising some of the tips in this article.

To review the first article in this series, visit the Careers in Fundraising section of the Library at CharityVillage.

Cynthia Armour is a trainer and consultant in fundraising, marketing and board development. She also helps charitable agencies identify suitable candidates by screening resumes and assisting with interviews. you can reach her via e-mail at: answers@elderstone.ca or by phone at: (705) 799-0636.

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