Methods of screening potential volunteers

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Application Forms

Application forms are an easy form of initial screening when recruiting new volunteers. Not only will you learn something about the background of an individual, but you may find out exactly what she is looking for in a volunteer position. Every agency will design an application which best suits their needs but there are common questions that organizations may ask and information that potential volunteers should provide.

Common questions that you may want to include on volunteer application forms:

  • What is your education background?
  • What is your employment history?
  • Have you had any previous experience as a volunteer? If so, with what organizations, and what kind of work did you do?
  • Why, at this particular time in your life have you chosen to volunteer with us?
  • What do you hope to gain from being a volunteer?
  • What clubs, organizations, or associations are you involved with?
  • What are your hobbies and interests?
  • What life experiences have you had that might be useful to you in working with our agency?
  • What would you say are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
  • Do you anticipate any changes in your residence, business or domestic situation in the next year that would affect your volunteer commitment? If yes, please explain.
  • On average, how many hours could you commit each week? Are there any days/time slots that you prefer to volunteer?
  • Are you willing to make a one year commitment?
  • Do you speak any languages other than English? If yes, please specify.
  • Do you have access to a car?
  • A security check is required for all volunteers with our agency. This involves a check of police records. Would you be willing to have a security check completed?
  • Is there any other information that you would like to provide?


There are many types of interviews that may take place within the volunteer program, including: entrance interviews; information, screening and placement interviews; evaluation interviews; and exit interviews. In some cases, entrance, screening and placement interviews take place at the same time. Evaluation interviews occur at a particular, set interval (i.e. every three or six months) and exit interviews occur when an individual is finished volunteering with an agency.

It is best to interview in-person, rather than over the Internet or telephone. While one may initially communicate this way, an in-person meeting provides much more information.

Errors In Interviewing

There are some basic tools interviewers can use to avoid erroneous judgments. These include:

  1. Utilizing open-ended questions versus closed questions. Closed questions solicit either "yes" or "no" answers. Open-ended questions allows individuals to elaborate and discuss a particular topic. Examples of open-ended questions include: "Can you tell me about any previous volunteer or work experiences you have had." "Why are you interested in volunteering with us at this time?" "What are your interests and hobbies?"
  2. Avoiding the "halo effect", where you allow one factor to overshadow other factors and your objectivity.
  3. Avoiding leading questions (i.e. questions where the interviewee is provided with the ‘expected response’.)
  4. Allocating enough time for the interview. At least 30 minutes is required for an entrance interview, although more may be required if you are providing information about the agency and volunteer opportunities, etc. Don't rush!
  5. Doing more listening than talking. For instance, providing open-ended questions allows the interviewee to discuss him or herself.

Other effective communication tools, such as paraphrasing (summarizing what you have heard, so that the other person knows that you accurately understand the information) should be used throughout the interview process, as well as active listening skills.

Purpose of the Interview

The purpose of screening interviews is to learn more about the potential volunteer, her or his interests, abilities, experiences, and what she or he is looking for in a volunteer capacity. Screening interviews also can prevent future problems by ensuring that there is a clear understanding of the job requirements in the volunteer position, and to inform the volunteer about policies, procedures, and other organizational information.

Informational interviews generally provide potential volunteers with information on the agency and volunteer program. This may occur over the phone, prior to a screening interview (when a person indicates he or he is interested in volunteering).

Placement interviews allow the interviewer and potential volunteer to select the areas she or he is most interested and/or qualified to work in. Placement interviews may occur in an entrance interview (after screening), if the interviewer is confident that the potential volunteer is suitable for the agency.

Excerpt from "Volunteer Synchronicity".

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