Remember the letter-writer who was interviewing for a position as executive director at a nonprofit and who wanted to ask about their budget deficit (#4 at the link)? Here’s the update — and a new question.
First off, the interview did not go all that well in spite of my preparation. I just didn’t do a very good job answering a couple of the questions. And I was notified the next day that I did not get the job. And I think I am relieved.
When I asked about the budget deficit, the board chair muttered “what do you want to ask that for?” They explained that they often have a contract with a city for funding that is not paid on time. Sounded plausible. The person answering the financial questions seemed pretty flustered about responding to why there isn’t a 990 or financial statement for 2014 and 2015. He said they have a year to submit, but hey, it’s now 2016 and he didn’t say anything about submitting anything anytime soon. It was weird.
The board chair responded to my question about “anything I didn’t answer fully” by replying that I didn’t seem “passionate” about the organization. I blew that response too. First off, I have a huge bias with so many people being “passionate” about so many things in their daily lives. And I wholeheartedly agree with the linguist in a report about language on NPR stating it is a word to be used in the bedroom, period. Are we all really, truly that passionate about Teapots and their Teapotterish qualities and the manufacturing thereof? Can’t we just LIKE them A LOT?? Anyway, I do digress. I did not ask the question about board development and fundraising. I felt that I had already waded in too deep and seriously annoyed them.
My point is that I have NO IDEA how to convey that I am “passionate” about an organization, during an interview. I would love some feedback.I am a somewhat reserved person and very professional at first impression. Then I ease into being very warm, friendly and funny later down the road.
I can see myself growing into caring more and more as I work there, get to know the staff I would direct, figure out the culture, meet the partners and spend time with the board members and so on. But I stumbled upon what I should have said. I have no clue.
And I also blew the question about what I would do in the first 30 days. I know now, but didn’t then. But it was a tough group. The board chair uses all caps and an exclamation point for his name on all his correspondence. He came across as imperious and difficult. The person who is an E.D of a quasi-public organization, sitting directly to my right, was not giving me eye-contact and was on her phone off and on during the interview.
I think I dodged a bullet. I don’t think I would have been happy. I was initially angry with myself for blowing it, but now I don’t think it would have been a good fit. This is a classic case of one who is in desperate need of a job, and wanting to fit that in somewhere.
Well, first, I don’t think you’re missing out by not getting this job.
Any organization whose board chair who mutters “what do you want to ask that for?” when you ask about their financials — when you’re the person who will be responsible for those financials and for running the organization that depends on those financials — is an organization that’s not in a healthy place. And it’s not that you should never take on a job leading an organization that’s in the red; it’s that you want to see that they’re being transparent and up-front with you about the situation so that you know what you’re taking on and you’re not blindsided when you start work. They weren’t doing that.
But as for the “passion” thing … it sounds like you have a hang-up about the word that’s maybe getting in your way in interviews, especially with nonprofits, where commitment to the mission is often a huge thing. You’re splitting hairs about the difference between “passion” and “liking something a lot.” If it helps, when you hear someone ask about passion, reword it in your head to “enthusiasm.”
I’m going to quote myself (how lazy!) from this older post about passion in job interviews:
You don’t need to fake passion when you don’t feel it, but when you’re applying at cause-based or faith-based organizations, you often do need to show a strong interest in their mission. You don’t need to act as if it’s your life’s mission if it’s not, but you do want to appear particularly enthusiastic about what they do — more so than in other sectors. If they get the sense that you’d be just as happy working at a bank or a zoo as working with them, you’re signaling to them that you might not quite fit in with what they’re all about. Because what they’re all about is working toward some kind of change, and they want people on their team who are pumped about that.
It’s not just about passion, of course. Passion is no substitute for talent and a track record of results, and nonprofits run into serious trouble when they hire highly passionate candidates who aren’t actually well suited for the job. But it’s reasonable that they want people who think the work they’re doing is awesome. (And that’s especially true for positions that will be dealing directly with their mission, like communications. It’s generally less true for, say, I.T. jobs or accounting.)
So, how does all that affect you? Well, it’s possible that you displayed a completely appropriate amount of enthusiasm and excitement and these people are just unusual in how much of it they want to see. It’s also possible that you didn’t seem all that moved by what they’re doing. There’s a difference, after all, between “it would be nice to work here” and “what you’re doing is fantastic, and I’d be thrilled to be a part of it.”
There’s more advice on passion when you’re a reserved person here.
But really, the big headline from this interview is that they wanted to hire you to run an organization and yet bristled when you asked about their financials. That’s a job to run far away from.