interviewing with a funder of current employer

A reader writes:

I have a job interview on Friday with a grant-making foundation. I currently work for a non-profit organization that is funded (in part) by this foundation and has a long-standing relationship with them.

While I enjoy the work that I currently do, and love the mission of the organization, the work environment has been incredibly unstable for many, many months due to a litany of financial issues. The organization is incredibly cash poor and we literally worry about where payroll will come from on a month to month basis. This has been an ongoing problem and is my primary consideration in my decision to explore other opportunities.

Because the foundation I am interviewing with funds my current employer, I am at a loss for how to respond to the inevitable question as to why I’m seeking a new job. Honesty – saying that there’s been gross financial mismanagement and the organization is in a precarious position – could have dramatically negative consequences for my current employer in terms of future funding, which I would hate to see. But the truth is that this really is the single and biggest reason for my job search.

How can I be honest without damaging the reputation or the future of my current employer?

I think you can be honest about the fact that the organization is struggling financially without alleging financial mismanagement. Being concerned about the organization’s financial stability is a legitimate (and smart) reason to be looking around at other jobs — and you likely won’t be telling the foundation anything it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) know. Assuming it’s a major funder of your organization, it likely has some idea of the group’s finances, although likely not the nuanced picture you have.

If the interviewer asks you for further details about the group’s finances, you can simply say you don’t know details (assuming you don’t work in fundraising or accounting) but that you that know that the group, “like so many nonprofits,” is struggling with money problems. This is a reasonable approach, since the interviewer shouldn’t expect you to share dirty laundry about your current employer.

(Be aware, however, that if you end up working for this foundation, you’ll have to figure out whether you have an ethical obligation to fill them in on the mismanagement at this organization, as it receives their funds. I would say to do so only if you are absolutely sure that your perceptions are correct, and that you have sufficient information to be confident in your conclusions.)

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. HR Maven*

    Excellent advice. A couple of my thoughts.

    How long have you been at the job?

    I appreciate candidates who are gracious in their assessments of their current employer. It would be easy for you to use phrases like – it’s a difficult time to be working in non-profit, and/or I value the mission and direction but am concerned about continued funding.

    If you haven’t been there long, I would expect (as I would) that you have probably seen enough to be concerned and are looking to get out.

    If you have been a longer term employee, potential employers will be able to read between the lines when candidates with longer tenure start to leave.

    One note – make sure that you are excited about the job for which you are interviewing. I see too many people who want OUT as opposed to wanting MY job.

    Good luck!

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