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Research Before You Interview

Whether it’s your first interview of the day or your fifth, when you get asked the question about why you want to join the particular organization, you have to answer with knowledge, heart, and sincerity.

The first question I ask every potential candidate who applies for a search I am conducting is: “Why are you interested in this organization and this job?”

I am shocked at the number of times candidates don’t expect the question and also don’t have a clear answer. The canned answer “Oh I just think it sounds interesting,” is usually a stopper right from the start.

It seems like stating the obvious, but if you are not able to articulate why, specifically, you are applying for a job at a particular organization, chances are high that the interview will not proceed much further.

The number one thing organizations care about is that you want to join them. They want you to be accomplished in your skills. But they also care that you want to be a part of their team. This is especially true about mission-driven organizations; they need you to feel that you share in their cause.

So first and foremost, as you head into an interview, you need to know about the place you are applying to and its people.

Make the time

Truth: we’re in a tight job market right now. So, it’s natural that if you are job searching, you’re looking far and wide and throwing your hat into many rings. And you should be doing that.

But whether it’s your first interview of the day or your fifth, once you get asked the question about why you want to join this particular organization, you have to be able to answer it with heart and sincerity.

The Internet is your friend

Seems so obvious, but the first step in researching an organization is to visit its website. As you surf around, actively observe and ask questions. Take notes.

  • What are the main themes and messages being promoted on the homepage?
  • What is their mission and whom do they serve? Is this something you care about?
  • Who is featured in different sections, and why them?
  • Who is the leadership? What is their experience and how long have they been at this particular organization? Is there a message from leadership and what does it say?
  • Who is the board? What does the board look like? Is it diverse or mostly all one stripe? How much are an organization’s board members philanthropically supporting the organization?
  • What seems to be news or a new development?
  • Look at the staff pages and the people who work there; what do you notice?
  • Look for financials; annual reports, giving pages, and donor stories to know who philanthropically supports this organization.
  • Does something seem missing where you could add value or that might be a challenge for them?
    Don’t stop there

    • Google it! Do Google searches of the organization, the leadership, and board members; what comes up? Are there news stories or other publicity? Do these stories increase your interest and motivate you to learn more, or give you pause?


    • Look up the profiles of the leadership and staff. Are there overlaps with places you have worked, and do you have people in common in your networks; you can possibly leverage those connections to stand out.
    • Look up the profile of the organization; how do they position themselves on this and other social media?


    • Review the organization’s financial health, the record of gift-giving, and their rating.

    Social Media

    • Look at all the organization’s social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram; what do they tell you about the organization, how it positions itself, its messaging? What do these communications say about an organization’s personality and how they position themselves? How many followers do they have? How often do they post? How active are they?
    • Look at the personal social media channels of leadership as well; who are they as people? Do you see yourself working well with them? (This is also a good time to review your own social media and see if there are any posts that might not help your job-seeking efforts that you want to delete.)

    Who’s the competition?

    Every organization, corporate or mission-driven, has at least one competitor, and more likely, several. Knowing what entities are operating in the same space as the organization you are interested in helps you understand more about your target organization. Take the extra time and research the competition as well.

    Consider and compare:

    • Size of membership and number of social media followers
    • Funds raised and history of fundraising
    • Size of staff; staff roles and structure (Not all organizations have full staff rosters available, so this might be difficult to do. Try searching for the organization on LinkedIn and see how many profiles appear.)
    • Experience of leadership
    • Experience of board members; is there overlap among members with other organizations
    • What slice of the space does each organization carve out, i.e., advocacy or service or areas of focus or specialization; how does your target organization position itself in that space—and what could they do differently?

    Worth the effort

    I recognize that from the outset, this seems like a lot of work. But it can also be fun. And it’s worth it in the end. Not only do you learn more about the organization you are applying to thus making it easier to have an answer to the “Why here?” But you may also learn that maybe this is not the right organization for you. Indeed, one of its competitors might be a better match. You might discover someone from your network works there, or is connected to someone who is, and you have an opportunity to reach out and reconnect.

    I guarantee you that taking the time to research every organization that calls you for an interview will reveal something valuable for you. So, do your research.

    Written by Terri Rutter, Lindauer Senior Consultant.

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