If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance your organization uses volunteers in some capacity (or you’re wanting to get started!). The real question is, are you recruiting those volunteers? Are you maximizing the impact of incoming volunteers by placing them in the best areas based on their skillsets? Are you asking the right volunteer interview questions?

A few weeks ago, we talked about why volunteer interviews are critical to success and necessary to finding and placing the best volunteers possible. Once we understand how important interviews are, we then have to determine how we can best get all the information we need out of a one-on-one interview. Below you’ll find five of the most important ways your organization can get the most out of the time you have with individuals looking to get plugged in.

Be prepared.

Have a list of other jobs (and their descriptions) readily available. If the volunteer seems to be a better fit for or expresses interest in another position within the organization, the interviewer will have the information they need to keep the conversation going.

Prior to the interview, collect, organize, and review background information on the candidate.This will help the interviewer ask more tailored questions and follow up on interesting answers or details they provided on an interest form or application.

Determine who will be meeting with the candidate. It may be beneficial  to have another volunteer present to help conduct the interview as they:

  • May appear less intimidating to interviewees than paid staff
  • Can speak from the perspective of the potential volunteer
  • Will likely share more in common with the prospective volunteer (such as a desire to freely give their time to the organization!)

Come with the right questions.

Most questions should be open-ended. Open-ended questions help prospective volunteers elaborate on their backgrounds, stories, feelings, and concerns. Close-ended questions (such as “Yes/No” questions or those with predetermined options) can prevent them from getting specific.

Candidates should be asked about their backgrounds and passions. Even if a volunteer comes in with a particular position in mind,  interviewers should ask about their background to determine if the volunteer may actually make a better fit (or find more satisfaction) in another role.

Identify important areas for the interviewer to assess.

Some of the most important things to examine during the interview include:

Motivations: Individuals may want to serve with your organization for a variety of reasons. Some may be fighting loneliness and looking to build relationships with other community members, some may want to serve as a means of sharing their faith, and others may get involved because of some form of “coercion” such as court-mandated community service. These motivations shape the way they understand the mission, interact with clients, and complete their tasks.

Education/Skill Set: If the volunteer possesses unique (and/or valuable) knowledge, you and your team may ask them if they are interested in performing some other kind of role in the organization that other general volunteers are unable to perform. This is also important if one or more positions require a certification or license.

Availability: Determine what other types of commitments the prospective volunteer has and how these responsibilities affect their schedule each week. Be forthcoming about the time you expect volunteers to devote to particular roles – while there may be a temptation to play down the needed commitment on the front end, volunteers may become burned out down the road and even develop a sense of resentment toward the organization for misleading them.

Questions: Create an interview environment in which the individual feels comfortable voicing fears or concerns they may have about the role. The person showing up to the interview may have not yet decided whether they want to actually volunteer, so asking for this feedback will not only show that you care about their experience but help your team identify areas for growth as an organization.

Use scenarios to better understand the volunteer.

Give the volunteer a real-world problem to solve. During this activity, interviewers should observe how the volunteer processes the information given and reaches their solution.  Scenarios help the conversation move from generic answers about responsibilities and organizational culture to the volunteer’s unique thought processes and approaches to difficult situations.

Consult relevant staff members when designing the scenarios and assessing volunteer responses. They will be most familiar with the kinds of difficult situations the volunteer may experience and be best equipped to judge volunteer fit. If the volunteer is most interested in working with children, for example, the staff member in charge of children’s programming should, if at all possible, be present during the interview.

Provide next steps.

Collect any other information your team may need to make the decision/placement. This may include any remaining signatures, references, or other forms of documentation you may need to complete the screen in/out process.

Clearly articulate what is expected of the individual going forward. Doe they need to complete a background check or fill out paperwork with Human Resources? Does the next step need to be taken on your end? Ensure that the candidate has an actionable next step (even if that step is to wait) as well as a clear sense of if/when they will hear back from the organization.

Interviewing prospective volunteers – whether it be over the phone, over a web platform, or in person – does require time and resources. However, interviewing volunteers should be seen as nothing less than an investment. Finding the right people for the right roles (and dismissing those that aren’t a good fit) will make those that stay happier and more effective. With the right interview strategy, your organization can fight high turnover, enhance team cohesion and morale, and amplify your impact on the community.

garrett clawson circle
Garrett Clawson

I am the lead data and research analyst with The For the City Network and joined the team in February 2018. I help volunteers, pastors, nonprofit leaders, and business professionals better understand the characteristics and dynamics of their communities so that they can more effectively pursue human flourishing together. I earned my master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas - Austin and continue to live in North Austin.