As executive director of a nonprofit agency, I’m involved in recruiting and hiring new staff. This past year, I also served on the search committees for the CEO of Vermont PBS and superintendent for Burlington’s school district. While all searches are different, here are a few lessons learned that might be helpful to anyone applying for a job.
Search committees are tasked with finding visionary candidates with 21 st century skills who are experienced, articulate about why they’re interested in the position, and perfect for both the organization and community.
Generic cover letters present a very weak first impression. A good letter is brief and ideally notes accomplishments relevant to the job at hand. Never include statements about how the position will surely be the applicant’s next leadership opportunity – since that’s a decision for the search committee to make.
A resume should include more than just a list of skill sets – it should cover employers, job titles, and years in each role in chronological order, elaborating on higher-level responsibilities performed most recently. Promotions and professional development activities should be highlighted. Awards and recognitions should also be included, as well as volunteer activities.
During interviews, concrete answers are best – with examples of specific accomplishments, skills, and abilities. Finalists who listen deeply during staff, board, and community interactions are particularly appreciated.
Honesty about successes, failures, and any gaps in employment is important. Everyone is just a Google search away, so if a job ended under duress, it’s best to address it up front.
When transitioning into a new industry, it’s smart to research current trends and challenges for the organization, in order to be able to relate previous experience to possible strategic solutions. Boldness is good, but relevant, in-depth knowledge is better - gravitas being much preferred to hubris.
The very best candidates research both the institution and the community. Informed questions about the organization’s activities, as well as regional issues distinguish those who have done due diligence. Thank you notes are always appreciated, and follow-up questions indicate a deeper level of interest.
And finally, if there are any lingering doubts between the head and the heart, both employers and job seeker’s alike would do well to remember that intuition is one of our best guides when trying to make the right decision.