Being Interviewed for Social Sector Jobs: Five Tips for Students

Being Interviewed for Social Sector Jobs: Five Tips for Students

The structure and content of job interviews in the social sector can be confusing. Follow these five tips to determine whether an organization’s culture is right for you.

Ratna Gill and Megan McGlinchey joined the Living Cities staff in June 2016 as recent college graduates. In this mini-series, they reflect on their experience entering the workforce, with a focus on the aspects of Living Cities’ organizational culture that are crucial for attracting, hiring and retaining talent.


In the last post in this series, we looked at some of the reasons that interviewing for entry-level jobs in the social sector can be challenging. Due to lack of a predictable recruiting “cycle” and attempts to mimic private sector interview practices, the job interview process in the social change space often feels more stressful than it needs to. This piece provides a list of tips for candidates to keep in mind while navigating the interview process and using it to determine whether an organization would be a good professional and personal fit.

Five Tips for Interviewing for Entry-Level Jobs in the Social Sector

1. Hold your power.

Any job interview is as much an opportunity for you to decide whether you want to work for a company as it is a time for the company to determine whether they want to hire you. Remember that YOU have a lot of power and authority in the interview process as well, and the process should be a two-way interaction. Allow this knowledge to equip you with confidence. In an earlier post in this series, we shared some tips for candidates to prioritize the factors that are non-negotiable for them in a first job. If the culture of an organization is an important factor for you to enjoy job satisfaction, remember that you have the right to learn as much about a company’s culture as you can!

2. Interview the interviewer.

When an interviewer asks, “Any other questions?” have prepared a list of things you genuinely want to know about their corporate culture. Picture your ideal office. Does the staff eat lunch together? Do colleagues hang out outside of work? The answers you receive to these questions, and the confidence with which your interviewer answers them, can tell you a lot about whether the firm is the type of place where you want to be. Sometimes it can feel like you are being too picky, and of course a first job doesn’t have to be the perfect job for you, but also remember that you have time. The idea that a student should have found full-time employment the moment she steps off her college campus is a pernicious construct. By putting in a bit more time at the front end doing research on the culture of the company you’re interviewing with, you may end up much more satisfied with your first job.

3. Quiz your networks.

Chances are that the people who know you and your personality well will have a good idea of the type of organization that would be a good fit for you. If you’re interviewing for a company, ask folks who know about the issues you are interested in if they have heard of it, and what impressions they have of its corporate culture.

4. Observe how you feel.

Are you able to be yourself when you are in conversation with members of the organization interviewing you? Apart from the nervousness that is normal as a part of any interview process, are you comfortable, excited, and fired up about the work while talking to the employee interviewing you? How you feel during an interview is valid and important, and if some of these things aren’t true, maybe you should reconsider whether you would want to work day-to-day with people who won’t be able to support you in sustaining your excitement for social change.

Remember that a company’s culture is the aggregate of the values of each of its individual employees.

5. Be the change you want to see.

Despite asking all the questions you can in an interview, what if you end up at a company whose culture and values don’t quite align with yours? It’s important to be intentional about where you end up working, but at the end of the day, being able to take all of these factors into account is a huge privilege. New staff members can provide the perfect mirror to reflect a fresh and honest assessment of what an organization is doing right and wrong, especially from a cultural perspective. Remember that a company’s culture is the aggregate of the values of each of its individual employees. It can be scary, but taking that fearless first step of raising opportunities to strengthen your company’s culture can pay dividends for employees long after your time, and play a part in transforming your firm’s values from the inside out.


What do you wish the interviewer did differently at your last interview? Share your story here or email it to rgill@livingcities.org!

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