Ten questions every VM should ask a potential employer!

Andy Fryar November 17, 2015 6
Ten questions every VM should ask a potential employer!

As Leaders of Volunteers one of our specialty areas is (or at least should be) the ability to properly interview someone.

  • To ask the right question
  • To draw out that extra layer of information
  • To determine a candidate’s suitability
  • To safeguard our programs
  • To get the very best out of each candidate

Over the years I’ve literally interviewed thousands of people and if I might say so myself, I am damned good at it!

However, recently I have been thinking alot more about interviews from a completely different angle.

This different line of thought has been spurred on by a number of independent discussions I have had with volunteer managers in my travels, who have taken on new VM positions, only to find that the job that was advertised – that was promised, was not the job that was delivered!

Of course, by the time many learn this cold hard fact, it’s far too late to turn back. They have already given their notice and embarked on a whole new journey – and sadly for many, the new job that promised so much, is often actually a role made up of lacking resources, little support, cultural clashes and working in isolation.

The typical scenario that ensues over the months that follow gaining a new (but unsatisfactory) position often reads something like this:

  • Happiness and excitement
  • Oh really, that’s not what I was led to believe?
  • Hmmm – OK, well I can still fix this!
  • Wait – WTF!
  • You gotta be kidding me!
  • OK – I am outta here

Which brings me to my point about interviewing.

I think that for far too many of us, the opportunity to work in a new agency, for a new cause and with new people often sweeps away our usual commonsense. It takes us to a point where somehow we morph into simple starry-eyed applicants, champing at the bit just to get started, not asking clarifying questions and, all too often, resulting in us letting our guard down.

The most important part of any interview, for me at least, is that point in the process where our potential new employer asks that critical question

“So do you have any questions of us?”

Here’s where we need to force ourselves to think beyond simply clarifying what our new pay packet will look like and blurting our details about pre-planned holidays we have booked!

For it’s at this point that WE get to do some of the interviewing – and remember, we are good at this!

So to this end, I have prepared ten questions that I believe we should ALL be asking of our potential employers during the interview process, to ensure the environment we are walking into is worthy of the skills that we bring to the table.

So here goes (in no particular order)!

Question One – What is your agency’s philosophy surrounding the utilisation of volunteers?

This is a pretty broad question – but what you are looking for here is a response that gives you some assurance that the agency you are about to throw yourself into has a well thought through position on how volunteers add to the delivery of services and the value of the organisation. You want to know that volunteers are not some sort of ‘add on’ – but a properly planned human resource within the organisation.

Question Two – How does having the support of volunteers impact the mission of this org?

Taking it one step further – and if the previous answer does not draw this out, you’ll want them to be clear about how the involvement of vols helps to achieve the organisation’s mission. If they can’t clearly demonstrate that, then perhaps volunteers are more of added ‘extra’ rather than a core part of the agency and its drive.

Question Three – How do you measure the successful engagement of volunteers in this agency?

This is an important one. If they talk only about growing volunteer number and hours for the simple sake of growing number and hours – run!!! Their response should ideally demonstrate that the engagement of volunteers is measured alongside the orgs mission! That these two factors are inseparable.

Question Four – Do you have clear goals about where you would like to see the volunteer program head / grow?

You would hope this response is able to be clearly articulated – especially as they are heading through an interview process. However, that may not be the case! Be sure they are not simply working through a ‘replacement’ process but rather that they have clear ideas about the future of the program.

Question Five – What resources have you committed to this growth?

Possibly, the most critical of all these questions. This is also a direct flow on from the previous response they would have given to you. If they are serious about program growth and development they will not only know where they want to head but what resources they have to throw at achieving it! If you are going to accept an offer from this group – then be as sure as you can be that adequate resources (financial, physical and emotional) are available to you

Question Six – Does this agency value the input and feedback of volunteers and the volunteer department in its planning and review processes? Please explain?

It’s one thing to involve volunteers – another to seek their input. Ask them to articulate!

Question Seven – Who will I be answerable to – and what are their direct views of volunteer engagement?

It’s critical to understand that your direct line manager is on the same page as you. If they are not at the interview be alarmed! And if they are, don’t be afraid to eye ball them and ask. This person will be your first line of both defense and support. It’s such a critical relationship you need to make sure it is a good one.

Question Eight – What is the agency view of the position / role of the VM in an organisational context?

We are moving away from the role of volunteers now and focusing on the VM role more specifically. Listen out for clues that give you an assurance that the VM is seen as a lynch pin in an organisational context. Is the VM role a part of the decision making team? Is the role valued and critical to the agency?. Do they consider your role to be that of a VM ‘specialist’ and do they expect you’ll jump up and down and challenge stupid decisions they might be considering? Do they see your role as the one that just does the ‘busy work’ of volunteer recruitment or do they consider it to be more strategic?

Question Nine – What mechanisms are in place for me to be able to undertake professional development?

Make sure you can subscribe to journals, attend conferences and participate in network meetings. Ensure that the agency understand that this is a critical part of the role and that professional development is central to growth.

Question Ten – Ask for a referee!

By now they’ll either be sick of you or caught up in your zeal for the role! So why not hit them with one more whammy!!! If they can ask you for a referee, there’s no rule to say you can’t ask for one back! Ask for the name of some employees or department heads – or even volunteers to see if the rhetoric they are spinning you matches reality! If nothing else – you’ll gain their attention and they’ll know you are serious about the role.

As Volunteer Managers I don’t need to remind you that an interview process should always be a two way process (…do I!) and by asking a series of the right questions there is a much higher possibility that volunteer managers are going to find a suitable match for the skills that they bring to the table.

Try it – I’d love to hear the outcome.

I’d love to hear your feedback too!





  1. Jennie holdom June 15, 2017 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    Fantastic post Andy.
    Getting a new job is a partnership one where there should be positives for both parties, outside of the pay packet. The employee gain experience,involvement in a cause they are passionate about or whatever they what to achieve from the role. The employer gain a motivated employee who will benefit the organisation.

  2. Sarah Collins November 28, 2015 at 8:09 am - Reply

    Great post Andy, I definitely see the interview as a two way process, but only came to that realisation after ending up in one of those horror jobs. And I pretty much decided to take my current role based on the questions asked and answers given by my direct manager in the interview.

    If I find an organisation struggles to define its philosophy around the utilisation of volunteers, I find it useful to ask ‘what language do you use when talking about volunteers’. If they refuse to put the word ‘work’ anywhere near the word ‘volunteer’ (because only paid staff can work) or anyone talks about volunteers being the ‘icing on the cake’ I’m out of there!

  3. Sabina November 28, 2015 at 1:02 am - Reply

    I didn’t see this post until after I landed my new Volunteer Coordinator job, but I am pleased to say that my direct manager was at the interview and she answered a lot of these questions without me having to ask them directly. Now I have started, they seem to be demonstrating it.

    But I appreciate your thoughts on this area as I have seen/heard of lots of volunteer roles that seem to want the volunteer manager to turn straw into gold. 🙂

  4. Susan J. Ellis November 25, 2015 at 4:20 pm - Reply

    Wonderful and super-helpful post, Andy! I’m going to share it with others, too.

    Some may wonder if they will jeopardize their chances at landing the job if they ask such questions, but do you really want to work for an organization that can’t answer them or is offended by your approach? An ounce of prevention…

  5. Debbie Usiskin November 25, 2015 at 1:07 pm - Reply

    FAB post Andy, I have printed it out and will etch it on my eyelids ready for when I am next jobsearching and will certainly refer to it (crediting you of course) when working with fledgling VMs!

  6. Roz Wollmering November 18, 2015 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    Too true Andy, simply brilliant. Thanking you a million.

    The story of our lives and the unending quest to find common purpose.

    These questions might also be applied in the context of organisational planning, change and transition, annual reflection activity, CEO forums, or policy renewal. Organisational complacency is real and when the question comes ‘what are you doing to innovate and get more and better volunteers?’ – the optimum response is not rushing off to action or defensive promotion, but prompting the necessary discussion through questions such as yours. They are spot on.

    Without such challenge, we resign ourselves to ‘just get a volunteer to do it” mentality so often heard in an organisational context.

    Appreciation beyond words,


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