Ten Questions A Preservationist Should Ask In An Interview

When preparing for a job interview, a lot of time is spent thinking about how to answer potential questions.

Will they be open-ended?

Tell me about yourself.

Will they be tricky?

What is your greatest weakness?

Will they be tricky AND possibly require some diplomacy?

What was your most difficult job and why?

However, interviews are a two-way street, and a good interviewee comes prepared with his or her own questions. Below are 10 questions you should ask when interviewing for a position with any prospective nonprofit historic preservation organization. (Note: These are also good questions to ask in any interview).
1. Budget and funding. Is the organization financially strong? You don’t need to sound like an accountant conducting an audit, but it is logical that you would want to understand how the organization is funded and any fundraising or budgeting responsibilities that come with the job. Does it receive grants that require administration? Does it host special fundraising events? Does it have loyal donors and volunteers or will it be up to you to identify and cultivate them? Ideally, budget figures from the previous year would present an accurate picture of the overall financial health of the organization. You might consider doing some research on your own to see if the nonprofit publishes annual reports or makes other financial information available online. A valuable resource is GuideStar which has data collected for more than 1.8 million tax-exempt organizations. A recent Form 990* is available for most of these organizations.

* The 990 is the form that allows the IRS and the public to evaluate nonprofits and how they operate

2. Staff and board of directors. Look up a list of staff and board members or ask for one ahead of time. Do you know any of them? You may be able to have an informal conversation with them beforehand and ask their opinion about the organization’s history and future directions. In your formal interview, ask questions about the entire staff including how responsibilities are distributed, how your work will be unique, and also how it will compliment the work of others in the organization. Familiarize yourself with and ask questions about the board of directors– after all, you’ll be working with them too. Are they active participants? Do they have a committee structure and will you participant in it? What are their interests, skills, and professions?

3. Future of the organization. Is the organization growing? Shrinking? Maintaining? It is logical to ask what the future might hold for your potential employer – and you. It may also provide a better sense of your future role. For example, will you be helping to create new programming?

4. Work hours. Different positions might require you to have an unpredictable schedule. Will overnight travel be required? Are meetings held in the evening? Are special events hosted on weekends? How often? Get a clear sense of where and when you are needed and make sure that you can be available to meet those expectations.

5. Work environment. A field service representative will have a very different work environment than a grants manager. Do you need room to roam? Does working in a cubicle seem like a punishment? Do you need a regular routine in the same place every day or prefer more flexibility? Knowing the working conditions that come with your future job will be important in determining whether you will be happy working there.

6. Work/life balance. Although nonprofit salaries are often on the modest side, there are usually other intangible benefits that can compensate you in other ways. Are there opportunities for a flexible work schedule? Is telecommuting allowed or embraced? If your parent, your sick child, or anyone else needs you, will you be given the flexibility to complete your work from home? That flexibility may be a key characteristic that allows you to best function and that keeps you content in your position. 

7. Opportunities for personal and professional growth. We see countless examples all around us of people and organizations learning from each other. In this new job, will you be joining a network of professional peers? Will you be challenged to develop new skills and hone existing ones? Is there time and budget available for specialized training? Can you attend the National Preservation Conference?
8. Benefits. Purchasing your own health insurance can be a huge financial burden. Unpaid time off can also strain your finances. Perhaps you need to analyze your own budget and be realistic about your needs beyond the paycheck. Employer-provided benefits can make a huge difference, but is it the coverage that you need? Are you required to assume a large share of the cost?

9. Who are your partners? What is the organization’s relationship with elected officials, the local historic district commission, state historic preservation office, the media, etc.? Search online to learn if the organization has received press recently. Have they had success? Are they embroiled in controversy? If appropriate, and to understand the issue, ask them the “real” story behind the story.

10. Ask yourself. Is this a good fit for me? Can I be an asset to this organization and its biggest fan? The organization will certainly benefit and you will be a much more effective employee if you are truly proud to be a part of its team.

This article was written by Marla Collum