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Calm Candidates Give Better Interviews

Job interviews are stressful. Even in the best circumstances, they can be subjective. Can organizations make great hiring decisions without the best available data?

Just think about it. Strangers judge a candidate’s fit based on off-the-cuff answers about a wide range of topics. The hiring process becomes a black box where candidates don’t know what to expect or where they are in a timeline. Despite hours of preparation, the stress of uncertainty means that candidates don’t show up with the level of calm and steadiness that they may bring to the role. 

An added stress for people of color regularly occurs when they are the only person who looks like them in a hiring conversation. Creating a diverse hiring committee is an essential step to creating a safe space where people of color can show up authentically and share their experience and qualifications in a powerful way. 

One of Good Insight’s core values is “People over Process.” That means that our search process centers on the candidate’s experiences to ensure both candidates and clients have the information they need to make a decision to work together. Given today’s tight talent market, we help our clients see the interview process as an opportunity to assess candidates, as well as to convince great candidates that this is the right organization and role for them

Good Insight believes that sharing a regular cadence of helpful information, centered on candidates’ frequently asked questions, reduces candidates’ stress. Then hiring teams can focus on getting to know them better, more deeply understand their experience and qualifications, and showcase their organization’s values to the people they want to hire most.

Social sector organizations compete for a small pool of great talent. Good Insight believes that the hiring process is a mutual selection process and we’ve seen the most highly qualified candidates are often in multiple hiring processes at once. It’s vital that organizations design their hiring processes in a way that communicates their values. Clear communication with candidates about the types of interactions to expect in the hiring process, regular updates to the hiring timeline as things shift, and clear preparation for interviews will help your organization stand out and show candidates your people-centered culture. 

Tips for de-stressing your interview process:

Communicate early and clearly about interview logistics

Directly communicate detailed information about what candidates can expect for each interview.  Our essential items include the list of attendees and their bios, how far in advance to log in to a virtual interview to be ready (we prefer 10 minutes), tips to test technology, and guidance on appropriate attire (e.g., suits are a rare requirement for our clients). Giving ample time for preparation offers candidates peace of mind and frees up their time and mental energy to prepare answers that illuminate their experiences.

Share the topics an interview will cover in advance

Conventional wisdom holds that surprise interview questions assess candidates’ ability to “think quickly on their feet.” In Good Insight’s experience, few jobs in the social sector actually require a lightning-quick reaction time. In fact, the strongest leaders take time to pause, think, and pull together ideas and feedback to respond with solutions. Good Insight’s practice is to share topics that interview questions will cover so that candidates can prepare strong examples to share. 

The element of surprise doesn’t serve the candidate or the hiring organization. It’s unlikely that candidates will supply their most relevant, best-articulated examples within 20 seconds in a high-stakes environment. As a result, candidates offer the best example they can immediately pull out of the air, which may not be their best example. For most candidates, more time to prepare will allow them to perform more confidently, clearly communicate their relevant experience, and offer better data for interviewers to assess. The surprise interview question approach benefits extroverts, who think out loud more naturally, but research says that introverts make better leaders and decisions.

Spend more time on follow-up questions

A benefit of sharing areas of inquiry in advance is that it allows for robust follow-up that helps interviewers get to know candidates. Candidates quickly scan for headlines rather than a full story, which requires interviewers to follow up for basic details. Alternatively, some candidates who process externally have to talk themselves into an answer, using up all of the time allotted to the question to get to their point. In both cases, the interviewer moves on to the next question without important insights into how someone would apply their experience, or taking time to clarify confusing details. A deeper conversation is possible when questions, rooted in specific examples, are shared in advance and hiring committees can make decisions based on a more nuanced understanding of a candidate’s prior work.

Some probes that Good Insight uses are:

  • What was your particular area of responsibility in [example they offered]?
  • What have you learned from [example they offered] that you’d bring to this role?
  • If you could go back and do [example they offered] again, what would you do differently?

Sample email communicating what to expect in an interview:

Hi [Candidate],

The [Organization] Hiring Committee is looking forward to continuing the conversation on Friday. To help prepare for the interview, we’ve outlined some tips and areas of questioning for you to expect.


Please plan on entering the Zoom room ~5-10 minutes before your scheduled interview time. We’ll send you a chat to let you know we see you and will let you in when the group is set and ready. The interview will be 60 minutes long. We usually budget ~5 minutes per question, and we recommend keeping a phone or timer close by because we often see people go on too long during questions. The most successful conversations have candidates reflect on the question and answer it to the point, then offer if there are any clarifications or follow-ups needed from the team. There will be time in the end to ask the committee questions you may have.

Areas of Questioning

The first question will be a chance for you to introduce yourself to the group, explain your interest in [Organization], and outline the strengths you would bring to the role. The committee is really looking forward to hearing this from you! Each committee member will introduce themselves when they ask their question.

Here are some high-level areas that you can expect the team to ask you about: 

  • Your experience in donor management and cultivating donor relationships
  • Your ability to advance racial equity within your development work
  • Your ability to manage and develop team members 
  • Your expertise in organizational management and process improvement
  • Your experience working closely with organizational leadership and principal staff


Since it’s a Zoom meeting, you don’t need to wear a suit or business attire. Business casual or whatever makes you feel most comfortable is perfectly fine.

[Organization] Hiring Committee Bios

You will be joined by the following hiring committee members whose bios you can read here (<link>):

  • [Name], President
  • [Name], Vice President of Operations & Administration
  • [Name], Program Director

Please let us know if you have any questions!


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