Shortlist and interview

Shortlist your candidates against your agreed set of skills and qualities. Don't be swayed by impressive CVs – look for applicants who meet your criteria and will bring new and different perspectives to your existing board.

Plan your interview process so it goes smoothly. Ask a set of structured questions to assess applicants' interest in your charity, their fit with your charity's values and to explore how they could use their skills and experience to help board discussions. Assessing their responses against clear critieria will help you choose the best candidates and make the process fair. It also makes it easier to turn down people who are unsuitable.

Interviews are a two-way street: applicants will want to find out more about your charity, the other trustees and your board culture. Give them opportunities to do this, and make the interview a positive experience for them

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How to assess candidates

You may be looking for expertise in a professional field or lived experience and you will always want someone with a passion for your cause. You could be looking for all of these things and many others. Each applicant brings a unique combination of skills, and deciding which qualities to prioritise when you’re recruiting can be tricky. 

Charity insights on assessing your candidates

Recruit for the team, not the individual

Tom Lawson, CEO at Leap Confronting Conflict from 2010 – 2019 

When recruiting, we looked for complementarity rather than similarity. We wanted someone who will bring something different to the board, rather than someone who will just fit in. Sometimes the difference might be something easily identifiable, such as professional experience or gender. At other times it may be less tangible, like a different way of thinking about things. This less tangible kind of difference often emerges during the interview process

Leap is a national youth charity that provides conflict management programmes and support to young people and the professionals working with them

Recruit for potential, not perfection

Tom Lawson, CEO at Leap Confronting Conflict from 2010 – 2019 

If you recruit someone who's already perfect, what will they gain from the experience of being a trustee? How interesting and challenging will they find it? If you aim for perfection, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a bunch of people with Russell Group degrees – not very helpful.
 
So how can you spot potential in an interview? These are the kinds of things you should look for: 

  • Do they show curiosity in your charity’s work?
  • How do they talk about their ambitions? 
  • Do they have experience of things going wrong and the commitment to pick themselves up and have another go? Rather than someone who has had a perfect trajectory, where they are less likely to have much insight into challenge or difficulty. 

Leap is a national youth charity that provides conflict management programmes and support to young people and the professionals working with them

Assessing lived experience

Tom Lawson, CEO at Leap Confronting Conflict from 2010 – 2019 

If you are recruiting trustees with lived experience, it is important to interview them, just as you would any other trustee. It shows that they have the same status as our other board members, and being appointed from a competitive process validates their selection and can build confidence. 

To make a strong contribution to the board, trustees with lived experience need to be able to draw on their experience for insights, which they can apply in a professional context. Use the interview to explore if they have this ability. 

Leap is a national youth charity that provides conflict management programmes and support to young people and the professionals working with them

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Shortlisting applications

Shortlist candidates for the skills, experience and qualities that you have prioritised for your recruitment. It can be easy to be swayed by people with impressive CVs, but if they don't bring the attributes that you need, they may not be a useful addition to your board. Candidates with enthusiasm, curiosity and a different perspective might add more value.

Decide how many people you want to interview and select candidates who, together, cover the range of attributes you are looking for. Don't forget to thank unsuccessful candidates for their interest and their willingness to put themselves forward for the role and consider offering them an alternative way they can engage in your work

 

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Interviewing

Make your interviews a positive experience for you and your candidates. Design your interview to test the key qualities you are looking for, and to ensure that all candidates have the opportunity to show their full potential. Candidates will want to find out more about your charity and board too, so make opportunities for them to do this.

If you are interviewing online, it can work better to have more, shorter interviews.

Before the interview

Interview location, timing and accessibility

Think carefully about the location, timing and set up for your interviews. Try and see the setting through the eyes of the people you are interviewing. What does it communicate about your organisation? Sometimes what seems like a lovely setting can really undermine what the charity has said it’s looking for, such as a beautiful historic building where all the pictures on the walls are of white, middle-aged men. Or a noisy café which makes it difficult for someone with a hearing impairment to engage fully with the interview. 

Carefully consider how you can adapt the process to be inclusive and allow people with access needs to participate on an equal footing. This will send a powerful message to candidates about what is important to your charity and will help you recruit the diversity you need. 

How to make your interview accessible

  • Give your candidates full details about the interview process, and ask them if this presents any access issues for them.
  • Consider giving the questions to your candidates before the interview. This can help first time trustees prepare better, support people who are nervous in interviews and give confidence to people with hearing loss that they understood the question.
  • Interview timing – be flexible enough to fit in with people that have caring responsibilities or daytime or evening commitments. 
  • Choose a location that offers privacy and make sure it isn’t noisy. 
  • Ensure specific accessibility requirements are met, such as mobility needs, hearing induction loops and removing obstacles for visually impaired candidates. 
  • Offer to cover travel expenses – the cost and ease of travel could prevent or deter candidates from attending.
  • Video-conferencing might be a way to overcome some accessibility issues – always test in advance and check that candidates can access the software they need. 

Further reading

Decide who will be on your interview panel

From your charity and board
The chair is usually involved in interviewing, along with other trustees and/or the charity’s CEO, if you have one. Keep in mind that the CEO would essentially be recruiting their own boss.

Aim for a diverse panel
If you have a mix of gender, age and ethnicity on your interview panel, this will put a wider range of candidates at ease. It will also reinforce your charity’s commitment to diversity. If you don’t have a diverse mix of people on your board, think about other stakeholders that you could involve in the process – such as other volunteers, service users or colleagues.

Someone with the skills or experience you are looking for
You can include an independent person who has more expertise in the skills and experience that you’re looking for, such as:

  • People who work in a specific industry like digital, marketing, legal or finance.  
  • Service users or supporters that have lived experience of your charity’s cause. 

If you have independent panel members, make it clear that they can offer their opinion, but that the trustees will make the ultimate decision about who to recommend for appointment.

If there are no service users on your panel, invite candidates to meet them informally or arrange for them to visit your charity’s services. This could be before the interview or at another time. This will help you to gauge how they interact with the most important people in your charity.
 

Interview questions

Agree your questions with other panel members before the interview.

Consider sending the questions to candidates in advance: they will be able to give more considered responses. This is a better test of the qualities of a trustee. It will also help people with less confidence.

You may want to split questions over two interviews, to get a more rounded view of candidates.

Choose questions that can draw out:

  • A candidate’s personal motivation for applying 
  • what they understand about your charity’s values and purpose
  • what they understand about the trustee role
  • how they could contribute to the charity
  • how their skills and experience match the criteria you’re looking for.

Download an interview scoring sheet template with example interview questions. 

Assessing skills and experience
Ask for specific examples that demonstrate each candidate’s experience.  Even if they haven’t been a trustee before, they can describe how they’ve used the skills you’re looking for at work or in other contexts. 

To assess how a candidate would apply their lived experience or professional skills, you could describe a real or fictional scenario facing your charity and ask them how they would deal with it if they were on the board.  
 

Briefing your interview panel before the interview

  • Don’t assume that everyone on your interview panel has carried out this type of interview before.
  • Make sure they all know what they need to do in the interview and that they feel comfortable about it.
  • Give everyone on the panel a copy of the questions and scoring sheet for each candidate, including space to make notes. 
  • Decide who will ask each question – make sure that everyone on the panel has the chance to ask a question.
  • Agree the scoring method you will use for candidates.

At the interview

Start by making the candidate at ease. If you’re interviewing remotely, you lose the opportunity for that friendly chat on the way into the room, so build in something informal to kick things off. Ask a standard set of questions and score all candidates. Make sure that you leave plenty of time for their questions. Remember, interviews are a two-way process – they’re an opportunity for your candidates to learn about you, your fellow trustees and your charity, as much as they are for you to assess their suitability for your board.

At the start

  • Make an effort to put candidates at ease with a friendly welcome and to set the tone for the interview. 
  • Start the interview by introducing everyone on the panel.
  • Summarise how the interview will run.
  • Tell candidates that they can ask questions throughout the interview and/or at the end. 
  • Explain that you’ll be taking notes throughout so you have a record of what each candidate says. 
  • Be clear that you don’t necessarily expect to appoint all the applicants – this will manage expectations and provide reassurance to candidates if they aren’t appointed.
  • If you are interviewing remotely, you lose the opportunity for that friendly chat on the way in, so build in something informal to kick things off. 

Set the context

  • Provide an outline of what your charity does.
  • Explain the role of a trustee and the responsibilities trustees have.  This will help make sure there is a level playing field for those candidates who haven’t been a trustee before and/or aren’t familiar with your charity. 
  • Say what you are looking for in a new trustee and why. What are the challenges and opportunities facing your charity that you want your new trustee to be involved with? 
  • What are the skills and experience you need based on your skills audit (see Reflect)?

Ask your prepared questions and allow the candidate to ask questions too

  • Each candidate should be asked the same questions and all panel members should score each response. This ensures consistency across candidates and allows you to easily compare.
  • If you are interviewing remotely, be aware that there are fewer non verbal cues and it can be easy to misinterpret each other. Avoid drawing assumptions about a candidate's enthusiasm from their tone of voice and facial expressions for example. And actively respond to their answers with nods and smiles. Three blank faces can be off-putting! See more about running remote interviews here [link to blog]
  • Leave plenty of time for the candidate to ask questions.
  • Once the interviews are complete, the scores can be compared to enable you to decide on the best candidate(s).

At the end of the interview

  • Explain what the next steps are, and when they should expect to hear back from you. .
  • Reiterate that you are interviewing a number of potential trustees and that you will offer the role to the candidate with the closest match to the skills, knowledge and experience that you’re looking for. 
  • Mention that you are keen to find ways for unsuccessful candidates to be involved with your cause, possibly by volunteering with the charity, fundraising or by becoming a trustee in the future.
  • Thank the candidate for their application and for taking the time to come to the interview.

Charity insights on interviewing

A young person on the interview panel

Peter Olawaye, Trustee at Leap Confronting Conflict

We always have a young person on our interview panels – either someone who has taken part in a Leap programme or a young trustee – and two other members of the board as well. 

If the person is being interviewed for the role of treasurer, they will need to know about finance. But they also need to show that they understand the work that we do and that they can relate to the experiences of people served by our charity. This usually becomes clear when they are being interviewed by a young person. 

Leap is a national youth charity that provides conflict management programmes and support to young people and the professionals working with them

Give specific feedback and stay in touch

Peter Olawaye, Trustee at Leap Confronting Conflict

If you interview someone that has a particular disability (or is different in anyway from the people on the interview panel) and they don’t get appointed, it’s easy for that person to think that they didn’t get the role because of their disability or difference. So the charity that is doing the rejection needs to think about how best to mitigate this risk. And I think that because you can only offer one position, you need to give them clear, specific feedback about why they didn’t get the position. You could also stay in touch with them and suggest other ways that they could get involved with your charity. 

Leap is a national youth charity that provides conflict management programmes and support to young people and the professionals working with them

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Be positive about saying no

If interviewees don’t have the skills or experience you need or if you don’t think they’ll work well with the rest of your board, you shouldn’t hire them. It is better to go through the trustee recruitment process again than to hire someone who is not a good fit for the role. It can be hard to say no to someone who has got as far as the interview stage – especially if it’s someone you know. However, it is possible to turn people down in a way that leaves them feeling good. 

What to tell unsuccessful candidates

Open recruitment makes it easier to say ‘no’

It is much easier to say ‘no’ if you use an open recruitment process in which you choose candidates based on an objective set of criteria. You can explain if a candidate doesn’t meet your criteria or if there is another more suitable candidate that better meets your criteria. 

Give candidates helpful feedback

It is important for you to give feedback to all of the people you interview. Feedback is especially important where you have a diverse pool of candidates. In rejecting someone who is different to you, it is very easy for them to feel like it is because of their difference. 

Your feedback should balance the positive aspects of their application and interview as well as helping them to understand why they haven’t been appointed this time. This can be very empowering, and give candidates a greater chance of finding a role somewhere else, or even joining your board at a later date. 
 

Consider other ways they could be involved in your charity

If someone isn’t right for your board now, they could have the potential to be a trustee further down the line. Are there other opportunities at your charity that they could get involved in now, such as volunteering or fundraising?  This could give them the experience they need to become an effective trustee on your board sometime in the future.

Say thank you

It is very important to thank all applicants. They took time and put in effort to apply for an unpaid role with significant responsibility. Acknowledge their interest and support for your charity. 
 

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Further reading

Formally appoint your new trustee, and support them with a good induction.
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Trustee Recruitment Cycle

The Trustee Recruitment Cycle helps boards recruit openly, for diversity of skills and experience. Providing information, tools and examples from real charities, we take you through the whole recruitment process.

Reflect > Prepare > Advertise > Shortlist & interview > Appoint & induct > Evaluate