Selection and interviews

Selecting potential volunteers for volunteering roles is quite different from choosing people for paid work. For starters it's unlikely that you would need to choose just one volunteer from a pool of candidates for a role. More often than not volunteer roles are open anyone who'd like to get involved with your organisation.

Even if all your current volunteering positions were filled, a prospective volunteer could still go on a waiting list for when a new vacancy arises.

Typically you would only need to reject a prospective volunteer in cases where they did not pass a screening check or meet any mandatory criteria required for a role. Even then, you may be able to find another way to check references or screen a candidate, or find them a role that uses different skills.

Interviews as a selection tool

Volunteer interviews are a good way to get a sense of how a prospective volunteer is going to fit into your organisation or suit a role. An interview provides an opportunity to match a role with a prospective volunteer's needs or tailor a role to a potential volunteer's background, skills, interests or availability. All in all, interviews are great way to get to know people.

While volunteer interviews still need a structure, they are typically less formal than job interviews and offer prospective volunteers a chance to understand the role, the people and your organisation while you learn more about the kind of experience the volunteer is seeking.

Before you interview

In most cases prospective volunteers would be offered an interview as part of the selection process. This is a chance for both parties to explore the volunteer's potential fit with your organisation. Some things to consider when planning your interviews include:

  • Plan your interview process before setting up interviews with prospective volunteers
  • Explain the interview process to prospective volunteers when you invite them to attend. Tell them what to expect, what to bring and what happens. People often get nervous about interviews so you can put them at ease by explaining that they can expect more of an informal 'getting to know you' chat than a formal job interview
  • Check with prospective volunteers to see if you need to arrange for any special needs or accessibility requirements when they come to their interview
  • Decide how long each interview will be. This will help you stick to your planned interview structure
  • Decide where the interview will be held. Choose a friendly and welcoming place that is quiet and avoids potential interruptions
  • Decide what questions you will ask and what background information you will provide. Try and get a good balance between informing prospective volunteers about your organisation and program and learning more about their needs, expectations and background
  • Familiarise yourself with the prospective volunteer's application (or other documentation they have submitted). You can then structure the conversation and questions around their responses
  • Plan how you are going to screen and select volunteers (if you have a need to select volunteers from a wider pool of candidates) or how you will allocate volunteers to roles in your programs. You can explain the process at the interview

At the interview

Here's some tips for making your interviews a welcoming and friendly experience for everyone:

  • Greet each candidate, make sure they are seated comfortably and offer them tea, coffee, water, refreshments
  • At the start of the interview explain the interview process so that prospective volunteers know what to expect. Given the informal nature of most volunteer interviews, it is good to encourage people to ask questions whenever they need to rather than waiting until the end of the interview
  • Check that the information that you have about the prospective volunteer is correct. Mistakes can easily be made, especially if details were provided over the phone
  • Stick to the allocated structure and length of the interview. This will help to keep the interview flowing and ensures that everyone you interview is treated the same
  • Start the interview with a brief background of the role, your program and organisation. This is a useful way to break the ice if people are nervous
  • Ask everyone the same questions so that you have a point of comparison between prospective volunteers. If necessary ask people to elaborate their answers or follow up with additional relevant questions to elicit the information you require
  • Frame questions so they avoid simple 'yes' and 'no' answers. Use questions as a way to get volunteers to feel comfortable talking about themselves, their motivations and their needs
  • Give volunteers plenty of time to talk. Remember that the interview is a two-way communication.
  • Not all people are the same so use the interview as a way to learn more about a prospective volunteer's specific needs and expectations.
  • Avoid personal or discriminatory questions. Keep questions relevant to the role and your programs
  • Take relevant notes during the interview. It's easier to remember things if you jot them down as you go
  • At the end of the interview ask the prospective volunteer if they are still interested in taking on a role in your organisation. There's no use wasting time with screening or checks if they are no longer interested in a role
  • Also explain the next steps after the interview and how long these are expected to take.

After the interview

Follow up activities after the interview are just as important as the interview itself. Here's some tips:

  • If you want to jot down some interview notes (highly recommended) or do any candidate scoring (see under Tools and resources for interview scoring templates) do this immediately after each interview. Taking notes is useful especially if a prospective volunteer asks for any feedback about their interview
  • Always focus feedback around the requirements of the role and any personal opinions. Treat everyone fairly and without discrimination
  • If you are providing written feedback or assessments (even if it's just some brief notes), make sure you cover all candidates. Your notes will help immensely if you find yourself in a position where you are only able to select some of the candidates for your roles

Final selection

If the interview was successful, the decision to select a prospective volunteer for your volunteering program should be fairly easy. You will have found out enough about them to gauge how they would fit into a role or program and they will have indicated that they are still interested in getting involved.

The final step after selection is to run any screening and checks on a prospective volunteer as part of your risk management. Some of these checks will take some time to complete so let prospective volunteers know that they have been selected pending the results of any mandatory checks.

In some instances you may decide not to select a prospective volunteer. If you do choose to reject an applicant make sure that your reasons for doing so are relevant to the requirements of the role or the selection criteria of your organisation. Typically relevant reasons for rejection would be where a prospective volunteer didn’t pass a mandatory check (often because they have a criminal record) or did not have a mandatory skill or qualification required for the role. Never reject a volunteer for personal, emotional or discriminatory reasons.

Even if a prospective volunteer does not have a required skill you may still be able to involve them in another role or provide training to assist them to acquire the skills they need. Alternatively you may be able to suggest volunteering opportunities with other organisations that may suit their needs.

Tools and resources