Encore applicants have relevant skills, but may have limited nonprofit or government experience. Remember that only 10 percent of the U.S. workforce is employed in the nonprofit sector, so candidates will apply from other sectors, bringing transferable skills and experience. As you screen resumes and conduct interviews, search out relevant competencies, culture fit, job fit and mission alignment.

Competencies. Two categories of competencies are particularly relevant for nonprofit work, according to Common Good Careers:

  • Knowledge, skills and technical qualifications. How do these assets relate to your organization’s work? Explore ways to leverage transferable skills in existing areas and in new projects and roles.
  • Personal characteristics (behavioral, personality, aptitudes). Qualities like a positive attitude, collaborative style, can-do approach, a strong work ethic and passion all contribute to work productivity and employee satisfaction.

Culture fit. Explore values, beliefs and style. A track record of volunteering and/or board service is one positive indication. Ask about experience working in environments that required collaboration or had constrained resources. Don’t limit the applicant pool: Successful candidates do not always need nonprofit work experience to thrive in your culture.

Job fit. Consider the candidate’s skills, abilities, experience, personal and attitudinal characteristics. By assessing job fit realistically, you increase the likelihood of engaging and retaining high-performing staff.

Mission alignment. Many who seek encore careers are passionate about mission and impact – a huge factor in employee engagement. As you screen applicants, be sure to elicit the “why” behind their applications.

Fit is a two-way street

Each candidate brings his or her own work history and motivations. Discuss candidate goals and expectations directly – don’t assume. See the Myth-busting section for more on what to avoid.

Behavioral Interviewing

Craft behavioral interview questions that reflect important aspects of the job, and prepare sample answers beforehand (see these samples by Canada’s HR Council for the Voluntary and Nonprofit Sector). As you develop interview questions, consider behavioral interviewing to assess transferable skills. Because encore-stage applicants often bring years of experience outside the nonprofit sector, behavioral interviewing lets you know how an applicant’s work, volunteer and life experience mesh with your organization’s needs and culture. Here are a few examples of behavioral interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you needed to build support for an idea or initiative. How did you get people on-board?
  • What have you learned in your previous career that will help you be effective in this job? Give an example.
  • Share an example of when you disagreed with someone. How did you resolve it?
  • Tell me about a time when you worked with scarce resources and achieved results.
  • Share an example of something that you are proud of and why.
  • Tell me about a difficult decision you had to make. How did you come to your decision?
  • What most frustrates you at work? How do you handle your frustration? Give an example.

Selecting Leaders

For leadership postions, Bridgespan recommends screening for work and volunteer experience demonstrating these transferable skills:

  • Ability to influence others, by moving groups towards action without formal authority.
  • Multi-level management experience, by managing up, down and across organizations and developing staff.
  • Adaptable management style, showing successful leadership at different organization levels as well as external stakeholders.
  • Collaboration skills, by engaging others in identifying and achieving shared goals.
  • Operational expertise, -demonstrated by managing across operational systems, functional areas and processes.
  • Resourcefulness, by achieving results in resource-constrained situations and attracting new resources.

Understanding the “Why” Behind the Application

Encore-stage talent share a deep desire to make a difference. In the interview, look for passion as well as skills. Explore job fit but also culture fit. Make sure applicants understand both the challenges and the exciting aspects of the work. When the fit is right, passion and purpose support commitment. For examples, explore About the Talent. 

Encore Talent in Action

Transferring Skills: From Private to Nonprofit Sector

From food sales to nonprofit food advocacy and fundraising almarino#Al Marino, Employee, Foodshare: After decades in national and regional food sales, Marino was laid off in early 2015. He decided to look for purpose-driven work, and entered Encore!Hartford’s training/internship program to make that transition. He gained experience at a Hartford food advocacy organization and volunteered in Foodshare’s development team, learning Raiser’s Edge and making 300 donor thank you calls.  


MaryKateCox#Mary Kate Cox, Director of Development, Foodshare: “I was looking for someone with sales experience. Al had that, as well as volunteer experience at Foodshare and with other local nonprofits. We’re open to people from the corporate sector who are highly functioning and bring a work ethic and accountability for results.”  

Read more.


Hire Encore

Peter DeBiasi, President/CEO, ACCESS Community Action Agency:

“Pay close attention to the [applicant’s] values and connection to your mission, combined with transferable skills. That combination will likely be a home run.”


The Bridgespan Group offers advice on hiring people new to the social sector. Explore these resources to assess competencies and culture fit.

STAR Approach to Behavioral Interviewing

A common interview format is the STAR approach: Situation – Task – Action – Results. You share an opportunity or challenge and ask the candidate to talk about a relevant experience from her work or volunteer experience. For more on the STAR approach, see this example and review the handout developed by the College of William and Mary.

Deborah Ullman, CEO, YWCA Hartford Region:

“Once you’ve established that the person has the skills, the main question is whether the candidate is the right fit for the organization. Passion and affinity for the people you serve are also critical for success. A history of volunteering, especially within your field, is a strong positive indicator. It demonstrates engagement in the nonprofit sector, and the strong potential to understand your communities and dynamics.”