Applying for a job when you are on the board
November 19, 2007 8:27 AM   Subscribe

My partner is currently applying for a director position with a non-profit that she is currently on the board of. Obviously, she has a lot of 'insider information' about the direction of the organization. How should she handle this in the interviews? Do search committees handle interviews for someone in her position differently then someone less familar with the org? Any tips would be appreciated.
posted by buttercup to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Someone with inside information surely has an upper hand, and she should use it. It's much more efficient to hire someone who already knows your organization.
posted by crickets at 8:33 AM on November 19, 2007

I would think that her familiarity with the org would be a huge benefit. If I were doing the interview, I would want her to make clear how her past experiences were relevant to the job. If I were her, I would make it clear how my past experiences was relevant to the job, and how being on the board shows that I have a passion for this organization, and therefore I'm certain that I'm the right person for the job.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:33 AM on November 19, 2007

First off, the non-profit should insist that she resign or take an absolute leave of absence from the board. Otherwise, she would be in a position of helping to hire herself. A separation is necessary to protect the organization from any conflict issues, and leaves her free to pursue the position. Her "inside information" ceases to be current with her resignation or LOA, though obviously she can use what she knows. A search committee, if well constituted and organized, will follow the same procedure with all candidates -- same questions, etc., and should not handle her differently because of the relationship. But they need to take care of that, not her. She should go with whatever procedure they set up, and answer the questions using all information she legitimately has. She might put on the record something to the effect: "Obviously, with a committee of the board I will discuss information I learned while I was a member of the board. You should rest assured I will abide by the board's ethics and confidentiality policies and will not use that information in any other setting or in job interviews elsewhere."
posted by beagle at 8:50 AM on November 19, 2007

Best answer: All credible candidates should have researched the organization before they come in. The issue in my mind is not whether someone knows more about the organization's current operation or not, but what they *do* with that information.

Your partner should have a vision of where she thinks the organization should go, and then she should use her knowledge of the organization to articulate exactly how it can get there. For example, if she feels that outreach to certain communities is a critical part of what the org needs to do next, knowing what she knows about the place, she should be in a position to say exactly how she'll accomplish that (e.g., merging this division with that one, etc.). The advantage for the organization is that she'll be able to hit the ground running, rather than needing extra time to learn about the place.

Insider information can be a benefit or a hinderance depending on how the organization is doing and where it wants to go. Sometimes "fresh blood" is what an organization needs, and if an outside candidate can offer a fresh vision, it may be override the perceived advantages of a familiar candidate.

Obviously, beagle's points are well taken, though I wouldn't take it so far as to say that she should resign from the board. Just that she should excuse herself from meetings anytime the hiring issue is on the table.
posted by jasper411 at 9:29 AM on November 19, 2007

How large is this not-for-profit? I worked for several small agencies, and they weren't always savvy to HR/conflict of interest issues.

Your partner may want to contact the Chairperson of the Board and explain the situation. Then ask the Chair how to proceed with regard to Leave of Absence or Abstain. Procedures for conflict of interest should be spelled out in the by-laws. Follow those rules precisely.

After that, you partner behaves as any other job candidate.
posted by 26.2 at 9:48 AM on November 19, 2007

I have a lot of experience as a board member, and for the duration of the candidacy here, there's a serious enough conflict to warrant a resignation or complete leave of absence, not just abstaining from votes or stepping out of meetings when employment is discussed. If the board hires her, it needs to be without any appearance of preferential treatment. Boards need to be extremely careful to avoid conflicts, and this situation present the opportunity for a very major conflict. Employees of the organization would never be appointed to the board of directors (except executive directors who sometimes serve ex officio), and boards should not consider hiring their own members. Hence, a resignation or LOA is a necessity.
posted by beagle at 11:16 AM on November 19, 2007

I served on a board that had to hire a new executive director. One of the applicants was a current employee, so it is a similar situation (but without the being a member of the board conflicts).

We asked him the same questions as the other candidates, but we had more follow-up since his answers were more specific to the organization. He also had a clear vision like jasper411 suggests. That was a top reason why he got the job, since most of the other candidates' visions were weak or unclear.

One reason to follow beagle's advice: at my organization, we were nearly wiped out by lawsuits that dealt primarily with improper hiring and firing. Say your partner gets the director position. Another candidate may sue citing unfair hiring practices. The costs of defense alone may be more than the organization can handle. Keeping everything above board will help prevent that, and other problems with others that may become resentful.
posted by Monday at 11:34 AM on November 19, 2007

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What beagle said. Regardless of how qualified she is or how few the other candidates, this is unethical behavior. Recommend that she ask the chair how to remove herself from the board before beginning the application process. She should not be involved in any discussion of the hiring or any board activity from now until the selection announcement is made.

People take non profits far less seriously than they should. Board illiteracy with ethics is a pervasive problem, and this person, who wants to be exec, should know this - would she allow it were she already exec? Sheesh. They should get clear on conflict of interest very soon, or the organization's health is in danger. A lot of money changes hands in American nonprofits, and they are responsible to the public. It's definitely not OK for her to be on the board while she is a candidate.
posted by Miko at 12:19 PM on November 19, 2007

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