April 20, 2014

Volunteer Recruitment – the ‘Group Interview’

Posted in Best Practice, Managing Volunteers, Organisation responsibilities, Professionalism tagged , , at 3:43 am by Sue Hine

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Screening and interviewing prospective volunteers is that most basic of tasks for managers of volunteers. My take on what to do and how to go about it is a bit different to most of the reams of available information.

I like to get a head start by asking searching questions on the application form, as I described in a previous blog. Get beyond contact details. Ask about motivation, personal qualities appropriate for the work of the organisation, skills and relevant previous experience, and of course availability and preferred time commitment. Not quite a CV, but information that offers a great deal about the applicant.

Of course this approach assumes we are clear on what we want to know about applicants, and why. Beyond their capacity to undertake volunteer roles we will be assessing the fit of volunteer and organisation expectations, and best get the latter sorted before starting the recruitment process.

I gave up individual interviews years ago, mostly because spending an hour with each applicant would have taken up more of my part-time working week than I could afford. I adopted a group screening and orientation process, two two-hour sessions held a week apart. Mostly there are between twelve and twenty participants.

In the first session introductions and ice-breakers and then a couple of key questions on motivation can demonstrate people’s ability to relate easily with each other, and to understand more about the nature of volunteering.   The presence of an experienced volunteer or staff member to act as an observer at this session allows a ‘second opinion’ on the qualities of participants.

Because volunteer roles involve interaction with patients and families it is important applicants can cope with stress, so a role-play engages them in exploring depths of emotion they might encounter in themselves and others. It’s a powerful tool that prepares them for volunteer work. Or else it shows this organisation is not for them.

The other side of screening is orientation to the organisation, helping people understand how it works, a bit of its history and discussion on its values and their meanings.

Few applicants withdraw from this process. They receive a folder of information to reinforce their learning so far. Following referee and police checks they will be partnered with a buddy to introduce them to their volunteer role and tasks. A 16-hour training programme comes later, and this brief experience has primed them for what they want to learn.

Now you have a brief outline of my alternative to individual interviews. It works, on several levels. Applicants are presenting themselves to their peers as well as organisation representatives, and there is less opportunity to fudge answers to direct questions. It is a learning process, about volunteering and the organisation, and also about themselves and each other. There is opportunity for group bonding which gets renewed at organisation functions.

It may not work for all organisations. When volunteers are engaged in extended term 1:1 relationships with clients it is likely further screening is needed, and the group process may not be appropriate.   Facilitating the sessions also requires skilled experience, being able to draw on human resource principles, social work and community development practice – but isn’t that all the stuff that makes a manager of volunteers?

Give it a go – group screening is a great way to discover the best in volunteering potential.

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