Professional success. For many fundraising executives, that means a constant inching upward on the career ladder. Clearly, ambition, drive, and motivation are critical factors in moving the needle for ourselves as well as our organizations. And, as executive recruiters, we are always on the lookout for advancement candidates willing and able to lead with energy, skill and – in a perfect world – grace. But here’s something to consider: from the interviewer’s perspective, sometimes ambition and too much “inching” are red flags in a job interview and can actually backfire.
So what’s the winning balance here? How do you communicate your desire for professional growth and all the trappings (and in some cases, baggage) that comes with it, while keeping the focus on adding your unique value to your potential next employer? Do it by realistically positioning yourself at the intersection of the opportunity at hand and what you want to achieve personally and professionally.
One of the questions you are most likely to be asked at an interview is “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Overall, the interviewer is probing for your personal strategic plan – what are your medium to long range goals and how will you accomplish them. But they are also listening for your “stickiness” – your interest and ability to commit to an organization and help THEM grow… which takes time, commitment, patience, and discipline. Your answer to this question takes on particular significance if you have held a series of fundraising jobs with tenures less than three years at each organization.
Over the course of several years, we have heard the full spectrum of responses to this important future oriented question in relation to senior and executive level fundraising jobs. Highlights include:
- “Transitioning to biotech development.”
- “As a consultant. I would like this job in healthcare so I have experience in that sector, then I can go out on my own and be well rounded.”
- “Working for a company where my talents are appreciated and I am compensated appropriately.”
Clearly, these are really lowlights – but all for the same reasons. They all focus on the personal needs and ambitions of the interviewee, not how their energies will help the advancement efforts of their employers. Although all may be true intentions, they all signal that the candidate sees the current opportunity merely as a stepping stone to the next “big thing.” It’s hard to truly commit to an organization and build the relationships needed for major gift asks if you are planning your exit strategy before you even begin.
So what’s one of the most impressive answers we’ve heard to this question? Surprisingly, it came from a person who clearly was nowhere close to retirement age, and quite sensitive to the idea of marrying ambition with commitment. They commented in part:
· “This is the job that I want, not because it might take me to a higher position elsewhere, but because the organization has enormous potential for expansion on all fronts, including my role here. I want to be here for the long run because I know from experience that’s what it takes to build, run, and grow an effective development shop. If everything works out this would be my last job. ”
And what makes this such a noteworthy response? Among other positives, it includes insight, optimism, vision, commitment, realism, and a win-win approach to growth and success. Which interestingly are the identical pillars to successful fundraising all around.
- When you are interviewing for a new development position, have a solid, well thought out answer to the question “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
- Be in the moment when considering a new opportunity: you are doing both yourself and a potential new employer a disservice by assuming the position is simply a stepping stone in your career path.
- Consider your current definition of “success.” Does it inspire – or hinder – you actually achieving it?
For more information about Copley Raff and its spectrum of not for profit consulting services, please see www.copleyraff.com.
Have a development, executive recruitment, or campaign strategy or management challenge? Let’s talk! Click here to connect with Rebekah Kaufman, Director of Consulting Services at CRI.