Idea 13: Conduct interviews.

A good interview is a two way process. It is both an opportunity for the organization to learn more about the potential volunteer and an opportunity for the potential volunteer to learn more about the volunteer position. The interview is both a part of the recruitment process and a screening tool.

The interview process includes:

  • Pre-interview preparation of open-ended questions about interests and motivations as well as skills and qualifications. Interpersonal factors such as style, personality and behaviour may be important factors in determining ‘fit’ between the individual and the position. Questions should be developed with selection criteria in mind including alignment with the position, the organization’s values, and the work environment.
  • An interview in a private, comfortable setting that is a mutual exchange process concluding with what to expect next. The same anti-discrimination prohibitions apply to the interview as applied to the application form. Notes should be taken during the interview but discretion should be exercised in what is written down.
  • A prompt follow-up.

The interviewer should be able to:

  • Describe the organization, its mission and values, and its work,
  • Explain the work that the volunteer might perform,
  • Outline the volunteer policies of the organization,
  • Follow an organized system during the interview,
  • Negotiate with the volunteer, and
  • Be able to decline the placement gracefully if the volunteer is not a good fit.

Voices from the field:

  • Explain to the volunteers clearly what their role is, and your expectations of them. Go into detail; don’t assume that volunteers will know certain things.
  • What volunteers experience has the tutor had? What life experience has the tutor had?
  • Get to know the volunteers, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Where would they be a good fit.
  • Tell your volunteers what kind of time commitment you require of them and don’t pressure them into more.
  • What to look for in a volunteer:
    1. Must have a sincere interest in helping people (being a good teacher is a bonus)
    2. Must be flexible and adaptable (attendance, what students are working on, and mood of students fluctuates radically)
    3. Must be enthusiastic and have a good level of energy (leave personal problems at the door
    4. Must be able to commit for a reasonable length of time (minimum 4-6 months) (continuity is important) recognizing that they are volunteers and will miss the odd week
    5. Must be emotionally, socially and intellectually competent. We have had a few volunteers over the years that had some mental health issues. Screen possible volunteers carefully!
  • The most important quality of a tutor is people skills.
  • Make sure your volunteers have the empathy required to work with adults who have already experienced considerable failure in the past.
  • Sometimes you just have to say no. Not all volunteers are going to be an asset to your organization.
  • I would make sure that volunteers for the one-to-one tutoring have at least some background in education and I would concentrate more on retired teachers or current teachers.
  • It is a great opportunity to get to know your tutors when you do an intake interview with them. It is important to get to know your tutors as you want to make sure that you match them with a learner that suits their wishes and personality.

To learn more:

Charity Village. (2013). Nonprofit hiring tools: sample interview questions. Retrieved from
» A large assortment of generic questions to modify for specific positions. Designed for selection of employees, but many of the questions are valid for selection of volunteers.

Graff, L. L. (1999). Beyond the police checks: the definitive volunteer & employee screening guidebook. Dundas, ON: Linda Graff and Associates.
» Extensive practical information on screening, including interviews as a screening tool. Offers a sample of an interview rating form.

Graff, L. L. (2005). Best of all: a quick reference guide to effective volunteer involvement. Dundas, ON: Linda Graff & Associates.
» This book includes techniques for when you have to turn someone down.

Harwood, C. (2002). Literacy volunteer resources. Ottawa, ON: Ottawa-Carleton Coalition for Literacy.
» Includes information about interviewing and using information gathered from the interview to select volunteers.

McCurley, S. & Lynch, R. (1989). Essential volunteer management. Washington, DC: VMSystems.
» An oldie but a goodie. A concise, basic text on operating a volunteer program.

Service Canada. (2011). Screening and interviewing job applicants. Retrieved from
» Tips on preparing for and conducting interviews.

Last updated: November 12, 2015