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How to be a Great Finalist Candidate

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Congratulations! You’ve been informed that you’re one of two or three finalists for your impact sector dream job. You’ve invested a lot of time and preparation into the interview process. Now is the time for both you and the organization to go deeper.

To prepare for the finalist interview, start with the steps mentioned in my previous blog post, “How to get past the initial interview”. Additional homework includes:

  • Research the backgrounds of those you will meet. Start with the organization’s “Our Team” page, then look at their LinkedIn profiles. Do a thorough internet search for the hiring manager and those in leadership. Be prepared to mention connections, or to express your admiration for work they’ve done.
  • Thoroughly research the organization’s mission, programs, culture, and history. The organization’s website and social media are the best place to start, but also look at the GuideStar profile, 990s/annual reports, and Glassdoor reviews. An internet search is a good way to surface external partnerships as well as media mentions. Don’t be afraid to ask for things like an org chart or list of team members.
  • Take assignments seriously. If a writing sample is requested, select a piece that aligns with the type of work you’d produce in the job. If an assignment prompt is provided, do your best to produce work that represents what you would produce in a typical work setting.

Next, check out my previous blog posts for thoughts about references and thank you notes.

Finally, having covered the basics, take the time to reflect deeply on these last two topics:

Values Alignment and Culture Fit

If you’ve arrived at the finalist stage, it’s assumed that you’re qualified for the job. The emphasis at this phase – for both you and the organization – is on the “how”. How well will you work with the team? How will you approach the job? How do your values align with those of the rest of the team – leadership in particular?

In the interview, as well as through your online research and networking, pay attention to signals that attract or repel you. If something doesn’t seem aligned, try to get to the bottom of it. If everything seems to be perfect, look a little more closely. When in conversation with the hiring team, find ways to frame your inquiry that are diplomatic but also elicit authentic answers.

Picture yourself six months into the job. What’s going well, and is that what you’re looking for? What aspects of the job or the team annoy you? Are these annoyances that you can live with, or are they deal-breakers for you? (Be realistic – every job has some annoying aspect to it.) Do your best to get information to round out this picture, whether from your external networking or through your conversations with the hiring team.

Do You Want the Job?

Remember: You are interviewing the organization and the team just as much as they are interviewing you! It’s worthwhile to accept the invitation to the finalist round even if you’re not quite sure. These deeper conversations may be what gets you energized about the opportunity.

A caveat: If the unattractive aspects of the job are structural – such as location or salary or the size of the team – politely decline the offer to move ahead. The hiring team will appreciate that the non-negotiable aspects of the role simply don’t align with your needs.

At the end of all the conversations, be clear with yourself as to whether you can see yourself in the job, and if you’re prepared to accept the offer if it comes your way. Remind yourself that it’s okay to decline a job offer if it doesn’t feel like the right fit.

Don’t hold out forever for the perfect job, though! Go back to the visualization: Can you see yourself thriving and contributing in this role, team, and organization for the next six months or three years? Sounds like a great fit – now go and land that job offer!


Check out my blog series Troubleshooting Your Job Search for more tips!