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Interview Questions for an Executive Director of Social Services

by Kenya Lucas

An Executive Director of Social Services has a unique leadership role. His overall responsibility is to administer his organization’s social services, which include -- but are not limited to -- identifying service needs and priorities, program development and delivery, client engagement and community outreach, and staff coordination and supervision. Formulate interview questions that ensure a candidate has the proper education and experience, hard and soft skills, and personal disposition and goals to excel in this position.

Experience and Qualifications

Establish that the prospective Executive Director has the experience and qualifications to perform her job. Interview options include: “Please share with me about your education.” “Can you give me specific information about your professional and fieldwork experience?” “How do you see your experience and background contributing to your success in the Executive Director role?” Ideally, the candidate should have at least a master’s degree in a social services related discipline with state mental health certifications or licenses preferred. A minimum of 15 years of social services work experience is desirable, with at least five years as a director of a major program in a community, nonprofit, government, policy/advocacy or similar organization.

Professional Skills

One of the best ways to match a candidate is to focus on his skill set. Make a number of inquiries to arrive at a realistic picture. For instance: “What specific skills do you possess that relate to this job?” “Please describe your strengths and weaknesses.” “Can you give a specific example of ideas you had to improve a program? How did you get your thoughts across?” “Please discuss techniques you use in crisis intervention work.” Attractive skills include strong management abilities in delivering social services, excellent communication and negotiation skills, strategic planning, external affairs and advocacy in the public and private sectors, and capacity to oversee complex financial operations -- as well as fund-raising.

Personal Disposition

Certain personal characteristics lend themselves to a more successful Executive Director. Several interview probes hone in on these characteristics: “Please tell me your philosophy on life.” “Describe what kind of person you are.” “What would you like to get out of this position?” “Have you had personal experiences that would help you perform this job?” Listen for personality traits like being ambitious, confident and a team player. For instance, the Executive Director will regularly partner with senior and program staff -- along with the Board -- to develop, deliver and assess organizational activities. Positive attributes will help her navigate such challenges as multiple, time-sensitive projects and competing priorities among parties.

Unique Goals

A prospective Executive Director should have goals that range from what he hopes to uniquely bring to the position and what he hopes to take from it. Ask the following: “Why does this position interest you?” “What can you bring to this organization?” “Please state your goals for the first year.” “Tell me about your salary expectations.” “What are your professional objectives? Future plans? Personal goals?” As you close the interview, allow the candidate to ask his own questions. Listen for references to career growth or statements that set him apart from other candidates.

About the Author

Kenya Lucas has been writing professionally since 1998. Her work has appeared in “Anthropology & Medicine,” “New Directions for Evaluation,” “Psychology of Women Quarterly” and “Journal of the Grant Professionals Association.” She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Brown University.

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