Selection of volunteers

It is essential to evaluate the applications received during the recruitment process in accordance with your initial expectations and to invite those candidates who are undoubtedly appropriate to us for a personal interview. Even so, you may be disappointed. It is definitely worth making a second round selection and inviting the people whom you are interested in. Experience has often shown that talented people come forward to help, and you can dream of a previously unimaginable volunteering activity with them.

Focusing on our primary selection task: finding the right candidates for a particular position, rather than getting to know each other in cultural and non-government organisations, often involves a well-thought interview line. The length of the interview, the nature and content of the questions clearly depend on the advertised position. Thinking of the questions, it may be helpful for us to go back to the description of the ideal candidate, the list of required skills.

Structure of interviews and interview techniques

Typically, the interview structure is opened by a short block called an ice breaker, where we introduce ourselves in a few sentences, hear our voice, hear each other, and get a first impression, which can often be misleading! Here it is worth mentioning how long the interview will last, we can introduce our interviewing partner in a few sentences (if any) (in each case it is worth conducting the interview in pairs or even more, and then exchange experiences). You can ask the candidate about the journey here or

where did they find your call.

After that, it is basically worthwhile to assess the skills and knowledge required for the position. There are a number of interviewing techniques from individual conversation to task solving in teams, which typically have different degrees of effectiveness for different positions.

No job interview is prepared during the selection and briefing. It should be taken into account that the volunteer has their own motivations as to why they wants to participate in the programme. Mapping these is key to sustaining motivation and retaining volunteers.  [2]

The literature on interviewing is extremely large, and the following table[3] describes the characteristics of two basic questioning methods for those who wish to meet candidates through individual interviews.


The table contains three columns and compares a traditional interview with a behaviour-based interview. The third column shows the characteristics of the behaviour-based interviews, the second column the traditional interviews, while the first column shows how each line compares the two different types of interviews.


Traditional interview Behaviour-based interview
Focus It focuses on the past. It asks how the candidate sees a situation. It seeks conclusions to predict future behaviour. Finding the skills looked for.
Questions Typically, a straightforward, quick answer can be given to questions such as “What are your strengths, weaknesses?”, “Describe your work style.” Accurate details are asked by specific, difficult-to-answer, unexpected questions like “Tell me a situation where logic has helped you find a solution”, or “How old do you think the secretary you just met is?”, or “Have you been in any situation when a person younger than you convinced you that they were right?”
Conclusion The conclusion is drawn by the interviewer, often in the form of answers to questions. The interviewer draws the conclusion, often retaining it for himself.
Target Mapping the candidate’s past behaviour and self-reflection. Understanding the interviewee’s attitude.

Language skills can be important for certain positions. For example, in the case of an information volunteer or a volunteer who is likely to come in contact with clients, the key to the success experience may be to speak English or other foreign languages ​​at a conversational level. In both questioning techniques you can alternate between questions in Hungarian and in English.

There is also the opportunity to ask candidates in advance to introduce an item (after preparation) during the interview. For example, the presentation skills and reactions of the tour guides can be assessed during the meeting.

It is worth leaving time for the candidate’s questions at the end of the interview and, if necessary, you can clarify the details of the activity and talk about the volunteer programme, the organisation, and your plans.

The length of the interview can be an important factor if you are planning several interviews in a row or if the candidate is in a hurry. It is advisable to communicate the expected duration in advance and to observe the indicated length. The length of an interview can vary widely, depending on the number of questions and the length of the answers, and as a thumb rule, it is worth keeping the length of the interviews between 20 and 40 minutes to ensure that we stay focused.

It is worth making notes during the interviews or possibly use a pre-prepared evaluation sheet keep records during the interview. It is a good idea to have the candidate’s application material, CV and cover letter ready at hand so we can ask any questions we may have.

Once the interview is completed and the candidate leaves, take a few more minutes to evaluate and make a note. This is especially important when new interviews are ahead. This is to ensure that you remember the candidates accurately. It is worth distinguishing between exclusion factors and decision factors.60

At the end of the interview, it is advisable to avoid a decision situation. Do not yield to the pressure by an overly enthusiastic volunteer: say that we will respond within a certain amount of time.

There are relatively few cases in which we do not want to cooperate with someone after the interview. If that does happen, you will be ready in a few days with a diplomatic but straight answer, or an alternative offer.

Tip: in the case of the Museum of Fine Arts’ Hands On!! programme, interviews and training were specifically aimed at selecting a reliable team that can handle the original objects responsibly. All rounds of the call tried to give an accurate overview of the volunteer’s task and the organisation’s expectations. Applications received were first screened from formal aspects. As they expected candidates with the virtue of accuracy and credibility, these qualities were also evaluated. Incomplete applications were strictly ignored. On the basis of the appropriate applications, an oral interview was organised, before which the participants were given a ‘homework’: they had to prepare for a personal meeting in relation to an Egyptian subject available at the institution’s website. The interview was conducted with a three-member committee (of which one was an Egyptologist, two were a volunteer coordinators) so that the selection could be refined, the impressions could be discussed by the committee members, and the importance of the subjective factor in the selection decreased. During the interviews, the same template was always used (for interview questions), alternately in Hungarian and English – as lack of English language skills was an excluding criterion. Each member made a note following the same scoring pattern within 1-2 minutes after the half-hour interviews.

There were two exclusion criteria in the interviews:

  • lack of English language proficiency (at least conversation level – not a matter of language exam );
  • credibility, or the art of saying no – that is, when someone has been forced to answer a question that is scientifically incorrect and professionally unsubstantiated (for example, they have not read the material of a subject
    and made false statements about it as a connoisseur of the answer)

The phase following the interviews was the preparatory training. Participants who did not attend at least 80% of the occasions, or failed the exam, were excluded.



[1] Bartal A. M. – Kmetty Z.: A Magyar Önkéntesek Motivációi – a Magyar Önkéntes Motivációs Kérdőív sztenderdizálásának eredményei alapján. Civil Szemle, 2011, Budapest, Civil Szemle Alapítvány, (utoljára megtekintve: 2018.06.20.)
[2] Önkéntes Központ Alapítvány: Az Önkéntes Központ Alapítvány Képzési Programjának anyaga. Budapest, 2005. (utoljára megtekitve: 2018.06.20.)
[3] Csordás I.: Volunteer Management in Cultural Institutions – a Practical Handbook. 2012, Budapest, Múzeumok és Látogatók Alapítvány (utoljára megtekintve: 2018.06.20.)

This article based on the following document: This article based on the following document: Practical Guide for the Establishment and Operation of Volunteer Programmes at Institutions : abridged English version