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From Hawking Gin to Helping Critters—My First Job Interview with an Animal Shelter

I clearly remember my interview for the first job I had in the animal sheltering field. I was working as an accountant for a liquor distributor and, while the pay was quite good, the job satisfaction was not. I’m far from being a member of the Temperance Union, but I found it difficult to celebrate over the annual sale of 10,000 cases of half pints of gin. And although my volunteer work helped fulfill my desire to “do good” in life, I longed for my avocation to be my vocation. When I heard about a job at a local humane society, I leapt at the chance to apply.

Although most of my professional career had been spent in the for-profit world, I had served for several years on various volunteer boards and committees—coordinating volunteers, developing and managing fundraisers, and assisting with financial management of several nonprofits. When I met the president of the humane society for lunch at a local restaurant to discuss the job, I was surprised that we didn’t discuss the strengths and skills I could bring to the position from my business background. But I didn’t dwell on this for long because I was far too anxious to leave the for-profit world for what I just knew was the “Dream Job”!

I knew the position didn’t pay as much as I was currently making, but I rationalized that the cut in pay would be offset by three factors: The position would be closer to home, it would require shorter hours at the office, and it would be less stressful. Well, one out of three wasn’t too bad!

More than 25 years have passed since I interviewed for that position with my local humane society. I am forever grateful that the Memphis Humane Society took a chance on a neophyte animal lover who had a good business background but no animal sheltering experience. And I was fortunate to have good mentors to lead me through the minefields of developing good animal sheltering practices. But if the roles had been reversed and I had been the interviewer, rather than the interviewee, I’m not sure I would have hired me.

Fortunately, many animal shelters have become more professional in dealing with human resource issues by adding HR departments or hiring consulting firms to assist them. But human resource issues still don’t receive the attention needed to attract, hire, and keep qualified, motivated, and caring personnel. And poor hiring decisions can cost an animal shelter more than money; they can ruin both morale and reputation, and in turn hurt the community’s animals.

This issue of Animal Sheltering takes on the delicate issue of hiring. “Hire Education: Tips on Finding Great Employees” delves into the processes of attracting the right candidates to the position, conducting interviews, and screening applicants to help ensure that your shelter gets the right person for the right job.

And if a young, naive, altruistic, and totally unqualified accountant applies for a position in your shelter, give her a break. At least talk to her. She may not be right for the position but you might get her as a volunteer. And trust me: she’ll work hard for you!

Martha C. Armstrong
HSUS Senior Vice President for
Companion Animals and Equine Protection


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