Staffing Considerations

Introduction

Although it’s true that community cat programs (CCPs) are, by their very nature, collaborative endeavors, a great deal of responsibility typically falls to just a few individuals: the program coordinator and program assistants. And some smaller programs are run by a program coordinator alone. In all cases, CCP staff work closely with shelter staff, enforcement officers, clinic staff and others.

Both the program coordinator and program assistant roles are demanding and require an unusual set of skills. Just as important as the skills and experience, though, are the personality and temperament of the individuals doing this work.

Even in the most successful CCPs, staff are exposed to an enormously stressful environment. This is especially true in the early days, when the way forward might be clear but far too many lives are still being lost. Burnout and “compassion fatigue” are serious risks.[1] In addition, their frequent interaction with people not fully supportive of the CCP (residents complaining about the cats, enforcement officers reluctant to adopt new policies and practices, etc.) demands great patience.

The following guidelines are intended to help organizations interested in hiring CCP staff, both in recruiting qualified candidates who are the right fit for the job and in accurately conveying to candidates what the job entails. A number of sample interview questions are included in the appendix.

The various roles CCP staff play

The nature of the job requires that CCP staff “wear many hats” — and they often have to change them frequently and with little notice. It is one of the greatest challenges of the work, but also one of its greatest rewards. There’s never a dull moment, as the saying goes. Figure 1 shows the variety of individuals and groups with whom CCP staff typically interact.

Figure 1. The various individuals and groups with whom CCP staff typically interact

Figure 1. The various individuals and groups with whom CCP staff typically interact

Shelter and enforcement staff. Interaction with shelter staff typically involves pulling eligible cats from intake and (where applicable) coordinating surgeries and post-surgery recovery with the shelter’s clinic staff. Interaction with enforcement officers typically involves handling nuisance complaints and coordinating returns. (See “Working with Enforcement and Dispatch Staff” and “Working with Shelter Staff and Volunteers” for additional information about this topic.)

Partner veterinarians and clinics. Typical interactions with partner veterinarians and clinics include dropping off and picking up cats, processing paperwork (invoices, vouchers, etc.) and consulting about cats in need of medical treatment. (See “Working with Veterinarians and Veterinary Clinics” for additional information about this topic.)

CCP volunteers. CCP staff recruit and manage volunteers to do a number of important tasks, including distributing door hangers in target neighborhoods, transporting cats to and from clinic appointments, trapping cats and more. (See “Volunteer Engagement” for additional information about this topic.)

Local TNR and rescue groups. CCP staff provide local TNR and rescue groups with the training and resources necessary to save more lives, and also serve as a conduit between these groups and shelter staff and enforcement officers, an especially important role in places where relationships between the rescue community and shelter and enforcement personnel have been strained. (See “Working with Local TNR and Rescue Groups” for additional information about this topic.)

Colony caregivers. As with local TNR and rescue groups, CCP staff provide caregivers with the training and resources necessary to enhance their lifesaving efforts. Staff also serve as an intermediary between caregivers and shelter staff and enforcement officers, as well as between caregivers and other residents or complainants. (See “Colony Management and Caregiver Resources” for additional information about this topic.)

Additional roles. In addition to the roles described above, CCP staff work with residents to resolve complaints about community cats, field calls from the media, and much more. Again, the variety of roles involved is one of the greatest challenges for CCP staff, but for the right person, it also makes the work enormously satisfying.

Key responsibilities

Although no two CCPs are alike, the basic staffing requirements are largely the same. In a smaller program, the key responsibilities might be undertaken by one individual managing a team of volunteers, whereas a larger program might have a number of paid staff, along with volunteers. Different programs require different staffing, even when the TNR goals are the same, depending on other TNR resources available. For example, if enforcement staff return many of the shelter cats, then fewer CCP staff hours would be required for that task.[2] The one thing all programs typically have in common is a wish for more staff and a reliance on the support of other shelter workers and volunteers.

Regardless of how the work is distributed, the work itself is similar from program to program. The following lists of responsibilities, corresponding to various positions in Best Friends’ CCPs, are intended to provide a general sense of the tasks associated with these programs and to show how these tasks might be assigned to different staff members (when having multiple staff members is an option).

Community cat program coordinator. This individual’s chief responsibility is achieving the goals of the CCP (e.g., a certain number of cats sterilized, reduction in shelter deaths, reduction in feline intake). This position typically involves management of one or more assistants and a team of volunteers, and collaboration with shelter staff, enforcement officers, partner clinics, local TNR groups and others.

Additional responsibilities (partial list):

  • Set up traps and check them throughout the night, as needed; assist with drop-trapping, as needed.
  • Transport program cats to partner clinics in a timely manner. Fill out all paperwork and ensure that cats are organized by colonies.
  • Relay any relevant information about program cats to shelter and/or veterinary staff.
  • Pick up cats from partner clinics and return them to their colony, their caregivers or a local TNR group.
  • Perform other fieldwork as necessary. (See description below under “Community Cat Program Assistant.”)
  • Oversee the work and schedules of staff and volunteers.
  • Work with spay/neuter providers (negotiating cost of services, tracking invoices, etc.).
  • Promote the CCP in a variety of contexts (meetings of elected officials, community events, spay/neuter and adoption events, etc.).
  • Develop and deliver educational materials and resources to increase awareness and acceptance of CCPs.
  • Report the CCP’s progress, challenges and plan to overcome challenges on a regular basis.
  • Assist shelter staff in determining which cats are eligible for return-to-field.
  • Communicate and coordinate with local TNR groups to ensure that these groups are referring residents in target areas to the CCP, and track the outcomes of these referrals.
  • Communicate and coordinate with local rescue groups to maximize positive outcomes and minimize redundant efforts.
  • Attend meetings and events with community leaders, elected officials and local media, as necessary.

Community cat program assistant. This individual’s chief responsibility is conducting and managing CCP fieldwork, trapping and working with caregivers. The CCP assistant is also responsible for transporting cats to and from clinic appointments, returning them to their trapping locations and performing administrative duties as assigned by the CCP coordinator.

Additional responsibilities (partial list):

  • Set up traps and check them throughout the night, as needed; assist with drop-trapping, as needed.
  • Transport program cats to partner clinics in a timely manner. Fill out all paperwork and ensure that cats are organized by colonies.
  • Relay any relevant information about program cats to shelter and/or veterinary staff.
  • Pick up cats from partner clinics and return them to their colony, their caregivers or a local TNR group.
  • Distribute door hangers in the neighborhoods where program cats are returned.
  • Keep traps clean, in working order, and clearly marked with Best Friends trap tags.
  • Maintain trapping supplies.
  • Ensure that clinic policies and procedures are being followed accurately.
  • Make reminder calls to clients for their appointments; rework and reschedule last-minute changes in the schedule.
  • Keep track of loaned-out traps. Before trapping day, deliver traps and supplies to locations.
  • Train new caregivers in TNR and use of traps.
  • Assist in tracking of all spay/neuter surgeries done through partner clinics.
  • Maintain the transport van by making sure that oil changes and regular maintenance are performed in a timely manner.
  • Enter colony and caregiver information in the CCP database in a timely fashion.

Additional resources

Appendix

Sample interview questions: CCP fieldworker

(Rate responses as follows: 1–above average, 2–average, 3–below average)

  1. What do you know about this position and why does this position appeal to you?
  2. What qualities or experience make you the best candidate for this position?
  3. How do you think it will be possible to reach the goal of making _______________ a no-kill community?
  4. Describe a time when you had to be professional and respectful when interacting with people outside of the organization or company you worked for. What was the situation? What did you do?
  5. Tell me about a time when you had to quickly adjust to a department or team change. What was the situation? What did you do? What was the outcome?
  6. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your manager or supervisor. What was the situation? What did you do?
  7. Because of the nature of working with community cats, at times we will be returning cats to less than perfect situations. Describe how you would cope with returning kittens to an industrial park vs. taking them in for adoption, and describe your comfort level with dealing with these situations on a continuous basis.
  8. Our yearly goal is to sterilize, vaccinate and return _______ cats from specific zip codes in ________________. Because of the nature of feral cats, our schedules vary in order to allow us the best chance at success. Describe how you feel about sometimes working late nights followed by early mornings.
  9. Have you had any experience working with volunteers and, if so, in what capacity? How do you feel about leading volunteers?
  10. Tell me about a time when you did something at work or while volunteering that later you wished you had handled differently.
  11. Tell me about a time when you had to manage multiple responsibilities at the same time. What was the situation, what did you do, and what was the outcome?
  12. Tell me about a time you broke the rules.
  13. What experience do you have driving multi-passenger vehicles or something other than cars in various areas of _____________?
  14. Give an example of a situation when you had to change someone’s mind and gain his or her cooperation — someone you had little control over. How did you do it?
  15. Consider this scenario: You arrive at the site of a feeding station and a neighbor comes out and starts yelling at you about the cats coming into his yard. He tells you he plans on poisoning the cats if you don’t take them all away permanently. How would you respond to that situation?
  16. Which common cat ailments are you most familiar with? Please name some, and describe what you know about them.
  17. Consider this scenario: You get a call from a client saying she has found some newborn kittens that have been abandoned by their mother and she wants you to come and take them. What do you say or do in this situation?
  18. What aspects of this job do you think will be the most challenging for you? And what will you do to meet those challenges?
  19. What concerns do you have if you were to be offered this position?
  20. Do you have any questions?

Sample interview questions: soft skills

Influencing others

  1. Gaining the cooperation of others can be difficult. Give me a specific example of a situation when you had to do that.
  2. Tell me about a recent success you had influencing an especially difficult employee.
  3. When you recommend something to management, what approach do you usually use? Give me an example.
  4. Tell me about a time when you had to persuade a group of people on your point of view or sell a group of people on your idea. Be specific.

Conflict management and resolution

  1. Can you give me an example of how you handled a workplace conflict in the past?
  2. What kinds of disagreements are you able to handle easily? What kinds of disagreements have you been involved in that were upsetting or difficult for you? (Describe one that was not so easy to handle.)
  3. Describe a situation when you found it necessary to confront someone at work. How did you handle it?
  4. Describe a time when you had difficulty getting people to work together to solve a problem or complete an assignment. What did you do?
  5. Describe a time when you had to intervene to resolve a conflict. What did you do and why did you handle it that way?
  6. Describe a time when you had an employee who felt you were treating him/her unfairly. What actions did you take to resolve it?
  7. Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement or a conflict with another employee or supervisor. What was the issue? What did you do? What were the outcomes?

Reliability

  1. If I were to ask your former employers about your reliability at work, what would they tell me?
  2. Do you consider yourself committed to your job? Please explain.

Team orientation

  1. Do you consider yourself a team player? Give me a specific example of a time when you demonstrated this.
  2. Give me an example of a situation when you demonstrated your ability to work as a team player. What was your role? What did you accomplish? How did you solve the problems? If I spoke with the other team members, how would they describe you?
  3. Describe a time when you had difficulty getting people to work together to solve a problem or complete an assignment. What did you do?
  4. Tell me about one of the toughest teams or groups you have had to work with. What made it difficult to work with them? What did you do about it?

Taking the initiative and being proactive

  1. Tell me about a time when you reached out for additional responsibility. What happened?
  2. What ideas have you “sold” to your management? Give me a specific example. What happened?
  3. Give me an example of something you recommended that was not adopted. Why wasn’t it? What could you have done differently?
  4. What is the most creative thing you have done in a past job? How did it occur?
  5. Would you rather formulate a plan or carry it out? Why? Give me an example of a plan you have formulated and implemented.
  6. Tell me about a time at work when you discovered an opportunity to improve a process, procedure, system or policy. How did you go about improving it? What did you do?

Leadership and being a positive role model

  1. Tell me about a specific time when you supported a company or department decision even though you didn’t necessarily agree with it.
  2. Tell me about a time when you had to coach someone who was struggling to understand how his/her individual contribution was affecting the success of the department or organization.
  3. Give me an example of a time when you came up with and implemented a way to positively affect the work environment for other employees.
  4. How have you demonstrated your integrity within your current (or last) employer? Give me a specific example.
  5. Describe your style of leadership. Give an example of a situation when your leadership style was especially effective in motivating someone or a group of people. What were the outcomes? Why was your leadership style effective?
  6. What personal characteristics do you feel are necessary for success as a leader?
  7. What would it be like working for you?
  8. Describe a leadership situation that you would do differently if you had to do it over again.
  9. Describe a time when you had to give direction, an assignment or guidance to someone who did not report to you. What did you do? How did it turn out?
  10. Give me an example of a time when you used your power, authority or persuasion skills to get your employees to do what you wanted them to do.
  11. In what ways do you feel the people who report to you might find you difficult to work for?
  12. Tell me about a time when you had to handle a tough morale problem. What did you do? What was the result?
  13. Tell me about a time when you led or were a member of a team that was floundering. Specifically describe what you did to try to re-engage team members to get the team back on track.

Relationship building and interpersonal skills

  1. Give me an example of a time when you had to build relationships with employees both inside and outside of an organization.
  2. Tell me about a situation in which you had to gain the trust of someone else (or a group of others). What did you do? What were the results?
  3. Tell me about a time when you had to help an employee manage his/her own stress. What did you do and what ultimately happened?
  4. Describe one of your least successful relationships at work. What did you do to try to create a better relationship?
  5. Tell me about a recent success you had with an especially difficult employee.
  6. Tell me about a situation in which you became frustrated or impatient when dealing with a peer. What did you do?
  7. Tell me about a time when you had to influence someone to do something that he/she really did not want to do. What did you do? What was the outcome?
  8. Give me an example of a time when you had difficulty remaining approachable when dealing with someone or several other people.

Effective communication

  1. Describe a time when you had to adjust your communication style based on the message you were sending and the audience to whom you were communicating.
  2. Tell me about an important presentation you had to create and deliver. What was the topic? How did you go about organizing the information to ensure that your audience understood and that the communication was effective?
  3. Describe what “active listening” means, and tell me about a specific time when you had to use an active listening technique.
  4. Tell me about a time when you caused a communication breakdown at work.
  5. Tell me about a time when you had difficulty communicating with someone you worked with. What was the issue? What actions did you take? How did you resolve it? What did you specifically say to the individual?

Decision making, judgment and problem solving

  1. Give me an example of a time when you sought out and acted on others’ input in order to make a decision.
  2. Tell me about a specific time when you had to resolve a tough problem. What was the problem? How did you go about solving it? Why did you choose this method?
  3. Can you tell me about an important decision you made and how you arrived at it?
  4. What was the biggest error in judgment you have made in a previous job? Why did you make it? How did you correct the problem?
  5. We all make decisions that turn out to be mistakes. Describe a work decision you have made that you wish you could do over.
  6. Give me an example of a time when you had to use your own judgment and take independent action to solve a problem. What was the problem? What did you do? How did it turn out?
  7. Describe your approach to making decisions and solving problems. How do you assemble relevant data to make your decisions? Give me an example of a tough decision you made. What was the thought process behind it?
  8. Tell me about a recent business problem you solved. How did you use the organization’s resources (policies, systems, etc.) to solve the problem?

Performance management

  1. Describe the most challenging performance management issue you have had to deal with involving an employee. What was the situation? What did you do? What was the result?
  2. Describe a specific performance management situation that you would do differently if you had to do it over again. Why?
  3. How do you monitor and manage the performance of your staff?
  4. What type of employee do you find the most difficult to manage?
  5. Give me an example of a time when you had to communicate performance goals to an employee who did not understand them. What did you do about it?
  6. Tell me about the types of methodologies that you have used to develop your employees.
  7. How do you make sure that your employees are held accountable? Please provide a specific example of how you have done this in the past.

Analytical skills and attention to detail

  1. Describe a time when you had to identify, extract, compile and organize data from several different sources into a report format for management. What was the purpose? What did you do? What was the outcome?
  2. Describe a time when you had to conduct a research project. What was the topic? What did you do? What were the outcomes?
  3. Give me an example of a time when you analyzed the benefits and risks of a solution to a problem and, based on this analysis, chose not to take action. Why didn’t you take action?
  4. Describe a problem you had in your last or current job. How did you go about solving it?
  5. Tell me about a project you completed in which attention to detail and accuracy were critical to the success of the project.

Customer service

  1. Describe your biggest strength in the area of customer service and cite an example of how you have demonstrated this strength in your current or a past role.
  2. Have you had to teach customer service techniques? Cite an example and describe how it was successful and what could have gone better.
  3. What steps do you take to ensure good quality service when interacting with a client, donor, volunteer or partner?
  4. Give me an example of a situation when you dealt effectively with an irate client, donor, volunteer or partner. What was the issue? What did you do? What was the outcome?
  5. Give an example of a situation when you taught or coached someone on how to establish rapport.
  6. What is the most important customer service accomplishment you have achieved in your career? Please describe the situation and your results.

Change management

  1. Give me an example of a time when, on your own, you identified that a change in your department needed to take place. What did you do? What were the results?
  2. Give me two examples of things you’ve done in previous jobs that demonstrate you are willing to do what is necessary to get the job done.
  3. Tell me about a time when you had to quickly adjust to a department or team change. What was the situation? What did you do? What was the outcome?
  4. Tell me about a specific risk you took in a previous position. Why did you consider it a risk? What was the outcome?
  5. Tell me about a time at work when you discovered an opportunity to improve a process, procedure, system or policy. How did you go about presenting it to management? What were the results?
  6. Give me an example of a time when you helped another member of the staff to accept a change and make the necessary adjustments to move forward. What happened?
  7. Tell me about a major change initiative you have led. How did you manage the process of change? How did you manage the people involved in or affected by the change?
  8. Tell me about a time when you made a recommendation to management about something you felt needed to be changed. What was the issue? What was your recommendation and why? What was the outcome?
  9. Give me an example of a way you found to make your job easier, more interesting or more productive. What was the situation? What did you do? What was the outcome?

Time management

  1. How did you feel about your workload in your last job? Why?
  2. What methods do you use to carry through on assignments to ensure their timely completion? Please give me a specific example.
  3. Tell me about a time when you had to prioritize your work requirements in order to complete them all effectively.
  4. Explain how you manage your time to effectively accomplish goals and meet deadlines.
  5. Tell me about a time when you had to change your work schedule or work extended hours to complete a goal.
  6. Tell me about a time when you were under pressure to complete a project that had a tight deadline. What were the specific steps you took to ensure that you met this deadline?
  7. Tell me about a time when you had to manage multiple responsibilities at the same time.
  8. Describe for me how you go about prioritizing your work on a typical day.

Project management

  1. Tell me about a cross-functional task force, project, committee or team that you led. How did you understand and balance the varying needs of each of the functions? (Was the team successful in achieving its objectives?)
  2. Give me an example of an initiative or project in which you didn’t have direct authority over the decision-making process, and you had to use your project management skills to get it accomplished. What was the situation? What did you do? What was the outcome?
  3. Tell me about a time when you led a team, project or other group effort. What was the situation? What did you do? What were the outcomes?

Learning orientation

  1. How would you describe your learning style?
  2. What do you do to ensure that you continue to learn and improve in your job and beyond?
  3. What steps do you take to promote learning in others?

Check out the entire Community Cat Programs Handbook:

Administration

Operations


[1] This topic is addressed in the book The Power of Joy in Giving to Animals.

[2] Programs run by Best Friends have ranged from one FTE (full-time equivalent) to three FTE employees overseeing the TNR of 2,000–5,000 cats per year.


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