7 posts categorized "Career Resources"

For Your Consideration: Your First Job Should Be a Nonprofit Job

August 03, 2018

Top_chance_change_GettyImageSIf you asked me my freshman year of college where I thought I would be in fifteen years — or even where I would be after graduation — I would not have said "working in the nonprofit sector." I had earned a B.A. in philosophy, politics and law from Binghamton University in upstate New York, and I had every intention of attending law school. But life often takes you in surprising directions, and when a job opened up at The Blue Card, a national nonprofit that provides resources and financial assistance to struggling Holocaust survivors, I knew it was something I needed to do.

I started at the organization in 2009 as a program coordinator, became a program director the following year, and in 2013 took on the leadership role of executive director. My grandparents had fled Nazi persecution, so I had a personal connection to the organization's work. And by making it possible for me to work toward a mission I believe in, the job has given me back as much — and more — as I've put into it.

So to those college grads who are heading out into the world, allow me this piece of advice: think about taking a nonprofit job as your first job.

I know, it's not the craziest idea you've ever heard. Research from Johns Hopkins University shows that, collectively, nonprofits are the nation's third largest employer, behind only the retail and manufacturing sectors. And while I could go on and on about why the nonprofit sector is a wonderful place to begin your career, I'll give you my elevator pitch.

There's plenty of room to grow. The best thing about working at a nonprofit organization is the relative lack of bureaucracy. In fact, most nonprofits are places where you can turn any role into a "stretch role" — that is, a place where you can seek out and perform tasks that fall outside your official job responsibilities. It's not that most nonprofit managers will let you take ownership of a project; in many cases, you'll be expected to. Take it from me, a crash course in grantwriting, budget planning, or government relations can put you on the fast track to a job with even more responsibility.

Nonprofits also provide lots of opportunities for moving around. Not loving the job you were hired to fill? Although you may not be paid as well as your peers in the for-profit sector, you're likely to find it a lot easier to switch to a different department or try something completely different.

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What's in a Job Description?

February 02, 2018

It might not be obvious, but search firms like ours get lots of unexpected looks into what really goes on at the organizations we work with. And we're not just talking about hiring practices. We also gain insights into office culture, power dynamics, and reporting structures (those that work as well as those that don't). Where does all that information come from? Not from exit interviews or placement questionnaires. No, if you really want to get the inside scoop on an organization, all you have to do is look at the documents that every supervisor and employee loves to hate. 

Yes, I'm talking about your organization's job descriptions.

How do job descriptions reveal more than they were meant to? Let's look at six fairly common types and zero in on what they might be saying about your organization.

The All-Do Can-Do Job Description

Everyone can't (and shouldn't) do everything, but apparently your supervisor never got the memo. Under "responsibilities," this single-spaced three-page monstrosity not only includes "leap over tall buildings" and "argue cases before the Supreme Court," it also has the nerve to end with "other duties as assigned."

What this could mean: There's a good chance with a job description like this that no one knows exactly what the core functions of the position are, so the team responsible for creating it threw everything and the kitchen sink in just to be sure. Unfortunately, that often means that the person who ends up in the position is spread too thin and is likely to underperform. Can't say we're surprised; lack of clarity in a job description inevitably leads to confused priorities and overwhelmed staff. 

Pro Tip: Keep your job descriptions to one page. (Anything longer may be the reason the position is still open.) 

Unrelated Educational Requirements

You value education; we value education. But nonprofits too often are guilty of asking for educational credentials that not only don't match the requirements of the job in question — they don't make sense given the salary range. Why would a junior coordinator need a $75K master's degree? Or why is there an educational requirement for a fundraising position? In a sector where almost everyone is passionate about social justice, why do we insist on either excluding qualified candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds or saddling our junior staff with untenable debt?

What this could mean: Your organization isn't really serious about diversity and inclusion. By insisting on including expensive educational requirements in your job descriptions, you could be eliminating otherwise qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds before your candidate search even starts.

Pro Tip: "Or equivalent experience" in a job description gives you much more flexibility and will open up the candidate pool to a much broader variety of qualified people.

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Requesting a Flexible Work Arrangement

July 16, 2016

Work-life-balanceThe Georgetown University Law Center defines a "flexible work arrangement" (FWA) as "any one of a spectrum of work structures that alters the time and/or place that work gets done on a regular basis." This can include: 1) flexibility in the scheduling of hours worked and/or arrangements regarding shift and break schedules; 2) flexibility in the number of hours worked; and 3) flexibility in the place of work. By some estimates, as much as 40 percent of the U.S. workforce is expected to have some sort of a flexible arrangement at work by the end of 2016. If you'd like to join them, the tips below may help.

Remember that flexible work arrangements come in many forms. Many people assume that flexible work means working from home. But there are many others ways to work flexibly, such as starting/leaving an hour earlier or starting/leaving an hour later, taking an afternoon a week off to take your mother to physical therapy (and making the time up another day), or even sharing a job with a co-worker.

Any flexible work arrangement has to not only work for you, it has to work for your team and organization. If you're like most people, there are many work arrangements that would make your life easier. But you are not the only factor in this equation. Take stock of what others in your organization are already doing, talk to friends and colleagues to make sure you have a handle on the pros and cons of the different scenarios you are considering, and do your best to honestly assess whether and to what extent those scenarios work for everyone involved. Your assessment should include the financial aspects of each scenario, as there are often unexpected or overlooked costs — travel and equipment, for example — to letting employees work remotely.

Make a formal proposal. Take the time to write up your proposal as a formal memo. Review your employee handbook and talk to HR (if appropriate). Anticipate the questions and concerns you are likely to face, and formulate your responses ahead of time. Be sure your proposal doesn't only focus on the benefits of the arrangement for you, but instead demonstrates why a flexible arrangement will be good for you and your organization. For example, if you're asking to work from home on Fridays, explain how this will give you a block of time to focus on project-based work that is continually interrupted by meetings during the rest of the week.

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Sector Switching: Making the Jump From For-Profit to Non-Profit

April 12, 2016

Jumping-acrossSector switchers — job candidates who have decided to move from the for-profit sector to the nonprofit world — are increasingly common. Many job seekers I talk to are seeking work that feels more meaningful and mission-driven. But it's not always easy to make the move. Candidates often struggle to frame their experience in a way that makes sense to nonprofit employers and sometimes find it difficult to break through the initial resistance to the fact their background is in a different sector.

In other words, making the leap from the for-profit to non-profit sector requires serious research and preparation as well as changes to the way you talk about yourself and your work. Below are five tips that will help ensure you make the move successfully:

1. Do your homework. Not every nonprofit is going to value and/or know how to leverage the business-world skills you bring to the table. Spend some time learning about the nonprofits in your region and what they do. For extra credit, research the backgrounds of their key leaders, looking for anything that might indicate the organization is open to hiring people from other sectors.

2. Network, network, network. Relentless networking is an absolute must if you hope to be a successful sector switcher. Using the research you've done on the nonprofit leaders in your city or region, create a networking list. Next, figure out who in your own network can connect you to the key people at the nonprofits you're interested in. Finally, prepare an elevator pitch for your own contacts that briefly spells out the kind of job you are looking for, why you are a good fit for the position, and what you are asking your contact to do (introduction? information about a particular organization? resume advice?).

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Tips for Working With a Recruiter

December 31, 2015

Dream-job-next-exitAs a recruiter focused on the nonprofit sector, I've interacted with thousands of candidates over the years. And I've often wished that more people understood how to fully leverage the recruiter-job candidate relationship. To that end, here are some tips for working with a recruiter that will help you land your dream job in the new year.

Return our calls! A recruiter could be reaching out to you to tap your network or to see whether you're interested in a particular position. While you might not be looking for a job today, taking five minutes to return the recruiter's email or call will help you establish a relationship that could lead to your next professional opportunity. It's worth the time and effort.

Be honest and open about your compensation requirements, whether you are willing to relocate, and other potentially sticky issues, including whether you have been contacted by or are working with other recruiters. A good recruiter will be able to guide you through those issues to a satisfactory outcome – but only if you're honest and up front with her.

Leverage your recruiter's experience to help you navigate the hiring process. When working with a recruiter, be sure to ask questions about what you should emphasize, what you should downplay, and how to manage questions about gaps in your experience. It's in a recruiter's best interests to help his or her candidates shine, and you might be surprised at how effectively we can help you do that.

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Tips for Surviving a Group Interview

August 20, 2015

Group interviewGroup interviews are a common feature of the job search process, especially in the nonprofit sector, where candidates may need to interview with work teams, search committees, and/or board members. If you've participated in one, you know they can be a little overwhelming. Typically, you're seated on one side of a table, with four or more people on the other who take turns grilling you. With a little preparation and the application of the tips outlined below, however, you can turn even the most intimidating group interview into an opportunity to showcase your strengths.

Know who's in the room. Request the names and titles of each person who will be participating in the interview and spend a little time looking them up on the organization's website and/or on LinkedIn so, in advance, you have a sense of who they are, what they do, and what they look like.

Take notes. Jot down interview participant's names as they introduce themselves and then address them by their name as the interview proceeds. Don't be afraid to take notes as people are asking questions, especially if they are multi-part questions. If nothing else, it will enable you to make sure you've addressed all the points you were asked to cover – and will help you get back on track if you start to ramble.

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Bulletproof Your Resume: Four Mistakes Nonprofit Execs Make and How to Fix Them

June 25, 2014

Nonprofit_resume_mistakesCrafting a compelling resume tends to get more difficult the further along you are in your career. There's a much larger body of work to consider and frame once you've reached the executive level, and for most executives finding the time to build a high-impact resume isn’t easy. But it’s time well spent, since your resume is still an important way to communicate your unique value proposition and helps prospective employers and others get a quick sense of your personal brand.

Below are four mistakes nonprofit executives often make with their resumes, and how to fix them.

1. Leading with an objective statement or random assortment of characteristics and adjectives.The real estate at the top of your resume is critical. This is your first and best chance to demonstrate your value proposition to a prospective employer. If you don't hook them here, most readers will lose interest before they get to the middle of the page. The old standby objective statement (e.g., "Seasoned manager seeking leadership opportunity in mission-driven social service organization") doesn't give the reader anything other than a vague picture of the kind of job you are looking for — and frankly, she doesn't care about that. Prospective hiring managers, recruiters, and HR executives need and want to know what you can offer them.

The fix: Develop a powerful summary that outlines your career achievements and value. Make it easy to read, use bullets, and be sure it demonstrates your skills in a way that convinces the hiring manager you are worth more than thirty seconds of his or her time. Focus on the quantifiable results of your projects and roles, as well as what you have to offer a potential employer. For example:

  • Managed department of 60 with $35M budget;
  • Oversaw organization-wide data migration project;
  • Secured $19M in funding.

2. Missing the mark on format and length. As an executive recruiter, I see hundreds of resumes every week, and the two most common mistakes I see are resumes that are too long and/or resumes that have overly fussy formatting.

The fix: As a seasoned executive, you have much more experience than you could possibly fit onto a single page. That doesn't mean, however, that you should take six pages to spell it all out; keep it to no more than two to three pages and indicate that you're happy to fill in your additional experience upon request.

When it comes to formatting, simplicity and readability should be your guiding principles. Stick to a maximum of two fonts, and don't over-engineer. Also, don't forget that many people, especially those with whom you'll be networking, will be looking at your resume on a mobile device, so be sure to look at the finished product on a smartphone and tablet before you circulate it.

Finally, don't forget about the basics: if you don't have the time to proofread your resume for typos and grammatical errors, find someone who does.

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