By Ben Thomas, Guest Blogger
In preparation for the Nonprofit & Government Career Fair on Wednesday, February 20, The Riley Guide Blogger Ben Thomas shares tips on standing out to nonprofit employers. Stop by on Wednesday 2/20 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. in Panasci Lounge, Schine Student Center, to connect with more than 50 agencies searching for interns and entry-level hires. Some agencies attending include: City Year, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Math for America Foundation, and United States Department of Agriculture. For a full list of attendees and positions available, visit OrangeLink.
Nonprofit careers are looking more and more promising to Americans who still struggle to find work. A recent report by CNN estimates that the nonprofit sector’s 1.5 million organizations generate almost $1.5 trillion in spending every year – and that the sector has continued to grow robustly throughout the recession. If you’re looking to expand your career options, nonprofit work might be just the right area for you to explore. Even so, you’ll need to tailor your profile pretty differently than you would for the corporate world. Here are three ways you can start improving your shot at a nonprofit job, starting right now.
Hone your talents
Many jobs in the nonprofit sector rely heavily on skills you may have developed elsewhere – for instance, many nonprofit organizations are in need of teachers, translators and event organizers. If your skills fall under a technical heading, you may be in an even better spot. Nonprofits need professional websites, secure networks and knowledgeable tech support staff, just as any company does – but many nonprofit managers report that their organization’s technology is a bit behind the times. Whether you’re talented at upgrading technology or sprucing up an aging public image, a portfolio of projects you’ve completed on time and under budget will serve as a strong recommendation for your ability to contribute. If you freelance at all, seek out some clients – nonprofit or otherwise – whose business model emphasizes ideals like sustainable energy or free education. These projects will do more than just boost your resumé – they’ll also give you glimpses of the nonprofit sector’s look and feel.
Learn the territory
No matter where your talents lie, you’ll want to spend some time investigating the structure and needs of some nonprofit organizations in the field that interests you the most. Nonprofit work comes with its own set of expectations: many nonprofits value compassionate ideals over competitive spirit; personal relationships over profitable ones. Though many corporations toe lines like this, you may find that a corporate go-getter attitude comes across as excessively intense – even intimidating – to people who’ve spent years in the nonprofit sector. What’s more, nonprofit work comes with its own set of terms and titles. These don’t necessarily refer to different concepts than those used in the corporate world, but they’ll come in handy as you approach nonprofit employers for a pitch or an interview. Speaking their language, in their preferred tone of voice, will take you far in the relationship-driven world of nonprofit work.
Donate your time
When a nonprofit manager looks over your work history, one thing that’s sure to catch his or her eye is volunteer work. This doesn’t have to mean service in the Red Cross or the National Guard (though such experience certainly wouldn’t hurt). What’s important is to emphasize that your volunteer work wasn’t a one-time resumé-booster, but represents a lifelong commitment to generosity with your talents. Time is valuable for all of us, it’s true – but even some after-work hours cleaning up a local park, or a few hours a week offering free tech support to a local school, can help you show your community-oriented side to potential employers. By the same token, make sure your volunteer hours are clearly related to the nonprofit work you aim to do – whether your donated time is in the service of a similar charity, or just devoted to tasks similar to those you’d like to perform for a nonprofit organization. A little open-heartedness now may go a long way in the near future.
Though many organizations in the nonprofit sector emphasize different virtues, structures and expectations than those emphasized in the corporate sector, nonprofits still value many translatable skills and character traits. So as you enter the working world, keep your options open, and give nonprofit work a serious look. You may find that you’re pleasantly surprised by what you discover.
Ben Thomas is an expert on many topics related to the job hunt. He writes about such topics for www.rileyguide.com.