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Just For Nonprofits: Three Tips For Landing A Job That Makes A Difference
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Just For Nonprofits: Three Tips For Landing A Job That Makes A Difference - Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Three Tips For Landing A Job That Makes A Difference

Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Three Tips For Landing A Job That Makes A Difference

Whether you are generally interested in serving the greater good or you are already committed to a specific social cause, pursuing a career in the nonprofit sector is a different experience from pursuing a career in other realms, according to Shelly Cryer, author of The Nonprofit Career Guide: How to Land a Job that Makes a Difference (American Humanics, 2008). “For most people in the nonprofit sector,” she writes, “their work is not just a job. It is part of a meaning that depends, on no small part, on building a career that makes an impact for good.”

Understand who you are and what you value.
Nonprofits are mission-driven, not revenue-driven. While funding (and often its scarcity) is always a considering factor, organizations with specific missions filter all important decisions through the question of whether or not the action and its results will contribute to its mission, which can be a socio-political ideal, the passage of specific legislation, or making somebody’s life better. Understanding your own convictions is a must, because whether your role is down on the front lines or behind the scenes, your organization’s cause becomes your own.

Be flexible.
Flexibility is a good quality to have in the workplace anyway, but it becomes incredibly valuable in nonprofit careers. There are fifty reasons flexibility is an asset, and here are two big ones: First, organizations have missions, and new opportunities for serving that mission pop up frequently and on short notice. When grant money from an unexpected source becomes available for the creation of a new program, or some crisis arises in your target community and your group’s response must be swift and specific, new roles are created and sometimes old ones are redefined. You might think you’re not a web developer, but if your computer skills and fast learning surpass others in your office, you may find that role thrust upon you. Embrace the possibility, and express your willingness to be available for any opportunities that might open themselves up.

Second, many nonprofits are only about as large as they can be; there’s very little fat to be trimmed, and when someone leaves unexpectedly, someone’s got to pick up the slack. Yes, your director knows you’re an accountant and not a workplace safety officer, but your office can’t afford one of each, and you may find yourself moving further and further from the role you originally signed on for. It's understandable that you might have a limit, and there may be a time when you need to move to an organization looking for someone who can do what you most want to do, but let your first response be one of open-mindedness. Being very, very good and very, very interested in one thing is often less appealing to nonprofits than being wide open to whatever comes down the pike and able to adjust quickly.

Do your homework.
You're trying to join the work of people who've devoted their careers to a cause, so you need to have a good grasp on what that work is, and what the cause is all about. What are some of the controversies, and where does your organization officially stand on them? What has your prospective employer done and said in response to criticisms or shifting public perception? Cryer suggests you work at creating as far-flung a professional network as possible and find people who can share with you their knowledge and experience (don't forget to budget for coffee, and meet in person whenever possible). If you can find acquaintances who have worked with the groups you're interested in, learn as much as you can from them, and pick up the cafe tab.

At the same time, you only have to communicate that you are well informed; you don't want to come across as knowing everything. Remember: flexibility and open-mindedness are your best assets. Share that you know a bit of what's going on, but share also that you're eager to learn as much as you can from your new employers, and that your own convictions are still pliant in all the right places. It might take some time, but keep in mind that the payoff is measured in more than just a paycheck.

 

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Just For Nonprofits: Three Tips For Landing A Job That Makes A Difference - Executive Leadership Articles

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