Career Corner: Getting Your Career Search on Track

By Steven Joiner.

The Career Tracks exercise is the best way to see what jobs are out there that resonate with you. It is real, it is current, and it is relevant.

By Flickr user Zach Bonnell (Creative Commons)

In late November, Meg talked about The Four Lenses activity created by David Schachter at the NYU Wagner School of Public Service. The goal of the Four Lenses activity is to give you a framework to think and talk about what exactly it is that peaks your professional interest. Once you figure out what lens (or lenses) through which you view the nonprofit sector, the Career Tracks exercise (also developed by the amazing David Schachter) is a great next step to take. This exercise is in for parts:

Part One: Data Collection

Look at online or newspaper job postings, and copy or cut out any posting (a “clip”) that appeals to you either by (A) the type of organization or by (B) the job description. Remember, the only criteria you are using to select clips are either organization or job description. The location of the organization or job should not be an issue for now. Nor should the pay range, qualifications, experience, or any other aspects of the job be a issue. The point of this search is not to explore jobs for which you are qualified. Rather, you are looking at jobs and organizations that appeal to you.

By broadening your search outside of the area where you live (or plan to live) as well as searching jobs outside of your qualifications and pay demands, you get a much fuller sense of the opportunities that are out there. For now, you are not concerned with finding a job with a ten minute commute. Repeat this activity until you have at least 50 clips. The more you collect, the better. Remember, when collecting, you do not evaluate along the way, you just collect ideas. Once you have a minimum of 50 clips, continue to the analysis phase.

Part Two: Analysis

Take the clips out of your folder and see if you can find any patterns or common themes. Points to look for might include: issue, population to be served, approach to the work, geography, kind of organization, unit or department within an agency, and role and responsibilities. For example, you might notice that a large number of your clips focus on direct service with homeless teens and adults, and most of the organizations you are drawn to are large organizations located in urban areas.

Part Three: Synthesis

Using the data gathered from your collection and analysis phases, create at least one and no more than five potential career tracks for yourself. A career track is a way to put parameters around and frame your potential career interests, and can include any of the following attributes that have meaning for you: issue or field of interest, approach to the work, kinds of organizations that do this work, roles that you aspire to play, and requirement of skills, experience, education, and knowledge to fulfill those roles.

Take stock of your qualifications and experiences as they relate to your potential career tracks. Your track should inform which groups you join, the people you seek out, the internship/job experiences you look for, and how you present yourself in a resume, cover letter, and interview. (See Chapter Eight for more advice on cover letters and resumes, and Chapter Nine for a discussion of interview techniques.) Remember to reflect along the way to determine if this track feels like a good fit for you. If it does, continue on this path. If not, seek out additional tracks.

Part Four: Application

After you identify your possible career tracks, draft a different resume for each position you identify that fits into each of the tracks. This can be an entry-level position or a “dream job”; the point of drafting a mock resume is to get a clear view of the skills, experiences, and qualifications (which can include certifications or licenses) you will need in that particular job. Now, fill in the resume with the skills, experiences, and qualifications that you already have for the position. Look at any areas that are blank. Do you need more management, direct service, fundraising, professional, and/or educational experience to qualify for a job on this career track? If yes, start to explore ways to fill those blanks. Whatever the blanks are on your resume, you can find a time and place to fill them. While it is unrealistic to fill all the blanks in all of your resumes in a relatively short amount of time, many of the skills you wish to have should be transferable between resumes.

Ideally, you will have at least 12 months for the Career Tracks process. Realistically, you will only have three to six months. See Chapter 3 to see how a three-, six-, and twelve-month schedule looks.

Like your career search, the Career Tracks exercise should be an ongoing, ever-evolving process. Successful job searches almost never happen overnight.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner: Knowing Where to Start the Search, Part I

By Meg Busse.

Some of my ‘must read’ blogs are work related, some aren’t, but I love when there is cross-over from professional to personal. One of my ‘personal’ blogs is Reclaiming Miss Havisham. This is one of my favorite blogs for a lot of reasons, but in particular because of the blogger’s candor. In one of her recent posts she links to a Post Secret postcard and follows it up with her own secret that she’s quitting her job. She’s quitting because, “In a nutshell, my ethics are out of sync with the ethics of my supervisors and boss, and I can’t live with myself if I stay.”

From Flickr user Gideon (Creative Commons)

Have you heard one of your friends say something similar? Have you been frustrated about this in your own job? If so, you’re not alone; a USA Today article cites statistics that suggest that if the younger workers are going to “work many, many hours, they need to work in a place where they’re doing some good,” according to Claudia Tattanelli, CEO of Universum.

Corporate employers are responding, but there are plenty of job seekers who are looking to the nonprofit sector for a wholly different type of career.

However, one of the obstacles to finding a nonprofit career can be knowing where and how to start looking. David Schachter of NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service created a great self-assessment called The Four Lens exercise that allows job seekers to assess how they see themselves doing good in the world.

In short, ask yourself what motivates you to do good work? Is it:

An issue area such as environmental conservation, women’s rights, or prison reform?

An organization that you are passionate about such as Incight, Guitars not Guns, or the Public Broadcasting Service?

A position or specific job? I’ve only met one person who wants to be an accountant in a nonprofit organization, a few who want to be in nonprofit HR, and many who are interested in the ED or a leadership role. Whatever your passion, you can find any position in the nonprofit sector that exists in the corporate world. Even stockbroker.

A way of working within the system? This could include the scope of the work (local, national, or international), the type of work (direct service, advocacy, philanthropy, capacity building, policy, research), or the type of organization (well-funded and established or grassroots and on the fringe).

As you contemplate a career change or assess your current job, this Four Lens exercise can help narrow your search so that you have a more focused image of how you want to create a positive change in the world—and how you see your career fitting into that picture.

For more information on the Four Lens exercise and self-assessment in the nonprofit job search, see Chapter Three of The Idealist Guide.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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