Diana’s Big Move: Learn from my job search mistakes


Don't wait as long as I did to send your post-interview thank you notes. (Photo by Adam Selwood via Flickr/Creative Commons)

For those of you who’ve been following along, you know that I’ve spent the last few months preparing for my move to Boston. Now my move is just six days away. I’ve been spending my time packing up my apartment in New York, saying goodbye to friends, and of course, waiting to see if I get a job offer.

I finished up a few second round interviews since I last checked in and now I’m trying to stay patient. (I’m mostly failing. Props to Kim, my cubicle-mate at Idealist, who’s valiantly trying to keep me from wearing out the refresh button on my inbox.) I thought I could redirect some of my anxiety into a roundup of things I wish I’d done differently. Here’s hoping you can learn from my mistakes…

The search

Early on, my mindset was “I need to know about every single job that gets posted anywhere!” Seeing a huge list of opportunities every day felt reassuring, as if every job on that list was proof that the economy is on the mend and the world is full of possibilities. Obviously, not all of these jobs fit my interests or skill set. Consider this:

  • Current number of jobs in the Boston metropolitan area on Idealist.org: 695.
  • Number of jobs remaining after I refined the search to match my needs: 86.
  • Number of minutes wasted in manually sifting through irrelevant jobs: too many.

I quickly became overwhelmed and started deleting my alerts unread. Let our website do the work for you: target your Email Alerts to your needs. You may receive our notifications less frequently, but when you do, you’ll be certain that they are worth your time to read. If you need help setting up your search, just reach out.


Be smart about your online networking. Once I decided to move, I dove into my search so fast that I might have easily forgotten the basics. Before you start sending in applications or asking people for informational interviews, Google yourself and see what comes up. Try your best to keep your professional online presence separate from your personal one. If you tweet off-color jokes to your friends, you might not want to set your Twitter account to sync automatically with your LinkedIn profile.

As for meeting with people face to face: remember, we have tons of free networking resources, as do Ask a Manager, Echoing Green, and others. And check out this “Networking for Introverts” article we pinned on Pinterest today.


In college, my career center drilled into our heads that a resume* should never be longer than a single page, so I used tiny font sizes and messed with page margins to make mine fit. Guess what? One of my interviewers apparently had different printer settings and walked in with my resume on two pages anyway. So your time may be better spent re-reading your application for typos and making sure your resume is elegant, or going out for a breath of fresh air.

*Note: CVs are different; submit what the employer asks for.

Post-interview etiquette

We’ve hired a few new folks at Idealist recently and I’ve noticed that the hiring managers are surprised if they don’t receive a thoughtful thank-you email within a day or so. If you’re going to send a handwritten note, send it soon. I waited a little bit too long; by the time I was writing mine, I couldn’t recall as much detail as I would have liked. If I could do it all again, I’d jot down notes for myself immediately after each interview and write my thank you notes more promptly.

On that note (no pun intended), don’t leave your contact hanging. One hiring manager asked me to complete a written exercise after my interview; I got to work on it right away but didn’t think I needed to reply until after I’d finished the requested tasks. A few days later, I got a concerned follow-up from my interviewer, asking if I was still interested in the position. Oops. Should’ve sent an “I’d be delighted to submit this additional writing sample and will have it to you by [date]” email immediately.


One day, an employer I’d been in touch with said they’d make a decision “next week.” A week later, here I am, checking my email what feels like a hundred times a day. (I’m on email check #8 since starting this paragraph, no joke.)

Kim has suggested that I give myself a time—say, Thursday at 2pm—when I’m allowed to start to worry that someone else has received an offer. Until then, I’m supposed to log out of my email, assume the hiring managers are busy, and relax. This strategy has clearly not worked for me, but I wanted to pass along the advice anyway in case one of you out there will benefit.

Did I miss anything?

As always, please reach out with your own job search stories, advice on how to pass the time, or just to say hi. Leave a comment or email me at diana [at] idealist [dot] org.

Previous posts in this series:

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Diana's Big Move: The first job interview


Now we're moving. (Photo: Norlando Pobre, Flickr/Creative Commons)

I just finished my first interview!

I got the interview request a few days ago, and after weeks of stress-induced quesadilla dinners and panic, this was a huge reassurance. Someone somewhere thinks I’m doing something right! (If you need to catch up, here’s how I started my search and what I’ve been doing since.)

After finishing my celebratory happy dance, I got down to work. Here’s how I prepared and how I think you can make it through your interview with minimal stress.


Remind yourself why you’re a great fit for the position.

  • Back to basics. Re-familiarize yourself with the job description, the application materials you sent, and the organization’s website (specifically the role you’re hoping for and how it ties to their mission).


Now that you have those talking points, learn them. Make flashcards, invent a color scheme, or cover yourself in sticky notes. Whatever it takes, know the key points that you want to cover.

Interview day

Get comfortable and be confident.

  • Go to your happy place. If you have a phone interview like I did, a happy place is both mental and physical. I squirreled away into an empty back conference room with a notebook, pen, bottle of water, the cover letter and resume I submitted, and a print-out of the job description. If your cell phone is as temperamental as mine, try to get to a land line. Get comfortable – if you are more assertive in a suit, wear one. Personally? I rid myself of the jitters by interviewing in flip-flops and blasting Eminem a few minutes before I knew the phone would ring. Oh, and did you remember to go tinkle? Do it.
  • If you have an in-person interview, look professional and approachable. If you’re not sure of the dress code, aim to be over- rather than under-dressed (but this does not necessarily mean wearing a suit). And bring a copy of your resume and a way to take notes, even if you don’t end up needing either.
  • Pump yourself up, do a mirror check, and review your notes, but do it all before you get there. Arrive a little early, walk through the doors on time, and be nice to the person who greets you. First impressions are crucial. When you step foot in the building, you’re on.


The hiring committee is looking for a good fit for the position and their office culture; you are looking for a position where you’ll contribute and thrive. All of this preparation is so that everyone can find out if it’s a good match. Take a deep breath and be yourself.

Extra reading:

This is obviously a well worn topic. Here are some resources that I consulted while preparing for my interview:

  • Idealist.org’s Career Center – We offer a rundown on how to prepare, what questions to ask, and even what to pack for your big day.
  • AskaManager.org – Alison Green’s wildly helpful site, written from the point of view of a hiring manager. You’ll want to look specifically at her interview and phone interview posts.
  • Theemployable.com – Tips on how to answer questions, what your body language is saying to the hiring manager, and mistakes to avoid. Thanks to Catherine R. of our LinkedIn group for the tip.
  • Glassdoor.com – Browse interview reviews from previous candidates to get an inside view of a company’s interview process.

Happy dances all around

We’re getting there! Congrats on any progress you’ve made this week. As always, feel free to share your experiences, horror stories, and funny anecdotes with me in the comments or at diana [at] idealist [dot] org. I’m cheering you on!

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Help an LA actress bring hospice patients' stories onstage

An experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

The intention

Once a week, actress Erica Gerard visits the homes of hospice patients in West Los Angeles. She sits with the patients and does whatever makes them feel comfortable: talk, listen to music, read a book, enjoy the silence, and more. As someone who only buys vintage furniture because of the stories each piece holds, Erica especially enjoys seeing the patients surrounded by all of their belongings.

Erica would love to record and perform their life stories. “People at the end of their lives are some of the most rich, complete and interesting treasures we have access to,” she says. “None of us have been there yet, but we’re going there, so tell us what it’s like.”


Though her deceased grandmother won't be in the audience, Erica knows she'd be proud: “I can hear her voice saying, 'You’re doing a mitzvah,' which is a good deed." (Photo: Alan Cleaver, Flickr/Creative Commons)

The obstacles

Erica hasn’t started. Here are the barriers she has identified:

  1. Interviewing people in hospice care can be logistically challenging. Her first patient passed away, and her second was unconscious much of the time.
  2. She doesn’t have an end vision of the show yet, and the options about artistic choice, direction, etc. can feel overwhelming.
  3. She prefers collaborative projects to working alone, and so far doesn’t have anybody to bounce ideas off of and propel her forward.
  4. There’s a whole world of medical confidentiality laws and issues she has yet to explore.

How you can help

Erica would to love see this project grow and succeed. Can you offer her any advice?

  • Is this an idea that’s already been done somewhere in the world?
  • What are some interviewing strategies to help draw out specific stories?
  • What have you always wanted to ask somebody who is near the end of life?
  • How should she approach this project so as to share stories without exploiting patients?
  • How can she find allies and resources?
  • What are some ways to stay focused when life’s distractions get in the way?

Leave a comment below or send her a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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Prepping for behavioral interview questions

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.


You've got this. (Photo: Steven Depolo, Flickr/Creative Commons)

In a recent post on our nonprofit HR blog, we encourage hiring managers to ask behavioral questions:

Behavioral interviewing enables you to deeply evaluate candidates’ past work experiences, their knowledge, and their behaviors in order to accurately predict how they will perform in your organization. This type of system … focuses on their behaviors and results in various situations. It’s more about how they’ve used their knowledge – which often gives you a better understanding of how they will react and apply what they know in your environment. [Read more….]

But as a job seeker, how do you prepare to answer behavioral questions?

For many job candidates, thinking about specific past experiences can be challenging under high pressure situations. Below is a method to get ready for the interview. Download the full exercise here (PDF).

  • Looking at the job description, identify about 5-10 qualities, skills, and experiences the prospective employer wants.
  • Circle the qualities, skills, or experiences on your list that you possess.
  • For each of these, think of one or two anecdotes that illustrate your expression of the quality, your use of the skill, or your experience.
  • Write up a summary of each anecdote and practice telling each one orally for the interview.
  • Prepare to name the competency or skill, give an example of a time when you used the skill, and identify ways the skill applies to the job you want.

By the way, the “practice” part doesn’t just mean reciting your anecdote once or twice. You want it to sound natural, have an economical use of words, and be as captivating as possible while also clearly conveying your point. Practicing these anecdotes is akin to practicing an elevator pitch during networking situations. See the section on elevator pitches in Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers.

And how do you remember these anecdotes?

That’s easy! Type up your list of skills, and give yourself a few key words to jog your memory about the experience you plan to share.

Turn the tables at your interview

Finally, remember that any interview is and should be a two-way street. Pose behavioral questions to your hiring team to understand the work environment, culture, and leadership styles of the people you’d be working with, if hired. Here are our tips for presenting yourself in person, including when to ask the most important questions (hint: don’t wait ’til the second interview).

Good luck!

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IdealistHR: Behavioral interviews; office gift exchanges

This month’s IdealistHR newsletter is hot off the presses! November’s issue features an article about behavioral interviews (Does your hiring process need an overhaul?) and another about alternatives to the “potentially stomach-knotting office gift exchange” (‘Tis the season…).


"Oh look! A barking hot dog steamer!" Don't let this happen at your office. (Photo: Jonathan Lidbeck, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Peruse the IdealistHR archives or sign up for monthly emails by and for nonprofit human resources professionals at idealisthr.org.

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Career Corner: How to share your "resume leftovers" at an interview

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

From Flickr user Kathleen Franklin (Creative Commons)

If you’re familiar with this blog or with the Idealist Career Guides, I hope we’re on the same page when I say that…

  • Your resume is not your autobiography. The point of the resume is to get you an interview.
  • …And so it should only include highly relevant accomplishments based on a specific job description’s qualifications or duties.
  • And, of course, you should tailor your resume, every single bullet on it, to a specific job you’re applying for.

But what do you do with “leftover accomplishments” that didn’t make it onto the resume?

Use them in your interview! Here’s how.

List and illustrate your skills.

Pam Rechel, with BraveHeart Consulting in Portland, OR*, advises job applicants to prepare stories to tell at a job interview that will showcase their strongest transferable skills. In order to do this, she says, you should first identify your own strongest skills, as well as any other skills necessary for your desired job (which you can find in the qualifications and job duties sections of a job posting).

Once you’ve made this list, look at each transferable skill. Come up with a brief anecdote that illustrates a specific time you used that skill. Make sure to note how it contributed to the success of a project or program.

Prepare to talk about the skills.

Envision a chat that includes the following:

  • Name the skill. “I had a chance to use my negotiation skills when…”
  • Give a specific example of a time when you used or learned the skill — really tell the story. “…Last summer I met with a nearby organic farmers co-op to persuade them to sell their tomatoes at a discounted price to the local school district. They were reluctant at first, but when I explained the value of locking in a guaranteed buyer for their product, they saw what was in it for them. We went back and forth on a price, and we shook hands on a good deal for the school district that also honored their farmer’s business models…”
  • Clarify the impact of that skill on your project’s success. Remember, in the nonprofit world, the hiring team will be most impressed with your ability to increase positive outcomes for your social or environmental issue. “…As a result of my negotiation, 10,000 school children from low-income families in the district ate fresh, organic tomatoes with their daily free breakfasts and lunches.”
  • Identify ways the skill applies to the job you want. Connect the dots for the hiring team. “My negotiation skills will be useful as an event planner for your organization because I can work out reasonable deals on venue pricing, catering, and other costs.”


Let’s say you prepare a dozen little stories, each on a different transferable skill, to get ready for your interview. How in the world will you remember them all?

The solution is simple: jot down the skill and a couple of key words that will jog your memory about which story to share. For the example above, you might write “NEGOTIATION — organic farmer tomato story.” Come into the interview with a neat, typed list of skills and key words. If the hiring team even notices your list, they will probably conclude that you are well prepared.

Know when to use your stories.

Of course, after all of this work, there’s no guarantee the hiring team will give you the prompt you’re hoping for: “Tell us about a time when you used your negotiation skills.” Instead they may ask you, “Tell us about a time when you had to overcome an obstacle,” or “Have you ever had to bring different groups together for a win-win?” Your negotiation skills story is still the perfect anecdote to plug in as part of your answer to either of these questions.

The more stories you’ve prepared, the quicker and more effective your responses will be to the hiring team’s questions.

Take your time.

Having a lot of fabulous answers doesn’t mean you should rush!

Always feel free to pause for a moment—scan your list of anecdotes, even—to think about the best possible response to a question. If you’re truly stumped, ask for time to think about it, and then later in the day when you’re emailing a quick thank-you note, offer further insight on the question that stumped you during the interview.

If you follow these steps, your resume leftovers should provide a feast’s worth of great conversation. Bon appetit!

*For more on Pam Rechel’s exercise “Translating Your Experience into Job Speak,” see Part Two of our guide, Service Corps to Social Impact Career.
[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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New from the Idealist Studios: Nonprofit Career Videos!

Our intrepid producer, Douglas (by Julia Smith)

From Meg Busse.

Take one:

If there was an Oscar for short documentary featuring awesome nonprofit professionals, these videos would definitely get the award.

Take two:

There are many amazing moments of these new nonprofit career videos, but perhaps my favorite comes halfway through the third video during a stunning car chase scene followed by a quick cameo by Steve Buscemi. Brilliant. Two thumbs up!

Take three:

If you’re interested in a nonprofit career, chances are that you’ve realized how many different types of careers there are in the sector and how varied they are from position to position, organization to organization, and even in different geographic regions.

In our new Nonprofit Career Video series, we talk with people in nonprofit jobs such as public interest lawyer, social worker, executive director, and policy analyst to hear about their career path, education, daily routines, and recommendations for others interested in this type of work.

For more information about the Nonprofit Career Video series and to watch the short videos, click here.

That’s a wrap.

[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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