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 job search begins


After lots of trips from New York to Boston, I'm looking forward to getting settled. Photo: Rob Pongsajapan, Flickr/Creative Commons

A new series exploring one Idealist’s search for her next career move.

Hi, I’m Diana. We met recently in the post about Idealist’s Community Support Team. My coworker Kim and I answer all of your calls and emails about the site.

A confession: For the last few days, during every conversation I’ve had with a job seeker, I’ve given them a mental high five, and sent off an extra little prayer to the universe that things go well for them. Why? Because I’m in the club now, too.

I love Idealist and I’ve loved working with people like you, but life is taking me away from New York and I’m officially looking for a new gig. As I began tackling applications, a few things dawned on me – insight that I probably wouldn’t have if I didn’t, y’know, work at Idealist.

Here are some of the discoveries I’ve made so far:

1) If you’re currently employed, consider telling your manager you’re looking. Maybe.

Idealist is an open, supportive place to work, with open, supportive leadership. My managers know I’m searching, which is helpful because I don’t have to scramble for references and I won’t have to fake a stomachache to go out of town for an interview. If you’re lucky to be in a workplace like mine, you might want to disclose your decision to move on relatively early in your process.

But clearly this is not an option for everyone. Make sure you weigh the benefits against the potential risks. In her post Choosing an end date when resigning, Alison Green of Ask a Manager writes:

“Your best bet is to pay attention to how your employer has handled other employees who resign. Are people shown the door immediately? Pushed out earlier than they would have otherwise planned to leave? Allowed to work their full notice period? In any case, don’t assume that you control the selection of your last day once you give notice…”

And keep in mind that life isn’t all carefree after you come clean. While I had a hunch Idealist wouldn’t fire me just for announcing my intentions to move on, spreading the news has been nerve-wracking for other reasons. What if Idealist hires my replacement, and I still haven’t found anything? What if my move falls apart at the last minute? Before you give notice, be sure you really, really want to make this career move. Idealist’s tools for career self-assessment can help.

2) Research, research, research.

  • Even if you’re not moving, find out what organizations or companies are most active in your region and see if you can find your professional niche in that area. Is your city a haven for museums, or hospitals, or biotech? You may end up playing a similar role in a wildly different organization.
  • What are your salary requirements? If you are moving, find out how much should you expect to make. Don’t get turned down for demanding a Manhattan salary in a city with a drastically lower cost of living. I found CNN Money’s Cost of Living calculator to be especially handy. You can also see a breakdown of salaries by company, location, and title at Glassdoor.com (you may have to join to see the information you need – they give you a month for free, and offer you unlimited membership if you contribute anonymously to their database).

3) Sweat the little stuff. Seriously.

After working here I will never, ever copy and paste a form cover letter because I know it always shows. Tailor your cover letter and your resume specifically for the job to which you’re applying. Find out as much as you can about the organization or company you’d like to work for, and tell them honestly why you want to work for them and why you’re qualified for the position.

Stay tuned.

I’ll check in every now and then to update you my progress, and I’d love to hear from you, too. I’m in a unique situation since I can write so publicly about this. If you prefer not to comment publicly here, please feel free to write to me at diana [at] idealist [dot] org to share your struggles, your victories, a story of that kick-butt interview answer you came up with. We’re in this together.

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How to write a rejection letter


From Flickr user recoverling (Creative Commons)

Over and over, job seekers tell us that it’s frustrating, and unfortunately very common, to submit applications and never receive any indication that a hiring manager has reviewed or even received them. But what about when you do get through the door, have an interview, and don’t get hired? We recently asked our Facebook and LinkedIn communities:

Question: What was the nicest (or worst) rejection letter you ever received after a job interview? No need to name names/organizations. Just wondering what makes for the “best” kind of letter.

Commenters in our LinkedIn discussion and on our Facebook page sounded off with feedback for hiring managers:

Anything is better than nothing.

  • “The main thing is just to get a letter or some information that the position has been filled. That common courtesy is often overlooked, but much appreciated.” – Colleen, Facebook
  • “Any letter is the best letter! Organizations usually don’t bother – which is frustrating when you spend hours researching them, customizing your application packet for the position, etc.” – Rachael, Facebook
  • “Probably over 80% of my applications just disappear into the ether and I never receive any follow-up after the auto-generated notice of receipt.” – Bahman, LinkedIn

Alison Green, who blogs at Ask a Manager, has covered this topic in her posts Should employers spend time rejecting candidates who weren’t even interviewed? and Am I wrong to be insulted by this rejection letter?.

Short, sweet, and personalized when possible.

  • “They all are a bit crushing but whenever I’m provided concrete reasons, that helps considerably.” – Kate, Facebook
  • “The best rejection letter I ever received managed to make me feel better about not getting the job by telling me that they were impressed with my credentials and made clear that they had actually taken the time to look at my application.” – Marianne, LinkedIn
  • “Keep it really positive, tell the interviewee that they are welcome to call or email for additional feedback regarding the choice (if that is feasible), and wish them luck in their search. Short, sweet, to the point. Honestly, any communication at all after an interview is a big step up from my experience in the job hunt!” – Lauren, LinkedIn

To Lauren’s point, for those of you who have submitted apps, gone through interviews, and are left to ask “Why not me?,” here’s another Alison Green column—this one at U.S. News— called How to Get Feedback When You’re Rejected.

People, not robots.

  • “I think the worst one was an email with the subject line ‘Reject after application- External.’ Not only did it deliver bad news but it also did not attempt to hide the fact that it was automated, made me feel that a human being didn’t even bother to glance at my application.” – Marianne, LinkedIn
  • “Those that are clearly form letters add insult to injury in situations where you have invested literally hours in an interview process and were considered one of the top candidates.” – Kate, Facebook

Be mindful of personal relationships.

  • “A couple of rejection letters that I received from [a local chapter of a national organization] did soothe the hurt of rejection a bit. It said that not being selected was ‘in no way a reflection of your considerable abilities and skills’ or something to that effect. They were signed by the Executive Director, whom I have known personally for about 15 years.” – Robert, LinkedIn

File this under “Not OK.”

  • “The worst ever? When i was told by the person in charge of the school that they wanted to schedule an interview with me, on a specific date, I arrived at the place, to find no one to show up. It took me three weeks to finally get an apology and told that position was filled.” – Casey, Facebook

Thanks to all of the job seekers who shared your experiences. I’d love to hear from any hiring managers out there: what are the processes, time constraints, or legal considerations that sometimes prevent you from getting in touch with candidates, or from giving them personalized feedback? Have you found creative ways to manage this less-than-fun part of your job?

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Asking Santa for a new job? Read this.


Santa or no Santa, some reflection might be in order. (From Bart Fields via Flickr/Creative Commons.)

Today Josh Sanburn of TIME Moneyland points out that since a lot of other folks are checking out for the coming week or two, this might be a good time to buckle down and focus on your job search if you have some spare time. Here at Idealist, our site traffic does slow very predictably at between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. But as of this writing, there are still more than 6,400 jobs listed on our site.

Whether you’re planning to rest and reflect or squeeze in some job applications before the end of 2011, here are a few links that might help. All can be found in the Idealist Career Center.

  • The Five Lens Framework: Developed by the Office of Career Services at NYU’s Wagner School, this exercise helps you identify the primary frame you look through when viewing your own career path: Organization, Role, System, Issue, or Population.
  • Help with networking: If “networking” makes you cringe, think of it as “community engagement.” You might even walk into those holiday parties with a slightly different outlook.

What are your plans? Is late December a stretch when it’s critical to rest and recharge? Is that a necessity this year or a luxury?

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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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Have you ever hired the wrong person?


We've all been there. (Photo via Alex E. Proimos, Flickr/Creative Commons)

It can be hard to find a silver lining when a hiring process goes awry. In the latest issue of our human resources newsletter, we try to help you avoid those growing pains.

  • For an organization, the loss of time, money, and energy is huge enough – but there’s often a significant blow to staff morale. Amelia explores ways to design a hiring process that can minimize unfortunate outcomes.
  • Meanwhile, Kara considers one crucial step: making sure we get the best possible applications. What makes a job application successful? You can weigh in here.

Want tips and ideas about human resources delivered to your inbox each month? Your wish is our command.

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Applying for jobs? Four free tools to keep the process simple


Use these to hammer out applications and nail your dream job. (Photo: Kimmo Palosaari via Creative Commons)

Remember that old saying about how searching for a job is a full time job? Staying on top of all those deadlines, applications, cover letters, résumés, and job descriptions isn’t easy.

One of my favorite sets of tools for staying organized is the full suite of Google Apps. Here are a few tricks that you can try to help you stay above water during your job search. All you need is a free Gmail account to use them.

Docs: Save each cover letter that you write as a unique doc like “Cover letter for social media position” or “Cover letter for arts organization.” You’re already writing unique, tailored cover letters for each position that you apply for, so having them all readily accessible and searchable will save you a lot of time when you apply to similar positions in the future.

While you’re at it, save a copy of each job description as soon as you begin the application. (Here’s an example.) Once a listing comes down from Idealist or any other job site, it’s gone, and you’ll be less prepared for your interview if you can’t refer back to the specific requirements and description of the of the job that you’re aiming for.

Spreadsheets: You can use a spreadsheet to track everything that you’re doing in your job search. Feel free to copy this example I created (click on it to view full size):

Having everything in one place—information like where you’re finding the jobs that you’ve applied for, links to your cover letters, modified résumés, and even types of organizations that you’re applying to and whether you got a call back—will reveal trends that over time can help tailor your search.

Calendar: Nailed a phone interview for next week? Schedule it on your calendar and set reminders for a day and for a few hours beforehand. You don’t want to be late!

Gmail: If you’re applying to any job that requires a demonstrated understanding of technology or social media, you should be using the best tech tools that are available to you. As silly as it might seem, some hiring managers are biased against people that are using more “old fashioned” email services.

Are you on the hunt right now? What are some other online tools that can help manage the application process?

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Career Corner: Don't throw away that thank you note!

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 stopnlook (Creative Commons)

I know you probably didn’t enter mission-driven work so that you could tally up your good deeds, but collecting and tracking information and evidence will help you in your current job and during your next career transition.

Documenting your work can help you quantify and illustrate your work to your current employer; evaluate the success of your projects, programs, and performance; increase the likelihood of success for the people coming after you; and help hiring and admissions teams evaluate your potential.

Let’s think about that last point. Imagine you’re on a hiring team and sizing up candidates. Whose application will be stronger — the person who tells you she has achieved many things but ultimately wants you to take her word for it, or the one who shows examples of her past work so you can see for yourself?

Here are seven things to collect:

  • Numbers — anything from clients served and volunteers recruited, to social media impact. If you can quantify it, do!
  • Media attention — press clippings, audio and video interviews with you, screen shots of blog posts, list of media mentions.
  • Kudos to you — thank you notes, recommendation letters, positive comment cards and performance evaluations.
  • Work samples — writing, curriculum units, screen shots, event materials, volunteer position descriptions — whatever makes sense for your job.
  • Project management evidence — agendas and planning.
  • Photographs — of you in action, of people engaged in your programs.
  • Communications — emails, promotional materials (social media releases, flyers, public service announcements), volunteer recruitment ads, newsletters, or blog posts you authored.

…But don’t save them to your work computer!

Many people work on their organization’s computer and when they leave their job, don’t take the time to save work samples and other important documentation. Don’t let this happen to you. Here are some alternatives:

  • Save documents to your own computer if you have one.
  • Send documents to your personal email account (try something like Gmail, which has a lot of storage capacity and is free and accessible from anywhere).
  • Upload to a flash drive or burn to a CD.
  • Upload to a document server like Google Docs, Box.net, Dropbox, or Me.com.
  • Upload photos to Flickr or Picasa.
  • Upload video to Youtube or Vimeo.

When posting things online, choose to set privacy options where possible, and/or password protect your documentation.

Have you put together portfolios of your work? Or do you have a horror story to share about what happened when you didn’t save your work? Share your experiences by leaving a comment!

Browse all of the Career Corner archives here.

[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: 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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