Ask Ero: Answers for baffled and confused Idealists

In this series of blog posts, I’ll try to answer all your questions about anything and everything regardless of how ridiculously unqualified I am to answer them. Consider me sort of a tech-literate, bearded, Ann Landers or a work-safe Dan Savage.

Ero is Thoughtful Adjusted Cropped3Last time you heard from me, I’d invited all of you to ask me even the most random of questions. I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d get any questions at all. I did. Thank you, readers! Now, let’s see if I can actually answer them.

I recently got a degree in ‘service design’ from SCAD, and just moved up to NYC a couple weeks ago. I’m a highly motivated idealist, and I have a rare, yet amazingly valuable skill-set. But how do I find an awesome job doing awesome work for an awesome company if no one knows what my field is– and no one is posting jobs in it?

This is a tricky question. First of all, networking is going to be important, but you’ll have to go beyond ordinary networking. Don’t just go to parties and mingle and talk about how great you are: get involved everywhere you can and show up as a representative of your field. Get involved in your professional organization. Go to every relevant event you can. Participate, and get visible.

The nonprofit sector, which is often starved for resources, may be an especially tough sell for someone in a field like yours, which will seem to many like window-dressing or a luxury service. You’ll need to go to extra lengths to show why your work is important and how it helps organizations succeed in their mission. Telling people why your work is valuable to each organization will be your responsibility. Take it seriously. No one else will do this for you.

Build a nice-looking webpage (which I see you’ve done) advocating for your expertise, but also advocating for why your work matters. Write articles for publications explaining how valuable the field is. Look for opportunities to volunteer and/or do pro bono work for causes you believe in, and build a spectacular portfolio from the results.

Because no one knows about what you do, you have a rare opportunity to show people why it’s important, and to become the representative that everyone thinks of when they want someone to help with that field.

One reality is this: in the short term you might find yourself doing a job that isn’t exactly what you hoped, but this doesn’t mean you can’t use what you know. Your plan will be to use the deep knowledge and rare skills you possess, to build your future a little bit at a time. So look for jobs in related disciplines, and that encompass things that are like your field. You’ll bring different knowledge to your work than any other candidates, but that’s a good thing. Highlight that difference on your resume, on cover letters, and in your interview, so that you stand out. Then once you have the job, make your unique skills count.

I’m working with a bunch of college students who are serving as mentors to graduating high school seniors over the summer. Someone told me that I could give them all Google phone numbers, which could map onto their existing cell phones so that they wouldn’t be giving out their personal info to the students. How does this work?

Google Voice ought to be perfect for your purposes. It just takes a moment to set up a Google Voice account: you tell it what number you want it to ring, then pick a number from the available options, to have as your GV number. Setting this up takes only a couple minutes, and there’s a good support page.

Now, this basic setup won’t help with outgoing calls, only incoming. If you want to make outgoing calls, you’ll need a Smartphone with an app. Android phones are especially good for this, but iPhones can do it too. There’s also some built-in tracking if you’re in an org using Google Apps (which I heartily recommend for most nonprofits). You also can get voice mails in your email inbox, which is pretty neat.

What is the meaning of life?

Finally, a question I’m qualified to answer! A question that has tormented deep thinkers through the ages! No problem. I’ve totally got this.

Seriously, for me there’s one simple answer: love. Not love as a noun, love as a verb. Active love: giving and being generous and trying to improve the world in some small way. Doing this means you’ve got no time for fear or discontent or angst. And there’s nothing more satisfying than giving back to the world around you. There are so many ways to give and serve, and that’s why we’re here.

It’s why was made, it’s why the nonprofit sector exists, and it’s why we work in it. This is always a work in progress, and having patience with one’s own imperfections is also a way to act with love. Be patient and give it a little bit each day, and you’ll be on the right track automatically.

That’s all for this installment. Have questions about anything I’ve said? Or about anything else (and I do mean anything)? Ask me.

Ask Ero anything (anything anything anything) at

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What do a Peace Corps volunteer, a Brazilian politician, and an epidemiologist have in common?

Photo credit: Donna Cymek, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: Donna Cymek, Creative Commons/Flickr

They’re all Idealists!

Each week, we’ll introduce you to some members of the Idealist community who are out to do good in the world. You can get to any of their profiles by clicking on their picture. Then just click Send a Message to reach out!




April Fredricks is a Peace Corps volunteer working in Namibia. She’s a great resource for people considering volunteering abroad and is interested in sustainability and the environment. She’d love to connect with other Idealists before returning home to the Pacific Northwest, so check out her profile!




Jonviea Chamberlain is an epidemiologist about to graduate from UMASS-Amherst. She will soon move to Switzerland to start a PhD researching spinal cord injuries. If you have questions about her field of work, send her a message! She also enjoys reading and photography, for less scientifically inclined Idealists.



André Dutra works with the Brazilian government as an advisor for Youth Policies. He also ran for office in 2010!  He is looking to meet new people and volunteer overseas. Send him a message if you’re curious about Brazil, politics, or just want to connect!





Aurora Gangan is looking for other Idealists who share her passion for improving the health and wellness of children. Born in the Philipines, she now lives in Seattle, WA. If you know of a volunteer opportunity she might be interested in, or just want to share some knowledge, let her know!




Matt Cifaldi works for Idealist and also wrote this blog post! I’m a member of Idealist’s community engagement team, and I would love to hear from you. Let me know if you’ve found something great on our site, have any ideas on how we can improve your experience, or if you have a great recipe for chicken empanadas.


Are you looking for advice? Or partners and collaborators? Do you have knowledge to share? Create a profile to offer your expertise to the community and to connect with people who can answer your questions, partner with you on a project, or help with an idea you’ve been developing. Include information about your past work and what you’re looking to get involved in. Happy connecting!

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Connect with your fellow Idealists!

Photo credit: JD Hancock, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: JD Hancock, Creative Commons/Flickr

The Idealist community is a vibrant collection of individuals looking to make the world a better place. We’re the staff and board members of multinational organizations and the weekend volunteers at small local charities; we’re social workers and development professionals; social entrepreneurs and students. We cover every issue, and we’re in every country.

In this series, we’ll meet some members of Idealist who are out to do good in the world. You can get to any of their profiles by clicking on their picture. Then just click Send a Message to reach out!

User Photo


Heather James is a board member at the White Roof Project. She’s looking for fellow energy sector professionals to collaborate with in New York City, so shoot her a message if you’re so inclined.





Robin Canfield makes short documentaries on changemakers in the developing world. Know someone he should profile? Or are you a media student who’d like to work on a film about social change? Get in touch!



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Henry Suarez Monje has worked and volunteered for over 12 years in case management, counseling, ex-convict reentry, domestic violence, substance abuse, and homelessness. Considering a career in these issues? Henry’s got lots of wisdom to share.



User Photo


Brylee Lamb is a clinical psychologist who’ll be traveling in Latin America for the next year or so. She’d like to volunteer with youth or victims of trauma. Let her know if you have any recommendations!



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Kim Davidson is the writer of this very blog post! I work on Idealist’s community engagement team. Have you found a great opportunity, met someone awesome, or discovered useful resources on Idealist? Tell me all about it!


Are you looking for advice? Or partners and collaborators? Do you have knowledge to share? Create a profile to offer your expertise to the community and to connect with people who can answer your questions, partner with you on a project, or help with an idea you’ve been developing. Include information about your past work and what you’re looking to get involved in. Happy connecting!

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Cementing the connection: Four steps to build your network after a conference

We’ve written before on what to do before and during a conference to meet people and expand your network. But what do you do after a conference to keep the conversation going? Today, we share a few tips on how to take those initial meetings and greetings to the next level.

by Eleanor Whitney

This time of year is always a whirlwind of conferences, panels, plenary sessions and meetings. As you’ve dashed from event to event, surely you have met new people, made conversations, pitched your ideas, and collected business cards. So what’s next? How do you make the most of these new connections after you’ve taken the time to get out there to meet, greet, and connect?

Below are four steps to follow up with people you have met so that you can continue and deepen the initial connection you have made and turn conference connections into successful network building.

Photo credit: Kramer Family Library, Creative Commons/Flickr

Step 1: Organize your contacts

It’s important to remember where you met someone and what you spoke about.  If you’re like me, after a busy conference you are left with a stack of business cards and an inability to connect names to faces. After you meet someone, take a moment to write down on their card where you met them and a few notes to remind yourself what you talked about.

For example, after I went to South by South West last year I simply wrote, “SxSW” on all the cards I collected. I also noted the panel, meet and greet, or concert where I had met them and wrote down and if I had promised to follow up on a conversation item with them.

Step 2: Establish an initial connection

To ensure the cards you have received don’t collect dust after the event, use social media to connect with the people you have met. Add them on LinkedIn and follow them on Twitter.  Include a personal note such as, “Nice to meet you at the conference, I look forward to staying in touch,” when sending a follow request.

I tend to reserve Facebook for my personal family and friend contacts, but if you feel it’s appropriate, you may also reach out to them on that platform and be sure to “Like” their organization or project’s page. If they have a blog add it to your reader and comment on an entry or two you find compelling.

If you talked with someone about an article or resource that you promised to share, be sure to send it to them!

Step 3: Move the conversation offline

If you made a strong connection with someone and you want to learn more about what they do, invite them for coffee or lunch to continue your conversation.

Before sending an invitation, decide on your purpose for connecting with this person. Are you looking to get insight into how to advance in your current field? Do you want to learn about a new career path? Are you looking for someone to collaborate with who has a different skill set than yours?

You goal for connecting with your new contact will shape your conversation and the structure of your relationship, as least at first.

Send a friendly, concise email letting the person know it was nice to meet them, reminding them who you were, and asking if you might be able to talk further because you found their ideas, work or expertise compelling.

Step 4: Meet up again

Before meeting with your new contact, prepare yourself to make most out of your short time together. You want to make a good impression and be able to find out the information that you need. To prepare:

  • Craft a sentence long pitch about yourself: who are you, what do you do and what you are looking to learn about. For guidance on creating and refining this pitch refer to Dixie Laite’s column about building your personal brand for the DIY Business Association
  • Be genuine, positive and on your best behavior. You want to build a positive image for yourself. Networking is not a time to vent your frustrations. You know never who someone is and who they are connected to
  • Come up with a few questions to ask in advance and be sure to listen to the answers
  • As about further follow up, such as “Who else do you suggest I talk to about this?”
  • Follow up with a thank you email or note

Michael Royce, the Executive Director at the New York Foundation for the Arts, suggests you treat everyone nicely when you network because you never know who they are connected to. To his advice I would add that networking and follow up are successful when you are both nice and strategic. When you reach out to a new connection, you also offer them your ideas, skills, and thoughts. Approach your follow up conversations with an open mind and a willingness to be generous and collaborative.  The energy and time you take to genuinely connect will make you the kind of person people will extend themselves to help and that people want to meet.

What steps do you take to build your network after a conference?

Eleanor C. Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She currently is a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of the forthcoming book Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, which will be released in the spring of 2013 on Cantankerous Titles

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How one woman is connecting all of Chicago

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling budding social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

I’m horrible at improv comedy. If someone were to tell me that I should sign up for a class by myself, with a bunch of random strangers, and perform to a crowd of 700 plus people at the end, I’d tell them they were crazy.

Which is why I probably need to do it. Saya Hillman from Chicago-based Mac ‘n Cheese Productions agrees. After she convinced friends who didn’t know each other to dance a hip-hop routine on stage with her so she could check it off her life to-do list, she saw the immediate bonding that came with shared vulnerability. Fear Experiment, where you perform an art form that terrifies you, was thus born.

Dancers from the first Fear Experiment show at Park West Theater in April 2010. (Photo via Rich Chapman:

There’s no one succinct way to describe Mac ‘n Cheese Productions. Besides Fear Experiment, other offerings include: minglers, an ideas salon, meetups, dinner parties, events for women entrepreneurs, a newsletter of referrals for local businesses, and most recently, retreats. Her long-term dream, though? A summer camp for adults.

“It can be awkward to go to stuff. I try to remove all the “ick” factors in traditional ways of meeting people and getting out there so to speak,” she says.

Saya is also big on giving back. Fear Experiment participants volunteer as pen pals and teachers to an underserved population, and the students are treated to dinner and the show. Folks from her network, called Cheese-Its, also regularly sponsor a Rwandan boy’s education, and she started a Chicago chapter of BC Cares, the volunteering arm of Boston College alum.

Whether it’s providing opportunities for community service or confronting your own perceived limitations, Saya is all about getting others to “Live a life of yes!”

“I’m trying to help people not be paralyzed by fear and low self-esteem. It’s really hard for people to see the positives in themselves often,” she says. “I hope I’m able to bring that out in themselves. And not only recognize it, but to own it and do something good with it as well.”


Eight years ago Saya got laid off from her job as a video producer. She had no plans of being an entrepreneur; the only thing she knew was she didn’t want “boss” in her vocabulary anymore.

Motivated by having to pay rent and the possibility of being forced to move back home, Saya’s first step was to figure out how long $300 in savings and unemployment checks would last. Turns out not long; Saya had to just jump and figure it out along the way.

Here are some of the challenges she faced:

Obstacle: Plan or no plan?
Solution: Saya started out wanting to create her own video company for special events. She didn’t know the first thing about running a business, and people advised to have a plan. But while she loves lists, having a plan wasn’t her thing. So she researched other companies. Shadowed videographers. Contacted a local business development center. Used collaborative tech tools like Creative Cow.

A year into being self-employed Saya was continuing  with her tradition of throwing dinner parties for friends who didn’t know each other when strangers began wanting in. It was then Saya realized she could make it into a business. Mac ‘n Cheese soon morphed from a media company to a people connector company. “I didn’t imagine any of it, but that’s what I love about it. There’s always something new and exciting,” she says.

Obstacle: Financial insecurity
Solution: From buying video equipment to coordinating events, Saya continually opted for the most economical ways to get things done. She was careful not to get herself into situations that would cause a huge debt to hang over her head.

She would also occasionally do pro-bono video jobs, and anytime she has given something away for free or low-cost, it has always come back to her in a positive way. “More often than not people say ‘yes’ to my outlandish requests and go above and beyond what I was expecting,” she says.

Obstacle: Working solo
Solution: Saya knew not having co-workers to bounce ideas off of was going to be hard for her, so she immediately started reaching out to her networks. She kept with this trend, and a few years later, began going to events in the city by herself as part of an experiment called the “The Solo Life.

The amount of people she knew in Chicago increased exponentially, and now connecting and collaborating with people from all walks of life is her bread and butter. “When you go into situations where you’re meeting people, I learned the power of listening, and the power of not going into something just thinking about what you need out of the situation,” she says.


Saya is thrilled that she was fired all those years ago. From meeting her fiancé to inspiring a woman to start a dog walking business, the amount of friendships, partnerships, and startups she has encouraged through her events are numerous and far-ranging.

“I love infecting people with ED, entrepreneurial disease,” Saya says. “It’s the best thing in the world.”

Saya introducing Fear Experiment. (Photo via Rich Chapman.)

Here’s how she thinks you can move forward on your idea:

Starting out

  • When you can’t find something that you want, create it. Or attempt to create it at least.
  • Make lists. What would you love to get paid for no matter how crazy it sounds, what your ideal job looks like, super-connectors you know, skills you have.
  • Ask. Once you have your lists, email the super-connectors. “People won’t know how to help you if they don’t know you need help.”
  • Steal ideas. “When you’re designing your own life of yes, there are a lot of smart people who’ve already created a lot of amazing things.”
  • Figure out what your priorities are. Know what you can and cannot sacrifice, because you’re not going to do or have everything you want in the beginning.
  • Don’t worry so much about money. “If you can find other things that you do have, such as a skill, people are really willing to trade and barter these days.”

For the ladies

  • Refer, refer, refer. “Word of mouth is something women are really good at. This will come back to benefit you ten-fold, as it’s usually win-win-win.”
  • Don’t be afraid to self-promote. It’s totally fine to boast.
  • View others as collaborators, not competitors. There’s always an opportunity to work with someone new.

Staying motivated

  • Meet people without expectations. “If you go to a networking event with the idea that you want to get three new clients, it will be a total disaster.”
  • Don’t wait for the perfect time. Stop coming up with excuses; it’s never going to feel like the right time.
  • Take the leap. What’s the worst that can happen?

“You have to figure out what’s good advice and what’s bad advice. What’s good for someone else might not be good for you,” Saya finally says. “Trust your gut.”


Want to live your own life of yes? Feel free to chat with Saya about entrepreneurism and self-employment through @sayahillman on Twitter. She is also available for speaking engagements.

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Diana’s Big Move: The job applications continue…

Hi, Diana again. I checked in a little while ago about the beginning of my job search. I thought it might be time for an update and a few more insider tidbits.


What to do when you're waiting...and waiting... (Photo: Paul Downey, Flickr/Creative Commons)

I have sadly little to report: a few false starts, and one tiny spark of a lead that I hope to turn into a real possibility. I’m trying my best not to let my anxiety get to the best of me, and trying not to check my email fifteen times an hour (…I wish I were kidding). But, never fear. Let’s be proactive:

Keep the applications going and be patient.

It’s easy to feel burnt out when you spend hours on applications and you don’t receive positive feedback. Find your inner Dory, and just keep swimming. Don’t focus on the number of applications you’ve sent out, or the rejection letters (or lack thereof) that you’ve received. All you need is for one employer to think you’re a good fit.

While we’re on the subject of feedback: as tempting as it may be, in most cases you should refrain from following up on your resume. You’ve submitted your application, so the organization knows you’re interested; your cover letter and resume indicate your enthusiasm and skill set. One exception to this is if you have a substantial addition to make to your file. If you’ve applied to a job where Swahili is a requirement, and you’ve since become fluent, by all means, let the hiring committee know. (This tidbit comes to you from our very own HR team; for more insight, check out

Learn from your (mis)steps.

If you’re not sure about the content, tone, or general approach of your application materials, have a friend or colleague look everything over. As much as it may feel like one, your job search is not a cumulative exercise. The organization you contact today doesn’t know about the spelling error you missed on the last resume you sent out, or about the “joke” that didn’t go over so well in a past interview. Take your past stumbles and learn from them.

Take notes.

Every week, we receive a few calls from panicked job seekers who’ve finally landed an interview, only to realize they have no idea which position they’re being considered for. Don’t let yourself get ambushed – and please feel free to use this little chart I’ve made for myself:

Network. No, really, do it.

I rolled my eyes as much as the next person when it came to networking. But that lead that I mentioned? It came from a connection. I’m sending out applications and letters and resumes, too, of course. But you never know where your dream job will come from. We have so many great ideas on networking already, so I’ll leave you to peruse our resources. Suffice it to say, whether it be via social media, in person, or by carrier pigeon, networking: do it.


This is a struggle for me, too. Some of you have already reached out with your personal stories and experiences. Please keep these coming! If there are specific topics that you’d like Idealist to cover or if you have a never-fail tip, let us know. Drop me a line here in the comments or at diana [at] idealist [dot] org.

Liked this post? Here are others you might enjoy:

Five New Year’s resolutions for job seekers

Career Corner: Taking my own advice

Getting your career search on track

Diana’s Big Move: The job search  begins

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How to make the most of a conference, part 2

I’m sitting in the lobby of the hotel where the Nonprofit Technology Conference will officially kick off tomorrow morning, back with more tips for conference survival and…thrival. (Did I just type that? I blame the jet lag.)

My post last week focused on what to do before you go. Here are some suggestions for what to do once you arrive.

Be realistic about email.

Think you might neglect your inbox a bit? Don’t forget to put up an out-of-office auto reply. Before the NTC, the smarties at NTEN provided boilerplate text that attendees could copy and paste into their email auto-responder (which deftly include information about the live stream of the conference). You could be cryptic, but Sarah Durham of Big Duck advocates that you share “that you’re out, when you’ll be back, and whom to contact in your absence.” And why not take the opportunity to show off your organization’s personality a little bit?

Remember who you meet.

Trish Tchume, National Director, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network:
I know this is an old trick, but I do still write a brief description about every person I meet on the back of their business card that includes where I met them, one physical detail, one professional detail, and one personal detail that will later jog my memory of who the person is. Hence my rolodex (yes, I still use one) is full of cards that say stuff like, “Chicago IS Conference, cool glasses, been at X org for 2 years, joked abt 4th season 30 Rock.”


Not feeling a session? Put one foot in front of the other, says Amy. (Photo: CarbonNYC, Flickr/Creative Commons)

As my yoga teacher would say, “Create your own experience.”

Amy Sample Ward, Membership Director, NTEN:
Remember the law of two feet: if you’re in a session, a social event, or anywhere else and it isn’t the conversation or topic you thought it would be, feel empowered to leave and find the people and conversations you’re after. Every conference tries to cover many topics and create opportunities for all the various goals participants may have, but participants also need to feel free to make the conference what they want it to be!

Building on that, a tip from me (
Give yourself permission to leave and breathe. I’ve arranged to meet up with an old friend in the city for dinner one night. At the end of a long day of nonprofit tech immersion, I’ll have a chance to unwind, talk about totally different subjects, and see another neighborhood. (I’ll probably forget to take off my conference name tag. She’ll probably make fun of me. I’m OK with that.)

Share power…literally.

Jereme Bivins, Social Media Manager, Foundation Center (who left this comment on our last blog post):
Running around the hotel and conference rooms all day does a number on your mobile devices, and you rarely find yourself seated next to a power outlet during the sessions. So I try to be very conscious about which devices I have on/running (vs. which I’m actually using), I optimize my devices’ power settings, and I always keep a spare charger in my bag.

Also, if you’re a super-networker, power makes friends – and not in the Machiavellian way. People with power strips, back-up batteries, iPhone/iPad chargers, etc. are always great folks to have around; so if your primary goal at a [high-tech conference like the NTC] is a ton of ‘Friend’ requests, nothing says ‘Like’ me quite like a spare laptop charger…

Keep ’em coming!

Thanks again to everyone who contributed to this mini-series. Please keep the tips coming in the comments. And if you’re at the NTC, check out the session I’m co-hosting Tuesday, April 3 at 1:30.

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How to make the most of a conference

It’s conference season! Next week I’m heading to San Francisco for the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference, which boasts thousands of attendees and countless opportunities for networking, skill-building, and…sheer exhaustion. To prepare, I asked a bunch of nonprofit leaders how they make the most of big events like this. Here’s part 1: what to do before you leave.

Do you really want to do this?

Ami Dar, Founder and Executive Director, Idealist:
Think twice—or three times—before signing up. It’s tempting and easy to sign up for a conference that’s happening a few months from now, but pretend for a moment that the conference is happening tomorrow or next week. Would you still want to attend? If so, go for it!

Make a plan.


Does this make you want to run for cover? (Photo: Enterprise 2.0 Conference via Flickr)

Amy Sample Ward, Membership Director, NTEN:

Create a schedule for yourself ahead of time. Don’t budget every minute of every day, but do outline any sessions you know you want to see, and add in a block or two of time that’s free time so you reserve flexible time to meet up with new friends or explore the city.

Allison Jones, Fundraising and communications professional:
While I may blog and have an online presence, I am at my core an introvert. Large group settings make me uneasy so I always feel incredibly nervous before a conference…But I build a ton of relationships online, and conferences offer an opportunity to strengthen those relationships face-to-face. [Arranging ahead of time to] connect in a small group or one-on-one feels less random and less “networky”; these interactions invigorate me and allow me to connect with people in a more meaningful way. Plus, by planning time to meet others, it makes it harder for me to run into a corner and hide!

Trish Tchume, National Director, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network:
If the conference posts a participant list beforehand, go through the list and make note of who you want to catch up with or meet. Once you decide on those folks, PICK AN ACTUAL DATE, TIME, AND PLACE TO MEET. The best way to not actually meet up with someone at a conference is to just plan to “grab each other” when you’re there.

Creature comforts, AKA “Your body and soul”

This one’s mine:
On my packing list for this trip are comfortable shoes, workout clothes, healthy snacks to help me avoid a conference pastry overdose or overpriced airplane snack pack, and a travel mug or water bottle.

One thing I didn’t do that required advance planning: Sign up to volunteer. If your conference includes optional service opportunities like the NTC does, why not take them up on it?

Think (way) ahead.

Farra Trompeter, Vice President, Big Duck:
Block out time on your calendar now for AFTER the conference to process all that you learned and actually implement some of the bright ideas you’re certain to pick up in the sessions and in your conversations.

I’ll be back soon with Part 2: What to do while you’re there. In the meantime, have you tried these strategies? Do you have other “know before you go” tips for conference-goers?

Ed. note: Read Part 2, which covers ways to survive and thrive at big events like this!

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Career Corner: Taking My Own Advice

Posted by Steven Joiner, whose last day as a Career Transitions Director at Idealist was Friday. Thanks, Steve, for all of the memories…and all of your thoughtful advice columns.

From Leah Tihia (Flickr/Creative Commons)

When I finally made the official decision to move from Portland, OR to Kansas City, MO and therefore to also find new work, I found myself thinking, “Well, you’ve talked about how to make career transitions for years now. Looks like it is time to follow some of your own advice.” I admit that I had these nightmarish visions of doing all of the research, networking, and job developing that I advised others to do… only to have it all go awry.

The good news is that the tips and tools in our Idealist Guides to Nonprofit Careers and our workshops seem to be working out quite well for me!

There are two chapters in particular in the Guide to Nonprofit Careers that framed the first steps of my career-transition approach: Networking and Tools for the job search: Researching all the opportunities in your chosen location.

This is how the information from these two chapters looked in action:

After I created a list of the organizations and individuals with whom I most want to talk, I started emailing folks and setting up informational interviews during a week-long trip to Kansas City. This meant that while I was delivering my cat to my new home, I could also get myself on folks’ radars so that they: a) knew I was moving to town and b) knew the kind of projects I’m interested in working on. I found that this approach was incredibly effective since, after 5 such meetings, I found that I was hearing the same names over and over. That is always a good sign.

The next step was to earnestly roll out the power of my network. Why did I do all this research before talking with my network? Well, I wanted to get the lay of the land and to therefore be able to target the “asks” I was making to my network. It is a lot more productive to say to a contact, “I’ve been talking with X organization, as well as doing some research on Y organization, all in the context of exploring my professional interest in Z area. Do you know anyone there whom I should contact?” than to say, “So, yeah. I’m moving to Kansas City. Know anyone?”

Turns out that just about everyone I’ve contacted in my network knows someone in Kansas City—either connected to my target organizations or my areas of professional interest—and everyone is eager to pass those names along. The result is twofold:

1. I have a huge list of people (over 30 at this point) to email and meet with once I get to Kansas City.

2. As I reach out to this list, I get a variation of the same sentiment: “It’s really great that you’re moving to Kansas City! Get in touch once you’ve settled.”

The second statement, let’s talk when you’re officially in town, reminded me of the advice we give in the guides: you usually need to be local in order to “close the deal.” So, while I don’t have any guaranteed work lined up, I feel really confident that I’ve set myself up well for taking the next steps on my career journey. It was also very affirming to see that this method for job development (rather than job hunting) is effective no matter how near or far you are looking.

[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: Don't Just Hunt for Your Next Job…Develop It!

By Steven Joiner.

What exactly is career development and how is it different from just looking for and then applying to openings? The truth is that the work world is still ours to create, to develop, and to grow.

From Dayna Bateman (Flickr/Creative Commons)

I was at a career development conference last week and one of the keynote speakers—a fantastic Career Development professional named Denise Bissonnette—had a lot to say about this very idea. Her talk focused on the idea that professionals in the workforce today need to stop thinking of the job search as merely just seeing what is available and going for it. Rather, we need to bring an entrepreneurial spirit to our search. This means creating employment proposals as well as keeping an eye on emerging social trends and businesses.

Employment proposals can work for all kinds of career paths, from bookkeeping and technology to retail, service, and construction. Denise told stories of clients who have made such business proposals as creating a nighttime parking-lot security position at a hotel, a site preparation and cleanup position with a paint crew, and a range of other examples — people who said, “Here is a need that your company seems to have; here are the skills that I can use to fill that need; and here is how it will give you a competitive advantage.” As I listened I kept thinking, “This is what we at Idealist tell people to do in order to get their foot in the nonprofit door! Testify, sister!”

See, in the for-profit or the nonprofit world, companies and organizations need sharp-eyed professionals to step up and help create the workplace of the future. Entrepreneurship and innovation are not solely the domain of the start-ups; rather, everyone has the ability to look at the workplace as it already exists and say, “I see a need here that can easily be filled if only…”

Creating the “employment proposal” that Denise discusses in her presentation sounds a lot like what Meg and I call creating intentional opportunities: Know yourself and your set of skills; know the facts about the organization that you’d like to approach (including their strengths, areas of need, and human and fiscal resource constraints); and then pitch them an idea heavy on your own initiative, heavy on deliverables that will have a long-term benefit to the organization, and very light on staff time needed to manage you and your project. In other words, how can you give the organization as much as possible without asking too much of them in return?

Maybe you propose that you help make a painting company more efficient by showing up two hours before their crews to tape off the space and then coming back afterward to clean up. Maybe you propose that that you use your education and environmental studies background to create a series of brochures and free classes (with you writing the syllabus of course!) to educate the community about river cleanup.

Whatever it is, think about the job search as “job development” rather than simply “job hunting.”

[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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