Career Corner: Don't Search for Jobs; Search for People!

From Meg Busse.

From Christine Schmidt (Flickr/Creative Commons)

All right, all right — the title is a tad misleading. You’ll still have to search for jobs a little bit. But what if you changed your focus so you weren’t doing the constant Idealist/Craigslist/local job board shuffle and instead spent more of your time searching for—and talking with—people who are doing interesting things and who may be able to hook you up with a job much more easily than you can on your own?

I have a friend who has lived in the same town for 20 years and needs to find a new career after 15 years in the same job. Sure, it’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s an opportunity…but mostly, it sure was tough for him to figure out where to start. So he started with what he knows really well: his vast network of friends, family, colleagues, and clients.

He emailed all of these folks (yes, all of them) to let them know he’s looking for a new opportunity. He highlighted a few of his most transferable skills and experiences, and mentioned a few types of roles he’s interested in. It was very similar to my other friend’s Club Laid Off email — short, funny, and direct.

In writing that email, he figured out some of the companies, positions, and industries that interested him. With that self-knowledge, he began doing research.

His People Research included:

  • looking through organization websites
  • reading industry-specific journals (most libraries have a great selection)
  • searching for friends-of-friends through LinkedIn and Facebook
  • Googling keywords to find people who seemed to be doing interesting things in any of the arenas he was looking

From these searches, he:

  • kept a running list of people he wanted to talk with
  • searched LinkedIn to see if he had any connections with them
  • contacted those folks to set up informational interviews
  • looked over their organizations’ websites for job postings that weren’t posted elsewhere
  • followed up with leads he’d been sent by people in his network (there were tons!)

While doing all of this, of course he kept an eye on the job boards in case anything came through that fit his criteria. However, more of his effort was spent searching for people, expanding his network, and gaining a better self-awareness of what he’s looking for in his next job.

By the end of the month, he’d had four interviews, two second interviews, and one job offer. He decided not to accept the offer because he’d gotten tips about two soon-to-be-vacant jobs that he was more interested in. Those tips came from people he’d met over the course of the month and neither of the jobs was going to be posted.

So don’t delete your Idealist/Craigslist/local job board bookmarks quite yet. Instead, maybe put some time limits on your online job searching. Then with the rest of your time, start your People Research (your PR?) in earnest.

[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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The Early Days of Nonprofits on the Web

By Flickr user Jean-Pierre Dalbéra (Creative Commons)

Who invented the Internet? Al Gore? Google? DARPA? Norbert Wiener?

You can probably find someone who will tell you, with great authority, that almost any guess you have heard is completely correct. Or completely bogus.

On the related — but much simpler — question of how nonprofits started using the Internet, a pioneer of that movement has done some online research. Jayne Craven’s “Brief Review” of developments before 1996 in online work by NPOs is posted online at her website.

It’s interesting to trace the beginnings of such familiar names as Volunteer Match, Handsnet, and yes, Idealist. Frankly, we’re proud that both Idealist and the Nonprofit FAQ have roots that go back more than a decade, to the early days of exploration about how this now familiar resource might help to build better communities and enrich people’s lives.

If you know of someone who was actively working on developing Internet connections for a nonprofit organization (or for nonprofit organizations in general) in 1995 or earlier you might want to take up the invitation toward the end of the review and give Jayne Cravens the details. After all, most of the resources she writes about were started, and continue to this day, as collaborations among public spirited people who wanted to share their enthusiasm for something new, for something utterly useful, for something that offered seemingly limitless possibilities for creative new forms of action and of service.

PS: DARPA is not a character in Star Trek but an acronym for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (part of the US Department of Defense), which actually did provide some of the funding for the initial networks and related research that have grown into the Internet. Norbert Wiener was an MIT professor who invented the World Wide Web (sort of) before there was any computer anywhere that could possibly have supported it.

[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: What if You've Just Joined "Club Laid Off"?

Advice and perspective from Meg Busse.

From Clementine Gallot (Creative Commons)

I won’t be so flip as to say that getting laid off is in vogue, but it’s definitely becoming more acceptable and in the current economy, more understandable. This doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with or a pleasant topic of conversation at the Saturday BBQ.

However, that should be your primary goal: to have your next career move be a topic of conversation at the Saturday BBQ. And Sunday supper. And every other event where you’re surrounded by friends and family who would like nothing more than to help you find a job. Because with employers using their networks to find candidates, word of mouth will be your best job search strategy.

So how do you bring up the subject? I have a ridiculously smart and witty friend who was recently laid off from her nonprofit job. This is the first paragraph of the email she sent out to everyone in her network:

Club Laid Off has a new member…me! It’s super exclusive, like only 8% are allowed in across the whole county. I’m choosing to look at this as an opportunity of course, as you all know I’m a glass-half-full girl…and am hopeful that an even better opportunity will be coming my way. Until then, I’ll available to wait at your house for the cable guy or any other chores that your pesky job gets in the way of.

Her next paragraph briefly outlined some of her skills, as well as examples of positions and companies she’s looking into in case anyone has any connections that might be of use.

What are some of the reasons this is brilliant? First of all, my friend controls the spin and tone of the announcement, and doesn’t have to tell everyone individually. Her message is simple, funny, and makes it easy for friends and family to respond to with condolences/congratulations, offers for assistance, and specific contacts. With one email, her network is officially leveraged and she can follow up with more targeted requests and conversations.

When I moved a few years ago, I was unemployed, switching careers, and in a city where I didn’t know anyone. I leveraged my network to the best of my ability, but realized that I just basically needed to meet new people. To pay the bills, I worked a retail job while volunteering with organizations I thought were interesting and with people I found fascinating. This approach not only allowed me to grow my network, but to gain skills (such as grantwriting, strategic planning, board service) that strengthened my resume.

These are two tips, but there’s a slew of advice floating around about what to do if you’re unemployed. Here are some of my favorite pieces:

And if you’re employed but have friends who aren’t, read this article on how to support a friend who has been laid off.

All tips aside, it’s good that some of the stigma of being unemployed is gone. This doesn’t help the financial realities, but it does make the transition and job search process a whole lot easier.

How about you — are you unemployed? Know folks who are? What are your tips?

[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: Where Have All the Nonprofit Jobs Gone?

Advice from Steven Joiner, who can’t say enough about getting offline to boost your job search (especially after you read this blog post!).

By John Haslam (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Yes, nonprofits are tightening their belts, implementing hiring freezes, and otherwise watching their pennies closely, but that doesn’t mean that opportunities don’t exist. A bit of understanding about how (U.S.-based) nonprofits recruit will go a long way to opening doors that you might otherwise think are closed. The nonprofit hiring process is different for three key reasons:

  • Nonprofits have decentralized job postings
  • They hire on unusual cycles
  • And they often hire from their own close-knit community

While it is harder to find a central nonprofit job posting location, it is not impossible to stay up-to-date. Many nonprofits (especially smaller ones) only post on their own websites, on local free job sites, and in local newspapers. Larger nonprofits utilize resources like, as well as their own organizations’ websites and local free job websites. A lack of centralized job posting locations makes it all the more important to know the local nonprofit community (organizations, networking contacts, and local resources). Additionally, you can set up alerts (both Yahoo! and Google, for example, offer alert systems) for keywords that pertain to your interests (grant writer, United Way; Program Director, America’s Second Harvest).

Though many nonprofits do not follow a hiring calendar per se, there are definitely busier hiring times to keep in mind. Some organizations assess their hiring needs at the end of their fiscal year and then do a wave of hiring for the start of the new fiscal year. If you are interested in a particular organization, learn when their fiscal year begins (look at Annual Reports or their IRS 990 forms on Guidestar) and keep close tabs on them during this period. Other organizations may not hire on a fiscal cycle but may be influenced by other factors. Organizations that attract young professionals sometimes have a high turnover during the summer as employees depart to pursue further schooling in the fall. If you have a target career area, think about the connection between current events and cyclical calendars that may influence an organization’s hiring practices. For example, jobs in education mostly hire in the spring and summer and jobs that involve a lot of work outside are typically most active in the spring, summer, and fall.

Finally, remember that the nonprofit sector is a close-knit community and that many positions go unadvertised because they are either filled internally or through a network connection with another organization. This makes getting out (see Chapter 4 of The Idealist Guide) and getting involved (see Chapter Five) a vital step toward gaining visibility and finding those unadvertised nonprofit employment opportunities.

The bottom line here: with limited budgets for job postings and recruitment, the lack of a hiring calendar, and the fact that nonprofits often look internally first and then to other nonprofits in the community next when hiring for new positions, many job openings are never publicized.

[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: What the Economic Downturn Means for Nonprofits

From Flickr user SOCIALisBETTER (Creative Commons)

By Meg Busse.

These days, the economy is obviously a huge factor in any career search. How exactly it’s affecting the job search is the subject of a myriad articles on what job seekers should do to get a job in the for-profit sector, but there hasn’t been the same flood of information about nonprofit hiring. However, there are a multitude of factors that make this a more multifaceted topic, including the new administration’s agenda to expand Americans’ engagement in national service, individuals’ growing desire to have careers with a social impact, and the continuing innovation in the nonprofit sector.

So while there hasn’t been a lot of talk about the nonprofit job search, there are three articles that I’ve read lately that offer interesting insights into what’s to come in the sector, the growing interest in nonprofit careers, and what to consider if you are applying for nonprofit jobs.

  • The first, an interview called “Climate Change,” appears in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. It’s an interesting overview of how Paul Light, a governance and nonprofit effectiveness expert at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, sees the sector changing and adapting in the future in response to the current economic situation.
  • “Nonprofit Gigs Get Competitive” is from and provides interesting anecdotal information about the increase in interest in nonprofit sector careers, with a particular focus on MBA students and alums.
  • Finally, in the most recent issue of Fast Company, Nancy Lublin wrote a great article called “Nonprofits? Not a Recessionary Refuge for Job Seekers.” This is one of my new favorite articles because of the overall message, but also because it has some fantastic lines, including a description of the multitude of meetings she’s been having lately with friends and friends-of-friends who are interested in nonprofit careers:

I ask, “What kind of thing are you looking to do?” They reply, “Oh, anything in the not-for-profit sector. I just want to make the world a better place.” This is like me saying, “Oh, anything in the for-profit world would be fine. I just want to make money.”

Note: To avoid offering a similarly vague response about why you want to work in the nonprofit sector, check out past blog posts on crafting your personal mission statement, and the Four Lens and Career Tracks self-assessment exercises. Also, check out Chapter Three of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for more tips on figuring out specifically why you’re looking for this kind of work right now.

While these three articles won’t provide any easy answers, silver bullets, or job search panaceas, they’re worth reading because they’ll either confirm what you already know or provide some new insight into the nuances of nonprofit hiring. Or a little of both.

And understanding nonprofit hiring nuances like the necessity of networking, the value in ‘speaking the language,’ and the importance of demonstrating a commitment to the mission is what will differentiate you from all of the other applicants flooding the nonprofit job market.

[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: The Nonprofit Job Search Just Got Tougher.

By Meg Busse.

I was talking with my neighbor the other day and he told me that at this time of the year, he reminds himself that it’s okay to be a bit more lethargic, introspective, and even inclined to just stay in bed. Apparently, it’s residual from when we used to hibernate. So while I don’t usually get sick or feel down during the winter, I have been noticing I’m a bit slower these days. And apparently it’s not just in my head. Well, it is, but in a very real sort of way.

From Flickr user Dan McKay (Creative Commons)

So this seasonal slowness is partly why I’ve been procrastinating on writing this blog post. But I’ve also been procrastinating because I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around a career post when unemployment is at its highest in anywhere from five to 26 years, during a time of the year when most organizations don’t post new jobs due to holiday schedules as well as waiting on end-of-year giving, and when our current economic situation is making nonprofits even more risk averse than they usually are.

So based on the current situation, what can you do right now to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time when that next great job comes along?


Assess your situation.

If you have a job, you may want to hang on to it for a while. This may not be the best time to give two weeks notice and begin your search for a more fulfilling job.

If you don’t have a job, find one that will pay the bills. While the typical job search takes from 4 to 6 months, there is nothing typical about today’s job search. Spend your energy finding something that will allow you to support yourself (and your family) so that you have a bit more flexibility as you continue your search for a different kind of job.

Figure out how you will stand out in an incredibly competitive job market.

While knowing that you want to “work in the nonprofit sector” or are looking for “a career that does good” or need “a job that means more than just a paycheck”, these are not compelling reasons for a nonprofit to even give you a second glance.

One of the best ways to stand out as a candidate is to be able to clearly and concisely explain why you are a great fit for each job you apply for. The only way to get to this point is to know not only what you want but what are your strengths and qualifications.

Give yourself the gift of some introspective time this holiday season. Yes, it may feel like a luxury. But actually, it’s the “socks and underwear” of the job search; it’s an absolute necessity. Check out this post or this post for two self-assessment exercises that will help you move from “I want to work in a nonprofit” to a statement such as, “I am seeking a job in a small- to medium-sized nonprofit that focuses on educational advocacy on an international level.” Your next line should be, “Do you know anyone I should talk to?”

Know who you know.

Networking is the way to find and get a job. Period. For some of the best and usually not-the-same-old-same-old networking advice, do a search on Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog for “networking.” Peruse the post titles and read at least five. At least. Then read this Idealist Guide chapter for nonprofit-specific networking stats, advice, and techniques. If you’re still hankering for more, here’s a podcast to tune in to.

What you will read and hear over and over is that it’s all about who you know. This is why the holiday season is a perfect time to begin, continue, or focus your job search. With a specific ask (see above section), your family, friends, colleagues, coffee shop baristas, bartenders, grocery store baggers, pet walkers, and children’s teachers will be thrilled to tell you about their friend/partner/sibling/neighbor who you just “have to talk to.”

So as the seasonal slugginess sets in, the economic crisis continues to dodge and weave, and the nonprofit sector regroups after a rough end-of-year giving season, take advantage of the next few months to identify your career goals, hone your message, and utilize your network. And every once in a while, give in to the hibernation urge at this time of the year and take a power nap.

[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: Networking – Stressful to Successful

By Meg Busse.

As you take your personal mission statement out for a test drive, you will inevitably (hopefully!) find yourself about to begin a conversation with someone. This is often the moment that causes folks (like me) to dread networking events—the awkward small talk, the fumbling to find some common interest to talk about, the mumbled excuse that you need to go refill your beverage….

Here are a few ways to make networking events a more successful, less stressful part of your schedule.

1. Set goals.

I recognize the importance of networking events. Really, I do. But many nights, given the options of heading home to play with my new puppy, grabbing dinner with friends, or just relaxing with a good book, a networking event may not be my top choice. So to make sure I make networking a priority, I’ve set a goal for myself to attend three networking events a month. If I do that in the first three days of the month, great—I’m done. Usually, though, I end up waiting until the last week of the month and then have to look around to find something to attend.

2. Have great questions.

I recently saw David Sedaris on his book tour. After the show, there was a two-hour line for a book signing. As I got closer in the line, I got to hear some of the fantastic questions he asked people who silently handed him their book to sign. By asking interesting questions, listening to the answers, and often responding with something witty, everyone left the table smiling and feeling good about themselves.

One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “What are you working on?” This is different from “What do you do?” because it broadens the scope of possible answers to beyond just a current job. People can talk about the scarf they’re knitting, the blog post they’re mulling over, the bike they’re learning to fix, or any of the projects they’re engaged with at work. Give this or one of your favorite questions a try at your next networking event and see how much easier it is to get the conversation going when you begin with great questions.

3. Know what you want.

My first impression of networking was an uncomfortable, orchestrated process where slimy guys in suits tried to find ways to get what they wanted. I have since become aware of the nuanced and collaborative nature of good networking. But even when there is an emphasis on reciprocation and relationship building, it’s still a great idea to go into a networking event with an awareness of what you’re looking for.

Depending on where you are in your job search or career and what kind of networking event you’re attending, be open to interesting conversation but also have a few specific goals. For example, perhaps you’ve been working as an IT consultant in the nonprofit sector for several years but are interested in learning more about nonprofits that focus on wind or sustainable energy. If you attend one of the international Green Drinks networking events, you may want to set your sights on finding people who will provide informational interviews, advice, and resources to learn more about organizations in the green energy arena. Whereas if you go to one of the local tech-focused nonprofit networking nights like PDX Net Tuesdays in Portland, Oregon, you may be seeking contacts, opportunities for collaboration, or even a mentor because your knowledge of and connections within this field are much better established.

While none of these tips will make networking an effortless process, they can help provide some structure and goals so that you can get out there, meet people, and make the connections that that will get you a great nonprofit job and allow you to find new and innovative ways to collaborate within the sector.

For more information on networking, check out Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers: “Networking: Is it really all about who you know? Yes.”

[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: Contact Management

By Meg Busse.

Usually, I get back from a conference, unload the 2-3 inch thick stack of business cards I’ve amassed, begin wading through my overflowing inbox, promise myself I’ll get to the business cards once I’m caught up, and then stare guiltily at the pile for the next few weeks (or months). Sure, I follow up with the folks I need to; but I haven’t been so good at having a deliberate, conscious plan for the rest of the stack.

From Jonathan Strauss (Flickr/Creative Commons)

I figured I’d see what the experts do. I found two articles that provide a good list/overview of how to follow-up with folks you’ve met—after a conference, a dinner, or just serendipitously. None of it is rocket science, but it was a good reminder of how the process can be (read: should be) intentional.

Here are the two posts that propose relatively simple plans that I think (just maybe) I can work with:

Beth’s Blog: “It’s Harvest Time for Networking and Tomatoes”

Lifehack: “Post Conference Follow-Up Hacks”

What works for you?

[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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