Need a Graduation Gift for Someone Interested in Social Change?

Know someone who’s about to receive a diploma, isn’t quite sure how they’re going to use their new degree to change the world, and is in the thick of a job search (or about to be)? Consider giving the graduate a shiny hard copy of the Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers!

At the bookstore

Staff photo – we love seeing the book in stores!

If you go to college or grad school with the intention of becoming a doctor, an accountant, or a lawyer, it’s fairly clear-cut what you have to do: there are certain associations to join, certain conferences to attend, and certain courses that simply can’t be skipped. But if you want to earn a paycheck while addressing climate change, fighting for human rights, or working on other critical issues, and you think you might want to explore the nonprofit sector…well, the path can be a little more cloudy depending on what information you’ve been able to access so far.

These free books offer useful advice, strategies, and resources for those sorts of people. Written by the staff of and other experts, the books are available in two flavors (one edition for first-time job seekers, the other for sector switchers) and available as free PDFs. But now, if you want a gift for someone to unwrap, you can buy the printed versions from Hundreds of Heads books in independent bookshops or from Amazon, Borders, or Barnes & Noble.

Learn more about how to own (or gift!) a copy of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-Time Job Seekers or The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers.

Congratulations to the Class of 2010!

[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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Cleveland Career Fair + Nonprofit Career Guides in Print

Our final Nonprofit Career Fair of the season will take place in Cleveland, Ohio this Tuesday, April 20, at Case Western Reserve University. If you’re in the Cleveland area, stop by to learn about career opportunities including jobs, volunteer gigs, internships, and more. Please RSVP if you plan to attend; the fairs are free and open to the public but it helps us if we have a sense of the number of attendees ahead of time.

If you can’t make it to the fair in person—or even if you can—be sure to take a look at The Idealist Guides to Nonprofit Careers. The Guides come in two flavors, one for folks just embarking upon their careers, and one for sector switchers, and they’re now available in bookstores around the United States. Chapters include “The foundation of a successful job search and career,” “Resumes and cover letters,” “A career search doesn’t end when you get a job,” and “The challenges of the job market.” If you read the book, we’d love to hear what you think!

[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: 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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Career Corner Podcast: Transitioning into a Nonprofit Career

By Steven Joiner, one of the Directors of the Career Transitions program.

Our Career Transitions team has the pleasure of attending lots of events, giving presentations, and otherwise conversing with professionals looking for meaningful work in the nonprofit sector. Everyone’s experiences are unique, but I do get plenty of frequently-asked questions. I recently sat down with my colleague Jung Fitzpatrick to discuss some of the common answers I often share with experienced professionals ‘sector switching’ into the nonprofit world.

Here are the seven questions we cover in the podcast.

  • What are the job prospects for a senior level sector switcher? Would I need to start at a lower level and work up?
  • I want an upper-level management/leadership role. Where are those jobs?
  • I have [insert exhaustive list of impressive skills] from decades of work in [insert industry]. Why can’t nonprofits see this? or How do I make myself stand-out from the 100’s of resumes organizations may receive for a given position particularly if I don’t have paid experience in the non-profit sector?
  • Generally, for-profit positions earn more money than nonprofit positions. Are non-profits less likely to consider candidates with for-profit experience because they expect that the candidate would have to take a significant paycut and therefore not really consider the position?
  • What may be some red flags in my resume or cover letter if I’m coming from the for-profit sector? How do I address those?
  • What kind of further education (certificate courses, community workshops) can help me improve my candidacy for nonprofit work?
  • Is there any other advice or resources that may be helpful to for-profit professionals hoping to transition into nonprofits?

Click here to listen to the podcast, and make sure to check out “The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers” for more in-depth information about finding work in the nonprofit sector.

[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: Three Questions, Two Qualities, One PowerPoint

Advice for job seekers from Meg Busse.

At our Nonprofit Career Fairs these past few weeks, I’ve been doing presentations about how to find a nonprofit career. One of main topics of discussion has been how to make it easy for an employer to see the value you could bring to their organization. To this end, here is a great framework to use.

From Dani Lurie (Flickr/Creative Commons)

3 Questions

There are three questions that every employer (not just nonprofit) wants candidates to answer:

1. Can you do the job?

2. Will you do the job?

3. Will you fit in?

The first question is answered by your resume. This is where you show that you have the skills and experiences to actually do the job that you’re applying for. It’s why making sure your resume meshes with the requirements on the job description is essential, and why you really do need to do a unique resume for each job you apply for.

Your cover letter is where you answer why you will do the job. This is your story about why you will work 50, 60, or 70 hours a week, wear multiple hats, and view this as not just a job but as meaningful, long-term work. The cover letter is not about rehashing your resume but about putting a personal face to your application.

Finally, organizational fit is essential. Most nonprofits are small, so it’s important that each new person “fits” with the current staff and the organizational culture. This is something that is assessed during the interview and should be just as much a question of whether the hiring team thinks you fit, as whether you feel the organization and position match with what you’re looking for.

For more information on these three questions, this chapter will help.

2 Qualities

The two qualities that you need to clearly convey when applying for a nonprofit job are:

1. Passion for the mission of the organization

2. Clearly communicated, relevant skills

For these two qualities, it’s not either/or; candidates must both demonstrate a passion for the work and be able to hit the ground running when they start a new job.

1 PowerPoint

As I mentioned, these have been some of the most talked about points during my career fair presentations. For these, I have a standard power point that I offer to share with attendees after the event. Obviously, some of the slides will be confusing without my verbal talking points. However, there’s still some good info to be gleaned if you’re interested. Here’s the link.

Feedback, comments, and suggestions are always welcome!

[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 Nonprofit HR Wants

By Meg Busse.

As I mentioned yesterday, this Thursday we’re hosting our second webinar for career service professionals around helping students connect to nonprofit careers. This one will be chock-full of specific information to make the job search more effective and efficient.

One of my favorite tidbits of information is with regard to what nonprofits look for in candidates.

By Daniel Lobo (Flickr/Creative Commons)

A few years ago, Idealist surveyed nonprofit professionals who are responsible for their organization’s human resources (recruitment, retention, salary, benefits, etc.). We asked them what life experiences they value most in a candidate. Of the nine choices, “volunteer work with your organization” was far and away the most valued life experience. Second and third place? “Internship in a relevant field” and “Volunteer work with another organization in a relevant field.”

The top three most valued experiences all speak to the need for nonprofit candidates to know the sector, the issue area, and (ideally) the organization. For the breakdown of results from this survey (and other suggestions for how to strengthen your nonprofit resume), see Chapter Five of The Idealist Guides.

We didn’t ask for reasons why people ranked particular life experiences more highly than others, but if you’ve ever worked for or with a nonprofit, I’m sure you can come up with a number of reasons. If you’ve not found a way to connect with a nonprofit yet as a volunteer, intern, board or staff member, now is a great time to look into ways to volunteer or intern to get an up close look at why organizations value nonprofit experience in job candidates.

And whether you’ve spent time with nonprofit organizations or are thinking about how you can get involved, the organization search on Idealist is a great way to begin researching the next nonprofit you’ll connect with.

[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: FYI, Informational Interviews Are Where It's At!

By Steven Joiner.

By Flickr user Courtney Patubo (Creative Commons)

Whenever I talk with a group of people about how they are conducting their job search, I like to start with a series of questions. I ask, “Who has sent off at least five resumes this week?” A lot of people raise their hands. “Who has attended at least three networking events this month?” A smaller number of people raise their hands. “Who has conducted an informational interview with a professional in either a field or a position that interests you?” If I am lucky, I get one or two hands raised. Usually no one raises their hands.

After blogging about honing your personal mission statement and rolling out your networking plan, us Career Corner folks (well, Meg and I) would like for you to embark on what could be the most fruitful phase of your job search… the all-important informational interview.

I hope my story about an informational interview I conducted will help you see the value:

I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area several years ago and I’d moved there with the professional intention of getting out of the classroom for a while. I’d been teaching for several years by that point and I wanted to do something different. I figured that, with my background in education and my ability to write, I’d be a great developer, fundraiser, and grant writer for a local educational nonprofit. Problem was that I didn’t really have the experience yet. I did, however, have a good friend who worked for a small grant-writing group as a writer so I asked her if I could connect with her boss Carol.

I started off the conversation by asking, “Given my background as a teacher, what transferable skills do you think I need to highlight on my resume to make me stand out?” Carol then asked to see my resume (which I, of course, had with me… but I let her ask me to see it!) and within fifteen minutes she had marked up my resume with useful suggestions: “Move this bit up here, move this bit down. Highlight this because grant-seekers are going to really notice that. Delete that. Emphasize this experience.” As her right hand was making my resume “grant-writer ready” her left hand was bringing up various contacts that she thought would be interested in talking with me. I knew I’d made a very wise choice to conduct this interview once I started hearing, “Based on your experiences in Japan, I think Tom over at X organization would be interested in talking with you” and “Suzanne at Y organization did this same program. You should chat with her.”

As a result of that one hour, I had four more informational interviews with other organizations in town and applied for two jobs through Carol’s connections. I was offered one of those jobs. Not a bad haul for an hour of work.

So, when I ask job seekers if they are diligently sending off emails into cyberspace and everyone raises their hands, I then ask if they think it might be more valuable to take that hour and talk to someone in the field who can tell the job seeker how their personal journey into their current role, suggest people and organizations for the job seeker to contact, as well as hopefully become one more professional to your networking pool. Most everyone agrees that an hour of informational interviewing is an hour well spent.

To read more about how to set up, conduct, and follow up with an informational interview, check out Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers or Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-Time Job Seekers.

[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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