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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