It’s not your lack of skill, it’s your lack of confidence… stupid!

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

The following post was translated from Elena Martín’s original on Idealist’s Spanish language site, Idealistas.


Much of your ability to do something is not dependent on whether or not you can actually do it, but whether or not you think you can do it. Someone with all the skills in the world but little confidence in himself will not get very far, while someone with less skills but true belief in himself will usually find a way to meet his goals.

Psychologists call this phenomenon “self-efficacy”—our belief in our capabilities to do what is required to achieve a given goal. Think about yourself: do you more often have the attitude: “I can get this project to work,” or “I can get this job,” or the opposite: “I don’t think I can do this,” or “I’m not going to get a call back”?

If you fall in the first camp, bravo! But if you tend to think more like the latter, don’t despair—for one thing, you’re not alone. Overriding self-confidence doesn’t come easily to everyone. You might be thinking, “Sure, I’d love to have more faith that I can do the things I want, but it’s not like I can just flip a switch. What can I do?”

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Prepping for behavioral interview questions

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at


You've got this. (Photo: Steven Depolo, Flickr/Creative Commons)

In a recent post on our nonprofit HR blog, we encourage hiring managers to ask behavioral questions:

Behavioral interviewing enables you to deeply evaluate candidates’ past work experiences, their knowledge, and their behaviors in order to accurately predict how they will perform in your organization. This type of system … focuses on their behaviors and results in various situations. It’s more about how they’ve used their knowledge – which often gives you a better understanding of how they will react and apply what they know in your environment. [Read more….]

But as a job seeker, how do you prepare to answer behavioral questions?

For many job candidates, thinking about specific past experiences can be challenging under high pressure situations. Below is a method to get ready for the interview. Download the full exercise here (PDF).

  • Looking at the job description, identify about 5-10 qualities, skills, and experiences the prospective employer wants.
  • Circle the qualities, skills, or experiences on your list that you possess.
  • For each of these, think of one or two anecdotes that illustrate your expression of the quality, your use of the skill, or your experience.
  • Write up a summary of each anecdote and practice telling each one orally for the interview.
  • Prepare to name the competency or skill, give an example of a time when you used the skill, and identify ways the skill applies to the job you want.

By the way, the “practice” part doesn’t just mean reciting your anecdote once or twice. You want it to sound natural, have an economical use of words, and be as captivating as possible while also clearly conveying your point. Practicing these anecdotes is akin to practicing an elevator pitch during networking situations. See the section on elevator pitches in Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers.

And how do you remember these anecdotes?

That’s easy! Type up your list of skills, and give yourself a few key words to jog your memory about the experience you plan to share.

Turn the tables at your interview

Finally, remember that any interview is and should be a two-way street. Pose behavioral questions to your hiring team to understand the work environment, culture, and leadership styles of the people you’d be working with, if hired. Here are our tips for presenting yourself in person, including when to ask the most important questions (hint: don’t wait ’til the second interview).

Good luck!

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Worth-y collaboration: Our Goods, Freecycle, and GiftFlow

I’ve spent the last few weeks falling for Trade School, a series of classes anyone in NYC can lead and/or attend in exchange for almost anything. As an instructor, you sign up to teach a course and provide a list of desired barters from students. Students then sign up to attend with their barter of choice. One day I traded cooking lessons for a class called “Knitting for artists and thinkers”; another, a list of five documentary film pitches for a class called “Producing a documentary from scratch.”

Of course, you can always barter on your own, too. Photo via Flickr user Irina Slutsky (Creative Commons)

The model doesn’t just foster collaboration that isn’t based on monetary worth; it also prevents waste by reusing, sharing, and offering goods – both tangible and intangible. A similar creative dynamic of exchange is what drives the nonprofit Freecycle, a grassroots movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their communities. Yet another network of reciprocity is supported by GiftFlow, an online gift community supported by a social network. It’s much like a virtual free store, with the benefit of user profiles that help people build reputations for generosity.

I’m super bummed that the 2011 Trade School season has drawn to a close. But its host organization, Our Goods, makes sure that the community lives on. Anyone can join any of these sites to participate in the regular flow of object, skill and space exchanges. People trade/give everything from dog-walking for acupuncture, to good handwriting for home-brewed beer. And the in-person meetups won’t be limited to just NYC; folks are starting Trade Schools in Milan, Italy; Charlottesville, VA; and soon, London!

I’m smitten with all of these simple, replicable, sustainable concepts, and with the people they attract. Have you heard of other models like these where you live? If so, can I come visit?

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Conflicts at work? Trouble saying no? Hone your "harder skills."

Our own Amy Potthast was published in the latest issue of OnlyUp, a bimonthly online journal about issues facing young nonprofit employees.

Her article, Seven “Harder” Skills That Will Help You Grow as a Leader, begins:

In a recent Opinionator blog post from the New York Times, Gerald Chertavian—founder of Year Up, a fellowship program in the business sector—distinguishes between hard skills and “harder skills.”

“The merely hard skills are things that many training programs cover—for IT, it might be using software applications or installing hardware. The harder skills are more nuanced. They involve questions like: Do you know how to communicate in a team?…If you don’t have enough work, do you know to be proactive and ask for more?”

I agree. The nuanced people skills are so much harder—some take courage (like asserting yourself or effectively handling conflict); others take wisdom (like saying no gracefully, and leading others). All of them are essential for developing yourself as a leader—and will help your employer see you as a leader.

Here are seven valuable “harder skills” to pay attention to:

For the seven skills and how to hone ’em, visit


Find tons of articles about social change leadership at

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Add Facebook Friends for a Cause…Or a Living

By Flickr user LarimdaME (Creative Commons)

If you’re like a lot of young internet users these days, you may think you spend a little too much time on Facebook, MySpace, or other social networking sites. But there’s a way you can continue your habit…without feeling like a total waste of space.

Believe it or not, all those hours spent on Facebook and MySpace mean that you have acquired valuable skills: so valuable that many nonprofit organizations are actively recruiting volunteers, interns, and even full-time employees to handle social networking tasks. Maintaining a presence on social networking sites is an important part of many nonprofit organizations’ outreach and fundraising strategies these days. But most staff members are too busy to deal with all the new friend requests, comments, groups, and applications; not to mention figuring out how to use these sites in the first place. That’s why consultant DIOSA Communications strongly recommends that its nonprofit clients hand off the responsibilities to volunteers or interns who already have the experience managing their own online presence.

Nonprofits are posting volunteer requests like “Internet Geek to Use MySpace and Facebook,” internships with descriptions like “Social Media Marketing,” and job titles such as “Online Outreach Assistant.” Just search for keyword “facebook” on Idealist, and you’ll find dozens of jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities!

[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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