If you’re a college senior or someone looking for a career change, you may be dreading the daunting process of networking, perfecting your resume, and debating whether or not you should apply to an entry-level job that requires 2-3 years of experience.
It’s hard to even think about getting started.
But, if you take the scariest tasks and break them down, they become a little less scary, and eventually they won’t scare you at all.
To get you started, I’ve selected five of the most significant things I did to improve my chances of getting hired by a nonprofit organization.
They’re concrete and simple. Do one of them. Your future self will appreciate it.
- Make a video of yourself, and then watch it. Oh yes, it is awkward and painful. But this was the most important thing I did in college to improve my oral communication skills, which are crucial for the networking and interview process. Here’s what to do: prepare a 30-second video of yourself talking about something you’re passionate about, and your goals for a nonprofit career focusing on that topic or issue. Then, watch that video and take some notes. Are you speaking clearly? Do you look bored? Nervous? Are you filling up time with “umm” and “so”?Practice your elevator speech, ideally with a career counselor or a friend or mentor. In the nonprofit sector, it’s important that you be able to communicate why you are interested in an org’s particular mission. And take note: interviewing is such a heavily-weighted aspect of candidate selection that sometimes those with the best experience are passed over for those with the best interview skills.
- Get rejected a few times. When I first started my job exploration, I was shy about making phone calls. I was only interested in doing a little volunteer work and chatting with some alums about their career paths, but it still felt…pushy. Sometimes I never got responses. Sometimes they told me they were too busy, or they didn’t need any volunteers.If that’s the response you get at first, please, PLEASE don’t give up! Often, folks at nonprofits really are busy. Work your alumni connections, friend connections, and LinkedIn connections. Say who connected you. Eventually it will become easier, and you’ll find someone who wants to talk your ear off.
- Take on small volunteer jobs. You’ll look much more desirable with some demonstrated experience on your resume. And no, it doesn’t need to be paid work.Not sure how to help? Many orgs have a social media presence. Ask them if they’d like a guest blogger or someone to research and write material for their Facebook or Twitter feed. Fall and winter are big times for fundraising, and they may be desperate for envelope-stuffers, phone-a-thon callers, or event volunteers.Tip: When calling or emailing, be specific. Often, staff at small nonprofits are exhausted at the thought of training an managing a volunteer, so tell them what your skills are right away, and even suggest some projects you might do independently if they don’t have pre-designed volunteer positions.
- Do a little mundane office work. Yes, the reality of nonprofit work is that most of our world-saving is done in an office, in front of a computer. On a day-to-day basis, I may be creating a budget on a spreadsheet, editing photos, writing documents, creating email marketing pieces, designing newsletters, answering questions via email or phone, or working with a constituent management database.Many of these skills can be acquired in any office setting, or even on your own. If you’re more of an in-the-field type, make sure your skills match the type of position you want and get some experience soon. If you poke around idealist, you’ll find an enormous variety of positions and types of organizations.
- Learn some dirty secrets. You may already be aware of the “informational interview.” If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of contacting someone you don’t know at an organization, then first try asking a friend, alum, or a friend-of-a-friend if they can chat with you about what it’s like to work in the nonprofit industry. Make sure you prepare so it isn’t awkward. You never know who might be your future boss.