It’s the beginning of a new year, and many people are setting goals, making plans, and considering changes. If a job change is on your horizon, especially one within the nonprofit sector, it’s important not only to consider where you might find an open position (see Nonprofit Job Search Resources for some direction), but also to take a step back to understand what your motivations are for seeking a new nonprofit role, where your skills and experiences might be most beneficial, and which roles might suit you best.
To help you jumpstart your job search—and self reflection—we spoke with Tom Friel, the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Heidrick & Struggles International, Inc. Friel is a senior advisor to Bridgestar and the Bridgespan Group, and a longtime nonprofit board member. Here are his top 10 nonprofit job hunting tips.
1. Do a thorough and honest assessment of your own motivations, skills, and capabilities, and record them.
“It’s one thing to have aspirations because you care about the work, but it’s not sufficient if you’re not qualified to do what you want to do,” Friel said. A self-assessment provides a cornerstone to a successful job search; it’s the starting point for clarifying what you want to do and for understanding how your qualifications match up with the role you seek (and what you might need to do in order to prepare for that role).
Resources for self assessments include books on the topic, online tools, and performance reviews and assessments from past supervisors. Friends and co-workers, and even professional coaches and mentors, also can offer valuable feedback. “At some point, it is helpful to test your self assessment against an objective person or a standard and ask: ‘Am I right about this assessment?’” said Friel. “The key value in someone who will objectively comment on your self assessment is honesty,” he added.
2. Decide very specifically what you want to do and make sure your qualifications match the job requirements.
“I urge people to think specifically about the exact job at the exact place they’d like to work as the center of the bull’s eye and then encourage them to move out as necessary,” Friel said. Having that specific goal can help you focus on your qualifications. For example, your goal might be to become the chief financial officer (CFO) of the Red Cross. If your assessment shows that your qualifications fall a little short, you might consider targeting the number two finance role at the organization or the top job at a smaller nonprofit organization.
3. Learn who the key players are at your target organizations and find a way to get in front of them.
If you want to be a CFO at an organization, learn who makes the hiring decision for that role. Is it the chief executive? Head of human resources? Is it a recruiter? “It’s probably one of those three people,” Friel said. “So if I want to be the CFO of the YMCA, I need to get in front of one of those three people or perhaps all of them together and maybe others.” He stressed that it’s not enough to just get in front of anybody at your target organizations. Rather, you need to reach either the people directly in charge of hiring or the handful of people who are one step removed (i.e., a key player who could recommend or endorse your candidacy). Friel said a majority of your job search should be focused on getting a quality interaction with as many people as possible on this short list. “At the end of the day, it’s the only thing that really matters,” he concluded.
4. Consider an interim path to your goal if necessary, such as consulting, temporary assignments, internships, or volunteering.
“If you are convinced that there are only five places you want to work for the rest of your life, you should be willing to find a way to get into one of those places,” said Friel. Don’t dismiss the longer term paths that could ultimately help you get to those places, even if there isn’t an immediate opportunity for the specific job you want.
5. Use your personal network smartly and efficiently. It likely is much larger than you think it is.
Who are the key players with whom you need to meet? And who are the people who can help you get in front of them? Friel noted that your network really is anybody you’ve met, worked with, gone to school with, etc., plus the people they know. Social networks are effective and enormous, and with the Internet it’s really easy to research your peers’ networks and determine who might be able to introduce you to a potential key player.
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