Landing a Non-Profit Job: How It’s Different


This is a guest post from Roxy Allen.

On the weekends, One Day One Job features jobs at non-profits, a sector with unique challenges that you need to be aware of when applying for jobs. This “third sector” has a different culture, different networks, and different tricks to getting and keeping a job from the for-profit sector. When applying for non-profit jobs, you need to strike a balance between displaying your skills and experience and passion for the work. I have experience with both types of organizations, and here are 5 tips for getting a job in this sector that will help you figure out what to put on your résumé.

5 Tips for Showing Off Your Non-Profit Readiness

1. Volunteer. I volunteered as an English teacher in Ethiopia for 11 months directly out of college. It taught me how to live on a stipend, learn a new language and culture, and deal with intestinal worms and malaria. It showed that I was flexible and worldly. In every interview I went on the hiring manager lit up when I told stories about connecting with little children and eating amazing food because it temporarily relieved her from thinking about how many e-mails have piled up since we began talking and proved that I could play in her sector. You do not have to go half way around the world to accomplish this. Volunteer with the Red Cross, the most well-established and admired non-profit in the world, to start making contacts and gaining experience working with people and understanding the challenges a non-profit faces that is changing people’s lives. A friend who went to my grad school recently looked for a job. She went on 50 different informational interviews and a few real ones. She ended up getting a job at a non-profit that she was volunteering for part-time while she job-searched because she was trying to keep her skills fresh. Volunteer, it helps.

2. Learn project management. Project management is all that non-profit staff do, all day, every day, in different varieties and flavors. You can learn project management by leading a club in school and putting on an event. Then write about how you used systems to organize yourself and others and what a success it was on your résumé.

3. Show how down to earth you are. Non-profits make decisions very slowly so you need to show that you can go with the flow. Never be high-maintenance by asking for various perqs and be patient in the search process. Be flexible and know that at non-profits wearing many different hats can pay off for you. I am a Program Associate (a fancy new title they have for Administrative Aassistants) and I have referred our keynote speaker for our annual HR members meeting, introduced a new website registration system, while carrying out my main duties of supporting senior program staff. The easiest way to show how down to earth you are is to talk about your family, hobbies, and interests outside of work in the interview. It’s not so easy on your résumé because that document is to prove you have the required skills. In the interview your hobbies will show how you develop your passions and leadership skills outside of work and that you’re a normal person. On your résumé, however, it will be good to show as many responsibilities in one job that you’ve carried out before to show how you can multi-task.

4. Exploit your tech skills. I am known as a tech guru at my organization because I can create a Google Site. The bar is very low right now, and the need is extremely high for tech skills in non-profits. Many have not embraced the social web, which is practically designed for non-profits and the social sector. You can get tons of back-pats and job offers if you can successfully deploy a database, CRM, and new website for a tiny non-profit for free. Free work is a great way to get a job that you really want.

5. Grad school helps. My friend who works at the World Bank told me recently that I was smart for already completing a Master’s degree because PhDs are applying for jobs that technically are open to those with a BA and getting them. I know many people say don’t go to grad school, but a lot of my friends and non-profit colleagues got their jobs because they did an internship during grad school with a non-profit. The competition has gotten to the point where job descriptions are now saying grad degrees are a nice to have, meaning if they can get people with grad degrees, they will. If you are certain about the area you want to work in, grad school can help you, so don’t rule it out completely. If you do go, make sure you do an internship to make connections and immediately apply what you’re learning.

You can learn even more from with their free comprehensive guides to landing a non-profit job and résumé writing advice here.

This is a guest post by Roxy Allen.

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6 responses to “Landing a Non-Profit Job: How It’s Different”

  1. Aghhh! No! This post is perpetuating stereotypes about nonprofits that are NOT true at the well-managed ones. I manage a nonprofit, and it makes me cringe to hear things like this.

    “Non-profits make decisions very slowly.” Uh, no. Well-managed organizations of any kind are able to make decisions quickly. If you encounter a nonprofit (or any business) that seems to have trouble making decisions, run the other way.

    “The easiest way to show how down to earth you are is to talk about your family, hobbies, and interests outside of work in the interview.” Seriously? If someone did this in an interview with me, I’d wonder what they were thinking. I want to talk about how you can do the job I’m hiring for. Leave the other stuff out of it.

    Sure, there are touchy-feely nonprofits out there. But when you’re job hunting, you’re looking for somewhere well-run. That means they’re focused on getting things done and getting results.

  2. Ted Williams says:

    Love the article. I especially think that leading with #4 and doing the other things is a no-brainer way to land a job within a non-profit. Non-profits are great at a ton of stuff, but when it comes to technology, they just haven’t caught up. Go volunteer to create a Facebook fan page or promote the next outing with a simple evite. You are right, the bar isn’t high and those that step in and start doing things will get the next job opening.

  3. Celeste Wroblewski says:

    Thanks, Roxy and Willy for this article. Roxy makes very good points though I agree with Ask a Manager that not all nonprofits are slow to make decisions or behind in technology.

  4. Roxy says:

    I appreciate your comments, everyone. It’s interesting to see how my thoughts resonated with others. That’s the beauty of blogging!

    @Ask A Manager, I am glad you raised those points, it gives a balanced perspective to my advice. I used to research the best companies to work for in America, and I found that many great workplaces consider the whole person in hiring decisions to be sure they are a cultural fit. So that’s why they ask more personal questions to find more out about your personality. At the research job above, I was asked what quirks I have in the interview, because one of the company’s values was literally “Kwirkiness.” I explained my fascination with American Idol, and got the job. I did so professionally, after showing I had the skills for the job. Are you finding organizations asking these types of questions more and more at all in your experience? I’d also love to hear about your experience in decision making processes. I’ve found that nonprofits make decisions slowly because we are balancing many partners – funders, board members, constituents, staff, beneficiaries, etc. This is mainly because we value ownership in decisions with all of our partners. How do you speed up decisions while instilling ownership over the end results?

  5. Eric Di Bari says:

    I currently work for a nonprofit and would definitely agree with above points. Nonprofits tend to be smaller and need people that are more resourceful and capable.

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