11 February 2016
How To Get A Job: Nonprofit Edition
Resume trends fascinate me. While I don't work in HR and hardly consider myself an expert, I've kept up with changing philosophies over time. I frequently volunteer to help friends and family update or rework their resumes for specific opportunities. Cover letters too! Creating a solid cover letter can be invigorating.
I love this stuff, and have been known to lose hours of my life to getting formatting lined up just right. In my current role as a marketing and membership director for a nonprofit, I'm in charge of hiring for my team. The Mountaineers is a pretty desirable place to work (recognized recently as one of Outside Magazine's Top 100 Best Places to Work), and our job openings average 50+ applications each. With no real HR department, this means I wade through a LOT of resumes and cover letters.
As someone interested in applying for a nonprofit job, you can make your resume stand out by doing (and not doing) the following:
DO: Acknowledge the mission
When you work for a nonprofit, the mission of the organization is of paramount importance. Employees are generally paid less in a nonprofit, and therefore find value in working for an organization whose mission aligns with their core values. You need to clearly communicate how the mission resonates with you personally in your cover letter. This helps me understand how you will fit in on my team.
Pro-tip: Many nonprofits are member based or donation supported. Make a small donation, sign up for a temporary membership, or get on the email list. Use it as an opportunity to learn more and show that you're committed to the organization. It could give you a leg up - we absolutely will look in our internal systems first to see if you're involved.
DO: Be personal
Most nonprofits do NOT have an HR department, meaning the hiring manager is likely the person reading the applications (and could eventually be your boss). In most cases, the name of the hiring manager will be listed OR you can figure it out based on the email address provided or through internet sleuthing. I'd much rather see something that says "Hi Kristina" or "Dear Miss Ciari" than "To Whom It May Concern". If you know who is on the other end, address that person. It demonstrates you're thoughtful and pay and extra attention to detail.
Pro-tip: Use your social networks to research people who work there. LinkedIn is the perfect platform for this. Maybe you know a former colleague who can get you an informational interview. People who work here LOVE to share the important work they do. Or one of your connections may be willing to put in a recommendation. Personal recommendations always rise to the top of the list.
DO: Show enthusiasm
You apply for jobs for all kinds of reasons - you got laid off, burned out, or need a change - but an enthusiastic application always stands above the rest. When you say, "I saw this opportunity and HAD to apply. This is my dream job!" I know you're a strong applicant. Even if this isn't your dream job, you should be excited about the opportunity - otherwise you're wasting your time and mine.
Pro-tip: Don't be afraid to show enthusiasm and personality. Be excited! Whoever is on the receiving end will pick up on it. I sure will.
DO: Follow resume 'best practices'
Always send attachments in a format that's easy to open and read. The best way to preserve your formatting is to send your resume as a PDF. Same goes for a cover letter. Make sure the header on your cover letter and your resume match. Don't include references unless they were specifically requested. And unless you have a PHD and 10+ years of experience, keep it to one page.
Pro-tip: To go a step above, your resume should be titled in a way to include your name and the company name. A good example would be "John Smith - The Mountaineers - Feb 2016" instead of "JS-v7-generic mktg". Be careful to watch for typos when doing this - they can sneak into titles easily. This demonstrates attention to detail and shows I'm not one of 100 applications you've submitted today.
DO: Be patient
Hiring takes a lot of time. Days turn into weeks in the blink of an eye. When hiring is stalled, it hardly ever has to do with the candidates, but rather with competing priorities within the organization. I try to provide applicants with a general timeline for next steps when applications are received. Many job listings generally include an application period as well. You want to work for a nonprofit - patience will serve you well.
Pro-tip: If you feel compelled to follow up about your application, do keep the stated deadlines in mind. Be thoughtful with your follow up, and use it as an opportunity to restate your enthusiasm for the mission. Most importantly, keep it short.
DON'T: Apply if the salary is too low
Salary ranges on nonprofit job listings are the real range for what you will be paid. We give you a range on purpose to weed out people who need more money. When you apply for a job you can't "afford" you're wasting your time. There is little wiggle room, and yes, it is likely less money than you would make in an equivalent role in the corporate environment. I've been on a number of phone interviews where we've ended the call because we can't meet in the middle on salary. It's depressing for everyone.
DON'T: Attach a generic cover letter
You'd be surprised how often I receive cover letters without the word "The Mountaineers" in them anywhere. If you're applying for a job with my organization, take the time to create a cover letter demonstrating your interest in working here. I spend a lot more time reading cover letters than looking at resumes. And when you're applying via email, don't attach a cover letter at all unless instructed to do so. The cover letter should be the body of your email. It makes my life easier by giving me fewer things to keep track of for you.
DON'T: Forget to send a thank you note
If you do get an interview, send a thank you note - even if it's just a quick email. Thank the interviewer for their time and reinforce your enthusiasm about the opportunity. The best follow up notes I've received have referenced something we discussed in our initial conversation where the interviewee took note of my interest. Sending something that's genuinely interesting to me will serve as a much better reminder than a sterile email saying thank you. It makes me feel like you care on a personal level (which, hopefully, you do).