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Ask Victoria | Sector Switching and Heading the Call to Service

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Today's Ask Victoria comes from a job seeker frustrated in his sales career who wants to make the switch to the nonprofit sector:

Hi Victoria,

The biggest issues I am having in starting a career in the social-impact sector revolve around a three-headed hydra of fear, capital, and routine. I entered college years ago as an idealist whose only real interests included good books and a degree that allowed me to improve people's lives. Four years later I graduated with an International Relations degree and no desire to continue my education just to fund the wicked rulers of the world. Even more so, looking at the amount of money I already borrowed, I refused to put myself further in debt to “play the game," so to speak.

Sparing you too much detail, I spent the next several years in the wine business, mostly in sales and management. Talk about playing the game. I am done with this industry. I have always felt my true calling was service and am now ready to heed that calling. I now understand that nothing is ever lost and you don't have to change the entire world in order to help immeasurably improve the lot of those, one or many, who inhabit it.   

I don't have a lot of money and I still have no interest in borrowing more to obtain a secondary degree. So, in all likelihood, I will have to start near the bottom and work my way up, which I have faith I can do, but how do I pay rent in the meantime? I would also need to make the switch without much of a break in between jobs and that scares me, as it would be quite a drastic change. I'm also getting set in my ways as I age and worry about new routines. I live in California now but would prefer to work in NY, where I am from, to be closer to family.

I am committed to new career in social impact and think my resume illustrates transferable skills. Moreover, I know I would be good, or great even, in the right environment. I found your website through a friend and will be checking it everyday. I am sure there are countless success stories from people who were in a very similar situation to mine and now have rewarding careers and lead contented lives. I will be one of those people!




Hello Brendan,

You mention that you have crafted your resume so that it showcases your transferable skills. I wanted to assure you it is likely that by highlighting your skills in this way, you might not have to start from the bottom. When you switch sectors from for-profit to nonprofit, keep in mind that the shift revolves more around the job functions you do as opposed to the sector in which you work. For example, nonprofits need accountants, administrative assistants, marketing managers, and HR managers just as much as corporations do.

Without knowing what type of work you are seeking in the social-impact sector, I’m not certain how large of a shift there will be in the type of work you do (i.e. job functions). There are actually many ways to meld your interests, skills, and past experience to a new, nonprofit job that is not entry level.

Your sales and management experience will likely serve you well in a variety of nonprofit jobs. The skills that you have—customer service, persuasion, negotiation, client relationship management, project management, etc—can serve you in a variety of nonprofit roles, such as fundraising, development, and community management and support. When applying to these jobs, think about your accomplishments and quantify your experiences whenever you can: the number of clients you see in a given day or week, money you've saved the company, instances when you were under-budget or exceeded sales quotas , number of new relationships you built, and the like.

There are actually many ways to meld your interests, skills, and past experience to a new, nonprofit job that is not entry level.

Remember to not only highlight your transferable skills but to speak the “language” of nonprofits. For example, you’ll want to use the word “organization” in place of “company” and “community-driven” as opposed to “client-driven.”

What else can aid your transition? You may have already heard this advice before, but if you have volunteer experience, definitely include it on your resume. It shows your commitment to and interest in the sector. And if you haven’t been volunteering, now is a great time to start. 

I also wanted to allay your concern about returning to school for a graduate degree, as it's not always necessary before making a career transition. As you look at job descriptions, though, you may decide that grad school is a worthwhile endeavor; for some nonprofit positions (such as social work), an advanced degree might be a requirement.

Keep in mind that there are options for reducing the cost of grad school. Before enrolling in a program, be sure to conduct some informational interviews with professionals in the field to discover how necessary an advanced degree will be in order to make your transition.

As part of your job search, I would encourage you to put your attention on the “right environment” you mentioned in your letter. While having a great resume can make a difference in being selected for interviews, knowing what organizations and roles would be a good fit can make things easier for both you and your potential employer. Our targeted employer list can help you get started in identifying organizations that will be a great fit.

To your success,


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