As I was preparing to graduate from college, I laughed at my friends who were concerned about finding a job. For me, I assumed it would be easy: I was moving to New York City and I was ready to give my full self to whatever organization would take me. I researched some nonprofits, picked one that I liked, wrote my perfect and detail filled cover letter and personalized resume and sent it on my way. “Just a few days and I’ll be flying out for my interview,” I told myself.
As you could have guessed, I quickly learned that there are a lot of great people who want to do good and serve the world in their individual way, so landing a job quickly wouldn’t be easy. After too many unreturned emails and distant connections I never heard back from, I finally decided that I needed to take a new approach.
One year later, I am working full-time for a company that initiates youth fitness and music programs throughout the NYC school system.
Although it would be inaccurate to label any one method a success, here are a few of the methods that I used to find a job and build my network that you might find helpful.
Consider moving to a suburb to start
One of the best decisions that I made was to take a temporary job in a suburb of New York City as a camp director. Doing this allowed me to ease into the city; I was able to set up a base level of connections and commute to the city on the weekends to meet with people or organizations. Additionally, it was a great way to start building a network: The job that I have now I landed through a friend of board member at the camp, who put me in touch with a director at a nonprofit, who put me in touch with the nonprofit that eventually hired me.
Apply to small organizations
The big nonprofits in NYC are great, but it’s hard to find entry-level work in them. Everyone is applying for the few entry-level positions so these organizations can be picky, choosing only specifically experienced candidates. Being a recent college grad, it’s likely that you don’t have an exact specialty like donor relations. For that reason, I recommend looking to get in with smaller organizations that might pay less, but are looking for recent grads willing to work hard and invest in the organization. They are generally mission-driven and will give you a lot of responsibility.
For example, in my current organization, I am one of two full time employees under the CEO and CFO. That means that I may be writing a press release one day and setting up interviews on the next, and it makes for great experience. I also have access to the CEO and CFO for advice and mentorship- something you might not get working at a large nonprofit as an entry-level employee.
Research and reach out to organizations directly
Another great thing about small organizations is that they are often started by people who have the same passions as you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a CEO or director personally and share your passions, ask if they are in need of ground-level workers, interns, or volunteers. When job searching, I would often just email the director personally or via LinkedIn, show them that I have researched their company by referencing something that they are doing or a grant that they received, and ask if them if they are looking for people like me. Another important piece on this is to always request to meet them to network, even if they aren’t hiring. Even when the person does not have a job available, many of these directors will sit down with you, talk about shared interests, and potentially point you to another great company that they have an in with.
Celebrate your victories
I recently networked with a fellow Idealist Connector. Not having known this person before our team meeting, we had talked for a minute or two before she said, “You need to stop and celebrate your victories.” It was great advice and was much needed. If you get an interview and don’t get the job, celebrate the progress of an interview. If you get a job and it’s not all that you’ve hoped for, celebrate the good things that you have done. The job search process can be incredibly frustrating and that negativity can show in your cover letters, resumes, and networking efforts. Be sure to reflect and to celebrate the steps that you do take so you are in a great position to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.