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Job Seeker Success Story | How I Leveraged Passion and Research to Land a New Job

A planner with a day marked off for starting a new job.

Samantha Neil is the Community Relations Assistant at Employment Horizons, a nonprofit in New Jersey that provides job placement and skills training to people with disabilities. She found this opportunity on Idealist and through her new job, feels she is having a positive impact on her community.

Here, Samantha talks about her job search and offers advice to job seekers.

When did you start your job search and what were you looking for when you came to Idealist? 

I first started job searching when I finished my undergraduate degree (in Political Science and Women’s Studies) back in May 2009. I encountered a lot of difficulties in finding something in the nonprofit sector, so I took a job at a for-profit company doing something I really wasn’t interested in. I wasn’t happy in that role and decided to go back to school for my MA. I graduated in May 2012 with an MA in Sociology and Social Justice. At that time, I started casually looking for a position where I could feel as though I was having a positive impact on society in some way, whether it was helping one person or helping a whole community. I came to Idealist to find a job where I could feel good about the work I was doing and be proud to tell someone what I do in my job. I wanted a job where I was doing more than earning a paycheck.

How did graduate school help in your career search?

Graduate school really opened my mind to an area I hadn’t previously considered – fundraising and donor development. I was fortunate enough to take a course as part of my graduate program focused on grant writing, fundraising, and events for nonprofits. Prior to this course it just wasn’t an area I had really considered as something I would be interested, or really considered at all. The professor (a former development director and current executive director at a nonprofit) had so much knowledge to share and really sparked an interest in this area for me. Without taking the course, I don’t know if I would have looked into positions in the fundraising area. The course imparted a lot of unique knowledge in this area, which made me confident in working in fundraising as well as set me apart from some other applicants for the position. I also think the degree may have set me apart a bit from some of the other candidates, as I did earn a unique MA in Sociology and Social Justice (rather than just Sociology).

Tell us about your new job and the organization. What will you be doing? 

I am the Community Relations Assistant at Employment Horizons, a nonprofit in New Jersey which provides job placement and skills training to people with disabilities. At the moment, we’re gearing up for two of our large fundraising events (our Annual Dinner and a Bowl-A-Thon) so I spend a great deal of time working on these events. This includes prospecting for donations (both in-kind and financial), planning for the events, and keeping the department running smoothly. I speak with members of the community to tell them about our organization and raise awareness, as well as speak with the families of the clients we serve. I also maintain the organization’s website. It can be a lot of work, but it’s all worth it whenever I see those that the organization serves. All of the fundraising and planning really impacts their lives and they deserve the best!

What do you think helped you land this job?

During the interview I think the fact that I am really passionate about helping others and making a difference really came through. I made it clear I was not taking the position just for a paycheck, but because I believed in the organization’s mission. I also think it’s important to research the organization beforehand! I made sure to read about their past events, do an internet search for the department director (who would become my boss), and learn and understand the mission and other important beliefs of the organization. I took the position and interview seriously and had a great deal of previous experience working with people in customer-focused positions, which really helped since this position is also people-focused.

What advice do you have for job seekers?

I think really the most important thing is to be passionate and let that come through in your interview, your cover letter, and so on. It’s important to have that drive and passion. You’re likely going to work a lot of hours, be stressed, and not make a lot of money. If you don’t have that passion for helping others or changing the world, it’s probably not for you.You need to be able to articulate that passion and why you want to leave the for-profit world for the nonprofit world.

I’d also recommend volunteering and interning. Both can bring tons of valuable experience and all sorts of connections for networking. They can even turn into actual paid positions, depending on the needs of the organization. Also, think about your current position (even if it’s in a for-profit company) and pick out skills that would translate well into your new position. For example, my last position involved managing all of the accounts receivable operations for a publishing company, using very specialized software which I learned very quickly. I was able to use this as an example that I could learn to use DonorPerfect very quickly and would be capable of managing donations and handling money.

Looking for an opportunity to work for the social good? Check out the opportunities on Idealist!

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by Aaron McCoy

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