If you’re a journalist interested in making a sector switch into the social-impact space, I have some good news for you: You may already have the skills you need to land a nonprofit communications role.
As a recent sector switcher myself, I want to share with you how I applied my journalism skills to the nonprofit space in order to get a job as a Communications Coordinator here at Idealist Careers.
In order to run a successful newspaper interview, you need interpersonal skills as well as the ability to adapt to the changing needs of the moment. As a newspaper journalist, I interviewed celebrities, small business owners, and local residents—including some who were a bit skeptical of the newspaper and how they may be portrayed.
In speaking to individuals from all walks of life, I learned how to put people at ease by asking thoughtful questions, effectively turning an interview into a more casual conversation. This level of thoughtfulness meant I was conducting a lot of advance research to be able to demonstrate to an interviewee that I genuinely care about what’s important to them. Don’t let your valuable people skills go unnoticed when you’re applying for a position.
If you’re interested in working with an organization that serves many communities, highlight the breadth of your subject area as a journalist and how you adapted your interview approach to connect with different types of people. When you’re at the interview table, share with your interviewer exactly how you went about putting people at ease during your journalism career:
- Did you often share a small personal anecdote to break the ice?
- Did you take a fly-on-the-wall approach and observe interviewees and article subjects?
Share with your potential employer how you connect with people and offer examples of how you’ll be able to apply that same skill to the job for which you’re interviewing.
In the nonprofit space, strong interview and people skills can come in handy when collecting and sharing an organization’s stories. And direct quotes, when used effectively, can illustrate an emotional aspect of the work that data alone cannot. If you honed your storytelling (and story-finding) skills during your journalism career, be sure to highlight this in your application materials and during the interview.
As a journalist, the format of your stories matters. Were you tasked with explaining a complicated issue in a brief article? Did you create long-form pieces that were accentuated by multimedia storytelling? Telling stories through different formats is a valuable skill, especially as social media platforms proliferate. As a communications professional, you may need to share a 30 second Instagram video, a Facebook post, and a press release all related to the same announcement.
Here’s an example of how to sell your cross-platform storytelling skills in a job interview:
“I work at a small newspaper where my colleagues and I often take our own photos and videos to pair with our stories. For my series on local music prodigies, I recorded a Facebook live video of their performances. Then I made clips to share on Twitter, Instagram, and in my online stories. We even included a special link in the print articles to track how many people came to our website and the series did very well with our readers.”
When interviewing for a job in the nonprofit sector, you'll also want to highlight your ability to pinpoint and flesh out the real story. Nonprofit organizations are often busy juggling a wide variety of initiatives, so if you have an eye for what stories illuminate the organization’s mission, you can support them in honing in on the most compelling content.
An ability to meet deadlines is an asset in any industry, but in journalism, the stakes are often higher. If you don’t meet a deadline, it’s possible your article won’t run and the product of all your hard work will go unread by readers. This is even more critical if you are a daily reporter who writes breaking news and next-day stories.
If it makes sense, include on your resume some of the applications and tools that you use to expertly manage your work. Perhaps you use Trello to keep your articles on track. Or maybe you prefer Basecamp for your organization and time management needs? When you make room for specific technology skills on your resume, be sure to include time and project management platforms, too.
Embracing new skills while building on the ones you already have can make your move to communications feel like a new adventure with some familiar sights along the way.
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About the Author | Imade Borha's desire to make a social impact has taken her from advertising to journalism, and now to the world of nonprofit communications. She has a love for storytelling and serving marginalized communities.