Today's question comes from a job seeker who is looking to transition to the nonprofit sector and fears that she will have to start at the ground level. Discover along with Mimi some key tips for making the switch!
I am in a period of transition. I am moving to Raleigh, NC soon (from St Louis, MO) to be closer to family. I have worked in the business world for my whole adult working life (11 years!) and am now realizing that I need more fulfillment in my work life, and I want to do meaningful and helpful work for our society.
My biggest struggle is that I do not have a professional or educational background in not-for-profit work, or education, or anything of the sort. I studied Spanish in college (I have a bachelor's degree) and have been working in the realm of commodities trading for the last few years.
How do I make this transition when I am not qualified for any job higher than entry level?
Thank you for your question. I’d like to allay your concerns about finding a job at a nonprofit simply because you have not worked at one before. The skills needed for many jobs at for-profits are also necessary at nonprofits, and in many cases, the job functions are the same regardless of the sector. For example, nonprofits need accountants, marketing managers, communications professionals, customer service support, and finance managers just as much as for-profit companies do.
While there are degrees geared towards nonprofit management, it’s not usually necessary to obtain one in order to gain a nonprofit job. The main thing is to ensure that you tailor your applications to the job you are seeking. Remember that this holds true regardless of sector! If you were looking at a job at a large corporation, you would still need to tailor your resume in order to get more than a passing glance.
Of course, just like in the corporate world, there are some jobs that require particular degrees- for example, you won’t land a CPA gig without an accounting degree or without passing the CPA exam. Similarly, most social work positions require an MSW. Other than some jobs in which an advanced degree is required, in most cases you won’t need a specialized nonprofit degree in order to work in the sector.
To help you in your transition, you can also do the following:
- Volunteer at organizations in the cause area you are interested in. It’s a great way to demonstrate your passion for the cause (be sure to include it on your resume) and can help you start building your network.
- Think about the type of work you want to do- what job functions do you feel you are equipped to take on, based on your experience?
- Write a list of your transferable skills and identify which will be most useful to a new employer in the nonprofit sector.
- Conduct informational interviews with other professionals who have made the switch between sectors. For added inspiration, check out our feature on Connie Lewin, Director of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships at Sustainable Health Enterprise (SHE), who made the recently made the switch.
After doing your research, you may find that you are actually more qualified than you originally thought! Please keep me posted on your progress.
To your success,