Abstract illustration of sector switchers, featuring a blue pie chart, a yellow flower, and the Earth.

When you’re reviewing applications for an open position, it can sometimes feel like each one lists a similar background, making it hard to differentiate between candidates. Diversify your applicant pool by considering professionals without nonprofit experience.

Sector switchers may have atypical resumes, but their background and experience can offer your team new perspectives and skills. Here’s a breakdown of why you should consider sector switchers for your next open position, and how to attract them.

What is a sector switcher?

In relation to social impact, sector switchers are mid- or senior-level professionals who have worked in the private sector but now want to transition to the nonprofit space. By encouraging these individuals to apply for open roles, your organization can take advantage of their wealth of career experience to amplify your impact (and perhaps even learn a thing or two).

Consider this: a candidate with well-developed leadership skills and a desire to support your mission applies to an open management role. They clearly meet the requirements to oversee multiple teams and develop your organization’s HR processes, but they’ve never worked in the social-impact sector. Are you willing to disqualify them from the hiring process, or do you want to learn more about their interest in your work?

Even though sector switchers may not have on-the-job social-impact experience, it is unlikely that they’ll apply for entry-level positions—and you may not want them to. These aspiring nonprofit professionals are already equipped with the skills they need to complete day-to-day tasks, but bring the added benefit of a unique perspective on how your organization can grow.

Now that you understand the appeal of marketing open roles to this category of job seekers, let’s get into how you can do it.

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How to attract sector switchers within your job listing

  • Outline skills that are required for day-to-day tasks. Instead of asking applicants to have a certain number of years of experience in the nonprofit sector, focus on highlighting the skills required for success. Separating role requirements (such as language proficiency or graphic design skills) from role preferences (like familiarity with a project management software) will prevent you from discouraging qualified and interested applicants who can get the job done.
  • Present a strong value proposition for potential employees. Make note of any unique benefits your organization offers, like flextime or paid parental leave. Professional development opportunities and internal mentorship programs are also great resources to attract sector switchers—setting these new employees up with an experienced social-impact professional can help them acclimate more quickly while also developing their knowledge of the sector.
  • Avoid nonprofit jargon. As tempting as it is to use certain lingo in your job description, think about whether these terms are immediately obvious to applicants, or if they’re simply buzzwords that you’re using as filler. Terms like values-based leadership, change agent, and community-based action may be part of your organization’s internal language, but applicants who are new to the sector can learn them on the job. 

How to attract sector switchers when reviewing candidates

  • Focus on transferable skills rather than qualifications. Take the time to value the diverse backgrounds of each applicant; these may turn out to be more relevant to an open position than certain degrees or other qualifications. Once you take a step back to consider how a sector switcher could successfully fill the role, you may realize their for-profit experience is just as valuable and transferable as a background in social impact.
  • Acknowledge the importance of lived experience. Sector switchers may not have the same resume as experienced social-impact professionals, but chances are, they have passion; and perhaps even a newly-discovered passion for your issue area. Dig into why they find your mission appealing, or ask about any volunteer or life experience that deepens their connection to the role. 
  • Maintain honesty and transparency. Those looking to switch to the social-impact sector may not have money at the top of mind, but it’s still important to be honest about your organization’s budget for the role, particularly from an equity standpoint.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

As always, it’s best to keep an open mind when reviewing applications and remember that not all great candidates look the same. Nontraditional applicants can bring a richness to your organization—don’t let them pass you by!


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