THE BLOG
11/21/2014 05:10 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2015

Seeking: The Perfect Nonprofit Job

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For nonprofits and social enterprises to be successful, we need passionate people with phenomenal skills in place. Once you have made the decision that you're ready to dedicate your career to a specific social cause, it can be hard to know where to start. Nonprofits make up 10 percent of our economy and finding the best fit for you can take some time. Today we have a guest post by Deborah Jacobs -- an avenger for freedom, justice, equality and good management.

Simone N. Sneed (SNS):Each year in the corporate sector and in the social impact arena, more and more people look for positions in which they can do things to make the world a better place. Trying to enter the non-profit world is both noble and exciting, but can also feel intimidating.

Deborah Jacobs (DJ): Taking risks and going through a career change is overwhelming. However, it's well worth the effort, especially for those going into social justice work, which comes with many rewards. Over my years as an executive director and senior manager I have hired dozens of people, applied for many jobs myself and mentored and been mentored by many highly qualified people. Fortunately, there are a lot of ideas and resources to help people find and get the right position.

SNS:What's the best place to start?

DJ: First, you need to get organized, Think about and research organizations or causes that you might like to work for, and where your skills might fit in. I suggest maintaining a list of potential nonprofit employers that do work you're excited about, as well as a list of job titles that appeal to you and might fit with your skill set. Also save job descriptions that seem interesting; take notice of the kinds of tasks and duties that appeal to you and look for them in other opportunities. In some cases, particularly for those not sure what kind of job they seek, it might help to create a list of things that you do and don't want in a job. Include environmental factors like size, culture, structure and location as well as tasks and duties. You'll help yourself the most if you adhere to the list when deciding which jobs to pursue. Don't set yourself up for failure by taking a job that you're not going to enjoy.

SNS: Knowing what you want is half the battle -- but it's also the half that you can do mostly on your own. For many people, the hard part is building a network. I bet that the majority of people reading this article are prepared to cringe at the first mention of networking -- the idea of going to an event, with a lot of strangers and trying to get someone to agree to coffee feels daunting and not to mention cold. Is there a better way?

DJ: Yes. Rather than meet a lot of people all at once, focus on quality over quantity. Start by creating a list of people you know or know of who have ties to your areas of interest, whether the type of cause you might want to work for or the role you might want to play. Ask friends and relatives whether they might have contacts to introduce to you. For those who don't feel entirely comfortable with this kind of outreach, it's important to establish goals for your outreach to ensure that you keep at it. Remember, it's partly a numbers game, and if you're in an active job search, every day should include some networking outreach. When you're talking to appropriate contacts, ask them to make introductions, flag your application, help you prep for an interview or put you in touch with recruiters.

SNS: For many people considering the nonprofit space -- they are coming with experiences that may be related but most likely are very different. What are some ways that people can overcome the lack of professional experience?

DJ: Even if you haven't worked in a nonprofit or for a particular cause, your skills are likely transferable. But you have to get in the door to prove it, first. A great way to distinguish your application is to demonstrate that you already care about the issues that the prospective employer focuses on, and have at least some exposure to the field. Four easy ways you can exhibit your commitment to the cause are: (1) Intern or volunteer (2) Sign up for action alerts and social media (3) Attend public events; and (4) consider making a small donation. Doing these kinds of things before the job you want is even posted will put you ahead of the game when it comes to competing for the position.

SNS: These are great points -- Deborah -- is there one last piece of advice that you want everyone to have?

DJ: Stay forward-looking and positive. Don't let rejection get you down, but don't miss an opportunity to ask for feedback either. If you interview for a position and don't get an offer, it's worth asking for feedback about what distinguished the candidates chosen over you. Although you won't always get a straight answer (or any answer, for that matter), when employers take the time to give you feedback it can be extremely helpful in understanding why they didn't hire you.