Changing Jobs

How to successfully switch to a nonprofit job

Written by Guest Contributor

So, you’ve decided to break away from the corporate world and make the switch to a nonprofit job. It’s a noble choice—an opportunity to make a real difference in the world using the skills and talents you already have. And chances are you’ll find more meaning in a nonprofit career than you did in your traditional 9-to-5.

But here’s the catch: swapping sectors isn’t as easy as applying for an open vacancy, attending a few interviews, and arriving for work. It requires reflection, research, and a good deal of preparation. Read the tips below on how to successfully make the move if you’re serious about departing from the for-profit arena. When it comes time to write or revamp your resume for a nonprofit gig, consider putting a free resume builder to use, and get professional help at every step of the way.

First, Do Some Soul-Searching

Before leaping headfirst into a job search, you need to ask yourself a few tough questions to unpack the reasoning behind your decision to switch fields. Why are you really interested in working for a nonprofit? What are you hoping to get out of this line of work? Are you motivated by passion or are you just looking to escape the drudgery of the corporate realm? The nonprofit sector is one of several industries where people are most likely to quit their jobs (largely due to high stress and low pay), so it’ll help if you know you’re going in for the right reasons. It’ll also help you convince prospective employers that you’re a sound choice when they question your motivation for applying.

Do Extensive Research

You want to show hiring managers and interviewers that you’re not coming in blind or starry-eyed, and that you’re fully aware of what this type of work entails. So, be sure to do plenty of research before you attempt to switch to a nonprofit job. Look into how funding is acquired, investigate different business models, and learn more about work processes and the roles that need to be filled at a typical nonprofit. You should also familiarize yourself with the causes supported by the companies you plan to apply to. If you’re struggling to source information, you could sign up for a course through a nonprofit professional development organization, or consider the tip below.

Request Informational Interviews

A great way to get a grip on how the nonprofit world works is to reach out to employees at companies that interest you to request a chat over coffee. You might get lots of “noes”, but that one “yes” could lead to a richer understanding of how you could potentially fit into the field. Informational interviews are also a good way to build your network and gain access to industry insiders who might then connect you to future work opportunities.

Volunteer or Intern

Nonprofit executives will likely want to see that you have some experience in the field. The best way to gain this is by volunteering while still holding your corporate role, or, if you have more time, by interning. By doing so, you’ll not only clock up time on the job for your resume, but you’ll also hone important skills and demonstrate how serious you are about working in the sector. Fortunately, it should be fairly easy to secure an unpaid position at a nonprofit as most organizations will readily welcome free assistance. Just be strategic about your choices—pick a volunteer role that aligns with the type of work you hope to do when you officially make the switch to a nonprofit job.

Identify Your Transferable Skills

You may have never worked at a nonprofit before, but that doesn’t mean you don’t possess skills that will serve you well in this arena. To be a successful nonprofiteer, you need to be resourceful, well-rounded, organized, and a team player who’s capable of considering multiple viewpoints—it’s likely that you refined at least some of these abilities in past for-profit positions. Figure out which of the skills (both technical and soft) in your repertoire will be transferable when you switch to a nonprofit job, and then shine a spotlight on them in your resume, cover letter, and interviews.

Prepare Yourself Financially

Even if you aren’t forced to take an entry-level role when you first start out in the nonprofit sector, chances are you’ll still have to accept a drop in wages—it’s a rewarding field to work in, but unfortunately, it typically doesn’t pay that well. So, assess your financial situation before making the change and put plans in place to ensure that you can handle a salary reduction. In interviews, make it clear that you’re not driven by money, that your expectations are realistic, and that you’re not going to leave the minute you’re offered a position that pays better.

Be Persistent

Nonprofiteers are very busy people, so they may not respond immediately (or at all) to your email or application. Don’t let this discourage you. Keep at it, and up your chances of getting a positive response by doing the hard work for hiring managers—send them all the information they need to make a decision on you, and make sure your application materials are clear, clean, and well organized.

LiveCareer offers assistance to jobseekers at every step of the journey. Access free resume templates and resume examples, plus a free cover letter builder and advice on how to answer interview questions of all stripes.

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Guest Contributor