Graduation season is here and with that, so is the time to look for jobs. As you strategize your job search, we hope that you will consider the social sector which is always in need of fresh talent. Hadn’t before given it thought? Not sure where to start or where your skill set may fit in?
The nonprofit sector employs one in ten Americans, and that’s not including the entire “good” ecosystem – from impact investing to social entrepreneurship and everything in between. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nonprofit sector is the third largest industry after retail trade and accommodation and food service, and consistently provides higher wages on average than both industries. Interestingly, where for profit businesses exist in direct competition with a nonprofit operation, the nonprofit offers a higher average wage than its for profit counterpart. And now, with the economy heading in a questionable direction, we can look to the hiring in the social sector during and following the 2008 financial crisis and recession for some hope. Hiring during the recession significantly outpaced the for-profit sector, and in the ten years since has outhired fourfold.
There are a number of ways to make yourself a more appealing candidate when applying for a job in the social sector. The best way to demonstrate genuine interest in and commitment to the mission of the organization is to have a personal connection to it. This may be from a previous experience, but for many, this comes from volunteering. Many nonprofits regularly hire from their pool of volunteers, and they will be just as impressed to see volunteer experience at a similar organization knowing that the experience is translatable. Try to stay in the same specific issue area (i.e. health care access or food pantries, for example) so you will be able to speak to experiences that will directly relate. However, any volunteer experience can be useful in an interview, as it can be used to demonstrate your knowledge of the sector and some of the unique challenges and opportunities that come with working at a nonprofit.
To that end, it can be helpful to give thought to what transferrable skills you may already have that can be applicable to work in the social sector. Did you receive scholarships or grants to fund your education? Then you likely are adept at managing deadlines, writing a narrative with an underlying case for support, and managing relationships with case workers. Each of these are critical skills for grant writers, compliance officers, and contract managers at nonprofits. Similarly, if you were involved with any clubs or groups during your time in school, you probably have a good understanding of how committees operate, have previous experience drafting agendas, and appreciate the value of building consensus among diverse constituencies. These are skills that program officers and nonprofit administrators use regularly in their daily work executing the mission.
Lastly, there are a number of structured education programs tailored for individuals in the nonprofit space. While the idea of even more schooling may not be appealing for those just graduating, many of these programs can be done online, at low or no cost, and offer meaningful networking with others in the field. As a plus, most classes are taught by professionals in the field who can offer applicable lessons and can serve as powerful references and resources. Check out your local and online universities and certification programs for more details including UCLA Extension, Coursera, Philanthropy University, and NonprofitReady.
Most importantly, a job in the social sector can be incredibly rewarding and also offer what is affectionately termed, a “paycheck of the heart”. As your job search progresses, it is important to reflect on what is important to you in a job and what types of companies can offer you a career that is both rewarding and world-changing like the social sector.
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