An Adventure Begins
The task of finding a job, particularly a career, that you will be happy to work in is a daunting task, that at the outset feels much like the Knight slaying a dragon, or attempting to anyway. So where did I begin this daunting task. I began with research. What does it take to have an outstanding resume, cover letter, CV, and researching the organizations to which I am applying.
I started by practicing writing a resume and a cover letter. I asked for advice, I searched the web, I went to the career center on campus, and then I talked to my friend Kai. Kai, gave me practical advice that has led me to feel more confident in my attempts to find a job. You can find the tips he gave me at his blog. He covers everything from writing a cover letter that will catch the eyes of HR to a five part series on resumes. He also covers things like networking with decision makers both to research a job and to find out about jobs.
His help has been incalculable. I couldn’t recommend better advice than what he has given me, and what he has shared on his website.But that is only the first step in the adventure. I’ve only packed my bags. What do I do next?
My next step was to find jobs for which I wanted to apply. I started my search at http://www.idealist.org/ one of the best resources I know for finding jobs in the non-profit sector, also a great resource for finding internships and volunteer opportunities. I knew I wanted something in either volunteer management/training or in development and fundraising. Here I came across two problems.
The first problem was my assumed lack of experience in these fields, and the second was my lack of a 4 year degree that is preferably in a related field such as marketing or management or communications. I’ll tackle the second problem first.
My field of study is Political Science and Philosophy, not exactly what they are looking for. I’m also a few terms away from graduation. The lack of a degree will solve itself and I include that fact in both my cover letter and my resume. In order to remedy the wrong field of study I argue that my experiences in the work force/volunteer force make up for this fact. And my fields of study can be applied to communications, marketing and management.
As for the more daunting problem, a glaring lack of experience, I found that by taking the experiences that the job posting wants and breaking them down into the component parts of the experience I actually do have very relevant experience. Lets look at an example.
Here is a randomly selected post from Idealist.org.
I look at these qualifications one by one and see if I have relevant experience that I can quickly relate about these.
- Education/Experience: Bachelor’s degree (B.S. / B.A.) preferred; some college, AA, or equivalent required. — This is already being covered. Check.
- Minimum of 2 – 4 years professional experience in nonprofit fundraising and/or major giving — hmm. . . What do I have that could be qualified as fundraising experience? I can’t come up with anything so I move on. No Check.
- Familiarity with youth-homelessness, racial issues. — I can talk about this one. I’ve volunteered with youth homeless shelters, and worked on individual fundraising events for several shelters in the area. And a passion of mine is racial dynamics in politics. Check.
- Interpersonal: Must have demonstrated maturity, dependability and capacity to communicate concisely. Will work in close proximity with a small team of managers, requiring tact and strong rapport-building skills. — hmmm . . . How do I concisely demonstrate this mouth full? A small story would do so, I think to my self. This is best alluded to in a paragraph in the cover letter and/or a story in the interview. Check
- Knowledge and Critical Skills:
- Ability to identify, acquire, and steward gifts from individuals and groups. — I’ve done small gift donor drives for lots of political campaigns and organizations. I love making the small donor ask at house parties. A quick story will cover this. Check.
- Outstanding verbal, written, and e-mail communication skills that can articulate a compelling message. –This is hard to demonstrate in a resume, cover letter, or even an interview. But I rely on my other experiences and storytelling to cover this one. Check.
- Ability to manage multiple tasks simultaneously, problem solve, and work as part of a cohesive team. — Demonstrating my leadership ability through team problem solving and multitasking. This is usually covered in my cover letter because team problem solving is a pretty standard skill and thus an example of this in my cover letter saves me from coming up with one. I just paste my standard example into my third paragraph of a cover letter. Check.
- Excellent interpersonal skills and ability to interact diplomatically with diverse donors and groups; comfortable bridging cultural and class differences. –This is usually demonstrated in other stories that I share either in the interview or in the cover letter. Check.
- Intermediate computer skills in Microsoft Word, Outlook, and Excel, and proficiency in using computer software and knowledge of donor base management; experience with Salesforce or other relational databases preferred. — I had noticed the mention of Salesforce in several applications, I had never worked with it but I did have other CRM experience. So I talk about me work with a CRM database as a volunteer organizer and event production staffer. Check.
- Willingness and availability to work some evenings and weekends once or twice monthly. –This one is usually covered by the mere mention of my previous political campaign work. The hours are brutal but so very rewarding. Check.
- Demonstrated capacity to work independently. — Here I usually tell the story of working on a campaign that needed to know the voting hours and locations of every polling place in the state, and a way for supporters to find out their relevant information. I quickly sat down with the ED of the campaign and said I’ll take a team of two volunteers and research every single polling place in the state. This was a combined online search and having to call almost every rural precinct. Once we had the data, I worked with out website team to make the database searchable. Once I was done, every single newsletter and e-mail blast we sent out for the last three weeks of the campaign included a link to my work. This story demonstrates several of the skills that are wanted here. Check.
- Event management skills required, aptitude in developing new events a plus. — This is always demonstrated in both my resume and my cover letter. I love doing event production, and event management. I work with several festivals throughout the year as an organizer and volunteer coordinator, I also love putting on fundraising events for local charities. I have lots of experience here. Check.
- Concern for and capacity to relate to those we serve. –A brief mention of why I want to work for this organization comes in my introduction in my cover letter. Check.
- Experience with advocacy and organizing a plus. — This is usually covered in my cover letter or in my resume. I’ve started two student groups on campus, worked/volunteered as a community organizer for campaigns, and been a citizen and intern lobbyist at both the state and federal levels. Check.
So I’ve gone through their entire list of skills, knowledge, and requirements and I notice I have mentioned fundraising several times in my stories and experiences. I may not have much formal experience with it, but I think I can prove that I am up to the task. Also once I demonstrate to them a knowledge of the fundraising field, I would feel confident in applying for this job. I would research what they are currently doing for fundraising and in an interview I would ask what their current retention of donors is like, what their success rate is on various donor initiatives and then offer ways that I might improve on those results.
That’s what I’ve done so far. I’ve got my bags packed, and I’ve honed my tools for work. I’ve practiced, and practiced and practiced writing cover letters and resumes. Laid out where in each different experiences would go, and how I would relate my experiences to those for which the organization is looking. I’ve mentioned story telling several times today. Next time we will discuss why stories are the most powerful way to get you message across and what makes a good story in an interview or cover letter.