FIVE LOW-COST WAYS TO JUMP-START YOUR NONPROFIT CAREER

By James D’Ambrosio

During these difficult economic times, I’ve heard quite a bit from others about the tough job market and how difficult it is to make headway. I agree: it is very challenging. However, there’s risk involved in overemphasizing the negative, which causes some people to give up. Better to stay positive and do what you can to increase your marketability. Seneca, the Roman dramatist, philosopher and politician who lived from 5 BC – 65 AD once aptly noted: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”    

Given this positive perspective, there are things you can do to bolster your professional standing with relatively small investments in time, money and effort. Whether you’re a recent grad, experienced professional, executive or career-changer, one of the suggestions below might work for you.   

FIVE LOW-COST WAYS TO ENHANCE YOUR VALUE

1) JOIN A PROFESSIONAL GROUP IN YOUR FIELD: This is one of the best investments you can make. In addition to networking with like-minded people, you can serve on committees or join the board and showcase your skills to others who may be in position to help. Many groups have member directories, job banks and other resources. Attend meetings regularly, take an active role, and you’ll get noticed. 

2) TAKE A COURSE: Technology and global competition has resulted in information becoming outdated more quickly. What was important a year ago can rapidly fade in importance. By continually expanding your knowledge and skills, you’ll be ahead of others who don’t. A number of people in my professional circles are now embracing life-long learning  as a necessity.

3) MAXIMIZE THE VALUE OF LINKEDIN: With 160+ million professionally-minded users in 200 countries, you can’t afford not to be part of this network. Open an account, develop your profile, and upload a professional-quality photo. You can join groups in your field/industry,  sharing your expertise and learning from others with similar backgrounds. In addition, numerous apps enhance your presence. If you’re a writer like me, you can use Box Net to showcase work samples. You can also answer questions submitted by others. I recently read from a credible source that nearly 80 percent of hiring managers use LinkedIn as their primary source for recruiting talent. 

4) START A BLOG: Have a body of knowledge about a particular subject? Passionate about a cause? Consider blogging. While it does require an investment in time — learning technical aspects and posting regularly — it provides a public platform to demonstrate your knowledge to a wide audience. In the process, you’ll bolster your online presence: over time, a good blog associated with your name shows up high in Google searches — an invaluable asset in today’s digital world.  

5) VOLUNTEER WORK: If you’re in position to do so, volunteer at a nonprofit. In addition to giving back, you can make new contacts, develop new skills, network, and learn about open positions. Just 6-10 hours per week is sufficient. A few years back I took this approach and it led to a paid position. You can search hundreds of volunteer opportunities at nonprofits in the U.S. and worldwide by region and specialty at www.idealist.org.

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QUESTION TO READERS:

What other low-cost initiatives do you believe can increase your professional value?

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NONPROFIT JOB SEEKERS:A PERSPECTIVE ON TODAY’S MARKET AND STAYING PROFESSIONALLY ENGAGED

By James V. D’Ambrosio

As a communications and nonprofit professional dedicated to the betterment of the nonprofit sector and those working in it, I’d like to weigh in on today’s very challenging job market and discuss ways job seekers can best use their time to maximize chances for landing a position. 

It’s been clear for some time that we are in a period of prolonged economic uncertainty punctuated by high unemployment and scarce job opportunities across many sectors. Even top economists cannot be certain where things are ultimately heading. I am not an economist, but I can say with a fair amount of confidence that in terms of employment, we are moving toward an era of shorter job tenure where people will be changing jobs more often. In fact, credible sources have noted that today’s college graduates can expect to change jobs 12-15 times during their career — an unsettling reality, but one that must be dealt with. So what to do?

First, realize that securing a professional position today — one requiring a college education and/or significant experience — will take longer as the market is flooded with applicants and HR departments are drowning in resumes. (I know several people that have been looking for more than a year.)   

However, there are constructive things people can do to stay engaged professionally and increase their marketability while seeking employment. Here are three considerations:

IDEAS FOR PROACTIVE JOB SEEKERS

Volunteering. Offer to volunteer for a nonprofit agency one or two days a week in a professional capacity. This will accomplish several things: a) keeping you in the  mainstream professionally; b) providing an opportunity to showcase your talents to others who may be in position to help; c) if the organization likes your work, it can lead to a paid position; and d) it gives you an excellent response during interviews when hiring managers ask, “What are you doing now?” You can find many volunteer opportunities listed at www.idealist.org or www.volunteermatch.org.

Expand, Sharpen Your Skill Set. Take a course or attend workshops in your field. This will increase your marketability and help allay prospective employers’ concerns about skills deteriorating while unemployed. This is especially important for those experiencing long-term unemployment (six months or more) which is a reality for many job seekers.

Network, Network, Network. It has long been known that employers prefer hiring people they know or those referred from a trusted source. If you limit your search to answering ads, even if you interview well, you can lose out to others that come recommended. So try joining a professional organization related to your work. Attend meetings, introduce yourself to others and get known. After you’re settled in, ask for informational interviews to exchange ideas about how to move your search forward and referrals to others who can help. This approach does require significantly more work, but it has a far higher success rate.

To be sure, there is no certain way to land a professional position in this economy. If there were, I wouldn’t be writing this column. Basically, it takes a great deal of work and persistence, along with an unshakable belief in yourself and what you have to offer. Making the most of your time — engaging in activities that keep you professionally relevant — will better equip you for when that next opportunity presents itself.

QUESTION TO READERS: What other suggestions do you have for finding professional employment during these challenging times?

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