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Before, During and After the Interview: Seven Tips for a Successful Job Search

Photo: PCMag

So you want to work in development. Perhaps you have earned your stripes in the corporate sector and want to do something more meaningful with the best hours of your day. Maybe you already work for a nonprofit and want to test another sector or a different role in development (annual fund versus planned giving). Whatever your motive for seeking employment, preparation for the interview is paramount. As you ready yourself for the adventure, here are seven tips to ensure a successful job hunt:

1. Know what you want and what it takes to get there. Don’t let lack of experience derail your dream. Do the things necessary to build your experience and your resume.

  • Volunteer: Offer to lead the annual fundraising campaign of your child’s school. Serve and when possible lead a nonprofit’s committee or board. Bottom line, get involved.
  • Network: Make a list of ten prominent nonprofit CEO’s and development professionals in the community and ask for an hour of their time. Offer to buy them coffee and ask who you should meet, what you should read, and where you should volunteer.
  • Read extensively: Read everything you can get your hands on related to development and the sector that interests you. If homelessness is your passion, find books, articles and research related to the topic and devour each.
  • Join local affinity groups: Research, visit and even join groups in your area related to fundraising and your cause (examples of fundraising groups include: AFP, CASE, Leave A Legacy, and the Planned Giving  Council).
  • Right size your expectations: You may need to take a step back in title and pay or seek an entry-level job to get where you want to be eventually. You can do a lot of things to help overcome a lack of experience. Sometimes however real-world, on-the-job training is a must.

2. Do your homework. Get to know the organization you want to work for. Research the website, read press releases and ask questions in the community.

3. Make your resume HELP not HINDER. First, design your resume and cover letter so it is specific to the organization you are applying to. Then, proof both to eliminate any design flaws or grammatical errors. After you have proofed each document, proof it again and again and again. Ask professionals in your world to proof and provide feedback. This is not a time for pride or ego interference. Simply put, if your resume and cover letter have errors, you likely will not get an interview. Period.

4. Prepare for the interview. If you are fortunate to secure an interview, identify several interview questions and scenarios and rehearse your answers. This in no way implies you should memorize answers. It simply means to find a rhythm and comfort in your response. Polish is king.

5. Don’t fake it. During an interview answer questions honestly. If you don’t have experience in an area, own it; and do not belittle yourself. Overcome the void with a positive. (Example: “I have not had the opportunity to ask for an estate gift. However I subscribe to Non Profit Times, I volunteered with my university’s planned giving department last summer; and I have attended the local Planned Giving Conference the past two years…”)

6. Be relaxed, confident and personable; but not too relaxed, confident and personable. Seasoned interviewers smell nervousness, arrogance and suck-ups. Be professional; but enjoy the experience. By the way, all of the preparation and rehearsing will help bring calm and confidence to the situation.

7. Finally, Follow up. Timely follow up with your interviewers is paramount. Regardless of the outcome, thank the organization and interviewers in writing. If you are not offered the job, personally relish the opportunity AND seek feedback. Their wisdom could help you in your next round of interviews. And who knows where your initiative could lead? Often jobs are not lost, but won by another candidate. Your positive response and initiative could lead to future opportunities.

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