Over the years I’ve been part of countless job searches. In fact, my first day at my first development job I helped the office manager conduct a search for a new major gifts officer at my alma mater, a state university.
Because it was a state job there were lots of legal hoops to keep track of, and I’ve always been grateful for that excruciatingly-detailed foundational experience. Since then I’ve helped numerous clients find great candidates and, more recently, had to engage in multiple searches myself as my company has grown.
I wanted to share some of the most important things I’ve learned as someone who has looked at lots of resumes and interviewed lots of candidates. There are definitely things you can do – and things you should avoid – to help you stand out in any job search.
- Read the fine print
Especially in prospect research, showing that you pay attention to details is incredibly important, and it’ll be noticed if you don’t. For example, read the job description all the way to the end. If the instructions say to address correspondence to a certain person, or that applications without cover letters won’t be considered, overlooking those details will probably cause your resume to go further down – or completely off – the consideration pile.
- Make sure you meet the minimum qualifications
If the job description says that applicants must have 5 years of experience and you only have 1.5, you’re probably going to waste your time (and potentially frustrate the hiring team). Also, your 15 years of experience in a related field may seem relevant to you, but you’ll need to make a strong case in your cover letter if you want to be considered.
- In addition to a scrupulously-edited resume, there are two important documents you should never omit in a job search.
The first is the cover letter. It’s the first impression people will get about you, so it needs to be spectacular from the first sentence. The problem is that every hiring manager is looking for something slightly different, so it’s hard to hit the mark all the time. Here are the things that are important to me:
- There are no typos or awkward sentences. It’s well-written, showing off your writing skills.
- You sound confident and enthusiastic, not cocky or over-familiar.
- You show that you have worked to learn something about this particular job and/or the organization you’re applying to.
- You make a case for how your experience can bring a benefit to the organization. (I’ve actually seen letters where candidates have written how taking the job could benefit their own future job trajectory and nothing about what they bring to the nonprofit!).
- It’s three paragraphs; four max. Longer than that and it makes me wonder about your ability to synthesize information for end-users.
- You avoid clichés and overused jargon. I like to see original thought.
The second is the thank you note. There is no way I can overestimate the importance of this. After your interview, whether you decide you want the job or not, send a thank you note. Opinion is divided on whether you should email it or handwrite it and snail-mail it – but either way send a thank you note.
Sending a thank you note isn’t just common courtesy. It sends a message that you want that particular job, and it gives you a distinct edge over your fellow candidates who didn’t bother.
- Take a deep breath, introverts, and get out there and meet people
Are you trying to break into prospect research? Don’t just join Apra and/or one of its chapters. Attend as many seminars, conferences, and networking events as you can afford in order to learn skills and to meet people.
When you meet someone at a conference, follow up with them by asking to meet them for lunch, or in their office, or for a cup of coffee for an informational interview. Make sure you come prepared with questions and pay for that cup of coffee!
When people get to know you and see that you are serious about the profession, they might be willing to go to bat for you with colleagues at other nonprofits that are hiring. In fundraising, the adage is “Ask for money and get advice; ask for advice and get money.” The same follows for job searching – ask for advice, and you may just get a job.
What tips do you have for other job seekers? Share them in the comments!