Wanting to work for a good cause

by 04 Feb 2008

Q. I have built my HR career in the corporate world, but have recently become interested in careers within the not-for-profit and cause-based organisations. Can you give me any recommendations for approaching these organisations and for transferring my corporate skills over to this sector?

A. The not-for-profit sector has a lot to offer HR professionals, including the opportunity to give back to the community and make a genuine difference. However, before undertaking a ‘me change’, it’s important to be clear about why you want to work for a cause-based organisation and what you realistically want to achieve.

With not-for-profit work, you may have to adjust to a smaller salary, take a position that’s a lateral career move and be open-minded on where you work, as many not-for-profit organisations are headquartered in the suburbs. But, for many people the altruistic benefits far outweigh these aspects.

Firstly, to work out whether it’s the right fit for you, start by researching the industry. Use online research to identify some of the top industry issues and trends, as well as the range of organisations and the types of jobs available.

Scan the internet for not-for-profit publications, annual reports, e-newsletters and blogs, and spend time reviewing online job boards and the employment pages on news websites. These are informative resources that will help give you insights into the sector.

Speak with HR professionals who are working for cause-based organisations and try to find a mentor. Ask them what they enjoy, and also find challenging, about their jobs. Talk to them about career progression, salaries and their day-to-day activities.

Once you have finished your research and decided that the not-for-profit sector is the right move for you, it’s time to start job hunting.

Networking at industry forums and joining not-for-profit industry groups is a smart and easy way to build professional relationships. Try to also tap into your mentor’s networks. However, if you are time poor, an alternative is to join an online business networking site. Websites such as LinkedIn and LinkMe allow you to post your résumé, build an online community of new business contacts and source local and international advice.

Next, set up a meeting with a specialist HR recruiter who can give you expert career advice. Recruitment consultants can provide you with insights into the not-for-profit industry, help you to set realistic salary expectations and work with you to generate a career plan. Remember, when applying for jobs you may need to be flexible in your approach. For example, I have found a good way to break into the not-for-profit sector is often through temping or even volunteering with a not-for-profit organisation.

As a HR professional, there are a number of core transferable skills that you should clearly highlight at each stage of the recruitment process. Try to emphasise these skills in your résumé, cover letter and in any interviews. They include communication, research and planning, interpersonal, organisational management and leadership, and goal setting.

To ‘sell in’ your communication skills, mention your experience in negotiating, expressing ideas, interviewing and motivating employees. This experience is invaluable in managing staff and engaging volunteers. Emphasise your research and planning skills through talking about your ability to problem-solve, analyse and develop strategies. This will show your business acumen and ability to manage HR programs.

Interpersonal skills, such as counselling, delegating tasks, facilitating action and building rapport, are important in the not-for-profit sector particularly for generating relationships and facilitating new business networks. Try to also highlight your organisational management and leadership skills, including your experience in managing conflict and facilitating decision-making.

Finally, emphasise your ability to set goals and manage budgets. This is important because you may have to adjust to achieving the same objectives using a substantially smaller budget.

Most importantly, remain passionate, persistent and committed. There are many exciting opportunities for HR professionals in the not-for-profit sector, which can lead to very rewarding careers

By Jody Bedson, senior recruitment consultant, LINK Recruitment