Working in house at iEARN-USA has exposed me to a lot of parts of the nonprofit tech world that I never saw while working as a designer / developer at an agency.
One of those is the hiring process. I’m fortunate enough to have been be involved in several stages of the tech department hiring process during my time here including writing job descriptions, screening applications and sitting in on interviews.
If you’re applying for a job at a nonprofit, I thought I’d share the two areas I feel like a lot of candidates unknowingly fall short in.
The Cover Letter
I feel like canned cover letters are probably always obvious, but in the context of a nonprofit they are so obvious.
For starters, when the letter refers to us as a “company” and not as an “organization”, even if that’s technically correct by some dictionaries, it’s an immediately red flag that we weren’t worth more than a few seconds of your time.
And even if your letter passes that litmus test, if you don’t mention anything related to our cause or mission, I’m still going to feel skeptical that you actually want to work here.
And why does that matter? I want to know that our mission matters to you. Our organization has a presence in 140 countries. Rarely does a week go by where I don’t interact with someone from every contingent on earth. Are you the kind of person that thinks that’s really cool? Or will that annoy you? We travel as a team to a new country every summer. Does that excite you? Or do you not like anything that’s different from what you’re already familiar with?
I get that applying for jobs can take a long time and be extremely emotionally deflating but you have to understand our perspective as well, convincing us that you want to work here matters before we’re going to invest an hour bringing you in for an interview.
tl;dr: Write a personalized cover letter when applying to a nonprofit.
“I would never hire anyone who doesn’t have side projects. To me, that shows that someone has ideas, self-initiative, and can make things happen.” – Tina Roth Eisenberg
I’m inclined to agree and this is especially true in our industry because we’re usually hiring candidate because they have the ability to create.
I always bring this up in interviews and I love when these things are obvious from the outset so I can ask “tell me more about…” instead of “do you?”.
Your side project doesn’t have to be as big as Creative Mornings. But do you have a blog? How about attending meet ups? Do you contribute to open source or an online community? How about volunteering your skills to an organization without a budget for them?
These kinds of things give a much better look into what it looks like when you take the lead on something than you day job (where presumably you have a manager) might.
I get that it’s almost cruel that we’re judged so much on what we do extracurricularly, but that’s always been the reality for me. I didn’t get into college primarily based on what I did in the classroom in high school, same story with my first job after college, and the trend hasn’t shown any signs of stopping.
tl;dr: Do cool stuff outside of your day job that you’re excited to talk about.
If you’re interested in working at an great nonprofit, iEARN-USA is hiring.