Career Tip: Setting Yourself Up for Success!

In my workshops with corps members who are considering their future career transitions, I  first emphasize things they can do during their term to get ready for their next steps, whether it’s going back to school or taking on a job.

You do not have to wait till the very end of your term to gear up for “Life After…”. You can do several things now to help you prepare — things that enhance your performance in your service corps, and that may help you relax about the changes ahead.

1. Save material evidence of your service experience: numbers, photos and “artifacts” (writing samples, performance evaluations, thank-you notes to you, agendas of meetings or events you organized, etc.)

2. Discern your next steps! Take some time to figure out what you want to do. Also see the self assessment exercises in Chapter Three of the Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers. The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers is a free, downloadable guide to the nuts and bolts of a career transition — and is applicable to any sector, though the focus in on nonprofits. Look for the companion guide for corps members coming this summer.

3. Once you know where you may be headed, figure out who is already there — and how they got there, how they like it, what they actually do.

Maintain good relationships with the people in your service community (partners at other organizations, for example) by striving to be a good resource for them. Build additional strategic networks through informational interviewing.

Ask people in your network where local jobs are posted in the fields you‘re interested in. Don’t forget that many nonprofits and government agencies  list their jobs only on their own sites. has job listings, too, is expanding to offer government job postings, and you can sign up for email alerts; other nonprofit-specific job sites you can check out here.

Learn how to talk about your service experience with the people in your new networks, and prepare to talk about it for the job interview. Also check out this podcast show featuring Meg Busse, co-author of the Idealist Guide.

4. Build new skills. Take advantage of projects you are working on at your host site to explore new roles you can play to get on-the-job practice with new skills. Let your site director know what your training needs are — for direction about where to get the support as well as to suggest possible topics for the existing, regular trainings you have with other members of your team.

Seek out other professional development workshops, or if you can, take a college course.

Check out The Resource Center for free online training, recorded webinars, and resources for your professional development. If you have specialized expertise, share it with others on your team.

5. Finally, beef up your job search skills, or learn as much as you can about grad school. For nuts and bolts of your job search — resume crafting, writing cover letters, prepping for your interview, negotiating a salary — please, please check out the Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers which you can download for FREE.

Specific questions about your career transition? Please email us at and we’ll try to answer them (without identifying you) on the blog.

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Idealist Nonprofit Career Fairs Coming to a City Near You

picture-91The 2009 season of Nonprofit Career Fairs launches next Tuesday in Boston.

Looking for a job? An internship, full-time service opportunity, or part-time volunteer gig?

Check out this spring’s Nonprofit Career Fairs taking place in cities across the United States:

  • Boston, Feb. 24
  • Washington, Feb. 27 at the PowerShift 09 Conference
  • Philadelphia, Mar. 26
  • Los Angeles, Apr. 6
  • Cleveland, Apr. 8
  • Minneapolis, Apr. 14
  • Chicago, May 19

In addition to the nonprofit organization representatives (and even some grad school admissions staff) that you’ll meet, you can participate in workshops that run concurrently with the event. Workshops usually touch on topics of career transitions into the nonprofit sector.

At next week’s events in Boston and Washington, DC, I’ll be offering workshops on questions to ask if you’re considering full-time national or international service.

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Tips for Corps Staff: Beef up Your Own Network

During their term, corps members will look to staff of their service corps for training, coaching and guidance. They may also want to rely on their networks.

This post is for program staff of service corps. (Please send a link to staff in your network if they don’t already read the blog — thanks!)

Your own networks of colleagues, host agency contacts, board of directors, volunteers, funders, and others can play a picture-18valuable role in the lives of your corps members. Your own relationships can be helpful in meeting your program’s objectives, as well as expanding your corps members’s professional networks.

While meeting new professionals will give your corps members a leg up in their career transition post-term, recognize that relationship-building happens all year long. Your active support is necessary throughout the term—not just at the end, when career transition training is inevitable.

When possible, bring in alumni and community leaders to meet your corps members and see them at work. Consider the variety of ways you can connect your corps members with alumni and other community leaders:

  • Early-term gathering introducing current corps members with alumni still in the area
  • Panel discussions on grad school or professional paths featuring your colleagues with relevant experience
  • Informal reception bringing your board together with current and former corps members
  • Skill-building workshops facilitated by the experts in your network
  • Community service projects, led by corps members, bringing together community leaders, alumni, and others
  • Graduation event that allows corps members to mingle with the parents of other corps members and host agency staff
  • Opportunities throughout the term for your corps members to connect with each other, and participants in other corps throughout the region

If your corps does not yet have an organized alumni group, consider establishing one (it can pay off financially, as you probably already know). If you do have a formal or informal alumni network, make sure your corps members know about it throughout the term of service. Some alumni programs have a structured mentoring program that match alums with current members—that is more challenging for smaller programs, but it is something to think about.

Share your knowledge of professional associations that corps members can connect with for the health of their projects and their own professional development, as well as for their career transition. If you have the time to make inroads to any of these groups yourself (i.e. setting up a discounted membership for national service participants), your corps members will thank you.

Continually seek new contacts for yourself, keeping in mind the breadth of needs of your own professional growth, your program, and your current and future corps members.

Develop ties to your local college career centers and look to career staff for support for your corps members seeking specific job search skills.

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How the Media get National Service Wrong (Sometimes)

As news media pick up stories about graduating students missing out on high-power corporate jobs and falling back on national service, some details are skewed.

Here is my rebuttal to some stories I’ve seen in the media lately about national service as a solution to college student angst about employment and loan repayment. Like this one from the Wall Street Journal, and this one from MSN Money.

A term of national service is not the same as nonprofit employment. And there’s a lot more to public service than a year of stipended national service. It’s misleading to say that when the Class of 2009 is locked out of entry level positions at huge corporations, they may opt for “nonprofit work” by joining AmeriCorps for $10,000 a year.

What’s wrong with that kind of reporting?

1. Recent coverage is perpetuating the false idea that only people rejected from business careers look into national service and nonprofit work.

Service is not the job you can get when no one else will hire you. Competition is high for national service slots. Far more people apply to most service corps than there are openings. For example, Teach For America saw 25,000 applications last year, but only needed a fraction of that to fill all its corps member openings. Chicago’s Inner City Teaching Corps has gotten five times the number of applicants than it’s had openings.

Service organizations are looking for people committed to social justice, who actually have volunteer, leadership, and issue-focused experience. People for whom a term of service is a plausible commitment, and who have something to offer communities.

And in fact, you can actually graduate from college aspiring to a national service experience or nonprofit career — because you are committed to social change, community issues, living your faith, etc. That is, if people who are mentoring you can educate you about these kinds of opportunities.

Mid-career professionals who’ve dedicated their lives to earning their companies a profit are often surprised to find how tricky it is to break into the nonprofit sector. While business skills are valuable in running nonprofit organizations, and many nonprofit careerists earn MBAs, the nonprofit sector is not the repository of people who didn’t make it as capitalists.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a capitalist.

2. A term of national service is not an alternate career path or a nonprofit job.

A term of service is usually a year or two — it’s not exactly an alternative career path. It’s short term. After your term you can decide what to do next — you’ll have more experience than you did as a college senior, but your options in life are still as wide open.

While most U.S.-based service programs are 501(c)(3) nonprofits themselves, corps members are supported by a range of host sites, not just nonprofits. Corps members teach in public schools and serve in local government agencies, as well as in nonprofit organizations.

Nonprofit careers do exist — and national service is a great launching point. To understand nonprofit careers better, check out the Guide to Nonprofit Careers.

3. Finally, one of the biggest misunderstandings people—including reporters—have is that nonprofit = no money. That nonprofit work is volunteer work and doesn’t count as a “real job” that can support a person or family.

At we have had to work hard, and will continue to work hard, to get people — college students, career counselors, parents, mid-career professionals — to let go of certain notions they have of nonprofit employment.

Saying that college grads will settle for a $10,000/year “job” in the nonprofit sector because of the loan repayment benefit implies that nonprofits pay poverty wages to staff. That’s a serious issue for the nonprofit sector wanting to beef up its workforce and leadership pipeline (PDF) in time for baby boomers to retire. And it’s irresponsible journalism.

From the document debunking the top-ten myths about the nonprofit sector:

The term “nonprofit” refers to the 501(c) tax code in the United States. Non-governmental organization, or NGO, and “charity” are the common terms used outside the United States. Revenues generated by nonprofit organizations go back into programs that serve the organizations’ mission. There are no stockholders receiving annual financial dividends, and employees do not receive a bonus at the end of a good year. According to Independent Sector, $670 billion are earned by nonprofit organizations annually, and one in twelve Americans work in the nonprofit sector.

To learn more about the nonprofit sector, read Chapter One of the Guide to Nonprofit Careers. To learn more about nonprofit salaries, check out these free, online resources: Occupational Outlook Handbook,, and (use the term “non-profit,” with a hyphen).

To learn more about service opportunities, check out the Corps and Coalitions list on the right-hand sidebar of this blog.

David Eisner’s recent speech about the need for national service explains its value from the perspective of governing healthy communities during an economic downturn.