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AP Perspectives: 10 Easy Ways to Make Your Job Search More Successful

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Looking for a new job is a time-consuming process, and it can be frustrating as so much is out of your control. Are you taking advantage of every opportunity to put your best foot forward to prospective employers? Some ways to stand out from the competition are simple, yet not often followed (at least by a majority of applicants for an executive director position for a statewide human services nonprofit). Many of these tips will sound familiar to anyone who has worked in fundraising.

1. Spruce up your LinkedIn profile.

Do you have a professional photo? Does your profile match up to what is included on your resume? Prospective employers will look you up online. Take ownership of what they can see.

2. Follow application instructions.

If the employer asks for a cover letter, send one. If the employer specifies where applications should be directed, send them there. Make life easier for the person reviewing applications.

3. Do your research about the prospective employer.

Before you apply to a job, take a few minutes to peruse the employer’s website. Before you interview, take more than a few minutes. Determine the basics—mission, who is served, main services, locations, etc. Demonstrate this knowledge at the interview. Don’t be like a recent executive director candidate who, when asked what most resonated about the organization’s mission, cited a completely different mission.

4. Customize and proofread your cover letter.

Don’t be lazy and generic. If you can determine the name of the HR director, hiring manager, search consultant, etc., address your letter to them. Take advantage of a cover letter as your opportunity to make the case for why you are the perfect candidate for the position, especially if it isn’t obvious from your resume. Make sure you send the correct cover letter unlike a recent candidate who uploaded one for a completely different organization. Encourage whoever is reading the letter to contact you, but avoid what another candidate did and suggest a one-week time frame for the response.

5. Make your resume relevant and legible.

If you’ve had more than one job and are involved in the community, it can be hard to fit all you want to on one or two pages with a reasonable font size. Don’t resort to eight-point font and quarter-inch margins. Take the space you need to for relevant employment, education, and community involvement. Consider removing objectives that are meaningless and lists of skills that are irrelevant or covered in how you describe current and past positions.

6. Respond to calls/email from the recruiter/HR/hiring manager.

If your goal with applying was to be considered for a position and not to practice your job search skills, respond to calls and email—whether it’s for more information or to schedule an interview. There are many candidates out there; don’t provide a reason for you to go in the “no” pile. When you do respond, proofread what you send—especially if it’s written on your mobile device.

7. Dress professionally for your interview.

While the late ‘90s business school recommendations of a gray or navy pantsuit for women and the same color suit for a men may be a bit dated, make an effort. Perhaps the organization is casual and a dressy t-shirt is okay for a day at the office, but try harder for your first impression—whether it’s virtual or in person. Put on at least a blazer or suit jacket with an appropriate shirt underneath for your expressed gender. If your interview is virtual, also make sure your background is “dressed”—avoid an unmade bed in the background as a recent candidate neglected to.

8. Eliminate trite jargon in your interview answers.

Not one, but two recent candidates for an executive director role described their management style as that of a servant leader. Yes, Robert Greenleaf’s concept is popular, but the term is not yet parlance. Explain what you actually mean instead of including buzz words you think the interviewer wants to hear. When referring to other organizations, say the same instead of the acronym. Please also don’t assume the interviewer is privy to fundraising speak. For example, go with lapsed donors instead of LYBUNT.

9. Don’t ask interviewers questions just to ask questions.

You’re busy. They’re busy. Don’t waste anyone’s time. Yes, it’s awkward if you don’t have any questions, but go with those that actually matter to you. Also think about who is interviewing you and what questions are appropriate for that person’s role.

10. Express thanks for the interview opportunity.

Would you ever meet with a donor and not thank them? Hopefully, your answer is no. Thank your interviewer for the opportunity. It’s polite and a way to reiterate your interest in the position or elaborate more on a topic. If you interviewed and realized you’re not interested in the position, that’s OK to say in your thank-you email. It will save time for all. If nothing else, simply express thanks for the interviewer’s time.

By applying the 10 tips discussed above, you can potentially move your application from the “no” pile to the “interview” pile and secure a new position. When in doubt about how you present yourself, consider how you present your organization and yourself to donors—you’d pay attention to details and be professional. Your job search deserves the same.

SCStephanie Cory, CAP®, CFRE, is the principal of Stephanie Cory Consulting. She has dedicated her career to the nonprofit sector since 2003 in a variety of roles, including program manager, development director, executive director, adjunct faculty, and consultant. Stephanie earned an MEd in adult and organizational development and assists clients with recruiting and onboarding talented staff. She serves as president of the AFP – Brandywine Chapter.

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