Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve When You Interview

By Laura Gassner Otting

You’re called in for an interview for the job that could launch your encore career. The standard advice would be to promote your achievements, but that may not be the best strategy. Instead, voice your passion about this new stage in your life and share the “aha!” moment that set you on your new path.

Job seekers transitioning into the nonprofit sector are often filled with assumptions and expectations about the sector itself, some true and some not. Likewise, the nonprofit sector is teeming with assumptions and expectations about these job seekers. To avoid being stereotyped, encore careerists need to stand out in a different way.

There is no doubt that many nonprofit hiring managers staring at any would-be encore careerist’s resume think that they have seen it all before: another for-profit refugee looking to “give back.” The best way to avoid being pigeonholed by these assumptions is to confront them head on. Encore careerists should be prepared to hear them, and correct them, throughout the job search process.

For example, your cover letter can discuss how you have sent your children to college and are more financially able to make the sacrifices necessary to give back to your community. Or you might use your résumé to list the volunteer work you’ve done throughout the years to allay concerns that you prioritized moneymaking ahead of your passion.

Networking provides another chance for you to learn about and discuss how work in the nonprofit sector is different, and demonstrate that your expectations are aligned with reality.

The chief stereotypes you must confront all orbit around the idea that for-profit employees are interested in themselves instead of their community, their country or their world. However, we all are forced to live within certain economic realities. Sadly, the mortgage company won’t give us back any points for helping the homeless, nor will the supermarket comp us groceries for feeding the poor.

Working for the private sector is not and was not a sin, and you should be proud of the work you did there. This work has prepared you for the nonprofit sector in ways that will benefit the nonprofit for which you ultimately work.

Yet a nonprofit hiring manager may not see it that way and might need some additional stroking. Take care to craft your story about when you discovered you were unfulfilled by the pursuit of money and became dedicated to a cause. Nonprofits love to hear about corporate denizens who wake up one day and realize that they want to do more meaningful work.

If you wear your heart on your sleeve, you’ll always get compliments about your fashion sense from nonprofit coworkers.

Laura Gassner Otting is president of the Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group, which helps increase the capacity of nonprofits and their staffs. She is the author of Change Your Career: Transitioning to the Nonprofit Sector.