Secret #2: Build and Connect with Your Network
Last week I covered the first step to landing a job in the nonprofit sector: find clarity and focus. You must first have clarity around what’s important to you, understand why it’s important, and how you’ll connect it to your career. Please take some time to read through these questions here, if you haven’t already.
Once you know what you’re looking for, you can begin reaching out to people who may be able to help. Here are the steps I’ve taken in the past to land a new nonprofit job, build my network, and build friendships.
1. If you want help, be a helper. Sign up. Volunteer. Start by, not only sending out good karma into the world, but by connecting with others to help meet their needs (genuinely, of course). Let’s say you want to transition into a fundraising position. Attend a local Association of Fundraising Professionals’ chapter meeting. (Find one here.) Chances are there is already a group of volunteers already connecting around a cause you’d like to connect with too. Google is your friend here. In Indy, the best place to find opportunities is through the local Not-for-Profit News (Sign up here.).
Sign up for events, committees, and day-to-day work (like data entry and filing) that are interesting to you, are just fun, and/or are connected to the charities and people you’re seeking. No lie…I landed an interview with this organization I was dying to work for by offering to organize the executive director’s office and organize 10 years worth of insurance papers. (How I got that job is a blog post in-and-of-itself! It. was. amazing!)
2. Ask for one-on-one meetings. If you’re looking for a job, now is not the time to be bashful. This is the simplest step here: email or call individuals and ask to take them out for coffee or a beverage of their choice. From my experience, people want to help you. But you have to make their time worthwhile: they want to know exactly how they can help you. This is why you have to first have clarity around your job search before you reach out.
When you contact them for a meeting tell them why you’re reaching out: because you respect their experience and expertise and you need help. (“Picking your brain” is now considered weird jargon, so avoid those words.) Ask for 30 to 60 minutes at a place convenient to them (and make sure you honor their time).
3. Be prepared for the meeting and follow through. Do your research on this connection. Don’t stalk them, but have a basic understanding of their job history. Ask questions so you listen more than you talk. Be prepared to describe your best skills and experience and exactly what you’re looking for. During the course of this conversation, I suggest trying to leave each meeting with these 4 questions answered: 1) How has your experience gotten you to this point in your career? 2) What are the suggestions you have for me? 3) Who else should I connect with? 4) How can I help you?
Be sure to follow up in every way you promised. This may all sound very basic, but this is where so many people drop the ball. You prove you are trustworthy by doing what you say you’ll do. People want to help people they trust. Send a “thank you” note within a couple of days (email is good; handwritten snail mail is even better here).
This is how your networks grows: one person, one coffee at a time.
4. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Repeats steps 1, 2, and 3 until you land your job. Frankly, never stop repeating these steps, regardless of your job situation. And to keep your good karma going, say, “Yes,” when someone reaches out to pick your brain and asks for your help.
These steps aren’t always easy. Let me know how I can help you.