Career Q&A with Nurys

“When negotiating salary, what are you allowed to ask for in terms of compensation and/or benefits? If the employer is not up-front about what is offered, how do you broach the subject of benefits packages or options?” – Julia L., Evergreen Park, IL

First, before your first interview, check the employer’s Careers page on their website for benefits information. Feel free to ask about available benefits anytime, but if you ask during the initial screening, don’t worry if their answer is vague (“Oh, you know, we offer the standard stuff—health insurance, paid vacation, holidays, and sick leave...”).

If you’re invited for another interview, you can dig deeper. Once they let you know that you’ve made it to the final round of considerations, you’re entitled to a straightforward answer about what their organization offers, and what they’re giving you (there might be some benefits you’re not eligible for until you’ve been with them for a certain amount of time). If they try to dodge the question and change the subject or refuse to answer, ask if you can speak with the person who can share a detail summary of the benefits.

Negotiating benefits usually comes after the base salary’s been nailed down, since benefits can make up for the shortfall between what was offered and what you were hoping for. If the employer offers a lower salary than expected due to their budget and you still want to work for them, ask if you can have an earlier performance and salary review, or whether you’re eligible for performance-based bonuses or a signing bonus.

You can ask for anything you’d like, but it’s best to prioritize your top 10 most wanted benefits and start negotiating at #1 first. If you’re already on a health insurance plan that is comparable to or better than the one offered by the employer, consider declining it in exchange for something that’s really important to you. Make sure you get your due, but don’t get caught up trying to gain benefits you don’t really care about just to “win.”

While focusing on the important things like insurance and retirement plans, don’t forget about the smaller stuff that employers are often willing to accommodate: compensatory time (important if you’re exempt from earning overtime pay), professional development and training, tuition subsidy or reimbursement, a new computer/laptop or software upgrades, a new smartphone or subsidizing your current plan, free gym membership and/or fitness incentives, and transportation/parking.


Once you’ve verbally accepted the offer, consider it set in stone. Changing your mind about what you want while you’re waiting for them to send you the offer letter—or holding your signature for ransom—will not only make you look bad, but might make the employer rescind their offer entirely.

What is the best way to land a job in your career field with only education/credentials and no previous job experience? – Anonymous, Chicago, IL

Use your network

Reach out to your instructors and the career advisors where you’re getting your education early on and make sure they know what your goals upon graduating and long-term are. Even if it’s an online program, ask to arrange a phone or Skype conversation. They’ll at least be able to guide your coursework and review your resume. If it’s not too late, they can point you to internship and volunteer opportunities so you can build up your job experience. You can ask them to be a reference as well. Don’t forget to reach out to classmates! Ask where and how they’re job-searching for ideas you can use.

Make sure your family, friends, and everyone on your social media know you just got a new credential and what kind of work you're looking for. You never know what people or resources they can connect you with. People love to help out and may volunteer, before you even ask, to pass along your resume or make an introduction. Requesting informational interviews with people doing what you want to do will help you get on the right track and can lead to a valuable mentoring relationships. Just remember to never be pushy and always send thank you notes!

Bring attention to and focus on the criteria you DO meet

Don’t start your cover letter with “I don’t have these things you’re looking for, but…” If there are too many reasons why a hiring manager would dismiss you out of hand, or you’re not sure you can handle the job as described, find something else to apply for. Read job descriptions carefully and be clear on what’s required and what’s preferred. Make sure you meet most of the required criteria so you don’t waste your time or their time. Emphasize why you’re a great fit for the role and anything that makes you stand out. If you have a personal connection to the nonprofit’s mission or have volunteered with them before, let them know about it in your cover letter!

If you studied something directly related to the career you want to pursue, highlight relevant skills and knowledge you gained from your coursework, especially your familiarity with any new practices, regulations that affect the industry, and software. Even if your education isn’t directly related, show how what you learned is still relevant or gives you unique perspective and experience that can be tied into the job description of positions you’re applying for.

Also, don’t discredit your soft skills! Assuming you have previous work experience, just not in the area you’re trying to break into, highlight your ability to work in and lead a team, or stay organized to meet multiple project deadlines. Advanced, professional writing and verbal communication skills are in high demand, so be sure to mention if you have extensive public speaking experience or drafted important client communications at a previous job.

What advice can you give to candidates—who may not have years of experience but still have worked hard to gain relevant skills—to market their value to potential employees? –J. Orloki, Alexandria, VA

Job searching is tricky. It’s tough work and very often feels endless. It can be especially discouraging to new grads or professionals seeking a career change, two groups that have unique experiences behind them that may or may not directly relate to the profession they’d like to enter. So what’s a person to do to increase their exposure even with limited experience? A few tips:

  1. For new grads, take stock of the skills you’ve gained from your time in clubs, classes, part time jobs or volunteer work. Professionals looking to change career paths can also do this for skills acquired from their current position and even outside hobbies, so long as they’re transferrable. If you find you’re missing a necessary skill, consider taking a class, obtaining a certificate or even pursuing a graduate degree.
  2. Expand your network by meeting as many new people as you can, no matter if it’s through more formal avenues such as networking events or volunteer work—or more casually—by tapping into your personal connections. Friends and acquaintances can be powerful resources to finding opportunities; approximately 70% of jobs aren’t published because so much of hiring occurs through people bringing on those they already have a relationship with.
  3. Find a connection between what interests you about a particular organization to your life and personal experiences. Ideally, you would be passionate about the organization’s mission and values and excited at the opportunity to contribute to them. Consider what about your personal “brand” and life experience resonates with the nonprofit. That way, even if the professional experience isn’t there, the personal will be; in turn, this connection may work in your favor when applying.

The biggest (and hardest!) thing to remember is to keep at the job search and know that—though it will take time and effort—there is a light at the end of the tunnel! Don’t be afraid to try new things; in fact, this may be the best time to do so, whether it’s a project you take the lead on in your current role or joining a young professional’s board. Employers will appreciate your proactive approach towards your career development!

How long should one stay in an entry level position? – Nashika T., Chicago

The short answer here is that it’s relative. The question here shouldn’t necessarily be about how long one should stay but rather how to optimize an entry level role. Of course, no one’s expecting you to stay for ten years—but two years? Absolutely; there’s a point in the beginning of everyone’s career where you have to pay your dues. Sure, you may not be in the ideal role at the moment, but there are steps you can take to make the best of your entry level job. Some things to consider:

Do you have a career map? Do you have an idea of where you’d like to head next and how you can flourish in your current position? One great way to illustrate your next steps and better visualize your goals is by making a career map. Career mapping is a great way to view your progress, set goals and anticipate changes; it’s as simple as putting your ambitions down on paper and assigning them timeframes. For example, you can designate two years or so to your current role and allot certain professional milestones to each month or every six months.

Are you still learning? Building and expanding upon skills and learning from mentors and colleagues are often what keep an individual engaged in the workplace. If you’ve found that you haven’t been absorbing as much as you could, consider reestablishing your connections to your mentors and colleagues. You could ask your mentor to coffee if you haven’t in a while, or inquire into your desk mate’s latest project. This serves to foster a productive relationship between you and your acquaintances; you might also learn something new over cappuccinos!

How’s your work life balance? Many times, articles and discussions about work life balance seem to be directed at those who are in high powered careers and have been in them for years. Though that’s not untrue, work life balance is often overlooked in entry level candidates—many who tend to let the late nights in the office build and their emotionally fulfilling side projects dwindle. Even if you’re right out of the gate and the greenest person in the office, your work life balance should be a priority. Your time in your entry level job will only seem longer and drier when you’re working 60-hour weeks and haven’t seen your friends and family in months!

How long you stay in an entry level position depends on your goals (whether they’re long-term or short-term) and your circumstances. Regardless of what they are, consider volunteering, freelancing or working on passion projects on the side to build new skills and gain experience. This way, you stay refreshed and cognizant of life outside of your work, which will only serve to enrich you and make you all the better at tackling challenges in not only your current role, but in roles to come!

I have 14 years experience in non-profit development and left my last job in January to move my family across the country and have my third child. I would like to return to work in the non-profit sector in my new city this fall. I am wondering the best approach to applying for work after an absence, albeit brief, and in a new community where I have no professional connections. I landed my previous positions pre-recession simply by applying and sending in resumes, so any tips on networking and getting to the ‘top of the list’ would be greatly appreciated. — Larsen

It’s reasonable to wonder, with a slow jobs recovery, whether biases against working mothers will factor into employers’ hiring decisions. In your case, there are 14 years of experience to consider and you have only been off work for six months. These aren’t red flags to most employers. You had a child and relocated. That’s a lot to have going on all out once. Good for you!

Now that you’re ready to rejoin the workforce in a new city, blindly responding to job ads or posting your resume to sites online, as you’ve done in the past, probably won’t do the trick this time. The nonprofit sector is very competitive right now with spillover from the private sector. It’s important that you get out there and network as often as you can. That might be difficult to do with three kids, but it’s important that you make time.

I’d recommend you start by reaching out to professional organizations and attending their events. You might even want to consider joining at least one if you are not a member already. Get involved in affiliate chapters of groups you already belong to, and, Viola! instant network. Don’t put this off. Identify the key influencers in these organizations and introduce yourself. Professionals who are already entrenched locally with a good reputation might be willing to take you under wing and introduce you around. Establishing personal connections are essential when you are the new kid on the block.

In the meantime, if you need to start earning cash right away, consider looking into the temp to permanent market. You mentioned that you worked in nonprofit development. That could involve either programming or fundraising. Each is a pound the pavement, beat the bushes type career, and the top performers really stand out. In fact, they are an employer’s dream. So even if it isn’t where you want to end up, it could get you in the door.

Also, don’t let your new kid on the block, new mommy status dilute your brand in your own mind. You’ve already proven you have what it takes.

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

The government’s monthly jobs report in March was a bit confusing. It showed the national unemployment rate dipping slightly to 8.2 percent but that companies hired fewer people. The White House called the news encouraging. In the meantime, those who have focused their job search on the private sector might want to think about a career at a nonprofit.

There are a lot of good reasons why. The Nonprofit Times recently released its top 50 Best Nonprofits to Work For list. The pollsters concluded that nonprofit employees are happier than private sector workers. In nearly all categories, employees rated their job satisfaction above 85 percent. Those in the top 10 had approval ratings of 90 percent or better.

As a nonprofit recruiter and staffing agent, I have had to counter misperceptions about what it’s like to work for a nonprofit, from low pay to dilapidated buildings and equipment. The face of nonprofits has changed. In fact, one of the reasons nonprofit employees are happier is because they work in a less corporate and more team-building environment. Higher salaries in the private sector went away with the economic downturn. Director-level positions at nonprofit are now competitive with mid-level managers at corporations.

If a fat paycheck is your motivation than a nonprofit might not be for you. Nonprofits want to hire people who are passionate about the mission. But nonprofits are businesses too. They have budgets, set goals and may require long hours. The mission is what drives you.

“A lot of things translate from the private world into nonprofits,” said Jim Struthers, Chief Development Officer and Assistant Director of the Communities Program for the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, a Careers In Nonprofits client. “You’re selling your mission. That’s no different than trying to get somebody to buy your jeans or come to your restaurant to eat. The same principles of marketing translate into nonprofit work.”

There is more room at the top at nonprofits and it’s only going to get roomier. According to a survey published last year in the Philanthropy Journal, about 67 percent of nonprofit executives plan to retire by 2016. Like any other business, these organizations are looking to fill their pipeline of workers and groom future leaders. Now could be your chance. Nonprofits value the skills that private sector managers can bring, most importantly, the ability to do more with less.

Struthers used to work in the private sector as an event planner, marketer and fundraiser.
“When I would say I planned events, some people would say, ‘Oh, so you get to go to a lot of great parties. Planning events is a lot of work,” Struthers said. “I don’t think that people understand that nonprofits, when they do events, aren’t saying, ‘Hey, let’s have a party and invite 1500 of our friends.’ It’s part of our business, involves months of planning and, of course, figuring out the best way to raise money and hit the event’s goal.”

Promotions typically happen faster in the nonprofit sector. A manager at a for-profit company could easily make the move to director of a nonprofit. The fact that nonprofits often have more exposure and bigger projects helps supplant the bigger job title.

Hard work is rewarded but nonprofits do experience layoffs. “As with any industry, the economy plays a role. But as to job security, if you’re good at your job,put in the time and effort it takes to be successful, your position is pretty secure, as it is in any sector” Struthers said.

Nonprofits invest in training, so you don’t have to be an expert when you walk through the door. Yet there are now many institutions offering program and certifications in nonprofit management, event fundraising and development That shows how the world has changed looking at this field,’’ Struthers said. “With these opportunities, there are more chances to move into nonprofits.”

Check out a nonprofit up close by volunteering. That way, you can better assess whether a career at a nonprofit is for you. To learn more about nonprofit careers, check out the “featured jobs” on the Careers In Nonprofits home page.

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

The last few years have been very difficult for job-seekers, and many of us have taken temporary assignments with agencies such as CNP while we search for permanent work. While the temporary positions have helped me learn new skills and support myself financially during my search, I am having trouble explaining the job-jumping and short-term positions to potential employers during interviews and don’t know how to list them on my resume. Any advice? – Leslie S.

With the ups and downs of the economy over the last few years, it isn’t a surprise that we have received multiple questions asking how to best represent one’s self when job searching. Many incredibly talented job-seekers have been laid off multiple times, now have gaps in their resumes, and have taken temporary assignments. While most hiring managers understand the circumstances faced by candidates recently, it is still in a potential employee’s best interest to always be one step ahead and prepared to address potential employer concerns before they are even mentioned in an interview.

Before discussing how to handle the interview process, let’s address how to best format your resume to highlight the pros of temporary employment, rather than the cons. Here are a few tips to make your resume stand out:

– Note which positions are temporary so that hiring managers won’t be left wondering why you left after a short period of time.

– List both the name of the organization/company at which you were assigned, as well as the staffing agency that placed you.

– Provide dates of employment, including month and year.

– Treat temporary assignments, particularly longer-term positions, as you would any other previous job on your resume; write detailed bullet points of your particular duties and include statistics and accomplishments.

As for the interview process, the first step to overcoming resume concerns is self-confidence. No matter how long you were in a position, you likely learned new skills and contributed to the team. This is where your focus should be! Keep track of accomplishments, successes, and relevant statistics and be sure to explain how the skills used at each position will make you the right fit for the role in question. In addition, it is up to you to demonstrate to the hiring manager that you are a great asset to any organization. Explain your resume clearly, concisely, and provide details where it counts.

The less nervous or self-conscious you are when explaining your resume and the reasons for leaving various positions, the less nervous the interviewer will be about your candidacy. So shake the nerves! Practice explaining your temporary positions or lay-offs out loud in front of a mirror or to a friend until you become at ease. Of course, the best way to become at ease is to be at ease! So give yourself a pat on the back for working through a difficult time for job-seekers and take advantage of the newfound resourcefulness you gained!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

I am very fortunate to have a job I love! I have been working at a great company for almost 2 years now, and as much as I love what I do, I am interested in career growth. This is one of my first jobs out of college, so I’m not quite sure how to climb the ladder yet. Do you have any hints on the best way to go about this? – Brian H.

Whether this is your first job or you’re a seasoned professional, it is always a good idea to be thinking about career growth! Not only does focusing on career growth demonstrate that you are a go-getter and have goals, but also that you are invested in your company and career. However, it is important to remember that career development doesn’t happen overnight and is always a work in progress. There are a number of things you can do to make sure you’re on track and moving in the right direction. A few of my favorite recommendations are below:

– Find a mentor at work: A mentor can be a manager or a colleague with more experience. An ideal mentor would have the skills and experience that you hope to gain in the future. A mentor can offer advice, help you deal with challenges, introduce you to new contacts, help you focus on the right tools and skills you need, and show you all the possibilities for your career. Some mentor relationships develop naturally over time, but don’t be afraid to reach out directly to someone you admire.

– Be a mentor to a new or more junior employee: Acting as a mentor to a new or more junior employee gives you a chance to practice your managerial skills and let them shine. Your leadership abilities will quickly become apparent, and it will be evident that you are willing to help your colleagues and show them the ropes for the good of the company.

– Talk to your manager about your goals: Set up a time to speak with your manager about your future goals and ask exactly what you need to do to reach those goals. Be clear about the fact that you understand that career development may not happen immediately and that you are willing to work for it. Discuss specific goals, trainings, and skills required to get to where you want to be.

– Make a plan: Once you have the information you need, plot out the tasks you need to do and goals you want to achieve along the way to your larger goal.

– Be a team player: You should always stay focused on your career growth, but not at the expense of your colleagues. Keep in mind that your number one goal is to meet and exceed the requirements of your current position. That doesn’t just mean hitting your numbers or finishing your projects; it means assisting others, making sure the needs of the company are met, being collaborative, and sharing credit for new ideas and successes. In addition, being a team player will make you more likable among your coworkers at all levels, which is important when considering growth.

– Take initiative: Don’t be afraid to present new ideas, take on extra projects, or learn new skills. Just be sure to present any new ideas in an appropriate setting and be respectful of other people’s time.

– Learn to “manage up”: This means that you should learn to work in such a way as to assist the person you are supporting (your manager), and teach others to do the same. By demonstrating that you understand your manager’s needs, you will make the company more efficient and prove that you work for the good of the team. You will also gain a better understanding of your manager’s responsibilities and priorities.

– Show interest in the company: Show interest in all aspects of the company, even outside of your department and position. Ask your colleagues about their responsibilities and develop a thorough understanding of how the organization functions, from front to back, and from top to bottom.

– Know the industry: Stay up to date on the latest industry research, attend trainings and seminars, and use the information you learn to make a positive impact at work.

– Think in terms of results: Base conversations around goals and outcomes. Be as results-oriented as possible, and prove that you are developing the tools you need to help the organization as a whole achieve its goals. Thinking and speaking in terms of outcomes will also highlight your work ethic and ability to work with the big picture in mind.

– Set the next goal: Once you reach your current career goal, start thinking about what’s next. As I mentioned earlier, career development is an on-going process. Having these types of ambitions motivates us at every step of our professional journeys.

As you work on these various suggestions, you may realize that there is not a lot of room for growth at your current organization. However, I’d still certainly recommend taking these tips into consideration because they will show your managers and colleagues your potential for growth. Even if you end up searching outside of your current organization for your next role, your references and recommendations will likely reflect this potential. And best of all, you will be ready to work toward a whole new set of goals at your next opportunity!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

What advice/tips do you have for finding a potential mentor and asking them to be your mentor?” – Melor S. in Silver Spring, RD

Mentors give valuable advice, introduce you to life-changing contacts and opportunities, and guide by example. It’s to your advantage to have a mentor, and some even say you can’t get ahead at all without one.

First, examine your career so far and where you want to go—next quarter, next year, in five years. Identify gaps in your skills and experience, as well as any you would like to acquire. Basically, create a career map. (Our Career Mapping workshop is offered several times throughout the year; you can click here for our workshop schedule.)

Which items on your career map do you want your mentors—yes, more than one!—to help you with? Do you need someone to help you find a job? Excel in your current role? Strengthen your network? Advance within your organization or industry? Or overhaul your career completely? Knowing what you want will make it easier to find the right people to ask.

Two obvious places to look for mentors are within your organization or a professional association, but you can look for mentors through alumni associations, religious groups, community organizations, and your own family. There are also mentoring groups you can find on LinkedIn and through a general Internet search. If you’re looking for a job and working with a recruiter, they can act as a mentor by giving you valuable job search advice.

When you think you’ve found the right person, ask them for a short meeting, and be specific about what you want to discuss. Respect their time and be prepared with questions and goals. Don’t forget to gauge your chemistry with them! You’ll be coming to this person for support and advice, so make sure you feel comfortable with them. Having similar interests—both work-related and not—will help.

If the first meeting goes well, go ahead and lay down the parameters of your mentoring relationship. How often will you communicate, and how? What topics will you discuss, and what should be off-limits? What level of confidentiality do you want to maintain? The last two considerations are especially important if your mentor is someone who works at the same organization you do.

Your relationship with a mentor should be a friendship with someone who happens to help you out professionally. Instead of thinking of them solely as the benefactor and of yourself as the beneficiary, think of the ways you can help them out, too—by giving them an ear and a fresh perspective when they need it, or even imparting some skills and wisdom you’ve picked up along the way.

If you are on temporary assignment, how do you determine whether or not the employer is interested in hiring you permanently? If you want to make your temporary role a permanent one, what are the steps you should take?” – Toccarra W., Chicago, IL

Before you pursue converting your temporary assignment to a permanent position, you should make sure that your interest in a permanent role is truly based on your commitment and dedication to the organization and your work, not simply your desire to end your job search.

Are you achieving your assignment goals and exceeding them by volunteering to assist in other projects? Are you fitting in with the organization’s culture and making friends with the other employees? Do you “click” with your supervisor(s)?

Not only are these considerations crucial for getting considered as a potential permanent hire, they’re important for your own happiness and career success as well. If you can’t answer yes to all three of those questions, you will ultimately be dissatisfied and disengaged even if you do become a permanent, full-time employee, and will probably end up leaving.

If you’re absolutely sure this is work you want to do for the long-term, let your recruiter know you’re interested in a temp-to-perm conversion. Your recruiter is your #1 resource. They might already know if the organization is interested in converting your assignment. If they don’t, they will consult with the organization to put your interest on the radar, as well as gauge the organization’s position.

Once you’ve expressed your interest to your recruiter, it’s important to let them initiate the conversation about temp-to-perm conversion with the organization. Take cues from your recruiter when it comes to communicating with your supervisor(s) about pursuing permanency, and be careful not to be too pushy. Not only can your good relations with the organization turn sour, it can also be a red flag that makes your recruiter hesitant to place you in future roles.

There are many reasons why a temporary assignment doesn’t become a permanent assignment that are completely out of your control. The organization might have a policy, for whatever reason, that they don’t do temp-to-perm conversions. Or, they might have opened the assignment to address a short-term or seasonal increase in workload and don’t need anyone on a permanent basis. In either case, if you are passionate about working for the organization, keep everyone informed of your interest to join in on a permanent capacity.

What would be the best questions to ask while being interviewed by an employer? –Kiele M., Hyattsville, MD

A faux pas you can commit after your interview is staring blankly at the hiring manager when he or she asks: “do you have any questions for me?”

Not only is having no questions telling of your lack of true interest or passion in the organization, it also signifies a basic lack of preparation. Below, some questions you might consider asking to best get a feel for the role you are essentially auditioning for:

What are some of the challenges someone in this role might face?
This will give you an honest glimpse into the not-so-glamorous elements that the job entails, which will help provide a more multifaceted portrait of the role that you might not glean from the posting or interview alone.

What supplemental training programs, if any, are available for your employees?
The right organizations invest in their teams. This question will help determine if your potential employer puts in the time to train you and other employees beyond the basics.

Where do you see the organization going in the years to come?
This can offer a look into what changes might be implemented in the future, or what kind of direction the organization might go after you are brought onboard.

You don’t need to have a thirty-minute Q&A session time-blocked in your head. In fact, you should only ask one to three questions, max. Avoid sneaking in two-part questions, get directly to the point and you will find yourself asking insightful and informed questions—just like the pros!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

What is the best way to prepare for an interview? Are there general questions one should practice before the interview? — Sammy M., Washington, DC

Arriving unprepared ranks close to the top of the list of “Things Not to Do” when faced with an interview. Below, some things to keep in mind to best prepare for the big day:

– Determine what you love about the role and the organization

– Assess the skills you can bring to the job

– Honestly consider your strengths and weaknesses

– Highlight successful and related projects and accomplishments

– Come with questions for the interviewer

It’s best practice to be able to expand on the above suggestions, as they cover the basic foundations of most interviews regardless of industry. Subsequently, don’t forget about the logistics:

– Arrive on time

– Determine directions and/or parking

– Turn off your phone

– Bring copies of your resume and work samples

Lastly, a follow up thank you note (handwritten or email both work) takes you through the end of the process!

Interviewing can be stressful, especially if you have several close together or are in different rounds for different organizations. Consider the list above, practice with a friend or mentor, get a good night’s sleep and give yourself plenty of time to arrive to the office. You’ll be prepped in no time and interviewing like a natural!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

What is the best way to show how experience in one field can translate to success in another; for example, going from teaching to project management? – Joe O., Arlington, VA

Years of experience in one field don’t have to prevent you from moving into another. Even if you only worked for six months or two years, there are likely transferrable skills you have that can move seamlessly into the next role. Whether this is your spot-on strategy knowhow or your writing wherewithal, identifying your top transferrable skills will serve you well and act as a great first step in moving towards your dream career.

Consider a summary at the top of your resume that highlights the special experience you’ve gained in prior roles and, in particular, your desire to change fields.

Similarly, consider changing your resume style from the traditional chronological to a skills-based one, which also gets your skill set front and center to hiring managers.

Set achievable goals with specific deadlines. This can be anything from setting a 3-month mark to update your resume, a 6-month mark to garner interviews, and a 12-month mark to accept a potential offer. This can help prevent you from getting sidetracked on your quest to don another hat.

Assess your current skill set and weaknesses. If you are looking to change fields, it’s important to understand possible limitations to doing. If, say, you know you want to switch to maintaining a donor database, either brush up or learn how to navigate Raiser’s Edge. Just because you never had a certain responsibility in your previous role shouldn’t prevent you from learning outside of the office!

Crossing over to another field is daunting but possible with the right amount of grit and tenacity. As with most things, getting started is the most challenging part. What you might find after making the first move, however, is a dream career at the end of the tunnel!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

What is the best way to address gaps in your resume? – Katherine K., Washington, DC

As is the case with all things regarding resumes and job seeking in general, my first point of advice is to avoid lying about why you have gaps in your work history. Even if it’s just a white lie, the consequences are far greater than a nervous slip of the tongue and should be avoided at all costs. Honesty is the best policy!

Another way to address gaps in your resume is to consider using a functional resume, which highlights your skills first and foremost as opposed to listing your experience chronologically.

If you would still like to use the traditional resume format, you might want to list just the duration of time you spent in previous jobs versus listing a specific time frame.

If a functional or chronological resume isn’t on the top of your list, a great way of sharing your skills and experience is to bolster your professional summary at the top of the document (or to create one entirely if you don’t have one).

If questions regarding your resume gaps arise during an initial phone call or first round interview, telling the truth prevails over attempting to mask why you haven’t worked for six months. In fact, questions from the recruiter or hiring manager can be a good thing—you’re given the ability to explain a difficult situation (say, in the event you were a caretaker for an ill parent) or how you’re attempting to break into a new field.

Contrary to popular opinion, gaps in your work history aren’t a resume’s kiss of death. In fact, they are more common than you might think. Recruiters and hiring managers alike are aware of the unpredictability of life and are sympathetic to that fact. While they are sympathetic, it’s also important to be aware that it might take some time to jump back on the career horse. Consider the listed advice and mind the resume gap in order to stride confidently back into the working world!

How do you go about discussing salary or handling salary negotiations? –Josephina C., Chicago

In salary negotiations, both the employer and the prospective employee want to reach the same end point: a salary that the two of you are happy with. Of course, it’s never quite that simple to reach this goal, is it? Some tips to find the sweet spot during the course of the conversation:

Assess your situation. Where are you in this point in your career? What is your current role and salary? What are your goals five, ten years down the line? It’s important to be honest with where you are before beginning a conversation surrounding compensation.

Determine a range. Don’t fixate on one figure. It pigeonholes you and makes it more difficult for you to negotiate properly.

If in the interviewing process, wait for the hiring manager to bring up the topic of salary. You don’t want it to appear as though you are only searching for a specific dollar amount in order to accept an offer.

Anticipate resistance. It is wise to consider the fact that your hiring manager is unwilling to budge on salary for a number of reasons. Anticipate resistance and prepare answers to common questions that come with it.

Lastly, look outside the box. Say the hiring manager can’t extend an offer for a dollar more. Look outside the box and consider extraneous factors such as transportation/cell phone expenses, vacation days or bonus potential.

Salary negotiations are a prickly endeavor, but worth participating in throughout the course of your career. Not participating and passively accepting each offer or raise does you a disservice, especially if you have gone above and beyond the call of duty for your dream job. Hearing the word “no” is not the worst thing that can happen—silence between both parties is!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

How effective are non-traditional resumes (e.g. resumes with borders, headings or color)? –Mariyam H., Chicago

A non-traditional resume (e.g. one utilizing infographics, creative font or even a material different from paper) is certainly an eye-catching trick to pull out of the jobseeker’s hat. There are a few things to consider, as an unconventional resume may not be eye-catching in the ideal way.

Think of the Industry before Submitting

Typically, creative industries tend to receive such resumes more favorably than, say, the financial services. If you are working in finance at an association (a more corporate environment), it may benefit you to submit a traditional resume that abides by the same formatting and design guidelines as the majority. If, however, you are going to be building a new website for an organization, a little border or creative heading shouldn’t hurt. As with most things in life, moderation is key here!

Have a Back Up

Always have a copy of your traditional resume on hand to provide hiring managers. Some may not want to see the digital/video/creative version, opting instead to go down the old school route.

Abide by the Rules

Be sure to read through the job description and follow directions for submitting your documents accordingly. If they are asking for a resume in a specific format, heed that. Now is not the time to get creative with your submission!

Simplicity is Key

Regardless of whether or not you decide to spruce up your resume, abide by the “less is more” adage. As with everything else on that document, you want your creative touches to be noticeable without being distracting.

For most applicants, putting a simple black border or using a creative (yet legible) header shouldn’t be the difference between getting a call and not. Be smart about what design choices you make and remember that—above all—it’s your content that will make you stand out. Make sure that all your design choices aren’t merely to mask a lack of experience, and instead highlight the skills and experiences you do have!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

How do you explain that you want to transition from one field to a different one entirely (e.g. from finance to marketing)? –Mariyam H., Chicago

Making the leap across divisions doesn’t have to be difficult. With some finesse, you’ll find that persuading the hiring manager you’re not only willing but also qualified to move across divisional lines isn’t as challenging as it initially appears. Some things to consider before having the conversation:

Make a Pro and Con List

Determine the pros of switching departments—what skills you’ll gain in the new position, what you’ll enjoy more and whether you’ll have opportunities for growth and development.

Similarly, determine the cons of making the move—what challenges do you see ahead of you? What skills will you need to learn prior to interviewing, and which can be learned on the job?

Comb through Your Resume

This goes without saying, but you’ll need to be particularly cognizant of your resume. It’s especially important to update and tailor it to your new position. If, say, you were looking to make the switch from finance to marketing, you might want to highlight a time where you assisted the organization in sales endeavors during a particularly busy quarter.

Look to Your Transferable Skills

Shine a spotlight to your transferable skills that will allow for success in the role. This can be done in your resume, cover letter and the interview. This gives hiring managers a reason to continue the conversation—no need to fear being taken out of the running prematurely!

It’s a huge decision to change fields, one not to be taken lightly. Though the decision will not come without its challenges, with the right amount of preparation and perseverance, you’ll find the journey to new and fulfilling career filled with more excitement than fear!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

What advice do you have to help your cover letter stand out? –Paige W., Chicago

With all the articles and guides floating around the internet, it can be difficult to know where to begin when it comes to the cover letter. One thing that’s for certain is to include one when applying to positions. I don’t believe that hiring managers don’t read cover letters—they may skim, sure, but the notion that they simply toss your letter into the recycling is unfounded. With that, some ways to help your cover letter stand out amongst the pack:

Addressing the letter

The stalwart, “to whom it may concern” may be the fastest way for a hiring manager to dismiss your letter. Contrary to popular belief, not knowing the name of the specific person reading it won’t work against you. In fact, going to excessive lengths to reach out to the organization in order to find out will do so. A good alternative if you’re not given a name is to simply address the organization as a whole (e.g. Dear Careers In Nonprofits). It’s simple and all-encompassing, with little room for misinterpretation.

Anecdotal evidence

Cover letters don’t have to follow the same template. In fact, they should—like resumes—be customized to the position you’re applying for. After all, this is your way of introducing yourself and what you’re about, and there’s no better way than to tell a quick story. Whether you tie in a childhood pastime to the organization’s mission or describe the fundraising effort that led you to the role, an anecdote is a great way to bring the experience on your resume to life.

Removing filler words/clichés

Remember that you only have one page to tell an anecdote (if applicable), express your interest in the position and explain what you’re going to bring to the table if hired. Read and re-read, edit and consider having another set of eyes review your draft to cut out unnecessary adverbs, description or language.

Testimonials/references from supervisors/colleagues

“References available upon request” says little—everyone has references available upon request. Consider inserting (where appropriate) condensed versions of recommendations you’ve received in the past, whether in writing or on LinkedIn.

The cover letter sets the stage for describing what your story is, what kind of experience you have and what you can bring to the table. They don’t need to be bland copies of each other full of stodgy language and trite metaphors. Reviewing the tips above might find your job search bolstered by the basics!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Does your age (over 50) become a hindrance in looking for employment? –Denise J., Chicago

Age only becomes a hindrance if you let it! Older job-seekers bring a wealth of invaluable experience to an organization. Hiring managers realize this and understand that seasoned workers have been in diverse organizations, are flexible with change (contrary to popular belief!) and can see the bigger picture. These are incredible assets that, given the right push, make the older job-seeker a competitive force in the market.

With that, some tips for the seasoned veteran to make him or herself more marketable in the eyes of the hiring manager:

-Make your resume age-neutral. Ditch the dates on your education and consider leaving off positions you held in the very start of your career (say, in the 80s). Bonus: it will trim unnecessary “fat” (pages) off of your resume!

-Go for Google. A Google email account, that is. AOL, Hotmail or SBC Global email addresses tend to direct the reader’s attention to the olden days of internet yore, which is not the kind of attention you want.

-Don’t table temping. Of course I advocate for this, but in all seriousness (and especially if you’ve been out of the workforce for some time), temporary work is a great way to wean yourself back in the workplace.

-Utilize LinkedIn. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, get one! If you do, update it! When was the last time you took a nice profile picture or edited the details of your last position? Get to updating, participating in group discussions and posting relevant articles to spark dialogue. With any luck, your profiles views will increase and your inbox will be pinging with recruiters’ messages.

As I mentioned earlier, age only hinders your search if you let it. Seek out the employers who appreciate all that you have to offer and would prefer your experience over the green, freshly graduated candidate. Your age is an asset to the workforce, and the right organization will recognize that right away!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Should I have business cards if I’m entry level and interested in more than one industry?” –Tara R., Chicago

It certainly doesn’t hurt to get business cards printed, regardless of whether or not you’re entry level or a seasoned veteran. Business cards are a great way to supplement a conversation with a new person and offers a convenient way of passing along your basic information.

Even in this digital age, I would argue that having physical business cards is still relevant and beneficial. They can act as a quick way to establish connections without the chatter of the internet (re: your flooded LinkedIn inbox).

The simplest format to abide by—you can rework the layout and/or content as you gain more experience—is the modern, minimalist one. This will simply include your name and contact information (phone/email). Printed on inexpensive yet sturdy cardstock with an eye-catching yet legible font, this type of card is a great, universal way to start conversations.

With your business cards in tow, you’re now free to distribute them as you see fit—after a networking event, happy hour or even a chance run-in on the street with an old acquaintance is an ideal time to pass them along. Of course, you should also be exchanging your cards and following up with those you receive them from—there’s no use in merely collecting dozens of cards.

The best business cards don’t just begin a single conversation. Consider your card the ticket to a mutually beneficial relationship!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Is it acceptable to have a resume that is more than one page? –Breyon B., Chicago

When jobseeking, the inevitable question springs up: how long does a resume have to be? The time honored standard has been one page on an 8.5in x 11in sheet of paper. Contrary to popular belief, that’s not a hard and fast rule in the job seeking game. Some considerations when embarking on your own resume endeavor—no matter if you’re starting from scratch or looking to cut down on a manuscript of your job responsibilities!

First off, we’re discussing resumes and not C.V.s, which are generally academic focused and are often much longer to expand on one’s experience (often for scholarly purposes).

Now that that’s out of the way, some considerations:

The one page “rule” does have its merits—for one, it encourages you to be clear and concise in your writing, which is critical in almost any role. I would suggest keeping your resume as close to one page as possible unless you have considerate (read: 7-10+) years of experience. Even then, 2 pages is a good limit to strive for.

With that in mind, it’s important to remember to tailor the resume to the position. This will help with brevity if you find that your resume is going far over the page limit (by cutting out what isn’t pertinent to the role).

Nixing the “objective” for a summary statement at the top of your resume is a quick and easy way to stand out and highlight your background and skills without using a stodgy and dated objective statement the hiring manager has likely read before.

Of course, none of this will do you any favors if the resume is too busy or the font too small, so make sure the document is visually pleasing (no overpowering graphics or flowery fonts) andfree of spelling and grammatical errors.

You’ll find lots of articles about resumes—how to write them, format them so they get seen, and how many pages (or not) they should be. Checking them out is a good way to get a general feel for what’s expected, but ultimately, the focus should be on crafting a resume that’s sharp and informative—page count notwithstanding!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

What if you have concerns, but don’t want to come across as not being a viable candidate? –Sarah C., Silver Spring, MD

Concerns are always difficult to bring up to your hiring manager or recruiter when applying for a job. On one hand, you have these concerns for a reason and need the answers to some questions in order to assess whether or not you’d be willing to accept an offer (if extended). On the other hand, you don’t want to run the risk of asking so many questions that it knocks you out of the running.

The most ideal way to handle this decidedly unsavory situation is to frame your concerns within neutral questions that seek to glean more information about the matter at hand, rather than draw a negative response.

Regardless of whether your issues lie with the day to day responsibilities, salary, or culture and fit, asking open-ended questions will help you in your quest to get the answer you need without jeopardizing your candidacy. For example, if you have concerns that a daily task consumes closer to 65% of your working hours versus the 40% advertised in the posting, you can ask for clarification between what you’ve learned versus what you’ve been told or read. This way, you get the answer you need without making it seem as though you are unwilling to take the position if the task does, in fact, take up 65% of your day.

The key to handling these concerns diplomatically is to, as mentioned, remain neutral. Now is not the time for heated conversations. Do ask clarification on those things that you are not clear on. Be transparent in your communication and share the roots of your concerns.

Avoid leading someone to answering a question a certain way, which could result in you being told what you want to hear for the sake of keeping you in the running. Concerns are natural to have and shouldn’t be cause for a disastrous end to the job seeking journey. It all boils down to the way they are brought up. Brevity and open-minded questions will go far in getting not only the information you need, but also the peace of mind you want!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

How many questions should I ask after the interview? Is there a possibility that too many questions (even though they’re reasonable) are excessive? –Anonymous

There’s a fine line here. On one hand, I understand why you’d want to ask more than one or two. You want to seem engaged and interested in the opportunity. Maybe you only had a single question in mind before the interview but came up with more that you realized you wanted to ask by the end.

A short and sweet answer, to start: one or two is fine, no more.

The one or two should be fairly quick to answer—you want to be mindful of the interviewer’s scheduled time. Watch for cues of whether they have time constrains or not. Otherwise you risk inconveniencing him or her and disrupting their schedule, which could reflect poorly on you.

Of course, the type of question you ask matters too. Make sure that you’re not asking one that you can easily find the answer to with a cursory glance at the homepage of the organization’s website. Just as it’s important to come to the interview having done your homework about the position, you’ll want to bring an incisive question that supplements the research you’ve done.

Avoid personal questions, inquiries about compensation or asking whether or not you’re going to get the job at all. All of these puts the interviewer in an uncomfortable position and could jeopardize your chances at the role.

Your best bet is to stick to one or two questions that show your engagement and interest in the position, organization or industry as a whole, and is brief enough to keep you in the window of allotted time. Inquiries that reveal your curiosity and effort into taking the time to do your research will no doubt work in your favor during your job search!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Even when a job description only asks for a resume, is it important to also include a cover letter and references?”—Stacey B., Chicago

Absolutely! It’s worth it to take the time to send a complete application—resume and cover letter, with references if applicable. Many times, sending just a resume or a template cover letter with stock phrases indicates that you’re applying for several different jobs at one time, which can make the hiring manager take you less seriously. As a result, you might be eliminated from the running before he or she even looks at your resume. Below, three reasons why the cover letter is critical:

1. A cover letter tells you what a resume doesn’t. A great one offers insight into a person’s experience, skills and personal life. Given that the information in your resume shouldn’t be repeated in the letter, it’s a fantastic way to share a relevant anecdote about a project you managed or a gift you procured.
You can draw connections across diverse experiences. Have a gap in your employment? Looking to break into the nonprofit sector from the for profit sector? Your letter is a way to expand on these decisions and provide context that just a resume lacks.

2. It measures writing, editing and overall communications skills. Simply put, a cover letter is a document that can speak volumes about your spelling, grammar and syntax—more so than your resume. Additionally, the hiring manager gets a better sense of your writing and communications skills through how focused (or unfocused), clear (or unclear) and concise you are.

3. The references are where the hiring manager may provide more leeway. Most positions don’t call your references until the final round of interviews anyways, so it’s up to you whether or not to include the names and contact information of three former employers or professors. Unlike the cover letter, omitting the references does not weigh so heavily in your candidacy.

A renewed job search in the New Year is an exciting venture and one that deserves celebration throughout. Start 2015 strong with a solid resume and cover letter duo and play outstandingly when it’s all said and done (and submitted)!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

In salary negotiations, how do you determine the best place to start? I’m not sure how to find an acceptable price point or good salary to start from. What’s my worth? –A. Chatman, Chicago

More often than not, salary negotiations are an unpleasant affair. They’re wrought with anxiety that you’re potentially lowballing yourself or setting the number too high, in turn knocking you out of the running for the position. When determining the best place to start, it’s important to first realize that the conversation doesn’t have to be like pulling teeth! Some considerations during your negotiation:

The best way to start is through research. Find out how much others are making in the same position—industry sources and sites such as are invaluable in getting a picture of what the average is for the role you’re in consideration for.

Through your research, you’ll more than likely come up with a range. Give the highest number in the range that you’re comfortable with that also matches your skills, experience and education (be honest here).

Avoid giving one number, as that can pigeonhole you and leave no room for negotiation at all.

Writing “flexible” with your range is advised, as it indicates that you’re not just looking for a specific salary for the sake of high earning potential.

Be sure that you’re truly comfortable with the lowest salary in your range in the event that you are offered that figure.

It’s smart to be prepared for some concessions—in other words, conversations between you and your prospective employer. There may be more than one so be sure to remain focused on your target salary (while leaving room for flexibility).

Always remain respectful! These negotiations can get contentious, so remaining level-headed and courteous is important to ensure smoother conversations.

Lastly, please keep in mind that in negotiating, you must take into consideration the entire compensation package (benefits, perks, room for growth, work environment) and the opportunity itself when deciding to accept an offer or not. Some things are just priceless!

With the right amount of research and preparation, salary negotiations can—contrary to popular belief—go smoothly and even exceed your expectations! Best of luck!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

How do you successfully use LinkedIn? – J. Washington, Chicago

Ah, LinkedIn! To some, a godsend. To others, a necessary evil. No matter where you fall in the spectrum, it’s undeniable that the platform has proven to be an invaluable asset to the job search. From endorsements, to headlines, to finding the perfect symphony of words to make your summary shine, LinkedIn can prove to be a challenge to even the most seasoned professional. For those just starting out, a beginner’s guide, below:

A Complete Profile. Make sure you have a completed profile! This seems obvious but you’ll be amazed how many I see that list even less information than you’ll find in a resume. You don’t have to fill out every section just because you’re prompted, but you also want to highlight—say—your volunteer experience, your major project or your desire to join a nonprofit board.

The Photo. As the saying goes, a picture says a thousand words, and you want them all to be glowing. A professional looking photo of just you (no cropped pictures of your night out!) against a blank backdrop is best.

A Catchy Headline. Sure, you can just put your job title and the organization you’re with. Or, you can expand your title to include a little bit about what you do, which will encourage visitors to peruse your profile.

Crucial Keywords. A profile that’s carefully crafted with considered keywords appears in search results more frequently than those that aren’t. Don’t be heavy-handed, though! You want these keywords to actually reflect your responsibilities and values.

Your Summary. The professional summary shouldn’t be left blank. You have a great opportunity to highlight your specialties, background and passions front and center. Make it short and sweet, and include some pieces of media if they’re relevant for a digitally encompassing experience.

Groups. Don’t join dozens of groups for the sake of joining dozens of groups. Make sure to choose the ones relevant to your experience and education—say, your alumni or industry group. Be sure to join the groups that are active, with members interacting and content posted frequently. Lastly—and most importantly—be proactive and contribute! Share pertinent articles, comment on others’ posts and generally be an engaged member.

Recommendations & Endorsements. Though recommendations are an “optional” field, if you will, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have one or two from former colleagues and supervisors on your profile. Endorsements are also a great way to vouch for your connections, and for them to vouch for you. Don’t go overboard here, though, and make sure to endorse and recommend those you know for skills and merits they truly possess.

LinkedIn changed the face of networking from dry after-work events to a complex, algorithm based platform that’ll point you in the direction of mutual acquaintances in your industry of choice directly on your homepage. With a little elbow grease and time, a shining profile can be a fantastic tool to promote your skills, experience and personal brand to prospective employers!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

What is the protocol for following up after interviews? What does it mean to be too pushy or too lax? –A. Brookover, Arlington, VA

Consider the time after your interview as an unofficial extension of the conversation you had with the hiring manager. You’ll want to reach out promptly—time is of the essence here and can make or break your candidacy for the position. That being said, following up is simpler than you would think! There really is only one “golden rule” to connecting after an interview, which is:
Send a thank you note.
This is a simple yet impactful gesture. Sending one is not only courteous, but advantageous. Approximately 15% of hiring managers wouldn’t hire someone if they didn’t receive a note. Email or snail mail (or both) is fine, as long as it goes beyond a simple “thank you,” is sent quickly, and encapsulates what the organization needs and how you can address them.

The important thing to remember isn’t whether or not to send a hand-written card or email. Rather, it’s to send it swiftly—no more than a day or two after your interview. Bonus points for doing your homework here to identify strategies you would utilize in your role. That shows your passion for the position and the organization’s wellbeing.

As far as whether or not you fear that you’ll be too pushy or lax, know that—as long as you’re respectful and tactful—following up is generally appreciated. Of course, this differs based on the organization. For example, you would be in the “too pushy” category if you repeatedly called the organization when it states in the job description that no calls are accepted. On the other hand, being too lax would be not following up at all with a card or email thanking your interviewer for his or her time.

No matter if you choose to send an email or card, a thank you note is a much-appreciated gesture that can only improve your chances. Indicate that you’re aware of what the organization is working towards and is passionate about, and you’ll continue to make a very good impression!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

How do I find a professional mentor? – K.Robinson, Washington, DC

A mentor is an invaluable asset for any individual looking to learn the ropes and excel in a particular field, or break into another one. Having a professional mentor is a great way to get an “inside look” into the market, employment trends and more. Some tips on how to find your mentor match:

Identify what you want from a mentor. What do you hope to gain from this relationship? What are your expectations and career aspirations? Are there specific concerns you hope to get some help addressing? Identifying what you want from the mentor-mentee relationship will aid you in your search, save time and energy, and also foster a rewarding relationship.

This may sound obvious, but find a mentor in your field. If you are looking to make a career change, find a mentor in the one you’d like to transition to. You’ll gain the most insight from a person already in the field.
Look outside the proverbial box. While the most convenient strategy is to look within your current workplace, great mentors abound in the community, nonprofit organizations and business associations—to name a few. Much like job-seeking, networking will only serve as a boon to your efforts.

Though finding a mentor may initially sound like a tall order, the benefits you (and even your mentor!) stand to reap are worth the search. Even if a potential mentor has to turn you down due to scheduling constraints or their workload, thank them for their time and see if they have a referral. It’s worth asking, and you might find the perfect mentor-mentee relationship this way!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

When completing an application, what organization do I list on the application as my last employer? Do I put the staffing agency or the organization I worked at? I’ve been writing the agency on the application and the recruiter’s name, but how can the recruiter at the agency answer the questions the hiring manager needs answered of my experience with the organization I worked at? – Melvina C., Chicago

Many applicants turn to temporary work to avoid gaps in employment and build experience as they look for more permanent roles. This sometimes means taking on multiple temp positions over the course of a short period of time. This is a great thing, as you have valuable experiences to draw from and highlight!

It is best practice to list both the staffing agency and the organization you temped with on your resume and other application materials to give the clearest picture of where you worked. There’s no stigma to temporary work—in fact, employers appreciate the effort you put into remaining engaged during your search for more permanent roles!

This is a great strategy because it shows hiring managers why a position may have had a short tenure by letting them know it was a temporary assignment. It also allows you to highlight the name of an organization with a mission relevant to a potential employer, all while giving the full information of your experience.

On your resume, you can try writing the actual position you held and the name of the organization on one line, and the name of the staffing agency directly below. If you’ve temped at multiple places in a short period of time, grouping them under a “temporary assignments” section may help. As with any other form of work, it’s also important to highlight your accomplishments and relevant skills. Just because a position was temporary doesn’t mean you didn’t gain valuable experience that will appeal to potential employers!

As far as the listing the name of the recruiter who placed you on your resume is concerned, the best place to do this is in your references. Your recruiter will be able to speak to your success in temporary placements because he or she is in constant communication with the supervisor at your assignment, and consistently asking for detailed feedback. In addition, you can talk to your recruiter about asking the supervisor at your temporary assignment for permission to list them on your references to speak to your specific experience at that organization during your assignment.

Temporary work is a great way to gain significant experience and propel you towards your ideal career path. The right format can be all it takes to showcase your experience and lead you to your dream job!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Is it true that nonprofits are not inclined to choose previous for-profit career switchers? If so, what can we career-switchers do to change that impression from resume submission to meeting? – D. Dunford, Bristow, VA.

Making a career change is difficult enough, and taking the leap from the for-profit world to the nonprofit one often feels like a leap across the Grand Canyon. With dedication, passion and a strong work ethic, however, the leap is possible! According to a recent survey, 44% of nonprofits plan to create positions in the upcoming year, making the switch all the more accessible to those outside the sector. Some things to consider and tips as you begin your transition:

As with any for-profit position, know what you want. With nonprofits this means the following: what type of culture are you looking for? Slower-paced and well-established or a snappy, fast start-up? What type of organization do you see yourself at, cause-wise?

What are your skills? How do you plan on applying them? Is anything missing? If so, you may want to consider taking a class or obtain a certificate to sharpen your skillset.

After you assess your skills, consider consulting or volunteering for an organization with a mission and values you believe in. Taking on a project for them and building strong relationships are a great way to show your commitment and desire to work hard for the cause—two essential aspects in the nonprofit sector.

Familiarize yourself with the market. As with jobs in the for-profit sector, it’s important to stay up to date on the nonprofit field and stay abreast of trends and news affecting the sector. Read articles, engage smartly on social media and attend conferences or panels to remain well-versed.

Making the decision to switch careers isn’t easy, but with a little savvy networking and a lot of drive, the decision is less fraught with peril and more rewarding as you take a proactive step to achieving your dreams!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

What are the best approaches to negotiating salary after you get a job offer? I’m afraid of giving a figure I’ll later come to regret, but I also don’t want to ask for too much and jeopardize my chances. How can I find the middle-ground? –J. McClain, Naperville, IL

A job offer sometimes feels like you’ve reached the end of a long (and tiresome!) journey. You’ve been reaching out to people for weeks, possibly months, and sending out numerous resumes and cover letters in addition to interviewing. Once an offer is presented, it can be tempting to take the salary and benefits package you’re given. Before you make a hasty decision, consider the “do’s” and “don’ts” of negotiating your salary to best reflect your worth and contribution to the company.

DO your homework. Research the figures and market rates of your position from reputable sources (e.g. industry associations and/or conversations with others in your field). That way you’ll come prepared with a desired salary range that you’ll be happy to accept from.

DON’T keep secrets. Divulge your salary history. Employers may want to base their offer to you from your previous position, however keep the focus on the salary you’d like to earn in the position you’re presented and remain firm, honest and polite.

DO consider the extras. Say the hiring manager can’t accept the salary you quote—before you decide to jump ship entirely, consider the extras you can leverage. Expensed transportation costs or flexible hours are often factors that would persuade a person to take a lower salary in exchange.

DON’T hide your concerns. Many times candidates are too thrilled about receiving an offer at all that they remain silent, not wanting to come off as disappointed that they didn’t receive the benefits package or salary they desired. The best practice here is to let the employer know of your concerns upfront and determine which are the most imperative so that you can work through them together.

DO stay confident! Maintain steady eye contact and a relaxed demeanor during the conversation; opening up with some personal details help keep the negotiation from feeling stale. Contrary to popular belief, employers aren’t trying to low-ball you and often appreciate that you’re passionate enough about the position to negotiate your value!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

What are some other ways a person can look for jobs when you feel like you’ve explored all your options?” – J. Washington, Chicago

Despite the vast amount of opportunities available, it’s easy to feel as though you’ve reached “the end of the line” when it comes to finding the right positions that fit with your goals and experience. Contrary to how it might initially appear there are options that you can seek out or explore further when this phenomenon happens. After all, 70-80% of jobs aren’t even advertised. It’s all about growing your network, no matter if it’s online or out in the world!


Instead of sending off countless resumes and cover letters to positions posted on online job boards and company websites (where they might not be read), consider actively using LinkedIn to network with potential employers or future colleagues. The great thing about this platform is that—whether or not you have a premium membership—you’ll likely get a glimpse of not only the type of work a current employee does, but also their career path leading up to their current role. This can be crucial when reaching out to them to network, allowing you to ask specific questions about their experience. Connecting with a professional in your desired field or fellow university alumn subsequently gives you access to their connections, thereby expanding your virtual network.

A word of advice: make sure to connect meaningfully and with people you’re genuinely interested in networking with. Most people generally don’t appreciate feeling like they’re being solicited, so keep that in mind before you press, “connect!”


Volunteer opportunities are more varied now, offering more flexibility to work with different peoples’ schedules. You’ll gain invaluable exposure to nonprofit skills such as event planning or fundraising while also learning new software and technology. Being an active and passionate volunteer will undoubtedly resonate well with your supervisors when they’re looking to fill positions so long as you express interest and prove your mettle. Be sure to commit to a few or even just one to avoid getting overwhelmed or even deterred from your job search. You’ll meet new people, contribute to charitable causes and build your skill set: a win, win on multiple levels!

Smart Networking

An antiquated notion regarding the networking event is that you need to talk to as many people as possible and give out hundreds of business cards. As with most things in life, quality trumps quantity—network smartly with just one or two people and you’ll be surprised what may come of it. The more meaningful conversation you have with one person versus ten can open the door for you—perhaps this person can arrange for you to get coffee with one of their colleagues; or, they may sit on the board of an organization that you’re looking to get involved with.

Don’t exhaust yourself by attending a different function each night. Find the ones affiliated with companies or causes you’re truly interested in and make sure to have your “elevator pitch” down pat!

The Cold Email

After reading the title of this section, you may be thinking that a cold email is about as effective as blindly submitting a resume to a position posted online—bear with me! To start, a cold email is one that’s sent to a potential contact with whom you have no prior relationship. It’s often sent to express interest in an open position or in working for the company if they don’t have any current job listings. A thoughtfully-written and carefully executed cold email can be the difference between getting your resume in the hands of a decision-maker and the ‘trash’ folder of the recipient’s email.

The person receiving your email may head the department at your dream company, and as such owes you very little. Needless to say, it’s important that you’ve done your research and assessed—honestly—if you’re a good fit for the role and the company. The last thing you want is to become notorious amongst hiring managers as “The Mass Applier” and have your name blacklisted after one too many emails sent to the entire HR department. Craft the email like a cover letter, speaking to your experiences and offering them your skills—in short, how they can benefit from bringing you on board.

Online Portfolio

Often thought to be limited to those in creative fields, an online portfolio can go a long way in getting your work noticed by hiring managers. Portfolio platforms such as Behance or Wix have the layouts ready so those without coding experience you can still have access to a functional and easily customizable portfolio. Those in more corporate environments also have platforms where they can upload previous presentations or papers in one place.

A portfolio usually contains your best work (no matter how old or recent), a resume and contact information. Obviously, this is a basic iteration—you might find that you want just a running list of publications your work has been featured in, or a slideshow of past presentations. An online portfolio is a great addition to any jobseeker’s “candidacy package” that can help show your creative sides no matter what industry you’re in or trying to break in to!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

I always hear about how important it is to have professional references, but I haven’t been a job-seeker in several years and haven’t given them much thought lately. The problem now is that I’m looking to make a career change and I’m not sure I have reliable references. How do I go about getting references that best highlight my abilities? – Anonymous

References pose a challenge to many job-seekers regardless of their level. They allow potential employers to learn more about your skills and qualifications from someone who is already knowledgeable about your experience. They’re often requested by a hiring manager looking to bring you on to their team after they’ve completed interviews and reviewed your credentials. Although professional references are often conducted once top candidates are already identified, this certainly doesn’t mean they’re not an incredibly important resource for hiring managers. In fact, it means the opposite – references are often used to differentiate the very best candidate from other top choices with similar experience. With that, it’s important to continually establish and foster great working relationships with your supervisors, colleagues or professional acquaintances— and it’s better to ask later rather than never! Additionally, always remember to let your references know that you’re planning on listing them as resources so that they’re not surprised by a call from a potential employer or scrambling for examples of when you succeeded at a project or exceeded expectations. It is also beneficial to provide these references with any pertinent information, such as your resume, portfolio if applicable, and highlight any main areas you would like them to emphasize.

In some cases, employers don’t give references as a company policy; the only information they will reveal is the title of the position and dates worked. While that may bode well for someone who perhaps didn’t perform as well as he or she could have, that doesn’t do the same for someone who consistently met deadlines and took calculated risks that resulted in extraordinary rewards. A way you can try and circumvent policies like these is to ask a colleague or supervisor for a character reference which speaks to—namely—your character. These references are more personal than professional and can go a long way in revealing, say, your dedication and sense of humor in a way that strictly professional references can’t.

How else can you guarantee highly effective professional references? One tip is to keep a list of references that can emphasize a wide variety of skills and experiences, and tailor the list you provide to the specific position for which you are applying each time. In addition, it is critical to establish positive references at each organization you leave. This means giving at least two weeks’ notice, maintaining professionalism when giving notice, and not mentally “checking out” in the final stretch. This is particularly important since it will affect your final impression with your employer, and will likely be what comes to mind when a hiring manager reaches out for a reference.

No matter if you’re fresh to the workforce or looking to make a career change, a strong reference can certainly enhance your application. Be sure to cultivate strong relationships with those you work with or around—you never know who will vouch for you in years to come!

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.