Prying Loose Jobs When There Aren't Any

Career & Job Advice from Joyce Lain Kennedy of Careers Now



Soon I'll be a new college graduate. No job.

I had long intended to seek employment with a nonprofit organization.

Unfortunately, there seem to be no jobs in the nonprofit sector because contributions have substantially deteriorated or dried up.

Have I missed any side doors to nonprofit work? -- S.S.


Ellen Gordon Reeves has a few tips on creatively grabbing a toehold with employers whose hiring windows are locked up tighter than a tick. And that certainly includes nonprofit organizations as their budgets shrivel in the economy's nosedive.

Reeves is the author of a witty new guide that recent graduates will want to wrap around themselves to keep out the unemployment chill, "Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?: The Crash Course to Finding, Landing and Keeping Your First Real Job" (Workman). She speaks from experience as a former top editor of the not-for-profit New Press. Her tips:


Before applying, read the organization's Web site and its annual report. Scan its board and staff lists for personal connections you can use. And, for the latest facts, set a Google Alert with the organization's name.


Raising money, whether from individuals, corporations, foundations or other grants, is the No. 1 concern for nonprofits. If you have fundraising or grant-writing skills, flaunt them as a way to get inside. Stay abreast of new fundraising techniques, like contests in which nonprofit groups can win money. Example: the Target Corp.'s Facebook page, where visitors can vote for one of 10 charities eligible to win a portion of $3 million the retailer will give away.


Nonprofits' salaries don't come close to matching those in the private sector, but if you're willing to work for less, opportunities abound. When you're facing no salary after a layoff, nonprofit pay can start to look good. Nonprofits need private-sector skills and experience, and they need the contacts you bring.


Staffs are being cut left and right at nonprofits, so if you can solve a problem as a freelancer or consultant for less than a salary with benefits, you're golden. You may, for example, offer legal advice, write a business plan or grant, manage volunteers, or create public relations campaigns or fundraising events.


Work for free to get your foot inside a nonprofit's door, where you can figure out its needs, gain a sense of the budgets, and then determine how your skills and talent could be useful. Make yourself indispensable and then present a proposal for a paid job. Can you think of ways to get the position funded? So much the better.


"Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?" takes readers safely past search land mines found in all fields, industries and sectors at a time when there are now almost five people out of work for every available job. But, in the longest recession since the 1930s, whether your goal is the profit or nonprofit workplace, being a newbie isn't necessarily a disadvantage in a down market where money is king.

Reeves contends that entry-level jobs are the least affected today, as employers try to shrink salary budgets and yet get the most bang for their Benjamins. Your trick is to show prospective employers that while inexperienced, you can work independently, take initiative and not blow up the place, and that you also know how to take direction., a large network of niche career communities, agrees that Reeves is on to something. The online service reports that its tally of first-quarter 2009 hiring action favored candidates with one year of experience in health-care fields where most seekers had one to three years of experience. The same preference for one year's experience was shown in the sales function, where the majority of job seekers had more than 21 years' experience. The majority of job seekers in the information technology function had five to 10 years' experience, but candidates with three to five years' experience were in highest demand.

Try to pry loose a job by combining student work and internships to make a reasonable claim that you have the equivalent of one year's experience.

That's a good start.


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