Nonprofit employers evaluate applications differently than most corporate employers. They like to get a sense of who you are, not just a detailed description of your work experience and skills. Below are some suggestions for tailoring your cover letter and resume for a nonprofit job search.
Nonprofit employers are looking for commitment to the missions of their organizations and to social impact in general.
- If you’re from a predominantly for-profit background, have a specific and thoughtful answer to the question, “Why do you want to work in the nonprofit sector?” You need to show that you care about the issues the organization is working on, and that you have some familiarity with the field.
- If you have done any volunteer work, from single-day projects to serving on a board, make sure it is reflected in your application.
Nonprofit employers pay attention to cover letters; a stand-alone resume is not a complete application.
- Boilerplate cover letters that simply describe your “skill set” are not effective. Every paragraph of your letter should link in a clear way to the job announcement.
- Use as much space as you need. Don’t worry about your cover letter being too long.
- Feel free to express yourself. It’s OK for your cover letter to show some personality.
The ideal resume for a nonprofit search is different from the ideal one for a for-profit job search.
- If you’ve done any volunteer work, create a “Community Service” or “Volunteer Activities” section on your resume and describe it in detail there. (It’s OK for your resume to be longer than one page – shocking, but true. Only a small handful of business-minded nonprofits share the business school insistence that resumes should be kept to one page.)
- Review each line in the “Professional Work Experience” section of your resume, and determine whether it’s relevant for the nonprofit job you’re applying for. Shine a light on those aspects of your background that are most meaningful to the nonprofit employer and de-emphasize everything else.
- Scan your resume for business jargon and make sure it’s user-friendly for a “lay” audience; if you’re not sure, test your draft resume on a classmate or friend who has worked in the nonprofit sector.