Tag Archive | "Choosing a Career"

Frugal Idealists Unite!

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Contrary to popular belief, nonprofit organizations are not exclusively charitable organizations. Nonprofits fit into a broad category of groups for which the primary motivation for operating is not the turning of a profit, but rather coming to the aid of one of any number of causes they are passionate about.

In addition to the obvious, such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, PETA, the American Cancer Society and the ACLU, there are smaller nonprofits geared toward anything from supporting the arts, to professional organizations, political action committees and research/academic institutions.

Many nonprofits are funded by donations and grants from the government and other organizations, and therefore subsist to a great extent on the good will and faith of their supporters. Due to the limited funding, pay at nonprofits tends to be lower than comparable positions in for-profit companies.

Though most nonprofit devotees agree that for what they lack in compensation and benefits, they more than make up for in satisfaction. However, the lack of greater financial incentive is a key factor in nonprofits’ struggle to find good help. The rate of applications took a hit when the economy went through the roof, but is expected to rise again now that the economy has gone through the floor.

If you’re passionate about a cause, an organization, even an idea, then a job or career in the nonprofit sphere may well be the way to go.

Help Wanted

Nonprofits need to fill many of the same slots that capitalist organizations need to fill. There is a need for managers, HR people, editors, grant writers, irrigation trench diggers, doctors, accountants, publicists, researchers, lobbyists, information technology folk and so forth. Odds are, if you can do something well, you can do it for a nonprofit.

Financial compensation, as it is well known, is lower than that of comparable positions in for-profit companies, but again, the job satisfaction and knowledge that you’re doing more for the world than making a rich man richer, is incalculable.

Plus, the jobs, while no less challenging, tend to me far less stressful. Positions at nonprofits tend to be refreshingly free of the backbiting, self-involvement and ruthless competitiveness that characterize many jobs in the hardnosed capitalist sphere.

Where to look? The Internet is your best bet. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of sites dedicated to nonprofits. Take a gander and find something you like. The jobs range from entry-level paper pushing, to CEO slots.

Three of the better sites are:

On the Job

What can you expect from a job with a nonprofit? For one: ingenuity. Nonprofits, because their funding is limited, cannot afford to slip up and overspend. Efficiency is crucial — as is a spirit of cooperation and camaraderie.

Nonprofits offer more than just office positions. There is also a tremendous amount of fieldwork to be done, from community outreach programs, to lobbying, to research. Remember, if you can do it, odds are, you can do it for a nonprofit.

And the atmosphere is often more relaxed than the current trend of high stress and impossible demands faced by a large chunk of the US white-collar workforce. Then factor in the pleasure of doing something you enjoy, for a living. How many people can claim that?

You’ll receive useful training that will aid you in the pursuit of a career within or outside of the nonprofit sphere, which is of course priceless — especially if you’ve majored in sociology, psychology or social work. Many join nonprofits as a break from corporate or political life, others join to test the waters in the hope of finding a calling — as an entry-level job that may lead to a career. Ultimately though, people enter into the nonprofit world because they want to help.

If you’re one of those people, take a look at what’s out there. But if you’re one of those people fond of saying, “If I hit the lottery, I would, like, totally work for a nonprofit,” it’s probably not your bag.

How to Find the Right Job

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Long before you exit the gate, you have to ask yourself what you want out of a job. For some, the right job might mean a steady paycheck and minimum frustration, while for others it may be a rigorous and challenging first step toward a life-long career. Honesty is crucial at this juncture — anyone who is not fully honest with him/herself entering in to the job search process, or who is overly concerned with the opinion of others, is bound to end up unhappy. Especially when the hours required of entry-level workers in many fields are more geared toward dues-paying careerists than someone just looking for a regular paycheck.

For that reason, it is important to strike an ideal, hypothetical work/life balance before loosing yourself on HR managers nationwide. Are you nose-to-the-grindstone type who wants to jump right into the fray and work as hard as it takes to climb the ladder, at the expense of downtime or a social/love life? Or are you the type that bristles at the thought of trading your youth and freedom for a more secure and lucrative future?

Of course, there is a middle ground, and the responsibility to arrive at it is yours and yours alone.

Next, look into what’s out there. Bear these truths in mind: you can take as much time as you want before settling on something, and mistakes and uncertainty are not only reversible, but par for the course. Rare is the 22-year-old who honestly knows what he/she wants to do with the rest of his/her life, and abundant are those who claim to know, if for no other reason than to fend of the demons of uncertainty…

…And those demons are your friends, friends. Uncertainty is the only proven path toward certainty and, ultimately, fulfillment. So use it to your advantage. Note that your options are virtually unlimited. Leave no stone unturned. After arriving at a loose idea of your ideal work/life balance, ask yourself a two more questions:

  • What do I love to do? What do you do with your free time, and can you do it professionally? Moreover, would you be interested in a less intensive job that gave you more free time to do what you love to do?
  • What do I hate to do? What turns your stomach? What jobs involve doing things you can’t stand?

There, you’ve narrowed it down substantially. Now it’s time to start digging:

  • Use your school’s career center for more information on industries that may interest you. They’ll be able to put you in touch with alumni working within those fields, should you have any questions.
  • Attend career fairs, to get a good sense of what’s out there. Talk to attending company reps to get valuable insight on breaking into and succeeding in various industries. Additionally, schedule some informational interviews with hiring managers.
  • Network, network, network. Talk to friends, family and family friends.
  • Intern, even part-time, to gain experience and get a glimpse of the inner workings of a particular industry. If you enjoy what you’re doing, and you do it well, a job offer might even be in the offing. Internships are also helpful in developing a network of contacts and like-minded people.

While sampling all that various jobs have to offer, keep in mind that while your major may help you land a job in a particular field, it in no way limits your options in the long run. Even those with a vocational degree (engineering, pre-med) are not fully bound to its corresponding field. If you’d like to work in a completely different field, focus more on your personality, relevant skills and fit — instead of education — during the application process.

Be patient. It’s okay to work a part-time job or volunteer as you weigh your options and get your bearings. Above all, remember that nothing is permanent in the working world. If you find you have made a bum move, simply move on and try something else. Avoid the temptation, felt by most recent grads, to begin believing that your future is riding solely on your choice of a first job.

Conquering Career Fairs

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Career fairs, though they’ve dwindled in proportion to the number of jobs, offer good opportunities to learn more about an industry, make some new friends and contacts, and maybe even get your foot in the door of a choice firm.

First, take some preparatory steps:

1. Do your homework. What industries will be represented? What skills are they looking for in an employee? What positions are open? If you’re interested in breaking into one specific field, get a handle on which relevant firms will be in attendance and tailor your resume to their needs. If your interest is more general, research companies that might be of interest, and tailor several resumes. Never go in cold; you won’t be able to fudge a conversation with a company rep when you haven’t a clue about the company itself.

2. Resumes. Tailor them to whichever firm you’re interested in. Once you’ve done your homework, you’ll know which skills to play up and which to bypass.

3. Draft a list of specific questions, so as not to waste the employer’s time. This will convey your courtesy and focus – two highly marketable traits. Additionally, ready some answers to general questions employers will expect you to answer. Think along the lines of:

  • “So, tell me about yourself.”
  • “What can you contribute to our company?”
  • “What makes you interested in this job?”

4. Dress nicely. Except perhaps for Major League franchises, no one wants to hire an adult in a baseball hat. Business attire is the way to go — clean and sharp. Try to look more like a professional than a college student. Leave the backpack at home and replace it with a portfolio, or even a briefcase, if you have one. Stock it with notepaper, pens, resumes, business cards and, if need be, work samples.

Once at the fair, employ all the stuff you’re supposed to employ in an interview. Be direct, give a good handshake and proffer a polished resume and cover letter. Sell yourself. Take notes on every conversation for future reference, and to keep all the representatives in order. In other words, do everything you can to stand out in the mind of the employer. This includes following up afterwards. Be sure to ask for contact information during the talk, and send a note to thank the employer for his/her time and to restate your interest in the job.

Still Not Sure What You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

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What You Could Do Today

Ask yourself the following:

• In my ideal job, do I want to spend a lot of time with people? With data? With words? With things?

• What sort of environment would I like: home, fancy office, outdoors, university or somewhere else?

• Who do I like to spend time with: artsy types, nerds, jocks, businesspeople, hands-on types or social animals?

Come up with a career that amalgamates many of your answers. Next, search for a book on that career. Visit someone on the job in that career. Does it still feel right? You may have found your career. Congratulations.

Choosing Sanity Over Security

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Last fall, I was working for a large university, doing computer security and wondering where my life was going. My job was fine – uninspiring, though often fairly interesting. I’d taken the position straight out of college, mostly because it was available and I was overwhelmed by the idea of choosing a career.

There wasn’t anything wrong with my job. Computer security is a growing field, and I was pretty good at what I did. I loved my coworkers and enjoyed the office environment. Working for a university had it downsides (particularly bad institutional politics) that were more than balanced out by some attractive upsides (like flexible hours). I had a good apartment, many friends in the area, and more than enough money.

The problem was, I wasn’t satisfied. When people asked if I liked what I was doing, I had to think about it. I didn’t dislike it – but did I like it? I wasn’t sure. I’d end up saying something like, “I like it, but it’s not where I see myself in the long term.” Work seemed detached from the rest of my life; I kept thinking of the daytime hours as what I did until I could get back to my real life. Gradually it occurred to me that eight hours a day is a lot of time to spend doing something I considered separate from my life.

That summer I turned twenty-three, and it got me thinking. Twenty-three seemed too old to be set in a career track I didn’t plan on staying with, and too young to be settling for a job I wasn’t passionate about. I started looking for other options.

The first big step was applying to graduate school. Not everyone enjoys academic work, but I loved it -everything from looking for things in libraries, reading books, taking in huge gulps of information and sorting it back out into papers. I also missed the research work in history I’d started doing as an undergraduate, and realized that I still talked about it all the time, over a year after leaving college.

When I applied, I didn’t entirely expect to be accepted. I was looking at some fairly prestigious programs; the acceptance rates for graduate programs in history are usually fairly low, and I wasn’t sure that I looked qualified on paper. I wasn’t honestly sure that I was qualified. But I took the leap, sent all of the admissions materials off, and spent a few long months waiting.

The answers came in the spring. Some programs said no, but miraculously, some (including my first choice) said yes. Then, of course, I had to face another set of choices. Computer security was not only stable but lucrative, and history graduate students don’t exactly bring in the big money. Did I really want to give up a sure thing to enter a Ph.D. program and eventually face an uncertain academic job market? I was living at the time in Boston, and the program I wanted to attend was in California. Was I ready to leave all of my friends on one coast and start over on the other? What if I didn’t like graduate school? What if I wasn’t any good at it?

They weren’t easy decisions. I can’t say, even now, that I’m absolutely sure I did the right thing. I’m watching my money more carefully than I have in years, and doing without a lot of the treats and toys I’d gotten used to. Every day I miss my friends back in Boston, and sometimes I get very scared when I think about the long road between me and my degree (not to mention what comes after the degree). But every day, I love what I do. My work isn’t something that I have to get past before I can start enjoying myself; I honestly take pleasure in the work that I’m doing (even when I complain that I have too much of it). And that’s the only truly important thing.