Staying competitive in the workforce when you’re looking for work

I am happy to welcome this guest post from Elizabeth Campbell, an aspiring nonprofiteer in Chicago. While my last post discussed the importance of  managing your professional development, what does this mean when you’re looking for work or are new to working?  What actions can you take or resources can you leverage to grow and stay competitve?  Elizabeth shares her thoughts below.  Be sure to add yours in the comments!

As someone who has recently graduated and joined the real world, I can tell you that staying competitive in the job market takes dedication and lots of patience.

But I will say I’m lucky. I already know for certain that I want to work in the nonprofit sector. I’m devoted to social change and building communities. I might be unemployed in a large city, but I know exactly where to look for work. I’m also keeping busy in many ways as I send out résumés and cover letters with fingers crossed.

  • Reading the local paper. In just a few weeks of reading the Chicago Tribune every day, I’ve learned so much about this town. Not only do I feel more prepared for job interviews, I also care much more deeply about this community, which helps me stay motivated.
  • Researching local organizations. In addition to applying to jobs via website such as Idealist, Opportunity Knocks, or Chicago’s NPO.net, I spend lots of time going to the websites of individual organizations I find interesting. Even if they aren’t hiring, I add them to my list of organizations to keep an eye on. I read up on their history, mission, programs and staff.
  • Reading articles, social media posts, blogs and books about nonprofits. You might have noticed by now that a lot of my time is spent reading. Online and offline, I’ve been catching up on nonprofit sector news. News sites such as Chronicle of Philanthropy, Nonprofit Quarterly, Nonprofit Times and Philanthropy Journal offer a lot of information without having to subscribe. Spending time on social networking sites like Twitter and LinkedIn lets me see not only what’s going on with other nonprofit professionals, but also what they think. It encourages conversations and connections. And, of course, catching up on sector-related books and blogs helps me feel like I know what I’m talking about to prospective employers.
  • Joining a member organization. I’ve joined YNPN-Chicago. It was free and a close friend is on the board, so I had no excuse. And so far I’ve met many other nonprofit professionals. Not only have a made some friends, I’ve gotten the opportunity to volunteer with their Programming Committee. I’m learning some new skills and having a voice in this association. 
  • Maintaining down time: crossword puzzles, reading, writing letters to friends. This is very important. Every day I make sure I do certain activities just for the enjoyment I get out of them. Especially as I wind down for the night, I love to work on the paper’s crossword puzzle, read a book just for fun (currently, it’s F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender is the Night”), and writing letters to my friends scattered all over the country. It relaxes me and keeps me sane!

Staying competitive in the workforce means staying knowledgeable. But just because I can’t afford all the wonderful workshops and conferences that Chicago has to offer, doesn’t mean I can’t keep learning. Taking advantage of Web-based media and professional networking keeps me dedicated and enthusiastic. That way, when I do finally get an amazing job, I’ll hit the ground running.

In the meantime, I’ve got another cover letter to write.


Elizabeth recently earned her B.F.A. in Writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She now lives in Chicago where she’s looking for work in nonprofit administration. You may reach her online through her websiteblogTwitter and LinkedIn.