Yesterday, I had the opportunity to chat with members of Net Impact — a nonprofit that helps business students and professionals find social-impact careers — about breaking into the nonprofit sector. I love having these conversations because they allow me to explore the challenges people who want careers that make a difference are facing. I was asked: Where can I find meaningful jobs? How do I get my foot in the door? How can I build my network?

To help answer some of these questions, I am happy to share this guest post from ProInspire, an organization that recruits young business professionals and places them at nonprofits in finance, marketing, operations, and strategy roles. Here, they address the three common challenges young professionals face when trying to break into the nonprofit sector

Finding a job before you graduate is hard enough. Most college graduates cross the stage without a clue what their next move will be. The challenge doesn’t get any easier once the diploma is up on the wall and the real world begins to knock on your door. More than 50% of recent college graduates are currently unemployed or underemployed.

For those seeking careers in the social sector, the challenge of where to start is one Monisha Kapila knows well. As the Founder and CEO of ProInspire, she has been working to develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders by helping nonprofits expand their talent pipelines, develop professionals, and increase diversity. She offers some of her advice on how to navigate three of the greatest obstacles in landing the nonprofit job of your dreams.

Photo credit: Kevin Dooley, Creative Commons/Flickr

Nonprofits don’t recruit.

ProInspire recruits young business professionals to work as Fellows at nonprofit organizations in finance, marketing, operations, and strategy roles. Most ProInspire Fellows come from the private sector where they worked for large companies with HR departments and recruiting budgets. This is not the case for many nonprofits, which don’t have the capacity to focus on hiring and HR. Most nonprofit organizations with less than 50 employees have no HR person, and organizations with 50-300 employees have one HR person. In a recent “Voices from the Sector” report, found that 84% of employees with HR responsibilities also work in at least one other area.

This does not mean that nonprofits aren’t looking for strong talent. Monisha says, “You have to put in more work to identify and pursue opportunities in the nonprofit sector. Many times organizations want to hire someone but they don’t have time to post the job.  Once the job is posted, the person reviewing applications is also juggling many other responsibilities so the process may be slow.” Monisha suggests that you start by keeping a list of nonprofit job boards to check regularly. You can check start with this list on the ProInspire website.  Set up relevant searches on Idealist, and have them emailed to you. Look directly at the websites of nonprofits that interest you, because some organizations post exclusively on their sites.  Lastly read resources like Idealists’ guides to nonprofit careers, websites like Nonprofit Quarterly and blogs like this one and to gain insight and advice that will help you in your job search.

Young professionals don’t have expansive networks.

Considering the fact that an estimated 80% of jobs are filled through networks, this poses a significant challenge for those with little or no professional experience. You can spend all day searching for jobs and submitting applications online, however the reality is that your likelihood of success increases the more you have relationships built in the field you are pursuing.  This is especially true in finding “hidden jobs,” where the organization has a need but hasn’t posted it.

Young professionals can navigate this challenge by building a larger network and effectively managing existing networks. Start by creating a Linked In profile and detailing your experience, including internships and volunteer work. Monisha says, “Linked In is a great tool for networking.  You can connect with people you already know, such as college alumni, mentors, professors, and past colleagues. Also, you should add people you meet through networking and informational interviews during your job search. Finally, join Linked In groups related to your interests so you can participate in online conversations.”

Expand your network by joining local young professional associations like the Young Nonprofit Professionals (YNPN) and Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP). These organizations offer cheap and often free opportunities for both professional development and networking. In addition to expanding your network, make sure to invest time in the network you already have. Consider sending regular personal emails to mentors, past bosses, and other supporters to share updates about your latest accomplishments and request advice on your job search. You never know who knows of the perfect position for you to apply for!

It’s difficult to know what kind of role is right for you.

Even if you had internship experience or volunteer experience with at least one nonprofit, there are so many different kinds of nonprofits and opportunities that it can be difficult to know what kind of roles to pursue.

Monisha suggests setting up informational interviews with individuals at organizations that interest you and in departments that you want to learn about. Are you considering fundraising? Ask a development associate if you can take him to coffee. Interested in working for a direct services organization or maybe even a membership association? Ask someone if they have 30 minutes they could spare for a phone call with you.

As you pursue the nonprofit career of your dreams, there will undoubtedly be other challenges to navigate. The key is to remain focused and be persistent. Most importantly, it’s important to use the resources as your disposal.

My bio:

Nikita Mitchell is ProInspire’s Social Media Manager. She recently completed her year as a 2011 ProInspire Fellow, transitioning into the nonprofit sector after working as a management consultant at the largest professional services firm in the world. She is passionate about social innovation and how the private sector engages in social change.