Learn while you search for your dream job (Photo Credit: Mark Brannan, Creative Commons, Flickr)

If you’re searching for a job, chances are you’ve experienced the following: you see a job that looks interesting; you read further and realize it’s everything you’d love to do; you scream for joy!; you read towards the end and see something like “must have 100 years of experience and be a master of all things glorious.”


Now, there are several different ways to approach this. Some experts recommend you apply for a job you’re not qualified for anyway because the list of qualifications tends to be a wish list rather than a set of hard-and-fast rules. Others say, don’t waste the recruiter’s time or yours. Regardless of which approach you take, if you find yourself getting excited about opportunities that you’re not quite qualified for, perhaps you should take time to explore what WOULD make you more qualified and competitive. After identifying the skills you need in order to obtain your dream job, create a plan for professional development and  try the following:

Learn someone else’s job: This is an easy and often overlooked way to get additional experience in a new field or to take on new projects. For example, although I originally started my career doing direct-service work, I became interested in fundraising because of conversations I had with the development team at my first job. They were always asking me (a program manager) for pictures, stories, and stats so I wanted to learn more about what they did with them, and how I could help. Take a similar approach: consider the various positions at your current org, chat with someone in that position, and offer to help.

Join a board: Board membership allows you to develop new connections and expose you to a different side of nonprofits. Depending on the size and type of board you join, you can get hands-on experience in everything including management, fundraising, marketing, and networking. The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network has chapters across the country, many looking for board members. Find a chapter near you, to learn more or start one if there is no chapter in your community. You can also check out BoardNet for opportunities at other organizations.

Volunteer: Is there a cause you want to explore or a type of job you are interested in? Consider volunteering your time in a skilled-service position, where you’ll learn something new, strengthen the skills you already have, and network with people who are likely to know of opportunities and organizations you should connect with. Idealist.org, Catchafire, and VolunteerMatch are great places to start. You can also try reaching out to organizations you like and offering to volunteer so you can gain some experience.

Take a class: Many colleges and universities have continuing education programs designed to help professionals brush up on skills or acquire new ones. These classes tend to be less expensive and more flexible than traditional courses so you’re likely to get the support you need. If you’re looking for something a bit more casual, national organizations like Skillshare have experts hosting workshops on a variety of topics. And if there is a very specific skill you’d like to master, like writing op-eds, teaching students with disabilites, or managing nonprofit social media and technology, look for associations and organizations that target people in those fields. These groups usually offer workshops and events for members and tend to stay on top of other opportunities that are of interest to their community.

Start a side hustle:  If you want to share your passion with others, develop a brand, and make extra money, starting a side hustle is a great idea.  You can start by leading a Skillshare workshop or blogging about your work as a way to attract clients and foster thought leadership. Who knows, you may even CREATE your own dream job by exploring your interests in this way.

Has your job search encouraged you to expand your skill set?  What strategies would you recommend?