We’ve all seen the applicants: yet another middle manager has “found their calling” and wants to transition from a corporate job to a nonprofit position. It’s easy to be skeptical that they just need a job and will leave as soon as they find a higher paying position. But some people really are ready to make the transition from the business world into a cause they care about. How do you find those people and how do you help them make the transition?
During the application and interview process, here are some key factors to look for:
- Have they volunteered regularly at nonprofits? Have they served on a board of directors? Why do they want to work at a nonprofit? How long do they want to stay?
- What is their career goal in the next 5 years? (You’ll want to hear they are making a career of nonprofits.)
- Convey the realities. Do they know that the computers are 5 years old and that there’s no administrative assistant to help them? Do they know that there are few office supplies and no company car? Talk about the decision making process and help them understand that it can take a lot longer than in a corporate environment. Making sure they get a tour of the office will help as well.
- Are they going to come in and demand that the nonprofit do things like the business world? That probably won’t be a good fit. Both sides can learn from each other, but there will always be differences. A good question is “What would you do in your first month on the job?”
- Look at transferable skills. A good manager can be a good manager in any institution. Someone with finance knowledge has to learn some new skills in a nonprofit, but generally will be able to transition well. Sales experience can translate to fundraising experience, especially if the sales experience has focused on building long-term customer relationships. Ask the candidate to explain how their skill set will transfer. A thorough answer shows that they have prepared for the interview.
- Encourage the candidate to think through if it is the right move for them. It can be a challenging transition and some people are better off staying in their corporate jobs and being a great board member.
While candidates will expect to earn less money in a nonprofit position, there are plenty of other benefits that matter to everyone. Those who have made the switch from nonprofit to for-profit say, “I have definitely felt more valued as an employee working for a nonprofit than I did in the private sector.” (Source) “The focus on mission over money was a big adjustment for me as I had been trained that profit was the sole factor in measuring success.” and “Since switching to the nonprofit sector, I have encountered much less emotional stress and mental toxicity while gaining flexibility and predictability in my work hours and a healthy day-to-day environment. ” (Source)
As these quotes show, being respected and working on projects for which you have a passion are both important for any staff member. Emphasize these characteristics of the position. As well, you can talk about other benefits, such as a flexible schedule, nights and weekends generally off, options to work from home, less stress overall, and less need for a fancy wardrobe.
Don’t dismiss an applicant from the private sector out of hand, but do consider their skills and interests carefully. And if you do hire that person, take the time to help them learn the culture and so they feel like they fit in.
A few additional resources to help you in hiring:
- Who by Geoff Smart, a review of an excellent process to find top level candidates
- How to Hire a Great Nonprofit Executive Director
- Hiring from the private sector: How and why you should open the door to sector switchers