It’s Harder Than You Think! Perspective on the Nonprofit Job Search by an Experienced Nonprofit Professional

November 10, 2014

Guest Blog by Susan F. Burger, MSW, Member of Maryland Nonprofits

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I received my MSW degree in December 1980. I have provided home-based, school-based, and clinic-based direct service, including group-work, individual and family practice. Exhibiting initiative and the capacity for professional growth, I moved on to positions that expanded my roles and responsibilities in the child welfare field and ultimately was selected in 1999 as the Executive Director of a nonprofit that addresses the needs for safety, services, and permanency for Baltimore City’s abused and neglected children. I began that position when the organization had experienced financial and leadership challenges and was able to reorganize, revitalize, and sustain the program. 

In December of 2013, I resigned after 15 years as its Director.

 I enjoyed several months of being free of the routine of a “real” job and enjoyed leisure time. I started a small catering business making and delivering meals for family and friends and also fell into some contractual work writing grants. 

But as time went on I started feeling like I needed to have a “real” job again because I apparently like to work (!) and because the money from a “real” job would really help my family. That’s when things got very difficult for me. 

I knew that in an ideal world what would be best for me would NOT to be an Executive Director of a nonprofit and NOT to commute. I didn’t have many other wishes on my list – I was open to whatever was out there that would be new and different.

I had a lot of interviews for jobs and went back for second interviews and had references called.  The process of being at the mercy of others to recognize my worth and commitment to a profession I have been involved with for 33 years was exhausting and defeating. 

Finally, about 3 weeks ago, I went to an interview where the Executive Director asked me, “how can I get you to come work for us?”  Really?! 

My new job begins next week!  The main offices are located just 10 minutes south of my home by car but the office I will be working out of most of the time is a 2 mile walk from my home. I will NOT be the Executive Director but rather a Program Director responsible for clinical services provided to foster care youth. This is a position will offer me just the right challenge and utilize a lot of my skills and knowledge! 

So here’s what I’ve learned from my job search experience:

What I have learned about the job market:

  • If you have 33 years of experience you will be constantly questioned about why you want a new job.

  • If you voluntarily left a job as an ED after 15 years you will be continually asked why you want a job with less responsibility.

  • If you have the experience and the vision to help a nonprofit you are “too ambitious” because they are apparently content to go with the status quo.

  • If you are 59 years old you will continually be told that you have great experience but are not a “good fit” (AKA-you’re too old….you weren’t brought up in the tech era…. and surely you’re going to retire for good at some point soon).

  • Despite the fact that you are a seasoned professional and that you have attended an interview (maybe 2 or more!) for an organization, if you don’t get the job you will only know that because they did not respond to you. (Over 65% of the places I applied to never responded and many, many, of these were places where I had interviewed!  A short email would have sufficed!)

Bottom line:  It’s harder than you think it will be!


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