Invaluable Tips for Young Nonprofit Professionals
The old adage is true: It’s all about who you know. As a self-diagnosed introvert, creating a network of professionals in the nonprofit world was intimidating. I knew that my growth as a professional would, at some point, depend upon recommendations and referrals from my peers and superiors in the field. This has proven to be true for my last two positions—direct referrals for great positions that were not posted publicly. The importance of growing your network cannot be understated. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Teach yourself how to network. That’s right. Take some time to consider questions to ask, events to attend, and what you can contribute to the conversation to make yourself stand out. Some of you may be naturals at starting conversations. Others, like me, need to build this as a professional skill set. Worried about those awkward silences? Write down a list of questions you can have in your back pocket to break through the silence. For example: How long have you been involved with XYZ group? Have you always been in the XYZ industry? Tell me about your role at XYZ company. Keep questions open-ended and avoid politics and religion (do I even need to say this?).
Show up early and plan to stay late. Are you attending a professional development workshop in your community? Take advantage of the networking time built in prior to the session starting. It’s easy to swoop in and out and avoid talking with people—especially when you don’t know anyone—make the extra effort and you will be remembered for it.
Ask for informational interviews. Seek out those whose careers you aspire to. Don’t be intimidated—put yourself out there and introduce yourself. Ask if you can buy them lunch to learn about their career. Most people love to talk about themselves and if they know you’re not trying to get anything out of them (a job, a fundraising gift, etc.) they are happy to spend some time with you. Through these types of interviews, I learned what experience I needed to seek out to be qualified for the positions I aspired to. Bonus: I never had anyone tell me no.
Get out from behind your computer and get some face time. LinkedIn is a very powerful tool but nothing beats a handshake and face to face conversation to make yourself memorable.
Take others with you. This applies to those beginning their careers and those who are well established. Grab a co-worker or friend to attend networking events with you. Having a buddy can make arriving at the event much more comfortable if you don’t know others there but make sure you still put yourself out there. Once you are established in your networking groups, invite a less-networked professional to attend with you. Once you are on the career ladder, reach down and help someone else take the first step. With the rising tide all boats rise and we owe it to our industry to help develop the next generation of talent.
Do you have any tips for young professionals starting their career? How about some sample networking questions to have in your back pocket to quell those awkward silences? Share them on the M&C Facebook page and on Twitter. Use the hashtags #Nonprofit #Tips.