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Ten Resume Tips for Nonprofit Jobseekers

The resume is a key part of any job application, and applying for a nonprofit job is no different. The question is, how is writing a resume for a nonprofit job different from writing one for a corporate position and how can you create a resume that effectively markets yourself to a nonprofit audience? This article will provide tips and advice about how to tailor your resume to nonprofit organizations.

Tip #1:  Focus on Culture Fit
Nonprofits look for different types of information in a resume. Like all organizations or companies, nonprofits look for evidence of relevant skills and experience that will help the candidate to be successful in the position and add value to the company. Nonprofits, though, look beyond specific skills and qualifications; they are particularly interested in how a candidate is going to fit within their unique organizational culture.  Therefore, a good nonprofit resume will include key personality traits and a connection to the organization’s mission as a first step in demonstrating culture fit.

Tip #2: Opt for a Chronological Resume
There are generally two distinct resume formats: functional and chronological. Functional resumes group skills by job function and therefore highlight skills over employment history. Chronological resumes present information using a timeline approach, grouping experience by job title and employer. Chronological resumes are generally the best choice, as they illustrate job growth, are easy to follow, and don’t require the reader to hunt for basic information like specific places of employment or dates employed. A resume should clearly and concisely tell your “employment story”; if the story is not clear, the reader will assume that there is something you are trying to hide.

Tip #3: Tailor Your Resume to the Position
Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach with your resume. Tailor your resume for every job application. This includes mapping your past experience to the specific requirements outlined and using key words and phrases from the job description, as well as addressing unique cultural competencies required by each organization.  For example, if the organization values teamwork and collaboration, make sure you include examples from your work history that illustrate these traits. Remember to include relevant or exceptional leadership roles, committee assignments, fundraising, or community involvement activities.

Tip #4: Demonstrate Your Connection to the Organization’s Mission
As noted above, nonprofits are looking for evidence of your connection to their mission in all parts of your application.  On your resume, be sure to list all past experience, paid or volunteer, that you have with organizations working in a similar mission area. If you don’t have any such experience, begin your resume with an objective statement that concisely describes your interest in this area.

Tip #5: Use Accessible Language
In many cases, the person receiving and screening your resume may not be the hiring manager for the position, so craft your resume for a general audience; any reader should be able to look at your resume and have a clear picture of your experience and interests.  Avoid jargon or terminology that is not widely recognized.  For example, in describing your experience in education, use phrases like “increased 80% of students’ reading levels by two grade levels within one school year” instead of referring to state-specific tests such as the MCAS. 

Tip #6: Quantify and Qualify Your Experience
As much as possible, use data to show exceptional results, such as specific amounts of funds raised or specific operational efficiencies instituted. When describing management experience, include the number of direct reports. In addition, use examples that will illustrate universally sought cultural competencies like flexibility, teamwork, and leadership.

Tip #7: Choose Every Word Carefully
Your resume is an example of your writing ability, a skill required by almost every role at every nonprofit. Use active language, write in a style that is easy to follow, and avoid including irrelevant information; as you re-read your resume, make sure that every single word is important to the message that you are trying to communicate. Candidates early in their careers should limit their resumes to one page; those with more experience can use two pages, but no resume should be longer than two pages.  In fact, hiring managers will often treat long, wordy resumes as a demonstration of poor writing skills and therefore discount the candidate immediately.

Tip #8: Keep Your Format Simple
Do not use excessive fonts, styles, or colors and have a good balance of white space on your resume. Before sending to organizations, send your resume to yourself or other friends and family to see how the formatting transfers across different computers.  For example, a resume using a font that isn’t recognized by the recipient’s computer will never be read. 

Tip #9: Include Current Contact Information
Be sure to include your current contact information. If you are a graduating student, include your permanent address and a permanent e-mail address.  Avoid listing unprofessional email addresses or phone numbers with unprofessional voicemail messages.

Tip #10: Proofread, Proofread, Proofread!
Having typos or grammatical errors in your resume is a sure-fire way to ensure that your application ends up in the garbage can.  Make sure there are no errors at all; have two or three strong writers review every version of your resume before you send it out.

Taking the time to create a targeted and polished resume can make all the difference in your nonprofit job search. A thoughtful and well-written resume helps a potential nonprofit employer evaluate your application against the qualifications and requirements of the position and decide whether to pursue your candidacy further. It is your job to make sure they have plenty of reasons to invite you for an interview!