Wednesday, March 10, 2010

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Do You Have What it Takes to Work in a Non-Profit?

As I've watched the disasters in Haiti and Chile, I've been inspired by the hundreds of non-profit organizations that have poured into those areas, ready and willing to help. At the same time, I'm aware enough of my limitations to know that I'd have a hard time coping with the devastation on any long-term basis if I was called to work there. It got me thinking about what it takes to work for a non-profit, and how many people find out it's not the right job fit for them. That led to this column for Gannett:

The poor job market has led many job seekers to be creative, seeking work in fields they may not have explored before. But for those who believe moving from a for-profit arena into the non-profit world may give them more options, the transition may not be that easy.

“I think many non-profits are using more management techniques found in the business world, but I wouldn’t suggest a job seeker sit down and say to a non-profit organization: ‘Listen, I can help your non-profit run more like a business.’ There’s a good chance you might offend them saying something like that,” says Heather Krasna, director of career services at Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.

That’s because non-profits often focus on the “cause” of their organization, putting less emphasis on the bottom line. That’s one of the reasons that moving into the non-profit world may not be the best career move for everyone.

Kisha DeSandies, who works as a communications manager for a non-profit association in Alexandria, Va., says that while non-profits are more team-oriented and focused on a common purpose, there’s often not enough staff – or money – to get all the work done. Many non-profits find themselves equally hard hit by the recession, she says.

“When the economy is in trouble, you lose members (of the organization). When you lose members, you lose money. You lose money, you lose jobs,” DeSandies says. “I’ve heard of other associations that just aren’t doing well.”

DeSandies, who has worked in the for-profit world as well, says non-profits often are not as strongly managed financially, and mismanagement by boards can lead to overspending and poor organizational planning. That’s a recipe, she says, that can bother many workers.

“I think every job has its issues, but not having structure and accountability can be a downside of non-profit work. It can be sort of like a dysfunctional family. The place can eventually implode,” she says.

Before choosing to apply to a non-profit, Krasna suggests checking out the group’s mission and seeing if you are truly interested in their goals. Further, many non-profits can’t offer as much in salary, but other benefits may balance that out for many job seekers.

For example, DeSandies says that her non-profit work often has allowed her more independence with less management oversight. She says she’s also been given the chance to take on tasks that interest her, since non-profits often foster a culture of teamwork and pitching in where needed since resources are often limited. “I’m more of a free spirit, so nonprofits are a good fit for me,” she says.

Krasna points out that working for a non-profit organization shouldn’t be discounted just because salaries are sometimes lower. Non-profits such as hospitals are competitive on pay, and many executive positions are filled by MBAs or others with business-world experience. As more donors and fundraisers ask for more specific accounting of their contributions, non-profits are interested in those who understand for-profit realities – with a healthy dose of altruism thrown in.

Krasna, author of the upcoming “Jobs That Matter: Fin a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service,” (JIST, $14.95) says those seeking a job with a nonprofit should:

  • Do the homework. Check out the organization’s mission and culture through the organization’s literature or online site. Also, look at the group’s tax forms found on www. to gauge the group’s financial health.
  • Volunteer. “This is really one of the best ways to check out what an organization is really like,” she says. “And, it’s going to be important to any non-profit to see that you’ve done some volunteer work somewhere. It’s something you should highlight in your resume and cover letter.”
  • Values. Do a gut check and determine the causes you feel strongly about. If you can’t commit yourself to the organization’s mission, the job won’t be a good fit.
Do you think you could work in a non-profit? Why or why not?

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Do You Know What Other People are Saying About You?

I've known Marshall Goldsmith for many years, and he was kind enough to give me a blurb for my last book. I recently read his new book, and wanted to ask him some questions about a Chapter 6 -- on reputation. Here's what I learned and wrote for my Gannett column:

When you look in the mirror, do you see the same image that your co-worker or boss see when they look at you?

If you’re not, you may be in trouble.

That’s because your reputation is critical to your career success, and if your self-perception is out of sync with what others believe, it can not only hold you back now but forever hinder your progress.

Marshall Goldsmith, a leadership guru, says that many people are clueless about their reputation among business associates. For example, you may be unaware how your behavior – including in your private life – impacts how others feel about you. You may think your education and work history mean your professional reputation is great – but colleagues have been passing around photos of you drunk at a party, or the blog post you wrote about trouble in your marriage.

Goldsmith says one of the biggest blows to a career reputation can be made online, especially through social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. “People post about their private lives on these sites, where anyone can see them. It’s insane. They’re showing a total lack of judgment,” Goldsmith says. “It takes about two minutes to find something out.”

At the same time, monitoring your reputation can be critical if lies are being spread about you – your career can be torpedoed if you’re not managing information and aware of how others see you, he says. With the Internet, and “everyone having a camera,” it can be tough to maintain control over your reputation, but the key is being vigilant about not letting your private life overlap into your professional world.

While what you say on Twitter or Facebook may not seem like a big deal now, will it still be OK if you were suddenly out of work and needed to apply for a job? Or, if you were up for a big promotion? How would a boss or potential employer view your words and actions?

“The truth is, we may never completely know how a damaged reputation impacts us,” Goldsmith says. “It can be a silent career killer. That’s why it’s time to quit drifting through life, and understand the importance of being aware about what is being said about you.”

As for the contention that many people believe being “transparent” online is a way of just being themselves, Goldsmith says that instead of “revealing honesty,” such actions show a lack of professional judgment that will haunt the person for years to come. “It comes down to this: Your personal life is personal. Keep it that way,” he says.

In his new book, “MOJO: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose It,” (Hyperion, $26.99) Goldsmith says that you should understand:

  • The reputational goal. It’s easier to build your reputation if you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve. For example, Goldsmith says he wants to be considered one of the best in helping make leaders successful, so he always asks himself what he can do to have the most impact on helping others. “I don’t have to be the smartest, but I want to be the most effective,” he says. “That’s the question I ask myself constantly: Will this make me effective?”
  • A bad reputation is gained through a series of events. One mistake won’t ruin you, but if it happens again and again – for example, you crumble under pressure – then people start to believe that you can’t handle leadership. He suggests doing an annual “behavior review” about your past performance, such as six “great” personal moments or “bad” personal moments and looking for a pattern.
  • It’s difficult to change your reputation – but it can be done. Opinions of you are not formed overnight, and they won’t be altered quickly, he says. You must consistently deliver the same message, so that people begin to interpret you in a new way. “Also, if you make a mistake, sincerely apologize for your sins, and then try to get better over time,” he says. “It’s not going to improve instantly, but stick with it.”
What do you do to manage your reputation?

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