And I’m not just referring to novice job seekers. Some of the most head-scratching applications come from experienced professionals.
As such, we thought it might be helpful to outline four things to do before you apply for your next job.
- Read the job description. Forgive me for sounding like Captain Obvious, but you would be shocked how many people apply for jobs without actually reading the entire job description. Now, we’re not asking you to read War and Peace (1,296 pages, if you’re curious). Job descriptions are typically a page long, maybe two.And why read the job description? Well, in order to find out two things: whether the job appeals to you and whether you’re a fit.First, are you interested in what you’re reading? Most free-market nonprofits try to be very straightforward about what the role will entail, whether that means extensive travel, fundraising responsibilities, long hours of running regressions, or time spent entering data into Salesforce. If you’re not excited about the role, move along.Second, are you a fit for what you’re reading? Again, most job descriptions clearly outline what the ideal candidate looks like. If that’s you or pretty close, apply! But if you’re not even in the ballpark, probably best not to throw your hat in the ring.
While Nancy Pelosi might apply for the job so that she can know what’s in the job description, there’s an easier way: just read the dang job posting!
- Research the organization. Again, this seems like a no-brainer. But if I had a dime for every candidate who confessed he hadn’t researched the organization before applying, I wouldn’t buy my wine in 1.5 liter bottles.Before you apply for a job, make sure you know what you’re getting into. Are you aligned with the organization’s mission? Better yet, are you passionate about it? And if the organization focuses on multiple issues, are you comfortable with all of them?In addition to mission alignment, dig into other critical factors. Do you like what you’re seeing about the organization’s approach to social change? Are you confident the group is making a difference? Who is on the board? Who are the key staff members?On one occasion, we were interviewing a candidate for a role with a state-based think tank in the southeast. When we asked why the person was interested in this particular organization, he responded, “Well, it’s pretty much the same thing as the state-based organization in New York, only in the south, right?” Yes, exactly! State-based think tanks are just like Starbucks franchises. Same coffee, different state. Sigh.
On another occasion, we had a candidate back out of the interview process when she discovered she did not agree with one of the organization’s stances on a policy issue. I was surprised and disappointed that the candidate hadn’t done more research before applying for the job. The organization’s stance on that issue was well-known and could have been discovered in several clicks on its website.
- Check the organization’s 990. Not only will a 990 reveal lots of interesting information about financial health and other goodies, it will also give you a sense for what salaries look like (at least for some senior staff). This is especially important if the organization has asked you to provide salary requirements in your application. Why? Because if you’re applying for a mid-level role, it’s probably not wise to ask for a salary that is $10K higher than what the president makes.
- Ask around about the organization.Ask your friends and associates about the organization’s reputation, culture, and achievements. If possible, ask a trusted former employee for his/her thoughts; when someone is no longer dependent on an organization for a paycheck, the honesty increases exponentially.Find out all you can. What is the leadership style? What is the turnover like? What is the culture of the organization? What is the board’s relationship with the executive leadership? Does the board help the organization flourish or does it stymie progress? Does the organization partner with other like-minded groups or is it a silo?There’s a lot to learn about an organization that you can’t find online.
That wasn’t so painful, was it? And for the record, I was kidding about buying my wine in 1.5 liter bottles. That’s shameful. I buy it in a box!