By the time you are reading this, we hope you have already done some introspection to align on your strengths and purpose, as well as some research to find some of the best possible places you can put your career towards greater purpose. In this post, Step 7 in our #SocialImpactCareerGuide series, we focus on how to build your skills and experience to expand your network, fill in gaps, and earn your dream job.
For this step, there are two parts: figuring out which skills and experience will actually help you, and then figuring out how to best build those skills so you can prove you are the right candidate for the job.
Identify the skills you need to build
Let’s start with the first half of that equation: identifying the qualifications you need. In general, qualifications will fall into the following categories:
- Sector experience: Do you need exposure to a specific industry?
- Geographic experience: Is global or regional experience required?
- Organization experience: Are they looking for exposure to a certain size (i.e. startup) or type of organization (i.e. nonprofit)?
- Skills demonstrated: Are there specific skills that this role requires and certifications that may be needed?
- Tools: What are the technologies or tools of the trade that will help you stand out?
To do this, we recommend putting yourself in the shoes of a potential employer. To do this, complete the following four steps, and in each step, keep a running list of the five categories listed above. When you’re finished researching, you can then review your list to identify the most common requirements, which will inform you on what to build.
You can use this worksheet to help:
Here are four ways to identify what the market and hiring managers are looking for:
1. Research open positions at your ideal organizations
In step 6 of this guide, we shared how to start building a list of your ideal organizations. As a refresher, your ideal organization(s) is a place where you can:
- Put your strengths to work and continue developing mastery over them
- Find greater purpose in your work and the company’s mission
- Work towards causes that energize and motivate you
- Work within a team environment and organizational structure that meets your autonomy needs
For each organization in your list, look at the careers page on its website. If there are any job openings that relate to your strengths and skills, read the full description to look for clues. Most job postings include detailed information about the core responsibilities of the position, education and experience requirements for the role, and often more information about the company culture and values as well. As you do this, take notes on the sectors, geographies, organization type, skills, and tools commonly referenced.
2. Analyze job descriptions of similar positions at organizations that operate the same space as your ideal organizations
If you don’t find any job openings that match your strengths at the ideal organizations on your list, don’t worry. You can still gain valuable insights from broadening your search to include other companies that operate in a similar space. So if one of your ideal organizations is the Gates Foundation, for example, you could broaden your search to also include opportunities from other leading philanthropic organizations like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation or Ford Foundation. Though the requirements for similar roles may vary slightly across organizations, the core elements will have a lot in common. Not sure of similar organizations, simply google the term “Organizations similar to NAME”. Also, follow the organization on LinkedIn, which will then suggest other organizations. As you do this, take notes on the sectors, geographies, organization type, skills, and tools common in the job descriptions listed by these organizations.
3. Analyze successful people
Search LinkedIn for keywords related to the role you’re hoping to move into, and see who comes up in your first, second, and third degree networks. When you find someone whose role looks particularly interesting, click on their profile to see what kind of education, experience, and endorsements they have. Of course, no two career trajectories look exactly the same, but as you look across multiple profiles it’s likely that you will see certain themes emerge. As you do this, take notes on the sectors, geographies, organization type, skills, and tools that tend to be common in these professionals.
4. Follow relevant professional associations and influencers
Professional associations often share helpful information about the state of the industry and resources for career development. Examples include the American Marketing Association or the Project Manager Institute. If you are not sure, simply google “Association for SKILL” and “Association for ROLE”. Look on their websites, specifically for content related to career and job trends. As you do this, take notes on the sectors, geographies, organization type, skills, and tools that are commonly referenced.
With a clearer picture of what your target jobs and companies are looking for in a candidate, you can see how your own profile stacks up. Once you have a list of the common sectors, geographies, organization type, skills, and tools, no compare this to yourself and identify what seem to be the biggest obstacles to you getting your dream job. In particular, pay attention to the gaps – these are the skills and experiences you still need to build and be able to demonstrate to earn your dream job.
Building the right skills and experiences
There are many different ways to build skills and experience, but the most important thing is that you get out of the building and apply what you’re learning in the real-world. Few things will make a bigger impact on your resume and in interviews than actual lived experience. Particularly if you’re trying to pivot in a completely new direction, you have to get experience beyond your current job to help support your transition.
Here are 5 ways to start building the experience you need to fill in the gaps:
1. Certification courses or online classes
Certification courses and online classes (like the ones in this list of top online learning platforms) are great options for learning a specific skill, particularly if it’s a technical skill. Keep in mind that from a hiring manager’s perspective, learning a new skill and mastering the application of that new skill are two different things, so for best results, we recommend complimenting your online learning with a project that allows you to apply what you’ve learned in the real world.
Example: Let’s say that your dream job requires you to have a basic knowledge of HTML coding. You could take an online course or participate in a coding bootcamp to learn the new skill, and then compliment that by using your new skills to help a local nonprofit update its website. The combination of classroom-based and experiential learning will prove that you not only learned the skill, but know how to use it to deliver results.
2. Skills-based volunteering
Skills-based volunteering is one of the best ways to get around the double-bind of needing experience to get experience. Unlike voluntourism, skills-based volunteering seeks to transfer skills and know-how to local groups already developing their own solutions to real problems. Rather than centering the needs of the volunteer, this approach keeps the needs of the community being served at the heart of the work.
There are a number of personal and professional benefits associated with volunteering your skills. Stepping outside of your comfort zone to apply your skills in a new context boosts confidence, satisfaction, and challenges you to develop your existing skills further by applying them in new contexts. When your volunteering is skills-based, you have direct evidence of your ability to affect change that you can draw on in an interview or cover letter to connect the dots between your past experience and your future direction. In fact, a recent LinkedIn survey found that 41% of hiring managers view volunteer experience as equal to formal work experience.
Example: Global Fellow Stef’s career transition story is a great example of how skills-based volunteering can give you the edge you need to earn your dream role. As part of the Fellowship, Stef worked on a social impact project with BiD Network digitizing the investment process for African entrepreneurs with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, which helped her to further expand her industry knowledge. That experience also helped her stand out in her interview – as Stef reflected, “Although the project with BiD Network was just starting out when I got the interview with Feeding America, it allowed me to demonstrate that I was building this CRM skill area directly related to the role. I was able to speak to the pros and cons of different tools during the interview, and have a tangible example of that kind of work to refer back to.”
3. Board service
Serving on a nonprofit board is an excellent way to develop your skills, experience, and connections. We had the pleasure of hosting Alice Korngold on a previous episode of Beyond Buzzwords about this very topic, where she shared the results of her consulting firm’s Nonprofit Board Study. One of the most insightful takeaways from the study was the clear evidence that board service not only makes an impact, but that it also develops the employee to be more effective at leading others. It’s also a great way to build new connections in the nonprofit or social sector space.
Example: Let’s say that one of the gaps you’re trying to fill to earn your dream job is “track record of delivering results through others,” but you don’t manage anyone directly at work. Serving on a nonprofit board outside of work is a great way to build your experience working with others from different backgrounds and delivering results through collaboration.
4. Take on a stretch project in your current role
You don’t necessarily have to go outside of your current company to find opportunities to stretch and grow your skills. As we shared in this Harvard Business Review article, stretch assignments are a proven way to develop your skills and confidence, as well as prove to leaders that you can succeed at the next level. Talk to your manager about the skills you want to develop, and see if there are any opportunities for you to work on something slightly outside of your wheelhouse that will challenge you to grow.
Example: Imagine that you’re a marketer whose main focus is on creating content, and that the gap you’re trying to fill is “ability to execute content marketing campaigns from start to finish.” Though you’re typically only responsible for the copywriting element of marketing campaigns, you could approach your manager to ask if you could be included in more meetings on the strategy side of designing a campaign, and then propose a new campaign for you to own end-to-end.
5. Training others
You may be familiar with the saying that to teach is to learn twice. According to research from LinkedIn, teaching really is the best way to learn thanks to something called the Protégé Effect. When we learn something with the intent to teach others, we learn the subject more deeply, uncover new gaps in our knowledge, and receive valuable feedback that positively impacts our growth. Running a workshop, serving as a mentor or business coach, or launching your own masterclass on a site like MindMint are all great ways to double down on your learnings by teaching them to others.
Example: Imagine that you are a content creator, and one of the gaps you’re trying to fill to earn your dream job is a track record of effective facilitation and knowledge transfer. Though most of your work is relatively solitary – sitting behind a computer writing – over time you’ve gained a lot of valuable experience and knowledge about how to create compelling content. To build your teaching and facilitation skills, you could approach your local small business association or startup incubator to offer a workshop about storytelling and branding, adding value to your audience while giving you real-world experience sharing what you know.