Getting Your Career Search on Track

This post appeared on December 9th, 2008 as a part of the Career Corner Advice Series.

The Career Tracks exercise is the best way to see what jobs are out there that resonate with you. It is real, it is current, and it is relevant.

In late November, Meg talked about The Four Lenses activity created by David Schachter at the NYU Wagner School of Public Service. The goal of the Four Lenses activity is to give you a framework to think and talk about what exactly it is that peaks your professional interest. Once you figure out what lens (or lenses) through which you view the nonprofit sector, the Career Tracks exercise (also developed by the amazing David Schachter) is a great next step to take. This exercise is in for parts:

Part One: Data Collection

Look at online or newspaper job postings, and copy or cut out any posting (a “clip”) that appeals to you either by (A) the type of organization or by (B) the job description. Remember, the only criteria you are using to select clips are either organization or job description. The location of the organization or job should not be an issue for now. Nor should the pay range, qualifications, experience, or any other aspects of the job be a issue. The point of this search is not to explore jobs for which you are qualified. Rather, you are looking at jobs and organizations that appeal to you.

By broadening your search outside of the area where you live (or plan to live) as well as searching jobs outside of your qualifications and pay demands, you get a much fuller sense of the opportunities that are out there. For now, you are not concerned with finding a job with a ten minute commute. Repeat this activity until you have at least 50 clips. The more you collect, the better. Remember, when collecting, you do not evaluate along the way, you just collect ideas. Once you have a minimum of 50 clips, continue to the analysis phase.

Part Two: Analysis

Take the clips out of your folder and see if you can find any patterns or common themes. Points to look for might include: issue, population to be served, approach to the work, geography, kind of organization, unit or department within an agency, and role and responsibilities. For example, you might notice that a large number of your clips focus on direct service with homeless teens and adults, and most of the organizations you are drawn to are large organizations located in urban areas.

Part Three: Synthesis

Using the data gathered from your collection and analysis phases, create at least one and no more than five potential career tracks for yourself. A career track is a way to put parameters around and frame your potential career interests, and can include any of the following attributes that have meaning for you: issue or field of interest, approach to the work, kinds of organizations that do this work, roles that you aspire to play, and requirement of skills, experience, education, and knowledge to fulfill those roles.

Take stock of your qualifications and experiences as they relate to your potential career tracks. Your track should inform which groups you join, the people you seek out, the internship/job experiences you look for, and how you present yourself in a resume, cover letter, and interview. (See Chapter Eight for more advice on cover letters and resumes, and Chapter Nine for a discussion of interview techniques.) Remember to reflect along the way to determine if this track feels like a good fit for you. If it does, continue on this path. If not, seek out additional tracks.

Part Four: Application

After you identify your possible career tracks, draft a different resume for each position you identify that fits into each of the tracks. This can be an entry-level position or a “dream job”; the point of drafting a mock resume is to get a clear view of the skills, experiences, and qualifications (which can include certifications or licenses) you will need in that particular job. Now, fill in the resume with the skills, experiences, and qualifications that you already have for the position. Look at any areas that are blank. Do you need more management, direct service, fundraising, professional, and/or educational experience to qualify for a job on this career track? If yes, start to explore ways to fill those blanks. Whatever the blanks are on your resume, you can find a time and place to fill them. While it is unrealistic to fill all the blanks in all of your resumes in a relatively short amount of time, many of the skills you wish to have should be transferable between resumes.

Ideally, you will have at least 12 months for the Career Tracks process. Realistically, you will only have three to six months. See Chapter 3 to see how a three-, six-, and twelve-month schedule looks.

Like your career search, the Career Tracks exercise should be an ongoing, ever-evolving process. Successful job searches almost never happen overnight. 

This entry is by Steven Joiner, Director of the Career Transitions Program and author of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers. He wishes he knew more about intentional career searching years ago.


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