Monday, August 19, 2013

NPTech Career Thoughts

For my 15 year anniversary, I pictured some celebration, some recognition. I looked forward to a lifelong career with a big retirement celebration. I had seen so many of my mentors achieve this.

I grew up attached to a cause, an organization I loved. I believed in the mission (and still do, just not sure they do), I put my career in the hands of the org.  My career plans centered on how I could best serve the organization and the best role available for me to have the most impact.

Lesson learned the day I was laid off for a second time within days of a vacation and only weeks from my 15 year anniversary. And not just me, over the years it was other family members, friends and colleagues.

Here is the trap I see so many nonprofit staff end up in. We are part of a cause we are truly devoted to. We love our organization. We have a meaningful and real relationship with our co-workers. Saying we are like family is an understatement. So we do everything in our power to make an impact. We roll with the punches and our job morphs, shifts and changes. We adapt and do whatever is needed from us. But often it requires us to ignore our own career and only focus on our job.

When you are hired, there is often a fairly clear job description and set of expectations. But as time passes, you pick up additional work, your role blends with others, your duties may completely shift from where they started. You become a jack of all trades just to fill any holes in your org, you step up and make it happen! You are an integral part of the org and you have no idea what they would do without you.

But while you are becoming the jack of trades for your org, you may be losing your career path and your ability to get the next job.

The first time I was laid off, my job was unique, different and had a title which didn't represent what I did. So when I started to look for a new job, my resume was hard to follow and understand. I didn't have a clear brand for myself. My experience and job title meant very little to the hiring nonprofits. I had made myself valuable in my job, but not my career. I had not taken time to take care of myself. In the end, my work was only valuable to the org, it was not transferable.

So my job search was a long one. And each time I got close, it was always the same  thought, "we like you and have an awesome set of experiences, but it just doesn't fit our opening."

There seems to be a disconnect around expecting staff to fill needs in our org and mission as needed, while hiring with strict qualifications. We want existing staff to pitch in across the org or grow with the org. But then when we hire, we look to fill a position, we look for a set of defined experiences and skills to fill a specific purpose. 

So on one hand we push staff to work beyond their job description, but we only hire people with experience specific to a job description? So we often wouldn't hire the staff we have doing the job they have?

When I did get my next job, I was very deliberate about building a network, a personal brand and getting experience in a skill set which was transferable and valuable in the job market. Since I knew I couldn't trust the org to look out for me.

You might be thinking, Steve, you seem so bitter. But you couldn't be more wrong. I am so thankful for where I am and what I have experienced and learned. It is sort of like the country song, unanswered prayers.

 I could not be in a better place in my career! I love where I work, all of my past experience is proving valuable every minute of every day. I am diving in again, head first. I am more than uber excited to be a part of a cause I have a heart for, poverty and homelessness. I am immersing myself in my job and giving it everything I have. In less than a year on the job, I am more at home here than any job before it. I completely trust that the org is as interested in me and my career as they are interested in the mission and org.

But I think it is important for me to be open and honest about my nonprofit work experience. I have met numerous people entering the nonprofit career track and countless more who have been in nonprofits longer than me. But I cringe a little when I hear them talk about their job, I just wish they could see what I see now.

Don't let your job turn into a string of sacrifices and become so focused on daily needs causing you to ignore your own needs. This isn't good for you or your org, neither of you will be happy in the long run. 

So a word of advice, things happen, are you in a place to take care of your career when it does?

(behind the scenes - my faith and trust in God played a large role in this journey and my success, however, that is a post for another day. I know He had a hand in guiding me in this direction and getting me here.)