#Working4HRM – Some tips on managing your career in the non-profit world

Emmanuelle Lacroix|Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation| 2 Agosto 2016 

Present Yourself as the Best Candidate for the Job

Throughout my years in people management roles within various INGOs, I have often been asked what I look for when sifting through hundreds of resumes.

Putting it bluntly, the short answer is somebody with the right fit who can do the job.

It is not only about hiring a candidate with the right technical skills, experience, and resilience for the role–it’s also about finding someone who fits well within the team, the program, and the organizational culture as a whole.

As applicants, you must be able to demonstrate that you are adaptable, flexible, and well organized. NGO recruiters have literally piles of CVs on their desks. So as you put together CV and covering letters, bear in mind the following key points:

Go through your own reality check against the essential requirements:

  • There is a delicate balance to achieve between demonstrating your existing and relevant skills and experience, and your potential for growth as a quick and keen learner.
  • While you should be confident enough to aim high in order to take your career further, it does not matter how much tailoring you will apply to your CV if you only have a couple of years’ experience when the job requires 10 years plus. So be confident yet realistic: you want to be an asset to a team and an organisational mission, not a liability.
  • Remember: the requirements listed in a job description are there for a reason, so do go through them, and, as objectively as possible, assess yourself against them.
  • Demonstrating technical skills is relatively straight-forward, but soft skills such as self-awareness, agility, or the ability to manage stress are not easy to include convincingly in a CV. You need to demonstrate resilience, especially given the often stressful nature of humanitarian work.
  • In many instances, your cover letter might be the easiest place to include a teaser from a compelling story to illustrate how you handled a stressful situation. Make the recruiters want to hear the full story!

Emphasise how you fit the organization’s culture:

  • A good fit with the organization’s culture probably counts as much as a skills and experience, especially because productive relationships and collaborations have such huge impacts on the efficiency of teams and ultimately operations.
  • You have to be able to demonstrate to recruiters that you “get it”: that you understand the role, the agency, and the bigger picture too.
  • A cover letter that does not mention the agency’s name is unlikely to make a good impression. It sounds obvious, but it happens—even at the highest level.

Make the most of the learning opportunities out there, and embrace life-long learning:

  • Maybe you invested in your career by completing a Master or other academic program. Don’t stop there! Be holistic in your approach to personal development: there is a myriad of ways to continue expanding your knowledge such as learning from peers.
  • Sign up for open online learning initiatives like Disasterready.org and NonprofitReady.org, and connect with other learners from across the globe.
  • Adopt a growth mind-set to make your dream career a reality. I find that this TED X Talk: “5 ways to kill your dreams” from Bel Pesce,  perfectly illustrates that point. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for your CV and cover letter, here are a few tips. Having reviewed thousands of applications and sat in on many interviews, I recommend the following steps to ensure you get noticed for the right reasons:

Some additional tips to get noticed:

  • Be concise. A 10-page CV with all your publications and hobbies won’t cut it. Recruiters need to see what they are looking for on page 1.
  • Do not obscure your relevant skills and experience with irrelevant information; lay it out simply for the eyes of the recruiters, saving them unwelcome investigation work.
  • While recruiters will search for key words, don’t make your CV a list of buzz-words; you are unique and perfect for the role—shout it loudly in your own words.
  • Do, however, use the relevant aid sector vocabulary to come across as somebody who knows what it is all about.
  • The devil is in the detail: proofread the whole set of documents for spelling and grammar mistakes and try and get at least another pair of eyes to review it to make sure your message is clear and intentional.
  • Do not copy and paste items from the job profile or role description. Tailor your CV to the role you are applying for, but make it a genuine portrait of yourself—with a clear emphasis on your achievements to demonstrate how you will make an impact. Be specific with the size of teams and budgets you have been managing and give an overview of the collaborations and relationships you have developed and managed. Make deliberate connections between your profile, the NGO, and the role in question.
  • Add relevant trainings only when and where needed (e.g. security training, 4×4 driving, first aid, coaching, and mentoring).
  • Be honest about geographical locations that you do not wish to be deployed, especially if you apply for an internal roving role.
  • Do your homework and know your facts. Research and read about the organization to which you apply, its values, and its mandates. Ask yourself if they match yours as much as the other way round.
  • The aid sector is a small world. Remember that the person you came across or worked with previously may well be your next interviewer and/or manager. Even when you are not actively looking for a job, network hard, because you never know who the next person reading your CV will be.
  • Keep your digital footprint up-to-date. Your LinkedIn profile should match your CV. We all know how easy it is to Google somebody’s name.
  • Let your personality shine through—be confident about what you can do and your potential but do not lie—you will be wasting both your time and the organization’s and it could damage your reputation, not to mention the potential adverse impacts if you were recruited for a job you cannot actually do.
  • Make sure you mention any volunteering you have done in the past; not only does it show your dedication and passion, it also highlights your commitment to “giving back”—a good indicator for any NGO.
  • Recruiters will be looking for a good skills match and, on the top of that, someone who is a believer in the agency’s work. A solid background in the area of expertise paired with a strong portfolio of paid and voluntary experience will help build competence and credibility.


If you are interested in the project #Working4HRM you might also like to read “#Working4HRM- Agile Performance Management in an Agile Organisation” by Emmanuelle Lacroix previously published on our Blog4Change.

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