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Looking for a nonprofit job? Looking to hire? 5 tips from Omar Woodard and Farrah Parkes

July 30, 2020 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose
“I only want to hire people who are agents of change.”

The comment by Farrah Parkes — executive director of New Century Trust — took place during a far-ranging conversation she and Omar Woodard, the executive director GreenLight Fund Philadelphia, had as part of Generocity‘s annual INTER/VIEW social impact jobs fair on July 22.

Parkes and Woodard addressed a lot of big-picture equity and justice questions about changes taking place in the nonprofit sector during the first half of the panel, “If White Nonprofit Culture is Dead, What is its Replacement?

Some aspects of that discussion deserve much further discussion — the importance of empathy in hiring practices, for example.

But today we’re focusing on the conversation during the second half of the discussion, when Parkes and Woodard offered advice for both job seekers and hiring managers — looking through the lens of equity and equitable processes.

These five topics of conversation yielded a lot of practical wisdom from the two nonprofit leaders.

1. The resume isn’t dead, but it isn’t all that.

Despite the myriad ways  job seekers are told to prioritize their resumes, organizations that are serious about advancing equity are actively finding ways to give weight to qualities that cannot be  expressed in a conventional c.v.

“What I’m looking for [in a prospective hire] is passion,” Parkes said. “I actually really like cover letters. A well-written cover letter can convey a lot. They are a good opportunity to show you care about this work. Because that is what is going to sustain you, day-in and day-out.”

Woodard agreed that passion is key. “At the end of the day, a cover letter is nothing more than a vehicle to share your excitement,” he said.

“Hiring managers aren’t necessarily looking for years of experience,” Woodard said, “they’re looking for depth, the experience of experience. It’s not about years of experience, it’s not about educational attainment. It shouldn’t be, though in white nonprofit culture it has been. Where it is shifting is what Farrah mentioned.”

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Both of them say that a job seeker’s history of volunteer work signals the passion they’re looking to hire. In fact, Woodard shouted out “church ladies” and their skills as organizers as an example of the kind of experience that has traditionally gotten short-shrift on resumes but actually offers a lot to the employer.

2. Walk into your interview armed with this.

“The toughest part about interviews is when someone asks you: ‘Give me an example of X’, and you’re in the moment trying to remember…,” Woodard said. “Before you walk into an interview, have a a set of examples [of volunteer work] showing your past experiences that you can easily deploy.”

And remember, he said later in the conversation, “it’s not only that someone is looking to hire you, it’s a two-way interview.”

3. Transparency about money is key.

Things get really real here.

“It’s a good sign if the job lists the salary,” Parkes said. “One of the tools of white supremacy is silence around money, because then you get more control.”

“It is a really important piece of the equity equation being comfortable discussing money,” she added. “If there’s a place where they encourage people NOT to talk about money, that is a warning sign.”

While Parkes spoke to prospective employees on this issue, Woodard spoke to employers and hiring managers.

“There are so many challenges in communities,” he said, “and nonprofits step into that space. Nonprofits are capacity constrained, at a lot of these direct service organizations 70 to 80% of their revenues go to salaries and benefits.”

But, Woodard added, “by purposefully, or accidentally, putting downward pressure on nonprofit wages, we exacerbate the racial wealth gap, because the driver of the racial wealth gap is that wages aren’t growing fast enough or keeping pace.”

Even more directly:

“So, it is close to violence against people to maintain artificially low wages in a sector that’s designed to create equity and equality,” Woodard said. “At its core this is an incredibly important issue for hiring managers to get right.”

4. Commit to lifelong learning.

“It is an interesting, scary but also exciting time to be looking to enter into the job market,” Parkes said. “Commit to lifelong learning. It doesn’t necessarily have to be formal learning.”

“We’re learning a lot every day about what racial equity looks like, about what justice looks like, about what liberation looks like,” she added. “And I think both to strengthen your job prospects, but also just as change agents, commit to keeping up on that. The job is not the end.”

5. Expect throughput and turnover in the sector in the next two years, but…

“There is tremendous throughput and turnover that’s going to be found [in the near future]  in all types of roles at nonprofits and for-profits,” Woodard said. “There is already a lot of turnover.”

“Over the next two years, in the nonprofit space in particular, organizations are going to focus a lot more on what’s important,” he added. “They’re going to have to. They are going to become smaller but they are going to have to become more mighty.”

Woodard also said that he sees roles at nonprofits becoming more multi-faceted: “Nonprofits are going to have to become more lean, and relax on the hierarchy. Individuals who have done a lot of different things, [and performed] a lot of different roles, this is a nonprofit job market that’s going to want you.”

Parkes’s prognosis for success in the nonprofit job market hinges on adaptability.

“There is going to be a lot of change over the next few years,” she said. “The folks who fare best are the ones who are able to roll with that.”



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