Are Non-Profits Defending Their Tribe Against Zombies?

Job descriptions seem to veer between the too general and the overly specific.

It’s either:

  • “Applicant must be willing to contribute enthusiastically to our company’s mission, be goal oriented, and somewhat conversant in the English language.”


  • Or: “Applicant must have 17+ years of experience marketing commercial-grade industrial coolers to Aleutian natives, be a power user of XYZ Software Version 8.7, and possess a graduate degree in plate tectonics.  Familiarity with Napoleonic Law and Hunan Chinese culinary techniques also desirable. “

In the latter case, this seems to point to my theory that some organizations don’t accept the idea that skills from other sectors of the economy might be transferable.

Case in point: I recently had an interview for a fairly low-level development position at a small non-profit, where I suspect the salary is somewhere around a bucket of peanuts.  (This was in response to a job posting, FYI.)  The interviewer asked a lot of highly specific questions about my previous experience, with which she seemed to be less than impressed.

Really, I can manage an IT implementation, make sure collateral gets created and distributed to 1400 locations on a tight timetable, make presentations at conferences, and plan all of the details for taking 14 eight year-olds on a camping trip for an entire weekend.   But you don’t think I can manage a small golf scramble?   And is your software program really so different that I can’t figure out how to use it if I’ve figured out how to use several CRM systems on my own?

I understand that in order to design bridges or do brain surgery there are some hard, non-negotiable skills that you need to have.  But I suspect that a lot of industry-specific requirements, especially in areas such as non-profit management, are not always about having the skills to get the job done.

Non-profit salaries are already lower than elsewhere, in part because someone will work for less money if they are helping infants in the developing world to survive, ensuring the preservation of historic buildings, or (name your favorite cause here).  In my experience, few people are willing to take a pay cut to ensure that more consumers use their employer’s deposit products or credit and debit cards.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with deposit products or credit and debit cards, mind you – I’m actively pursuing financial services jobs.)

Methinks there may be a bias against industry changers or non-traditional applicants.  Is this really a matter of finding the best candidates with a passion for your mission?  Or a way to keep the already large applicant pool from growing larger, or to make the screening and interview process less work?  I’d love to get some industry feedback on my theory.

However, as I’ve noted elsewhere, the zombies ARE circling at the gates!


4 thoughts on “Are Non-Profits Defending Their Tribe Against Zombies?

  1. I completely agree, there does seem to be a desire for specialized people companies cant afford-just like dating, where ur asking for a super model when you know you arent one. I got a degree in marketing and a masters in fine art to specially market myself as a versatile professional who can type up detailed financial reports And draw up creative designs simultaneously. I’ve gotten similar feedback in my interviews, that companies would just prefer I have a degree that matches the job title exactly. I got the impression I was so flexible they were skeptical they could hold on to me/ that the second I find something better I’m gone. Still not sure how to argue thats not the case.

  2. There is definately a bias against non-traditional applicants. Tight budgets mean less risk-taking by not-for-profits when it comes to hiring.

  3. For it, it depends on the position. I had no problem hiring someone from outside the nonprofit sector for most of the positions in my organization. I admit I generally had a bias with development positions, preferring that people have background in the nonprofit sector. However, I had a few people who started as volunteers with us that we later hired for development positions. All that said, this job market is the toughest I’ve ever experienced.

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