January 15, 2016

Adapting Your Resume for a Nonprofit Job Search

Tips and sample resumes highlight effective approaches for presenting your for-profit experience when transitioning into the nonprofit sector.

If you are a prospective bridger—someone with experience primarily in business who is seeking a senior position in the nonprofit sector—you’ll want to take a hard look at your resume and consider adapting it for a nonprofit job search. It is to your advantage to make your resume clear, easy to follow, and relevant to the nonprofit sector and the function(s) on which you are focusing your search. There is no single correct way to write or format a resume for the nonprofit sector, but the following tips, questions, and examples can help you create one that is both true to your experience and accessible and appealing to hiring managers at nonprofit organizations.

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Resume content

The keys to adapting a primarily for-profit resume for a nonprofit job search are emphasizing transferable skills, highlighting nonprofit experience, and making the content relevant to a nonprofit hiring manager. As you review your resume, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I articulated my experience clearly and emphasized the transferability of my skills from the for-profit sector to the nonprofit sector?
  • Have I described fully and prominently all of my experience in the nonprofit sector, including any I may have gained as a volunteer, board member, or committee member?
  • Have I included descriptions of the companies I have worked for if their names might be unfamiliar to someone outside my field?
  • Have I removed jargon that may only be understandable or relevant to someone in my previous field?

Resume format

While the following simple formatting tips are relevant to preparing your resume for a job search in any sector, they too often are overlooked. Hiring managers are more likely to find your resume easy to read and understand if you:

  • Use a limited number of type styles to provide emphasis and guide the reader through your resume, but be consistent in how you use them. For example, you may want to use bold and italics to set off company and organization names, job titles, and/or dates.
  • Be consistent throughout your resume with verb tense; margins and indentation; the shape, size and positioning of bullets; and capitalization, punctuation, and abbreviations.
  • Put your contact information (including email address and work, home, and/or mobile phone numbers, identified as such) at the top of your resume to make it easy for hiring managers and recruiters to find.

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Sample resumes

The following resumes—which are the resumes of real bridgers with their identifying information removed—illustrate a range of approaches for-profit executives might use to position their experience to be compelling to hiring managers at nonprofit organizations.

  • Sample resume 1 (Jill Cook): highlight nonprofit experience.
    In her summary, Jill emphasizes the skills that are most transferable to the nonprofit roles for which she’ll be applying. In her nonprofit section, she describes her extensive volunteer work. Rather than simply listing each of her past volunteer roles, Jill elaborates on her experience and is explicit about her accomplishments. In her for-profit section, Jill describes each of her past employers, helping a nonprofit hiring manager to more quickly understand the size and scope of her roles. She uses numbers well to make her contributions clear and concrete.
  • Sample resume 2 (Diane Jackson): demonstrate ability to produce results.
    By including an objective at the top of her resume, Diane helps nonprofit hiring managers to quickly assess her for opportunities in a specific functional area (operations) and sub-sector (education). Diane uses a consistent format for both her professional and volunteer histories, helping the reader to focus on the content and look at her experience holistically across sectors. She uses a “results” bullet in each job description to call attention to and quantify her accomplishments, presenting the picture of a capable, results-oriented person who can be effective in a variety of settings.
  • Sample resume 3 (Jack Smith): emphasize for-profit and nonprofit functional skills.
    Jack includes a "career profile" at the top of his resume to put his nonprofit experience on a par with his professional history and highlight his functional skills, which are highly transferable across sectors. In the main body of his resume, he provides extensive detail on his community experience first, rather than crowding it into a line or two at the bottom of his resume. While Jack has a technical background, he avoids jargon and technical specifics.

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