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Am I qualified for this and, if not, what AM I qualified for?
June 5, 2014 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I will be graduating with my B.A. in December (at the age of 54) and looking for a job. All along my plan has been to work as a non-profit program manager or project manager. Now I'm not sure I'm qualified. If I'm not, what AM I qualified for, besides the soul-deadening bookkeeping that I've been doing?

I am graduating in December with my bachelor's in anthropology. It will have taken me 37 1/2 years to get my B.A. I will be beginning my job search in earnest in a couple months. My goal is to get a job as a non-profit program manager, hopefully in women's health, ideally in the field of pregnancy, birth, or post-partum. But I am flexible about the industry where I work.

I am afraid that, despite almost 40 years of working experience and my new B.A., I will not be qualified for this position, as I have had very little experience in that actual type of work. If I am not qualified, I need help trying to target the kind of job I can get but that is also challenging and meaningful to me.

My first 20+ years working were doing admin support, which I always hated, as it felt like I was just helping others do their more interesting, worthwhile work. Then 9 years ago I magically got a job as Membership Coordinator in a tiny non-profit in a field that I am passionate about. Because it was very small (only 4 of us in the office), and based on a non-hierarchical, consensus-based model, I was very involved in running the place, attending meetings where I had lots of input, strategic planning, web-development, Board creation, and everything else. The problem was that all this work was very informal; none of other employees came from any kind of business background, but were there because of their shared passion. In fact, we discovered that the organization had never been an actual 501(c)3 because of the lack of experience and resources of earlier directors. While I was there we were dedicated to gaining official non-profit status, as well as making a plan to begin to bring in funds (we were strictly fee-for-service and very, very poor). We all made this stuff up as we went, attending classes in board creation and management, e-commerce, and others, and doing all this stuff by the seat of our pants. There were too many obstacles, and the organization died in our hands. I had been there 3 years.

I spent the next 4 years grieving the loss and doing various bookkeeping and accounting temping. I was unable to find permanent work, and the temp jobs were hard to find, as well. I had several periods of unemployment, some very long. A year and a half ago I figured out a way to return to school, and that's what I've been doing since then.

I didn't even look for non-profit management jobs back then because I saw that a bachelors was necessary. Also, because of the unorthodox, make-it-up-as-you-go nature of our work at the non-profit I didn't think my experience there would seem valid. I didn't really learn the "rules" of what I did there so wouldn't be able to apply them at another organization.

I'm afraid I may have put a little too much faith in the power of my impending bachelors. I have been kind of thinking that a new bachelors plus almost 40 years of general business experience--very little of it actually in non-profits--would make me attractive to employers. But now I think I'm being naive.

Here's what I'm good at or love: I am super organized; I love collaborating; I love meetings and bouncing around ideas; I am great at taking those ideas and figuring out the practical aspects of how to make them real; I love getting up from that meeting table and going and making phone calls and getting online to get information and figure out logistics; I love taking chaos and putting it into order--spreadsheets, forms, etc.

I may love these things and be good at them, but it may not translate into measured, proven experience and outcomes. They're more like personality traits. So few of my jobs gave me the opportunity to use some of those skills.

I'm willing to use my bookkeeping/accounting skills in a job--perhaps as a foot in the door--but I'm terrified of getting stuck at a desk in the back, doing the numbers for everyone who's actually attending the meetings and brainstorming and doing stuff. And I DON'T want to do admin support in any way, even to get my foot in the door.

One thing that may help, but may not: I had an internship this past semester, where they have now contracted me as a paid consultant because they want me to continue to completion the main project I worked on. I used many of my above skills, and my boss LOVES me and offered strong positive references. But I was a student intern and there for only a few months--it will probably be a total of 9 months by the time I'm done. Will her reference be valuable to potential employers?

So, here's the crux: brand new bachelors + 20 yrs. admin experience + 3 yrs. weird non-profit experience + 4 years spotty bookkeeping & unemployment = non-profit program management?
posted by primate moon to Work & Money (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, the magic job advice is always "network!", also, "let yourself be mentored." Your boss loves you. Ask for her help. Explain your passion and your desire to work in the field, and what you'd like to do, then ask a mix of questions.

If you'd consider an offer of full-time employment to do what you're doing now as a contractor, make sure they know that. Does the organization that you're both working at ever convert contractors to employees? Given the direction you want to go, does she have any suggestions as to how to advance that goal while you're working for her?

If they can't convert you, or keep you on as a contractor (and working for a boss that loves you is really nice, btw), then you network. Does she know any organizations where you might be a good fit as a full time employee? Who does she know who might be looking?

And, on a less vague nature, if the PM jobs you're looking for are like PM jobs in other industries, the get familiar with the PMBOK and be prepared to talk about it in your interviews. Also, if it is, then you may be lucky! There are almost certainly some sort of professional organization for PMs in the nearest large city, and that is a training and networking opportunity.

Good luck, says the guy who just got his Masters after 23 years.
posted by Mad_Carew at 12:04 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


This is my pet peeve, women have been convinced of two bullshit things in this world:

1. That more education will help them move up the corporate ladder

2. That they have to have specific experience to be eligible for jobs.

Although, in your case I'm kind of confused about why you got a degree in Anthropology, especially given your area of preference, in the non-profit world the degree to have is one in Social Work, or Health Administration or Nursing or something like that. When you discussed your career goals with your advisor, what did he/she say about your major?

Here is a listing of the 11 jobs in Boston that are listed on Idealist, the best place to find jobs with non-profits. That one for the Boys and Girls Club might be a good stepping stone.

See if you can get a position in a hosptial as a liason with the population you want to work with, or the city, state or federal health departments.

The point is, take a look at what jobs are actually out there for you, and start off where you can, and gather more relevant experience. Government is a good start, because most of the programs that you describe are implemented through government, not necessarily non-profits (unless you have a particular one in mind.)

The other thing you could do is start your own non-profit, doing that which you think is underserved. You must love fundraising if that's the case though.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:05 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I do not want to work at the organization where I'm currently consulting. It's in a field that I am not interested in, and it's poorly organized with a very dysfunctional management and culture. I also don't want to work in social or human services.

I don't have the language to identify the type of non-profit I DO want to work in. (That could be a problem right there.) I guess organizations that work on a larger scale than working directly with or serving the public. Maybe organizations that work on affecting policy? More ideological type of missions, such as economic equality, reproductive issues, public health, etc. I feel awful stupid and naive, not even being able to identify the KIND of place I want to work!
posted by primate moon at 12:26 PM on June 5


of course you're qualified, but that isn't really the critical question, which is...

are you employable, at 54, in a competitive youth-oriented market? this is an entirely different issue.
posted by bruce at 12:37 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Just so you know, women tend not to apply for jobs where they don't meet all of the qualifications, whereas men do.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:51 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


For me, the way to get the vocabulary to describe the job I want and figure out which organization I want to work for, within a given field, has been to join the relevant professional associations, read their publications, and go to their meetings. I think the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network might be a relevant professional association for you.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:53 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


It's all how you frame it!

Take everything in your question that is positive and use it to your fullest advantage. For example, you said:

I was very involved in running the place, attending meetings where I had lots of input, strategic planning, web-development, Board creation, and everything else.

That's great! Who cares if the place was run by serial killers? Doesn't matter. Your potential employers won't know or care about that. The organization folded while you were there? Also a great learning experience and nothing loads of gainfully employed people haven't experienced.

One thing that may help, but may not: I had an internship this past semester, where they have now contracted me as a paid consultant because they want me to continue to completion the main project I worked on. I used many of my above skills, and my boss LOVES me and offered strong positive references. But I was a student intern and there for only a few months--it will probably be a total of 9 months by the time I'm done. Will her reference be valuable to potential employers?

Oh hell yes! Use all the connections you have.

I am super organized; I love collaborating; I love meetings and bouncing around ideas; I am great at taking those ideas and figuring out the practical aspects of how to make them real; I love getting up from that meeting table and going and making phone calls and getting online to get information and figure out logistics; I love taking chaos and putting it into order--spreadsheets, forms, etc.

Damn, I'm actually starting to wish I had a job for you. I'm serious, I have gotten great jobs with far, far less experience than you have.

Also, cast your net wider and look beyond nonprofits. Most arts graduates I have known say things like "I would love to work for a nonprofit doing work that really matters!" I used to be one of those people and did nonprofit work for a couple of years. These days I'm saying "I really love my private sector job with the nice paycheque working in an industry I never expected to be in!"

Also, nonprofits aren't always what they're cracked up to be. Actually, no job is. I know people who landed their "dream job" on paper only to have it turn into a nightmare. Also want to add that a lot of nonprofit jobs I have seen go to people who are already known to the organization. They are former interns, volunteers, or have experience in similar organizations. How about volunteering with some organizations whose interests align with your own? Never know where it could lead.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:54 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Well, would that be Unicef or the World Health Organization? LaLeche League? Doctors Without Borders? Planned Parenthood?

Not only do you need to be able to articulate what you want to do, you need to be sure that it's something that's out there to be done. Are there any agencies out there doing what you want to do? Can you contact the program directors there and do informational interviews, even if on the phone, to pick their brains and learn how they got their positions?

Have you discussed any of this with the job placement services at your university? Do they have any helpful resources for you?

Policy is government, so you probably should look at Health and Human Services at usajobs.gov to see what's on offer there if you want to work in the US.

I will say that often, you get to work on policy only after you have field experience. How can you make sound recommendations if you haven't walked a mile in the shoes...
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:56 PM on June 5


I'm going to answer this from a different perspective (ie, your follow-up comment, which mentions that you are not sure as to how to even identify what you are interested in career wise).

It sounds like you are going at this almost as a career change, correct? This is what I did when I made my last major career change: Info interviews. This is the reason that I would recommend doing this in your case: In addition to asking the question, would job X or career X be a good fit for me? You can also ask: What do people in these positions do? Can they tell you about other companies/missions/titles, etc.? What other search terms should you use to find the job or similar jobs? How should you position yourself for the career track(ie, maybe they will recommend to get a credit, tiny class, experience, who knows what) or they will tell you to highlight experience Y. This was how I approached info interviews (not typing it all again), but I think that it should work for you, too. The key for you, I think, is to find people who have the desired job title that you want to have and emphasize that you are making a career change and want to find out more info - so they will not view your questions as silly, but rather as a potential colleague and as a person who also needs/wants info just like they did many years ago.

Also, I will sound like a nut ball, but when I want projects, I sometimes approach companies proactively - sometimes they reply with "would you like to work here", so I think this approach should work for potential job seekers. Anywho, what I am suggesting is to make a list of companies that interest you and approach them in whatever medium is best for you (email, phone call). I have known other people who landed desired jobs this way.

I wouldn't worry about strikes against you (either from your perspective or others)- what I would focus on is how to present you as the best package for the job. Do use what you learn from people who have the desired job title, but having a degree (it doesn't matter what it is in - you finished a degree and demonstrated the ability to learn and focus), and of course have the person recommend you for jobs.

Feel free to memail if you want to bounce around ideas. I've changed career paths before and I actually do think it is difficult the first time you do it. Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 1:00 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


First, congratulations on getting your BA. That is awesome!

Your post reminded me of this article written by someone with a master's in anthropology, how she parlayed her academic cred into writing her own job description in an industry she didn't expect to be in. It is written from a slightly academic bent and from the perspective of a younger person, but I think you can still gain some lessons from it: volunteer, network, take temp jobs all to make connections and learn. With each small step you just move up and up.

I think you have tons of great skills and attributes... Now you just need to network and figure out where you want to work. So, research. And it may take a while before you land where you want to be.

I just googled "reproductive issues nonprofit" and came up with sites that have listings of related organizations in the US. Hopefully that will help you come up with the language you need to identify where you want to work.
posted by foxjacket at 1:28 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Look into Quality departments at non-profit health insurance organizations. Your age won't be a barrier, your gender would be a solid benefit, and your experience is right on target for project manager. After a year or so, you could transition to a program manager role if you performed well. Quality is booming right now, and in the non-profit/Medicaid world there's a big push around pregnancy aftercare and new mom stuff right now.

Something to remember - when you look at qualifications for "project manager" you're going to see a lot of stuff specifically related to IT. It's not all relevant to the kind of project manager you're looking to be (though some of it is, around budgeting and resource management...) Don't be scared off by what you can google.

Also, hello fellow (future) useless degree holder! Mine's in anthropology, too. It's like majoring in salad in a steak and potatoes world. :) But you're in luck - the fields you want to go into won't much care what you're BA is in. They'll just be happy you have one.
posted by kythuen at 1:38 PM on June 5


I don't have the language to identify the type of non-profit I DO want to work in. (That could be a problem right there.) I guess organizations that work on a larger scale than working directly with or serving the public. Maybe organizations that work on affecting policy? More ideological type of missions, such as economic equality, reproductive issues, public health, etc. I feel awful stupid and naive, not even being able to identify the KIND of place I want to work!

You want a think tank - in addition to the large ones, many of which are household names, there are quite a few with niche specialties and/or partisan experts.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:51 PM on June 5


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