What is my next career step and how do I get there?
December 16, 2014 8:53 PM   Subscribe

I’ve spent a couple of years in my current position doing entry-level nonprofit program coordination. It turns out it's not my ideal career field, so I am in search of a new and different challenge. What kinds of positions might I qualify for that would offer me interesting and stable work and help me progress in my career? What can I do to make myself a good candidate? If you do something that I might really enjoy, can you tell me more about your career path?

This is very long but I want to be clear about the particular challenges of my situation so I have tried to include as much relevant detail as possible.

What I do now: Nonprofit program coordination at the entry/assistant level, which in practice means a combination of project management, writing, research, volunteer management, event planning, and marketing. The actual day-to-day varies quite a bit.

My background: This is my first full-time job. I got this job in 2012 by interning for my current employer and being promoted to full-time. Previously, I’ve had a few internships largely focused around marketing, volunteers, and event planning. I have a BA from a top-10 liberal arts university in a purely academic field and did not learn any specialized skills in college, but I decided academia was not for me, at least not now. I live in Washington, DC and want to stay here.

My skills: Out of the the skills I mentioned above, the ones I enjoy using the most and want to continue building are project management, writing, and research. I’m also highly organized and good at time management, I work very well under pressure, and I like to come up with and improve processes and procedures based on people’s needs. I’m good at organizing and presenting data and information so that others can understand it. I like working with computers and I pick up new software very quickly, I'm familiar with databases from the front end (entries, queries, reports), and I know some HTML, CSS, and Java but not enough of any of those to pass even an initial screen at a tech company, although I'd love to learn more in a work environment (I feel like I've reached the limit of what I can teach myself).

One thing I don’t feel confident doing is coming up with original ideas for projects (the stress of thinking up paper topics is what made me averse to academia) so I like to work in a structured environment with clear roles and tasks. I also don’t feel comfortable in a sales or fundraising role, and I'd prefer to shift my career away from event planning, volunteer management, and client/customer relations.

The next step: I’d like to move on to something with more challenging, and somewhat different, responsibilities. I don't think I want to stay in the program coordination area, so I’m going to need to look elsewhere, and I’m open to just about any field. I don't feel the need to stay in nonprofit.

My concerns: Money is the big one. It’s not financially feasible right now for me to go to graduate school or otherwise take (paid) classes, or to take an intern or temp position that doesn’t have health benefits. In fact, due to the extremely high cost of living here, my needs based on over a year of detailed budget planning are in the $20-25/hr range at full time. Is this at all realistic if I'm trying to make a career change?

I also think it will be a challenge to look good on paper. Most of my experience so far has focused on volunteer coordination, event planning, and marketing, which I'm trying to move away from. Besides which, most of the people I know who don’t do highly specialized work got their jobs when someone reached out to them first, whether it was a recruiter or a recommendation from a friend/former colleague. Since that hasn’t happened to me, I can only respond to job listings and I’m worried it’s not actually possible to get a job that way. I probably need to network and I’m not sure how to do that. (My experience at networking events is that only people seeking jobs go to them.)

Thanks for taking the time to read and respond, and please be honest with me if you don't think what I'm trying to do is possible!
posted by robot cat to Work & Money (5 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You sound awesome! Based on your description of yourself, I would totally hire you. Here's some quick feedback.

1) Sounds like you want to make about 52K annually, which seems reasonable to me for your skills and experience, in DC. FWIW, leaving the nonprofit sector itself will give you a 10-20% bump in pay, even if nothing else about your work changes.

2) You are new enough in your career that this isn't a career change per se -- it's just part of the normal process of figuring out what you enjoy and what you're good at. The way you talk about yourself is perfect: you can say exactly the same things to hiring managers.

3) I have done a lot of hiring, and I feel like I recognize your type. (Sounds to me like you are probably an ISTJ or INTJ. Read the links and see what you think.) You sound analytical and focused and efficient, and for many types of roles that's exactly what companies are looking for.

I think you could move to pretty much any for-profit business environment -- you sound like you'd do fine in tech, or finance, or operations, or anything with a manufacturing/production/engineering component. I'd stay away from fields like media or advertising or politics (and yes, nonprofitland too) because they are people-oriented, and it sounds like you prefer systems. I'm guessing you'd enjoy business analysis, requirements analysis, process improvement, business case development, strategy development and business planning -- stuff like that. I could pretty easily imagine you in a junior project management type role, and I could also imagine you working alongside executives in a junior role (like, in a researcher or analyst-type position).

4) FWIW it sounds to me like you'd be happiest at a medium-sized (200>2K) company that's been around for 10 years or more. You're probably not yet specialized enough for a really large company, and I am guessing small/young ones won't offer the structure and clarity you want.

5) If you find you're not getting callbacks, then maybe look into doing some PMP/business analyst type training. Probably there is stuff you can do online or for cheap, that would give you a line on your resume that would help. Or you could ask to be given a project to manage at your current work, and put that on your resume. I agree with you that networking is overrated.

Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 9:55 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

I jumped out of the nonprofit sector seven years ago, and am glad I did. But you built a lot more skills and a broad skillset than you think there, but planning your next step will require a little more planning on where you'd like to end up. Have you ever read What Color is Your Parachute? It's great at this sort of exercise, particularly when you don't know what you want to do yet. Remember that the next job will often determine where you go afterwards (especially in terms of your field, not just the type of work)
posted by waylaid at 11:51 AM on December 17, 2014

Between nonprofits, think tanks, and lobbying firms, there must be thousands of companies in the DC area who could find a place for someone with demonstrated skills in planning and coordination. So good luck.

Think about trying to leverage the good will owing to your alma mater. Find graduates who work in DC and give them a call.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:11 PM on December 17, 2014

Response by poster: Hi MetaFilter! I wanted to pop back in with an update because I just gave my two weeks notice. I'll be starting a new job in May as an analyst at a for-profit research/consulting company. It seems like a great fit and I am thrilled to start. It meets my salary needs too, and it will be a huge relief to be more financially stable and hopefully start saving/investing. Amusingly given that I mentioned there was little chance of anyone reaching out to me, I was referred by someone I met at a local meetup for an online community, so it seems like I did manage to network after all.

I really appreciate all the advice I was given here. It helped me get a better handle on my next steps and go into the interviewing process with confidence. SusanPG, I really appreciate your in-depth advice that helped kick my impostor syndrome in the ass. (And yes, I am an INTJ. I think Myers-Briggs is limited in its usefulness but it definitely tells you something about the kind of work environment where you're at your best.) SemiSalt, I think you've got something there; there are a number of graduates of my alma mater working at this company, which I think probably also played a role. Thanks all!
posted by robot cat at 7:47 AM on April 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yay! How awesome -- congratulations, and enjoy the new job. It sounds perfect :)
posted by Susan PG at 7:24 PM on April 27, 2015

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