Category Archives: Career Talk

Commentary, discussions, and guest posts on career issues.

See, That’s Why Working From Home Doesn’t Work!

Working-from-Home

By Phil Gerard

Great! Just when we thought our employers are starting to buy into telecommuting a viral video has to destroy everything!! Right?!

When I saw this video on the weekend I could not help but feel sincere sympathy with Dr. Kelly. This is what everybody working from home fears the most. Interruptions in a very serious moment when you need all of your concentration.

Working from home, to this day, enjoys a questionable reputation. Some managers shy away from it because they cannot control if their people actually work or give in to domestic distractions. But we have come a long way in the last decade, especially with technology making it increasingly easier to work remotely. You can practically be anywhere as long as you have your laptop, smart phone and a wi-fi signal.

Working from home has great advantages. You can start your workday without losing time  to and being stressed from a commute and there are less office-type of distractions such as gossiping, office politics, water cooler conversations, and Monday morning quarterbacking. And of course you save money (gas, toll fees just to name two) and your employer saves office space just to name one.

One of the (perceived) disadvantages is the lack of separation between home and work. Some people, like me love this mix, I work seven days a week but it does not feel like it to me due to the flexibility I have with my time. Others do not like this blur of work and personal life. You are always close to your office. While one can get distracted by the things going on around you or get tempted to do chores (“Should I empty the dishwasher quickly?”) one can also get tempted to go down to the home office at midnight and answer emails.

The other challenge is to maintain an air of professionalism. I have had a home office for many years and, yes, I had my shares of nightmares, especially when my kids were younger.

For me working from home is a blessing and it makes me more productive. But I find it is important to have some ground rules:

  • Have office-hours. This is the time when you are available and accessible for doing business as you would be in a normal office setting.
  • Have a dedicated space. While it is fun to answer after office-hour emails from the couch or write your blog on the weekend at the kitchen table, a space (during office-hours) where you can focus without interruption is key.
  • Have a system that prevents interruptions. A lockable door, a sign on the door when you are on the phone or on a video call, and (if applicable) an arrangement with your partner who is watching the kids or pets to make sure they do not enter.
  • Be organized and disciplined. Keep noises and interruptions down. Sure, there are some things that you cannot control but many that you can. When you have phone, conference or video calls make sure you have the volume of electronic devices turned down or off. Let others in the house know when you are on calls, especially conference calls (by the way I am the first one to admit that I still forget sometimes, I just had a video call interrupted by a call from the office landline yesterday).
  • Dress appropriately during your office hours. Some people might like working in their pyjamas but for me it is important to start my day in the home-office like I do in the office (but maybe not in a suit).
  • Get out! For those working in a home-office environment all the time, and not just a day or two a week, can feel isolated. Find a way to stay connected with your co-workers and/or network. Make as many all-staff meetings you can, attend networking, and other events.

Sure, working from home has its disadvantageous and challenges, but I hope that employers and the general public do not use the viral video as an example to discourage telecommuting. Yes, there are distractions at home, but there are distractions at the office too, they are just different. And hey, life happens, we are human and even when interruptions happen that does not make us less competent.

 

 

I’m Fed Up With Fundraising!

done

By Phil Gerard

I had an interesting conversation last week with a fundraiser that prompted me to write this post. I had contacted her to discuss a new job opportunity that I am currently recruiting for. I received a candid answer: “Phil, at this point I am not sure I want to stay in fundraising.” It was not the first time I have heard this.

In my experience, many professionals with transferable skills from other sectors want to start a second or third career in fundraising. When I ask these professionals why they consider fundraising as a career the answer is almost always “I want to have more meaningful work; I want to make a difference.” I think some people who are not from the sector romanticize the fundraising profession a little. Especially when coming from fast-paced, stressful careers. The reality is that fundraising is a tough job and can burn some people out!

I am now seeing a bit of a trend of fundraisers in my network leaving the profession and starting a new career. Some of the top career choices I have seen are real estate, corporate social responsibility (CSR), sales, and recruiting. A number of fundraisers in my network have also started their own businesses. So there is life after fundraising, folks! The fact is that as fundraisers we have transferable skills too to make a career change.

Back to the comment about being fed-up with fundraising. Are you in this situation right now? Are you disillusioned, questioning whether this is the right career for you?

Stop and think for a minute. It may not be the profession that is the issue. I have met fundraisers in this situation who decided to stay in the sector but changed jobs and/or organizations and completely blossomed out in their new role. These individuals were just not in the right job or in the right organization.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are my job responsibilities challenging enough?
  • Is the cause or are the projects I am working on not challenging, exciting enough?
  • Am I not passionate enough about the cause or the organization I am working for?
  • Am I (not) comfortable with the tasks I am supposed to do?
  • Is my leadership supportive of me?

I do believe that most people can be successful and effective employees if in the right role with the right organization. You need to find out what your strengths are and see if you are able to apply these in your current job. If not, maybe you need to look at a different role. If such roles are available in the fundraising field you may not have to leave our sector. You do not have to be a Major Gifts Officer if asking for money scares you. The fundraising profession is now so broad and diverse; with many different career opportunities, from research to writing to operations to project management to marketing and communications.

At the Fundraising Career Conference in April there will be a number of sessions including one on finding your strengths. I encourage you to check it out!

 

Do I Have A Job For You! How To Work Effectively With A Recruiter

Smiling office worker

By Phil Gérard

When I became a fundraiser back in 1997 the professional landscape looked quite different. Recruiters worked mainly with senior individuals. Even after five years of fundraising experience I was still too junior to be taken seriously by recruiters. Today, mid-level and even junior fundraisers are approached by recruiters all the time and many are not yet used to this situation. They wonder what the recruiter’s role is and are worried to follow the correct procedure.

Relax, we are mostly nice people! While recruiters all have their own approach and procedure here are some tips on working effectively with a recruiter:

Who is the Client?

This can be confusing. Some candidates believe that the recruiter is their personal career counselor. This can be true in some cases depending on the type of agency you are working with. The easy answer is that the client is the one who gets billed. In my case that is the organization retaining my services and it is my job as a recruiter to provide my client with the best possible candidates for a particular search.

The Dynamics

So what is the candidate’s role in the process? The relationship between recruiter and candidate is extremely important. While it may not be the recruiter’s responsibility to find a particular candidate a job, without a network of great candidates a recruiter cannot be successful. Therefore, it is important for a recruiter to keep nurturing a network. Candidates should not expect the recruiter to work exclusively on their behalf. However, if a recruiter believes that a candidate is a great fit for a position the recruiter’s recommendations positions the candidate advantageously. At the risk of sounding corny, I see myself as a matchmaker. My clients tell me what skillset, background, experience, and characteristics they expect in their new hire and I strive to make the best possible match.

Be Nice to Each Other

A recruiter must always keep positive, respectful relationships with candidates. Even if a candidate is not the right fit for a particular search now, he or she just might be in the future. And discounting junior candidates is, in my opinion, a mistake since junior candidates will advance in their career and will remember how they were treated early on. Similarly, candidates, even if they are not actively looking, should be respectful to recruiters (which admittedly can be difficult with all the communication our kind sends out). The reality is that candidates may sooner or later see themselves in a position where they need a recruiter as their ally. So it goes both ways, recruiters like candidates remember how they have been treated.

Don’t Expect Miracles

I have had situations where a candidate and I connected for the first time and in that very same week I started a new search for a position that was an excellent fit with the skillset of that candidate (who was eventually offered the job). It doesn’t always work like that of course. The right opportunity might take a while to present itself. It is always better to connect with a recruiter when you do not need a job just to explore what your career aspirations are and what the right opportunities could look like. Then when an opportunity comes up it is easier for the recruiter to make the match.

Be Patient – Both of You!

I have always compared my recruiting approach to donor cultivation and stewardship. My goal is to build long-term relationships with candidates and accompany them over the course of their career. Like with the donor relationship, the time for a new career opportunity might not be right, or the job opportunities I am representing may not be of interest to a particular candidate. But in the future the perfect fit might present itself. Patience is important for both, candidate and recruiter. Some candidates are really eager to land that perfect job right away but it just takes time. And sometimes I have a candidate in mind, who I would love to recruit for a certain client but the individual is simply not ready to move on, or just not interested in the job or the organization I am representing. But with time, persistence, and a positive attitude the right opportunity just might materialize.

The candidate-recruiter relationship should be a symbiotic one. The candidate interested in landing the next perfect job benefits from the recruiter’s recommendations to the client. On the other hand the recruiter benefits from having a network of top fundraisers. As long as the dynamics are clearly understood and the expectations are realistic on both sides, the recruiter-candidate relationship, like the fundraiser-donor relationship, can be powerful and long lasting. 

Tips for Your Transition to the Charitable Sector

Siobhan Aspinall

By Siobhan Aspinall

So you want to jump the fence from corporate refugee to the charitable sector? Read on for an insider’s advice.

Think about your motivation

It takes passion, but don’t stop there. We’re in a competitive sector with high standards that can be very fast-paced. You’ll often be faced with business-like expectations paired with non-profit-level resources. Employers will ask about your passion for their specific cause but will ultimately hire based on the skills you bring. Be ready to talk about both elements as it usually comes up in the first phone screening.

Revise your resume, cover letter & LinkedIn profile

A generic resume won’t cut it. Find the transferable skills and highlight them in charity sector-specific wording. For example, your sales experience could translate into building donor relationships and closing gifts. Your telemarketing experience could be applied to working with a confidential help line.

Above all, spell it out in your cover letter. Don’t let the employer try to guess which skills match the job description.

And a word about LinkedIn – if you don’t have a profile, now’s the time. A lack of professional presence online makes it harder for people to decide whether to short-list you for a position. At worst, it implies that you are not computer literate. Make sure there is a professional looking head shot and title, and that you have recent and relevant positions listed.

Network strategically

Check meetup.com and local charity associations, like the Association of Fundraising Professionals. There’s no need to pay membership fees yet – just sign up to attend select events and have a business card ready to hand out.

Explore informational interviews too, but be selective. Connect with organizations that you’d actually want to work for, avoid any that are currently hiring, and be respectful of people’s time if you get a meeting (30 minutes is plenty).

Prepare to start at the bottom

You can move fast in this sector, especially if you have work experience, management skills, etc. But like every sector, employers are typically going to pick the person with direct experience over someone with none. Start your search on sites like www.charityvillage.com or Phil’s Careers for job titles like “administrative assistant” and “coordinator.”

Don’t panic – it’ll take time

If you interview well and have transferable skills to back up your personal passion it can still take six months or more to land an entry-level job in a good market. Be patient, keep networking and good luck!

Siobhan Aspinall, CFRE has been fundraising for over 15 years for non-profit organizations including Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, the Canadian Cancer Society, the David Suzuki Foundation and United Way. She teaches two fundraising courses at BCIT, consults, and is an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. She holds a BA in languages from UBC and an Associate Certificate in Fundraising Management from BCIT. She obtained her Certified Fundraising Executive designation in 2013. In her spare time, she writes for her fundraising blog and surfs in Tofino.

Siobhan Aspinall
Sand Dollar Consulting
siobhanaspinall@gmail.com
https://siobhanaspinall.com

Why Didn’t I Get That Job?

Applicants

By Phil Gerard

Some people have no problem getting an interview but they often don’t land the job! They may look incredible on paper but that’s not enough. In an interview we need to convince with our soft skills. Here are some reasons why job seekers may have a difficult time getting hired. Much of what I am about to discuss is avoidable and additional interview tips are included in my blog post Seven Tips for a Successful Job Hunt.

Late Arrival

One would think that this is really basic stuff but it happens all the time in searches and it’s such a sure way of eliminating oneself from the competition. Not being on time is simply unacceptable and as legitimate the reason may be it just never leaves a good impression. If someone cannot be punctual for such an important appointment as an interview how will he or she keep deadlines?

Poor Presentation

Don’t judge a book by its cover, I know. Unfortunately, a hiring committee has very little time to get to know you and therefore the first impression is crucial.

While some organizations are very casual and might appreciate that in candidates, an interview is still a very formal first meeting and being overdressed for the occasion is safer than the other way around.

Arrogance and Narcissism

Of course we want to showcase what we have to offer. Confidence is good, arrogance isn’t. Name-dropping, throwing big numbers around and talking about our own accomplishments only (not in a team context) may turn a selection committee off. Sentences such as “You really need me here” or “I’m incredibly smart!” are things you should never say. What used to really annoy me as an in-house recruiter for UBC was when candidates told me all the things we don’t do well and should do differently.

Lack of Confidence

Being nervous in an interview is normal. Some people do really well in interviews and other, really qualified and successful fundraisers don’t. If you feel that you are not interviewing well or if every interview is an ordeal for you, try to find someone to practice with, get a coach, or request informational interviews to get more practice.

Often we do everything right in an interview and still don’t get the job. Someone else’s skills and background were just a better fit with the requirements of the position. Or someone else was a better fit with the organizational culture and the team. And that’s ok! An interview is a get-to-know you process for both candidate and the organization’s representatives. One of the things I find really important is to be yourself in a job interview and not pretend to be someone you’re not because you legitimately want to be a fit and not get hired and then realize the organization and its culture is not your cup of tea.