Category Archives: Career Talk

Commentary, discussions, and guest posts on career issues.

Why Didn’t I Get That Job?


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.

Why Didn’t I Get An Interview? 


By Phil Gerard

It’s a job seekers’ market for fundraisers, especially in Vancouver. We have a talent shortage of frontline fundraisers and one of the reasons, in my opinion, is that Vancouver has not traditionally been a major gifts fundraising market. Cities like Toronto have a higher concentration of universities, hospital foundations and other shops with a strong history in major gift fundraising. Furthermore, most national offices are headquartered in the east.

However, many charities here who have been successful with annual giving strategies (such as events and direct mail appeals) have now acquired a donor base that is ready for leadership and major gift cultivation. Therefore, we now see an increasing need  for trained, experienced, development officers and major gift officers with a proven track record. So why is it that some job seekers still have trouble landing interviews? Here are some possible reasons:

Out of Work

It’s always easier to find a job when you are employed. So think twice before resigning! When people are unemployed hiring managers wonder why that is. Even if there’s a perfectly good reason it makes employers feel more comfortable if someone is currently working. If there is a strong response to a job vacancy hiring managers may be focussing on employed candidates first.

Short Stints

We all know that we have a turnover problem in our profession. As noted on Penelope Burke’s blog we are now well under two years as an average tenure for frontline fundraisers.  While many fundraisers are getting recruited into progressively more senior positions short stints can still raise eyebrows with hiring managers and recruiters and make them nervous about your staying power. Fundraisers who have been employed for a good period of time with a reputable organization will most likely get an interview if their background aligns well with the position.

Poor Résumé Presentation

Your résumé is your potential ticket to an interview where we can convince  a selection committee with our soft skills (our personality, our fit with the culture, etc.) but if we don’t present our résumé in the best possible way we may never get that chance.

This is really basic stuff but a résumé needs to be flawless in terms of spelling and grammar and it needs to be appealing in presentation and easily legible. I personally don’t have a preference for a special format or layout as long as I can find out by a quick scan what a candidate has accomplished.

Poor Alignment

Some have eclectic résumés like me. If you read mine you see a fundraiser, a recruiter, and a community relations specialist. When presenting a résumé for a fundraising job be sure to highlight your fundraising experience and make it relevant for a fundraising position. Be sure to always tailor your résumé to the position and not pump applications out ‘en masse’.

I came across a résumé of someone the other day who has not been in fundraising for over five years but had solid experience before that. Unfortunately, many recruiters and hiring managers glance at your last job and that’s how they categorize you as a professional. Therefore, it’s  crucial to find ways to highlight your experience effectively.

Strong Candidate Pool

Sometimes we just need to accept that there are people more qualified then us. There is nothing wrong with us or our résumé. You can only present the truth in the best possible light and sometimes what we have to offer is just not enough in comparison to the other candidates in the competition.

If you have trouble securing interviews some of the above points could be the reason why. But even if you get the interview does not mean that you will get the job. Next time I will talk about some things that might have happened in the last interview that could explain why you didn’t get that job!

Appreciating What You Have – Promoting From Within


By Phil Gerard

As a recruiter I should not be writing this post because I am basically promoting that my clients fire me! But seriously, while the recruitment of external staff will remain necessary to maintain the talent pipeline, I think it is time to talk about the importance of advancing our internal talent. Especially now that we are seeing a growing number of senior fundraising professionals retire.

I am often asked why the turnover in our sector is so high. While there are many factors to consider, one is definitely the lack of advancement opportunities within an organization. This is a serious issue and it has structural, organizational, and cultural aspects.

While many fundraisers enjoy working for a smaller shop with a flatter organizational structure it can be challenging to grow your career organically. Such shops may only have one junior and one senior fundraising position without any steps in between. This structure makes it difficult to move up without moving out first.

Often employees do not feel motivated to move up in their own organization because the financial incentives are not as competitive for internals. To illustrate this I will give you the following example that is not uncommon in bigger shops: For internal candidates there can be regulations on the maximum percentage increase they can receive when being promoted from one salary grade to another (for example from a Development Officer to a Senior Development Officer position). At the same time an external candidate may be able to negotiate the top of the salary range.

Some organizations are very invested in promoting the professional development of internal talent, while others prefer to look outside the organization first. The unknown, the new and shiny seems sometimes more intriguing and appealing then the known entity. But the reality often looks different. Internal candidates are often not only more qualified, but they have adopted the organizational culture, have bought into the cause, and understand the subject matter better.

With the talent crunch that we have in our sector and with the retirement of fundraising veterans inevitable it would be wise for organizations to consider creating structures, programs, and policies that make it easier for internal talent to advance within the organization.


What Would Siri Do?

By Phil Gerardsiri-love

If you own an iPhone or know someone who owns one, have you ever asked Siri a silly question just to hear what she would answer? Come on, admit it!

When I first got Siri on my iPhone this was extremely popular with my kids (and me as well I have to admit). It provided some good entertainment for a while until the novelty finally wore off. As funny (and kind of sad) as it is to speak to a computer, we can actually learn a thing or two from Siri.

The other day, after dinner, my daughter took my phone and asked another silly question ‘what do you like better, hot dogs or hamburgers?’ Her answer was: “I don’t play favourites.” First I laughed and then I got a bit reflective (maybe it was the wine). What a simple yet diplomatic answer! I started to think of some of the other types of answers Siri typically offers and how we could  apply some of the concepts in our professional interactions. Here are some examples of what Siri would do, which could help make us more likable at work and keep us out of trouble.

Keep it humorous

Siri does have a sense of humour. Especially, when she is asked an awkward or dumb question she often offers a witty, clever reply. Humour can often deflect stressful situations at work. I had a co-worker once who was a genius in applying humour in difficult or awkward moments. A funny but tasteful and appropriate comment can be extremely disarming.

Stay professional

Siri does not engage in unprofessional behaviour. Siri doesn’t waste time, she doesn’t gossip, and she doesn’t play favourites. Unless you ask her if Apple is better than Samsung!

Be confident

Confidence is not the same as arrogance. It is ok to be confident with yourself and your competence. Say what you believe and say no when you disagree. Don’t be a pushover. Siri knows who she is (she was designed by Apple in California, and she is loyal to the company). She will say her answers with pride and a certain degree of finality. And if you mess with her she will tell you when enough is enough.

Be relevant

Often we believe we need to have an answer for everything right away even if we are not sure that we know the answer. Take some time to do your research and make sure what you say is true and relevant. Do it the Siri way when you are not sure about something and say: ‘let me check on that!’

Be factual

Sometimes only the facts matter and not our opinions. Sure, there are times when we do have to give our (expert) opinion on an issue. But what I mean here are the situations where our boss or colleagues do not need to hear the entire story, nor our thoughts, and feelings about a simple issue. At work we should stay objective, non judgmental and focus at the task at hand. Siri only states the facts and doesn’t add her interpretations or opinions.

Be nice

Not being a pushover doesn’t mean we should not be a good colleague and pleasant to be around. Siri is always ready to help others out and she does it with a smile in her voice.

Fired! So What?!

By Phil Gerard


Of course, nobody wants to be let go. It’s bad for the ego. But is it the end of the world? No. In a recent interview for the Charity Village article “Fundraiser Fail“, the author Susan Fish asked me if I thought good fundraisers will always perform no matter what the job and the organization. From my experience most fundraisers can’t create the same magic all the time, wherever they go and no matter in what situation or state the organization is in. The reality is that it always takes two. Sure, there might be a performance issue, but the organization can also be responsible for less than stellar performance.

Being fired doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a poor fundraiser. One bad experience shouldn’t ruin a career nor define you as a professional. I know fundraisers who were let go from one organization only to rise to fundraising superstardom at another. On the other hand, I have seen situations where well-known and respected fundraisers couldn’t live up to their reputation at the new job.

While nobody ever wants to be in this situation, it can happen to the best of us. And if it does there are a few points that could help you get back on track.

Stay professional

Receiving the news that you have been fired is upsetting and it’s understandable if emotions take over. However, you must keep it professional and don’t lose your calm. Never burn any bridges even if you feel that there is nothing to lose. There is. The nonprofit community is a tight one and you don’t want poor, unprofessional behaviour to come back to haunt you later.

Be real

When asked why they are not currently working, most people say “My employer and I decided to part ways, in mutual understanding”. Try and say it how it is, honesty is always best. I was let go, it wasn’t a good fit. But then leave it as that and never badmouth your previous employer.

Keep your confidence

This is easier said than done, but don’t let this drag you down. Keep your head up high. Because one job didn’t work out for you doesn’t reflect who you are as a professional. Maintaining your confidence is important for your own well-being but it will also help you perform better in an interview. You don’t want this to become a chip on your shoulder.

Be careful to make the right choice

When you need a job it is tempting to take the first offer, but be careful. The next job needs to be a good fit and set you up for success. Two bad experiences in a row can can negatively affect your career. The next job has to be your opportunity to shine again.

Make it work now

Ok, I get it, sometimes it is really the organization’s fault and not yours, but I have also come across people who always blame the organization for a lack of success. That doesn’t fly with me. You just need to make it work in the new job. Even if it is a tough situation, be it an inactive board, a poorly organized fundraising campaign, donor fatigue, or a poor pipeline, this time you need to give it your all. I once ran a campaign for debt reduction – I know what tough fundraising looks like!

Losing a job happens to the best of us. What employers need to look for are patterns. If candidates have been let go, or laid off more than once, or if there are too many short stints, that is a red flag. For employees don’t let this drawback make you think less of yourself as a fundraiser. Take it as an opportunity to look at the areas you want to improve and perform at your best and rebuild your career – and then exceed it!