This aspiring career changer wants to re-position the sales and business development work she did in the private sector to non-profit fundraising:
A friend referred me to a position for Director of Development at a museum, and while I agree conceptually that my sales/biz dev skills transfer well to development/non-profit fundraising, I would like to see how it’s done on paper/screen.
It’s true that today’s candidate needs to market themselves on paper (e.g., the resume) and on the screen (e.g., LinkedIn). In addition, you also market yourself verbally when you introduce yourself (i.e., your elevator pitch) at networking events or 1:1 exploratory meetings and in writing (i.e., your cover letter) when you submit an application. (Employers are vetting applicants much more thoroughly than just reviewing the resume.)
Any time you market yourself as the best candidate for the job, you need to put your best foot forward and highlight the expertise, skills and experience that make you the most compelling hire. When you market yourself to a new industry, you still have to prove you are the most compelling hire, but this time you don’t have direct evidence of your skills, expertise and experience.
You might not have activity in that new industry, but you should have knowledge of that new industry. With intimate knowledge of the new industry, you can translate your skills, expertise and experience to what the prospective employer from that industry is looking for. Don’t ask hiring managers to look at your unrelated background and figure out how it fits. You make it fit.
Here are five ways Tricia could re-position herself from private sector sales to non-profit fundraising:
1 – Highlight the similarities
The obvious similarity between sales and fundraising is that in both cases you are convincing other people to part with their money. Therefore, focusing on the money – how much you generated, how much your results grew from year-to-year – makes you relevant to the hiring managers for either sales or fundraising. In addition, depending on who you sold to and your sales process, these might also be similar (this is why you need to know the new industry well). For example, if the fundraising role you are targeting is heavy on corporate donors and you worked in enterprise sales, you should highlight your focus on corporate decision-makers.
You can highlight the similarities in the way you describe your accomplishments and ongoing responsibilities in your resume and LinkedIn profile. You can also write your cover letters and craft your interview responses to showcase how you manage your sales process, pointing out how each step applies to nurturing a donor.
2 – Minimize the differences
At the same time that you promote wherever you see overlap with the new industry, stay away from jargon that accentuates the differences. Where a salesperson might call the act of prospecting, “lead generation”, a fundraiser would more likely say, “donor cultivation”. You can’t use the term, “donors” when you talk about your private sector sales experience, but you can use the term, “cultivation”. It may seem like a small distinction, but this gives another indication to the new industry that you belong.
You want to give the impression that you are already a peer, so that the new organization doesn’t feel like they need to teach you too much. They’re too busy for that – that’s why they’re hiring! It is next to impossible to remove all differences from your resume and LinkedIn profile, which is why unsolicited applications don’t get very far for career changers. Direct contact to decision-makers (and those who can influence a decision) is more powerful. In a cover letter asking for a meeting, in your elevator pitch to an insider at an industry association meeting or if you do land an interview, in your job interview responses, paint a picture of what you accomplished that matches what your new industry needs in their new hire. Your objective is to minimize any doubt that you will not be able to do the job.
3 – Outline specifically how you would hit the ground running in your new industry
Another way to quell any doubt about whether or not you can do the job is to specifically outline how you would do the job from Day One. In Tricia’s case, this means a plan for how she would structure her donor strategy, how to expand existing relationships, how to cultivate new prospects, what support she would need. If you’re not prepared with a plan for how you would do the job in your new industry, then you don’t know your new industry enough to market yourself compellingly.
The job interview is where you can have a detailed discussion that showcases how much you know. But a well-written cover letter can also address how you would approach the job. Your LinkedIn or resume summary could give specific examples of how you made sales – told in such a way that a fundraiser could see themselves following a similar process. Your elevator pitch could focus on a client that you sold – like a written summary, told in such a way that the sales client could easily be a donor who was convinced to give.
4 – Go on the offensive and prove you can do the job even better
So far, the above tips focus on convincing the hiring manager that you can do the job as well as anyone already in that industry. An even more compelling argument would be that you could do the job better. Is there a scenario where a non-profit would prefer the private sector sales background (bonus points if it’s a museum specifically since that’s Tricia’s specific lead)? It could be that the non-profit is making a push into corporate fundraising, sponsorships or strategic partnerships and therefore targeting private sector decision-makers. If that were true, Tricia could highlight how her private sector experience is not just relevant, but even more helpful now given the new strategy.
You can draw this conclusion directly in an interview, elevator pitch and cover letter, or indirectly in the highlights you share in your LinkedIn or resume summary. I had a client who moved from financial services to education at a time when schools were pressured to show hard data on success. My client was very experienced calculating ROI (return on investment) from her finance background and convinced the education organization that hired her that she would be even more suited than educators given that analytical experience.
5 – Persist over the naysayers
Even if you make a strong case – you highlight the overlap, minimize the differences, prove you can do the job from day one, and prove you could do an even better job than an insider – you may still encounter the naysayers. Picture the plight of the hiring manager: they hire someone who hasn’t done the job before, and the new hire doesn’t do a good job. Now, peers and potentially even their boss will say, “I told you so,” or worse, the hiring manager may have to let the poor performer go and hire all over again, or even worse, the hiring manager may lose that headcount!
When you market yourself to a new industry, you’re asking the hiring manager to take a legitimate risk, so you have to minimize their downside. If you can’t convince them to hire you full-time, negotiate for a project. If you can’t get in for a job interview, offer a meeting where you can brainstorm on how they can improve their fundraising. If you send out a resume and don’t hear back, approach people directly – don’t just hope that someone reads your application and “gets” you. Try more than one way to get through, so that even the naysayers eventually say Yes to considering you.
You can only market yourself to a new industry when you know that industry
When I see aspiring career changers struggle to break into a new industry (or a new functional role in the same industry), it’s typically because they don’t know enough about the new area in order to tailor their approach effectively. This knowledge requires research to identify the top organizations, who the decision-makers are, what is trending, what challenges you will need to solve, etc. You need to read up on your new industry and network with people there to get information that secondary research won’t uncover. You need to have enough knowledge that you could attend a conference specialized in that area and seem like you belong. At that point, a hiring manager for that area will be so excited that they discovered you and will want to hire you off the market before their competitor does!