Resume Tips for Transitioning from Nonprofit to Corporate

Recently, I participated in a panel discussion with Chicago’s CR Group on the trends in the world of corporate responsibility. Following the event, I had more inquiries from individuals interested in CR than I could handle in a very busy summer. And while each of them asked different questions, and I was happy to direct them to this blog series, there was one question that came up multiple times I haven’t yet addressed here – resumes.

We live in a mobile world where it’s easy to think your Twitter profile is more important than a paper or PDF resume. It’s not! Resumes still count, they still get you in front of the right people, and when it comes to applying for a job in a corporation, they can either be a major obstacle or a major asset. And while I’ve seen some incredible resumes of nonprofit leaders, the way you write a resume for the nonprofit sector is inherently different than the way you write a resume for the for profit sector.

Take these tips into consideration when you’re considering applying for a job in corporate for the first time and transitioning from the nonprofit sector.

  • The most effective resume tip I’ve ever received boils down to two words: SO WHAT? Go through your resume line by line. Seriously, line. by. line. And on every single line ask yourself that question. So what? The following example shows how the “so what” puts numbers, results and meaning behind something that could otherwise just be a management duty.
    • My former nonprofit resume might have said: Managed logistics for the largest women’s conference in the country.
    • Optimized for the “so what” might say: Managed fundraising events annually totaling more than 40% of the organization’s operating budget and attracting more than 3,000 people and over $300,000 in corporate sponsorship dollars.
  • Practice the art of mirroring language. When a corporation uploads a job description onto their human resources portal, generally that job description automatically loads into the portal’s algorithm a set of key words. If that job description is titled “corporate social responsibility” and your resume talks all about “community relations” there’s a good chance your resume is going to get kicked out of the system immediately because there isn’t a great enough keyword match. For every single job you must tailor your resume to meet that company’s language. Nuances like philanthropy vs. community investment, marketing vs. communications, CSR vs. CR, sustainability vs. sustainable development. At first glance, they may look so similar you think it won’t matter. But when you’re up against 100+ resumes for the same job, and a computer is doing the first look – it matters!
  • Perfection in the details. Here’s a fun little secret – one of the first jobs I ever landed in a nonprofit organization, my cover letter said the name of the wrong organization on it. No joke. The person (who is now one of my best friends) who was doing the initial screening liked me so much, she changed it in the Word doc for me before passing it along to my would-be boss. I’m so grateful for that moment, but let me tell you something – it will NEVER happen in corporate. A spelling error, the wrong business name, etc. will get your resume thrown out by an HR professional a lot of the time. For this reason, especially if you’re making a major career change, I highly recommend having your resume reviewed by a professional.
  • Be thorough, but brief. The nonprofit sector can often intersect with academic in a way that lends itself to 3+ page resumes. I get it. You have three degrees and a ton of experience using them. But no corporation in the world is going to hire you with a resume longer than 2 pages. Some HR people even hate resumes over 1 page (I disagree, but just saying.) Condense, condense, condense. Don’t say in 10 words what you can say in 3. Every word has to count.
  • Finally, and most importantly, you can’t stop at the resume. So often, I hear people interested in a CR position say, “I applied online.” Sorry, babe. That’s not enough. I’m sure my colleagues in this field would agree, 95% of the jobs we hire are done so through word of mouth, networking and plain, old fashioned shoe leather. A few years ago when I was hiring a manager for my team, I was torn between a number of incredible candidates. The week of the decision, I attended a CR related breakfast in Chicago and was impressed to see not one, but a few of the candidates I interviewed there. That showed real interest and commitment. Seeing them outside of an interview environment, saying hello if even momentarily, helped immensely. I hired one of those women and couldn’t be happier with the choice. Take the time following an application to get your information in front of someone in as many different was as you can.

I hope these tips are helpful in making the nonprofit to corporate transition.

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