How to move between nonprofits and for-profit companies
This kind of job change can feel like moving from one world to another. Use to these strategies to make the transition as seamless as possible.
Suppose you’re in the middle of your career as an HR professional at a nonprofit. Seems like snagging a corporate HR gig should be a piece of cake, right? Not exactly. Even though the skill sets may be similar, there’s a world of difference when it comes to the work cultures, as well as expected salaries, and it can feel difficult to move from one sector to the other.
“When I switched [from corporate] to nonprofit, everyone was saying, ‘You’ve never worked at a nonprofit, so how could you apply here?’” says Angela Copeland, a career coach and owner of Memphis, Tennessee–based Copeland Coaching, who’s worked in both sectors. “And then when I tried to switch back to corporate, they said the same thing.”
Yet Copeland did manage to successfully make the switch—and so can you. Here’s how.
Moving from nonprofit to for-profit
Be a translator
Although it seems obvious to you how your skills on one side of the profit fence will translate to the other side, it may not be as apparent to the person hiring for the role. “It’s up to you to help the hiring manager connect the dots on how your background makes you the right fit for the role. It comes down to being the translator,” Copeland says.
Look at job descriptions to pick up on the terminology the company uses, suggests Erin Ewart, a Seattle-based career coach for social sector professionals and owner of Erin Ewart Consulting. And clearly outline how your experiences can help their company.
For example, if you work in marketing for a nonprofit with a small budget, talk about what you’ve been able to achieve despite the limited resources.
“Focus on [how you’ve been] able to be impactful and nimble even with small dollars and highlight, ‘I can bring that and my cost-saving mindset to a large company,’” says Jane Scudder, a certified career coach and owner of Never Settle Coaching in Chicago.
Stick within your area of expertise
Just because you’re coming from a nonprofit doesn’t mean you have to apply solely to philanthropic or socially responsible positions. In fact, those jobs can be more competitive as an external hire, Ewart says. “They often go to people who are already working for the organization,” she says.
A better way to make the switch? Apply for a role that’s closely related to what you’re already doing, Ewart says.
So if you work in finance at a nonprofit, look for a corporate finance position. “Maintaining consistency in your job function can help ease the transition,” Scudder says. “And that way you’re doing the same general job, just at a different organization.”
Moving from for-profit to nonprofit
Show you’re connected to the mission
No nonprofit experience? Make up for it by showing you’re passionate about the organization. “Volunteer at the nonprofit, ask to be on their board, and find ways to really get in,” Copeland suggests.
Then, highlight your volunteer work on your resume. “Sometimes we take volunteer work off of our resumes, but transitioning to nonprofits from the corporate sector is a great time to highlight that you spend a fair amount of time on these efforts and endeavors,” Scudder says.
Get personal with your job search
Go online to find out which organizations align with your interests and which are hiring (start your search on Monster now), and then try to set up in-person meetings by expanding your social network. It can be easier to make the case for why you’re a good fit for the organization face-to-face versus simply relying on your resume to tell your story, Ewart says.
Copeland, for instance, got her nonprofit job after attending an event where the organization’s CEO was speaking. She approached him afterward and talked through her qualifications with her resume in hand.
Tread salary discussions lightly
Moving to a nonprofit may result in a lower salary, which many applicants are OK with since they’re passionate about the organization.
Divulging your current salary, however, might scare off the hiring manager—or make him or her skeptical of your interest. “Organizations are very hesitant to hire someone who will make less in the future than they currently make,” Copeland says.
Do some salary data research in advance so that you’re able to realistically discuss your target salary range with a hiring manager, Copeland suggests.