In our last blog we listed some signs you might be ready to move on from your current job – and we gave you the nudge to admit when it’s time to go. Now we’re delivering the parallel truth on the other side of that coin: It’s just as important to know when to STAY in your job, rack up more accomplishments, and make the most of where you are right now. And it’s not biding time; there are ways to find the challenges, rewards and meaning you’re seeking by sticking with your current organization (for now!).
Let’s start with the reality of today’s job market. The good news is employment is high across industries, including the nonprofit sector. That means if you’re a qualified candidate and you’ve been in your current position for two or more years, you’re probably receiving emails from recruiters (yes, us) trying to pique your interest in a new position. It’s flattering to be courted and particularly tempting if a position comes with a fancy title and a modest pay bump. If you feel you’ve reached the end of the road with your current position (read our last blog to diagnose if that’s your situation), then by all means, explore the opportunity. BUT if you’re just feeling a little itch, still feel generally good about where you are now, and the shiny new job doesn’t offer major advancement you’re seeking – then hear us out on why you might hang in there for another one, two or more years. You can discover completely new avenues for growth, and we wager you’ll be a stronger candidate in the future.
Here are our tips for finding career growth WITHOUT leaving your current job:
- Manage People, Not Projects
If you’ve been in your role for a few years, you’ve probably developed some expertise in your functional area – congrats. But being really great at your job doesn’t mean you also have the skills to effectively manage a team of people doing your job. And if you aspire to move into senior leadership in the future, learning how to lead, motivate, hire and fire is critical. If there isn’t an immediate opportunity to directly supervise a staff member on your team, volunteer to manage an intern, oversee a freelancer, or take a course on supervision (Center for Nonprofit Management in Los Angeles offers a great “Supervising for Success” class) and talk to a mentor about how they learned people management. (And if you’re interviewing for an executive director role, please please please learn basic legal HR issues!)
- Take a Risk, Innovate and Fail
Do you have a “been there, done that” feeling in your job? Rather than lapsing into autopilot boredom, what if you take advantage of your efficiency and use that extra time and energy to try something completely new for your department or organization? For example, if you work in development and are already yawning thinking about the year-end appeal, maybe test an out-of-the-box creative concept for one of your donor segments or foster a cool corporate partnership to boost visibility. Building something new not only re-energizes you, but it also gives you a great story for future job interviews. Employers are hungry for candidates who offer innovation – even if some of those attempts aren’t brilliant successes.
- Look in the Mirror
Taking the time to practice true self-reflection is challenging when you’re climbing a learning curve in a new job, so now is the time to dive deep to really understand who you are and what you want from your career. A fantastic place to begin is exploring your strengths. We recommend StrengthsFinder to get started: the $19.99 basic online assessment gives you rich insights into where and how you excel. And then lean into those strengths by working to enhance them in your day-to-day tasks. Engaging a coach can also help you figure out how to translate your strengths into greater opportunities. As recruiters, self-awareness is one of the traits we value most in candidates, so all of this navel-gazing can definitely pay off in a future job search.
- Learn the Numbers
If you’re a liberal arts grad who’s always said you just aren’t “a numbers person,” now is the time to break down that wall. We’re big believers that financial literacy is essential in all departments of a nonprofit organization and at all levels. If you’re a beginner, start by learning how to build and manage a budget. Ask your supervisor or someone in the finance department to walk you through the process and product or take a basic budgeting course (Center for Nonprofit Leadership in Thousand Oaks regularly offers these classes). If you’ve mastered budgets, then it’s time to move on to more advanced financial analysis. Learn how to read a cash flow statement and balance sheet so you understand the story behind the numbers. And talk to senior staff about how financial analysis supports strategic decision making.
- Volunteer Outside Your Job
We’ve heard more than a few nonprofit staff say, “I put so much extra time and effort into my day job that I don’t have time to volunteer somewhere else.” We’ve been there, so we get it. But carving out even a few hours a month will give you valuable insights and might even open new doors. First, volunteering reinforces your commitment to the nonprofit sector; you’re in it not just for your current job, but for the bigger picture. It also gives you fresh perspective on other causes, organizational structures and sizes, and strengths and weaknesses. And it gives you the chance to wear different hats: serve as a board member; work directly with programs if your day job is on the admin or fundraising side (or vice versa); or simply see a mission and organization from the non-staff viewpoint.
- Build Your Brand
Not your organization’s brand, YOUR personal brand. Your career is a long-term endeavor, and you want to be more than just your last position. If you’ve spent time embracing your strengths (see #3 above!), you’ll have a solid foundation for articulating why you’re uniquely awesome. And since you’ve invested a good amount of time in your current role, you should have a degree of expertise on some topic that can help shape how you bring your brand to life. Maybe your work in case management gives you perspective on your community’s homeless crisis. Or maybe your experience opening a new satellite office taught you key success factors in scaling. Lead with what you know, and then tell the world: write an article on LinkedIn, volunteer to speak on a panel. Just know and respect your employer’s policies regarding employees speaking publicly about their jobs.
Our final piece of advice is please don’t romanticize your “dream job.” Spoiler alert: there are no dream jobs. Every job and every organization have their challenges. The grass isn’t always greener – it’s just a different shade of green. For most of the years in our careers, our best move is to be REALLY excellent at our job now and look for creative ways to grow in all directions.