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Career Q&A: Determining your fit for a position

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I’ve sent out a few dozen applications over the last three months and have yet to receive a call back. I really want to work with a nonprofit organization but am getting a bit discouraged. How do I know if I’m a good fit for a position?

Questioning your fit is a great way to start (or continue) your job search. It sounds like you’ve been applying the “shotgun approach” to your search: sending out a ton of resumes and cover letters and hoping that one of them hits a target somewhere. While this might keep you busy and help you feel like you’re being proactive in your search for employment, frankly, it’s not very productive.

When considering your fit with a position, it is important to consider the employer’s perspective. Think about what they need and how you can fill this need. This might seem obvious but a lot of job seekers consider positions from only their own perspective: what do I want in a job and does this match? Not getting called for an interview could be a sign that the position only matches your needs – and that you are not helping the employer fill theirs.

One of your responsibilities as a job seeker is to make it easy for the employer to see how you match their needs. As part of the Reality Check process we use to help our clients get better results in their job search, we use a simple Employer Needs vs My Qualifications grid. This is a straightforward way of objectively assessing your fit with a position.

Here’s an example from a client who was a particularly good fit for a position (the names of organizations have been changed):

Employer needs listed in job posting My skills & experience
Minimum of two years of relevant experience in a nonprofit organization
  • Program Manager since October 2009 of SmallWorld Organization
Proven skills in planning / implementing programs, specifically experience and skills in program development and financial management
  • Developed and implemented variety of programs (e.g. youth internship, speakers series, Trust Fund, virtual resource centre) for SmallWorld Organization
  • Developed and authored SmallWorld’s 3-year business plan and funding proposals
  • Responsible for developing and managing budgets for individual programs as well as NGO as a whole
Proven ability to manage a program / staff directly and through others
  • Three years as Program Manager — head (and often only) paid staff position — of SmallWorld Organization
  • Managed revision of project proposal and reporting guidelines for government department
  • Hired and managed summer students, volunteer interns and part-time staff
  • Responsible for coordination of various volunteer working groups at SmallWorld
Strong interpersonal skills including counseling skills and the ability to exercise tact, discretion and judgment at all times
  • Experience and training as volunteer counsellor at phone-in help line and peer health educator
  • Recognition from employers and colleagues for diplomacy and good judgment in dealing with co-workers, Board members, staff, clients
Ability to prioritize and effectively handle many demands / be well organized
  • Effectively managed up to 5 contracts at a time and delivered results on time to variety of clients
  • Coordinated logistics of numerous conferences and workshops
Excellent communication skills, both oral and written
  • Experience — and enjoyment of — making presentations
  • Masters-level term papers consistently earned A's
  • Experience writing reports, funding proposals, and concept papers for SmallWorld board of directors and senior management of government department

It’s important to be realistic and honest in filling out the grid. If you find it difficult to find concrete example of your skills and experience to match the employer’s requirements, it’s a sign that the position is likely not a good match with your background. This does not necessarily mean that you should not send in an application, but it will give you an indication of how high to get your hopes for a call back.

On the other hand, if you are able to easily and directly match your skills and experience to the employer’s needs, you have a great starting point for a strong application. Emphasize the “best fit” criteria in your cover letter. Make sure it is easy for the employer to see the match with their needs in your resume. The grid can also help you prepare your talking points for the interview stage of the competition.

Assessing your fit for a position from the employer’s perspective will help you be more strategic in your job search and help guide you in deciding how much time, energy, and hope to invest in the application. Good luck!

Nancy Ingram and Christa McMillin are co-founders and partners at Foot in the Door Consulting which specializes in helping nonprofit professionals build sustainable, satisfying and values-driven careers. Together, they have over 30 years of experience on both sides of the hiring and management process in the nonprofit sector. They can be reached through

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Disclaimer: Advice and recommendations are based on limited information provided and should be used as a guideline only. Neither the author nor make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability for accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided in whole or in part within this article.

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This is a great article and the example is a big help in making my own grid.

Do you have tips/advice/sample of a cover letter that demonstrates this 'match or best fit criteria', such as for the one you made above? My dilemma is how to incorporate the grid into a cover letter without making it too long or too detailed or containing too much information that may annoy the reader (I understand it should be limited to 1 page only).
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I've passed along your question to our Career Q&A writers, and they are going to offer some advice in next month's article. Watch for it in March!
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I've started to use this grid and find it helps a great deal in composing effective cover letters (happy to say I've received several interviews since I've been using this approach - though haven't quite found the right opportunity yet).

Great info!
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Hi Lina - You might be interested in this article we published a few months ago that discusses that exact topic: px?topic=Getting_in_the_door_The_nonprofit_dilemma . We also have a group in our community called Sector Switching Job Seekers - you might want to join it and connect with others in a similar situation as yours: Best of luck!
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I too have been looking into the not for profit organizations. I do not have a direct experience for for such organizations. However, going through most of the criteria required, majority of the skills I have are transferable. How do I get past this hurdle?
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