Your Career Q&A: Do HR Pros in Nonprofits Know Business?

Jan 12, 2016
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This week’s column addresses making the leap from nonprofit to for-profit organizations. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

How can an HR professional transition from the nonprofit to the for-profit sector? Also, what if you’ve only worked for one organization and been promoted several times, but don’t have experience at other types of companies. What is the best way to handle this?
Alberto, New York City

There is a bias (though it is lessening all the time) that people working for nonprofit organizations don’t understand the profit imperative in commercial enterprises.

It’s your job to make it clear in your communications with potential employers that the major benefit to working for nonprofit groups is that you are used to doing more with less under exactly the same performance standards and deadline obligations.

Your best opportunities for moving into the for-profit world lie within the industry sectors most closely related to your nonprofit experience. For example, if you worked for a health care nonprofit, this would give you a level of understanding of the health care profession and perhaps health-related nongovernmental organizations. In these instances, you bring a degree of relevant experience that translates easily from one sector to the other and that increases your desirability as a candidate.

In preparing for job interviews, you might give extra thought to how you can communicate the ways in which every deliverable of your job is driven by deadlines, productivity, bottom-line orientation and financial awareness. With these considerations applied to all of your work experiences, you can demonstrate that you live by the same imperatives that drive a for-profit company.

Make your promotions visible on your resume. Promotions say much about you, and because they can be clearly emphasized in your resume, they can also help open the doors of opportunity. Do this by listing the organization on your resume with full employment dates, followed by a list of titles and dates held. It might look like this:

Doctors Without Borders: 2009–Present
HR Manager: 2012–Present
Senior HR Generalist: 2010–2012
Compensation Analyst: 2009–2010

In this example, we bold the company because it says, “Look at this person’s professional growth with a world-renowned company.”

You then itemize each job at that organization in turn, accompanied by its responsibilities, starting with the current job:

HR Manager: 2012–Present
Full budgetary, selection, training and disciplinary responsibility for five five-person HR department.

Resumes get a very fast first-time scan for matching criteria, and the above approach makes tenure, competence, work ethic and proven potential jump right off the page.

Martin Yate is a New York Times best-selling author and has worked as a Silicon Valley headhunter, director of HR at a publicly traded technology company, and director of training and development at a multinational employment services franchisor. His company, Knock ’em Dead, delivers professional resume and coaching services.

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We’ll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

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