Find Your Dream Job, Episode 318:
How to Brand Yourself for a Nonprofit Job Search, with Dr. Jasmine Escalera
Airdate: October 20, 2021
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
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Many job seekers want to move from the private sector into the nonprofit world.
But they struggle with showing employers that they have the transferable skills and experience.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera is here to talk about how to brand yourself for a nonprofit job search.
Dr. Escalera is a certified career coach who received her Ph.D. from the Yale University School of Medicine. She helps her clients get career clarity, beat self-doubt, and build confidence.
She joins us from Brooklyn, New York.
Well, let’s jump right into it, Jasmine. Why does personal branding matter when you look for a nonprofit job?
Personal branding is something that matters in every single aspect of your career, and when you think about the nonprofit world and nonprofit positions, we’re looking for individuals who connect to the mission of the organization and who not only want to be there to do a stellar and amazing job but really feel connected to who we are servicing as an organization.
So when you think about your personal brand when you want to connect to a nonprofit organization, you really want to be very considerate around why is this mission so important to me? And how does it connect to me, as both an employee, someone who’s going to work within the organization, but even digging and diving a little bit deeper into your personal story? Why is this particular mission and organization so deeply connected to you as a person and as an individual? Those things really matter because then you’re bringing along the inspiration of the mission of the organization, along with the amazing work that you’re gonna do day-to-day to drive the goals and the objectives of the organization forward.
In your experience, do most candidates do a good job of this in making those connections and positioning their personal brand to appeal to nonprofit hiring managers?
I think that the biggest sort of roadblock for individuals is, “how personal can I get,” when we think about the brand and when we think about the story? And I think it’s really such an interesting concept to think about going really deep when you actually are applying to these positions and roles.
For example, for me, I remember working at a specific nonprofit organization because my father, when I was three years old, had a traumatic brain injury, and this organization was the organization that actually created the concussion guidelines. So in my cover letter, even in my resume, I tried my best to connect my personal story – the story that I had witnessed of my father overcoming a traumatic brain injury, having to learn to read and write again, to the actual passion of what the organization was creating, which was new diagnostic tools and measures to really be able to help individuals who have also experienced these injuries.
So for me, I really like to see people go deeper into their stories and connect because those are the things that are really going, to me, make me feel like the individuals going to be inspired by the work that we’re doing each and every day, and really connect to not just their story but the story of the organization.
What stops many applicants from making those connections and telling those stories?
I think it’s really about feeling like, “Am I not being professional by going that deep?” And to me, that really involves this sort of question that we also talk about of authenticity in the workplace. So how do I bring my whole authentic self, not just the person who can do the work in the nine to five but also all of the richness of who I am as an individual outside of work also into the workplace? And I think the uniqueness about working at a nonprofit industry in a social justice sector is that those unique stories are really truly the things that can connect you even more deeply to the role, to the position, to the organization that you want to work for. So I’m a very big advocate and proponent of your personal brand, your brand, your professional brand, however you want to call it, being also very deeply rooted in you as an individual and your story.
What’s your best advice, Jasmine, about being both authentic but not providing too much information, TMI? Are there guidelines that you share with your clients to avoid crossing those boundaries?
Yeah, so I mean, TMI definitely exists. So for me, it’s really about understanding what your personal story and journey is and really connecting that again, back over to the organization’s missions and objectives. So really being very clear around why do I want to do this work? Why is this work really important to me? And then shaping and projecting your story in the most deep way. But also, of course, keeping it professional.
Often when candidates hear the phrase “personal brand,” I think they believe they need to be an expert marketer or perhaps everywhere on social media in order to do branding effectively. How do you define personal brand?
That’s a great question. For me, personal brands are a sort of mesh of your strength. So what you’re really good at within the workplace. Your skills, again, what you really excel at in the workplace. I also think it connects a lot to your interests, so what you’re interested in doing, and learning, and then also the value, the value that you bring to your work. So really that value contribution.
So for me, understanding your strengths, your skills, your interests, and then also the value that you bring uniquely as the individual that you are to the position that you’re stepping into or to the organization that you’re stepping into is a really good way for you to, kind of, comprehend and think about your brand.
What’s striking to me as you talk is, you are describing the importance of sharing your why and what you offer. But I don’t hear you talking about tactics, and again, often with marketing, people think, “Well, should I be on this channel or that platform?” But instead, what I’m hearing is you say is it’s important to get clear about that why and what you offer.
Yeah, I am a very introspective and self-reflective person. So I really truly believe that all of the answers lie within you. So you start there, and I don’t think that you can project an authentic brand or a clear brand on any platform before you really get clear on who you are, what you do, and why you do it.
Well, let’s talk about how you share that personal brand and brand yourself. The first step you recommend is to understand your personal mission. How do you get clear about your personal mission, Jasmine?
I think it deeply comes from asking yourself some really good core questions. Like, you know, what have I been interested in, in terms of my work? What habit maybe have I been interested in? But also who I am as an individual and how I can bring those core things into the workplace.
So as I mentioned, you know for me, as an individual having grown up in the projects, having witnessed my dad overcome some very serious injuries, me, as an individual, I’m very resilient, I’m very determined, and I like to bring that into my professional brand.
So I think it really deeply is about understanding who you are, what you do, what your story is, and how you can translate that into the work that you do. I think that when you are capable of bringing your whole self to work, that’s where you find that beautiful, joyful spot of actually enjoying the work that you do.
Once you’ve done that reflection, how do you translate that into something that you can apply to your application materials and interviews? Are there exercises you take your clients through, for example?
Yeah, so in terms of a nonprofit position, some of the ways that I really like to translate my why or my story in a very applicable way is through my resume and my summary sections. So we think of the summary section as that standard place, you know, where you’re trying to draw in the eye of the hiring manager through using all the appropriate keywords, and I think that’s incredibly important, and you should do that. But what I also love to do, though, is to have a passion statement in my summary section. We all know that recruiters, hiring managers look at that summary section first, and I love to put a passion piece in there where I describe what I’m passionate about and how it connects back to the organization.
Another way I love to do it is I really enjoy writing cover letters and having my clients write cover letters, especially for nonprofit social justice type of positions, that are more story-centric and more story-focused, and do provide a bit more about them as an individual and their story, and why that connects so deeply to what the organization is doing.
So again, having the standard stuff in your cover letter about, you know, something great that you’ve accomplished within your career, why you are an appropriate individual for this position, but also adding those elements of richness to it about you as a person.
Some of the other things I like to do is translate that, of course, into your LinkedIn profile as well.
Well, terrific. Well, Jasmine, we’re gonna take a break.
Please stay with us. When we come back, Dr. Jasmine Escalera will continue to share her advice on how to brand yourself for a nonprofit job search.
As you update your personal brand, you’ll need to revise your resume, too.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Dr. Jasmine Escalera.
She’s a certified career coach who helps her clients get career clarity, beat self-doubt, and build confidence.
Now, Jasmine, before the break, we were talking about how to brand yourself for a nonprofit job search, and we talked about creating a personal mission statement. And I know once that is done, you also recommend sharing it in your application materials. And you touched on this just before the close; you mentioned LinkedIn, cover letters, resumes. Are there best practices you recommend to your clients about how to share that mission statement, both in application materials and in conversations with hiring managers?
Yeah, we talked a little bit about the application materials, and you know, just kind of jumping off of where we left off with LinkedIn, too. I think one of the great things about LinkedIn is the ability for you to really put your brand out there into the world.
So for all of my clients, I recommend that they utilize that platform as a way to show thought leadership, and also as a way to tell their story and to really be able to connect to organizations, hiring managers, recruiters that do, sort of, also connect to what they’re putting out there in the world in terms of their brand and their stories. So I just absolutely love the platform. I think that what we’re seeing with the platform now is individuals telling their stories more, and that’s one thing that I would highly suggest is to put out your thought leadership posts on what’s very interesting to you and tell your story on the platform.
And then in terms of, you know, the interview process and how you talk about it when you get that question of, “Why do you want to work here?” or you know, “What value contribution can you make above other candidates?” that’s a great place for you to plug in your story and to show why you do connect to the organization and to inspire them even with your story.
I’m sure you hear this from your clients. I certainly do when I talk to job seekers who want to move from the private sector and feel challenged in explaining to nonprofit employers how what they’ve done translates, or is going to be valuable, in the nonprofit world. How do you help your clients tell their stories and showcase their skills in a way that persuades employers in the nonprofit world to hire them?
I love using the job description as the be-all, end-all for connecting you to the actual role. So that’s one thing that I always suggest is to really look at the job description and create value-based statements, and even win stories that connect to what the position really wants you to do when you’re there. So that’s a great exercise to do. I have all of my clients do it, is look at a few job descriptions for a similar style of role or title, and then to almost sort of create a bank of value statements or a bank of stories that connect to what those positions are seeking and looking for. And we all have those connector pieces. Sometimes it just takes a minute to take a step back and ask yourself, “Based off of what they’re seeking, what is the experience that I have that connects to it?”.
Can you give us examples of both value statements and win stories that your clients have used to make those cases?
Yeah, the value statements really end up translating into bullet points. So you can think of things that are very measurable or quantifiable. I love for my resume bullets to really have stories, kind of, embedded in them when you think about, “What was the problem I was trying to solve? What did I do to solve it, and what were the results?” So think about your wins, kind of, in the capacity, and then those wins can actually be translated into bullet points or even examples that you can give during interviews.
Do you need to do anything differently because you’re moving from the private sector to the nonprofit world when you write those value statements and share those win stories?
Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, in terms of the value statements and the win stories, they’re gonna be pretty similar, you know, whether you’re applying to nonprofit versus for-profit roles because they’re really connected to the role and the responsibilities. The elevation comes when you think about, “How am I connected to this organization and mission?” from a deeper perspective.
And what’s the best way to do that, Jasmine? Do you make those connections in your application materials or your interviews? What have you seen work?
Yeah, I’ve seen it work really well in – some people say cover letters are dead – I do not think that’s the case. Cover letters, for me, are probably the most fun thing for me to read in a job application because I’m really, again, looking for that story. Why are you applying to this position that’s different from some other applicant, that could have the same qualifications as you, could be the same level of work? But what’s that deeper connection that you have? So again, going back to materials like cover letters and resumes. How can you insert your passion statement? Or how can you insert your inspiring story that connects to the company in those materials that would help you to stand out from other applicants?
What have you seen not work when people are paying attention to their personal brand and branding themselves for a nonprofit job, particularly when they’re making that move from the private sector?
Yeah, that’s a great question. What I’ve seen not work is, honestly, just kind of thinking it’s the same sort of generic application. So what has stood out for me as the hiring manager in the nonprofit space has always been, “Why do you want to work here?” I’ve sometimes had hundreds of applicants to the same position. What has designated, for me, people from other individuals is that sort of understanding of why they are making this transition, why it’s important to them, how it connects to them as a person, how it connects to who they are. So, especially if you’re making a transition into the nonprofit space, get very clear on the whys we were talking about earlier. Make sure that that’s really translated into those materials and that you make it known also when you’re talking to the hiring managers. For me, that’s always, always, always been the reason why I would select one person over another.
You mentioned the importance of authenticity earlier in our conversation, and I know that’s an important step you recommend when branding yourself for a nonprofit job, to talk about your personal mission in an authentic way. Why does this matter so much to nonprofit employers?
Yeah, that’s a great question. So in terms of working in the nonprofit space, one of the things, having worked in multiple nonprofit organizations, is nonprofits can be very scrappy, and they can almost feel, in many ways, like start-up organizations. So many times, in nonprofits, and the reason why I loved working in nonprofits, was because I had the capability of doing many different things and wearing many different hats. So you know authenticity is really important because you need to know what you like to do, what you love to do. You need to know why this connects to you. But also what you’re interested in, what you’re interested in learning because what these nonprofits can provide to you is the opportunity to be able to explore a multitude of different styles of work and things to do that are really fun and exciting. But that should connect back to what your real interests are and what you want to do in terms of your career.
Do you find in your work with your clients that it’s hard for some people to speak authentically about their interests and working in the nonprofit world?
It can be, yeah, it can be. I think that in terms of the professional space, and we talked about this a little bit; in terms of the professional space, we are kind of told to sort of work within the confines of a nine-to-five, sort of, leave yourself at the door, and authenticity is really the embracing of your whole self, both the pieces of you that you utilize within the workplace, but also the personal aspect of you that are just you outside of work.
So, for me, authenticity is about the whole person, and it can be kind of a confusing concept when we talk about the workplace because we are, in very many ways, taught to, kind of, leave certain aspects of ourselves at the door.
What’s your best advice for how to be as authentic as possible when talking about wanting to work in the nonprofit world?
Yeah, it is all about connecting to you. You have to make those connections to you and also relinquish any ideas of judgment. The nonprofit space is so amazing for the aspects of they want you to really be so deeply connected to the people that they’re serving and to the mission that they’re working to the work that you’re doing. It is that unique aspect of being able to be that person you want to be and who can connect deeply to that level of work.
Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Jasmine. Now, tell us what’s next for you?
Yeah, thank you so much for asking. I have just launched a wonderful group program, a group coaching program for women of color who are looking to make their next career move and to beat impostor syndrome and self-doubt, and to have a really clear strategy as to create the career success they are looking for. That group program just launched and will be launching again towards the end of this year. So I’m excited to continue to support women of color in their journey of career authenticity, career confidence, and really career success.
Well, congratulations, and I know listeners can learn more about not only that program but your other services by connecting with you on LinkedIn, and I hope that if they do so, they’ll mention they heard you on the show.
Now, Jasmine, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to brand yourself for a nonprofit job search?
Yeah, I just think the one thing I would want everyone to know, irregardless of if it’s a nonprofit search or not, is your story matters and your story deserves to be told, and it deserves to be heard, and that story is a major component of who you are. So bring it into work every single day.
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Next week, our guest will be Justin Chin. He’s a leader in career and workforce development and the director of high school connections at Lane Community College.
Networking, especially during a job search, can be overwhelming for some.
Even basic questions — who to contact, what to ask for, and how you measure your progress — can challenge the most successful professionals.
Join us next Wednesday when Justin Chin and I talk about why you need to network intentionally and how to do it.
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