How to Get a Nonprofit Job in Portland

When it comes to understanding nonprofit jobs in Portland, few people are more informed than Kathy Grimm.

Kathy worked at the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette for more than 38 years. She spent much of that time as the Director of Human Resources, helping the organization find and hire the right talent.

To better understand the local nonprofit job market in Portland, I asked Kathy some common questions that professionals ask when they embark on a nonprofit job search. Here’s what she shared with me.

What should an applicant include with their nonprofit job application?

Some candidates overlook the importance of a cover letter, but it’s very important. It shows me their personality and gives an opportunity to highlight strengths that may not be covered in their resume. (Check out more cover letter tips here.)

What are some personal qualities a nonprofit applicant should possess?

An applicant should have a passion for the work but especially a passion and desire to give back to the community. Applicants don’t always realize how important these are to employers and, going back to the cover letter, this is often the place where a candidate can express their passion for the values and mission of an organization.

What should a nonprofit job candidate have on their resume in terms of past work experience?

Relevant experience. Employers often ask about gaps in work history, so it’s important to have a good ten years of work history listed (if you have it), but I advise against listing non-relevant experience that goes back further than ten years. Candidates often make the mistake of listing everything they have ever done, which can be tedious for an employer to wade through.

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Experience can often be transferable such as volunteerism or an internship, so it is important to list these kinds of experiences if they are relevant. Also, experience like public service or volunteer work can display the kind of passion a nonprofit employer may be looking for.

How much does a specific degree – like a master’s – matter in making hiring decisions, especially  given the competitive nature of today’s job market?

We ask for a specific degree for some of our positions. However, if a candidate has a comparable combination of experience and education, we will give the application our full consideration.

What are some adjectives you would use to describe people who have been successful hires within your organization?

They’re smart, creative, and innovative. They’re hardworking, thrive in a dynamic and diverse environment, and embrace the possibilities that come with change. They’re committed to the principles of diversity, inclusion, and cultural competency and demonstrate a desire for continual learning.

Could you provide some tips for candidates who are looking for work in the nonprofit world?

Two tips for success in the nonprofit world in Portland:

  • Networking: Everybody is trying to get their application noticed. Having someone from your network reach out on your behalf will not gain you special treatment, but it may cause us to take a second look at a resume that we originally set aside.
  • Professionalism: Follow the application instructions precisely, include a well-written and thoughtful cover letter, and proofread both the cover letter and resume carefully.