Compassion and advice for job seekers

Over the last three weeks, I’ve seen, firsthand, one of the nation’s biggest challenges. Our organization had a position to fill. Sixty people applied, many of whom probably could do the job well. Here are several conclusions from reviewing their applications, and interviewing 12 people.

1. No surprise, but expanding the economy is one of the top priorities for the next president. People from their mid-20s to mid-60s applied, many of them eager for a job. As I write this column, the election has not been held. We can’t rely completely on the President and Congress. But it’s very clear there are many talented people who are under- or unemployed.

2. Having said that, some people with insight, energy and skills could improve their application skills. For example, spelling. Ten to 15 of the people, who were otherwise strong candidates, had several spelling mistakes in their application. A job in our organization requires considerable  writing. I can’t read everything a person sends out. I need to rely on people to use “spell-checker” and reread what they write, before they send it out.

3. Another thing we looked for was a person who is bilingual in a language widely spoken in Minnesota. Some of the people, who were otherwise strong candidates, spoke only English. High school and college students should consider learning to speak Spanish, Somali, Hmong or some other language that a number of people speak.

This is not just for people who want to work in nonprofits. I’ve talked with business people who say being bilingual is a plus for many of their jobs.

4. First impressions are important. Our job posting asked people to send their applications to two people and gave their names. However, about half of the applicants began their application letters with something like “to whom it may concern,” or “Dear Hiring Committee” or “Human Resources.” If the job description gives a name to whom material should be sent, it’s wise to use that name.

5. Did the application immediately connect our and their goals? It’s a lot of work to individualize applications. Some people are frustrated. But we were looking for people who understood at least some of what our organization seeks to accomplish. All the finalists connected their and our goals in the first paragraph of their application.

I wish we had 10-12 positions open. We heard from and interviewed a number of well-qualified applicants, thanks to the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits, which does a great job connecting organizations and job seekers. (Information available at http://www.minnesotanonprofits.org/jobs.) We’ve offered to talk with several applicants about finding similar jobs. They have my thanks and best wishes. They are smart, skilled people, deeply committed to and eager to help public schools. We need to use their insights, talent and energy.

Joe Nathan directs the Center for School Change. He can be reached by e-mail at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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