Tips for Leveling Up: Part 2


figures-1010678_1280.jpgNote: This is a 3-part series. Catch up on part 1.

In July 2015, we sought answers to that “what’s next” question with our Leveling Up professional development event. How does someone with a few years under their belt leverage their connections, skills and experience into their next great role?

We gathered for an evening of answers, ideas, and discussion with Jackie Hanselmann Sergi and Melanie Damm of Koya Leadership Partners, a national executive search firm dedicated to placing exceptionally talented leadership at nonprofit organizations. Jackie and Melanie gave us a better understanding of how to position ourselves for success, and the next step in the career of our dreams. Check out our Storify for a tweet-by-tweet recap.

After the event, we realized we still had so many questions! We followed up with with Melanie and Jackie who were gracious enough to answer a few lingering questions. In fact, we got such fantastic information, we’re creating a 3-part blog series out of it. Welcome to Part 2!

How do you "sell" your leadership qualities in a way that encourages employers to view you as management material?

Maybe you’re not “management” material per se—and that’s okay!! Can you tell that I hate managing other people yet? I hate managing other people.

In terms of leadership in a more general sense, the best way to convey yourself as a leader is by actually having driven results in your current or previous role. Don’t just use a bunch of descriptors like “team-building” and “synergy” to describe yourself, because that’s completely meaningless (and boring!) without specific context attached to it. On your resume and cover letter and during interviews, always cite pertinent, specific examples of not only being able to do your job, but examples of you’ve achieved specific results that show that you’ve excelled in your role and have experience that you could leverage in the new role that you’re applying for. Always use data and numbers to back this up.

Examples of ways to talk about your leadership experience:

  • As Program Associate at the animal shelter, I led a campaign that increased pet adoptions by 20% over a two-month period.
  • I recruited, trained, and managed 18 volunteers in FY 15 who collectively worked 220 hours, which was a 50-hour increase over FY 14. I also launched the organization’s first-ever volunteer feedback survey that led to the introduction of more feedback mechanisms in our volunteer communications.  

At Koya, we refer to this as the “So What?” rule. The “So What?” rule is simple: write a bullet of your resume (or a paragraph of your cover letter, or practice an interview question), then step back and ask yourself, “So What?”

What kinds of things do employers look for from a person making a mid-career change?

Employers look for two things from people who are making a mid-career change:

1. A compelling reason for why this person wants to make a career change.

  • Want to do more mission-driven work? Got a MSW degree and want to put this education to good use? Have you discovered that you thrive on talking to people so you’re craving more of an externally-facing role? All good things!!
  • Do you want to make a change because you hate your job and it’s led to an existential crisis and you are looking for another role to become fulfilled? BACK UP. That might be true, but focus on what you want out of your next role and what you can offer; don’t take up time complaining about your current or previous role(s)—it’s the job interview equivalent of talking about your ex on a first date.

2. Solid transfer of skills into a new sector or position.

  • Once you get past the WHY, be prepared to explain HOW your skills and experiences are a great match for the responsibilities listed in the job description. Did you work in retail sales? You might have the social acumen and tact to be a strong fundraiser! Did you manage a Salesforce database in your for-profit job? Then you can manage a Salesforce database in your nonprofit job!! Be proud of your experience and map it back to the job description—paint yourself as a leader!
  • If you’re switching from a for-profit role to a non-profit role, or even from an environmental organization to an education organization, you need to understand the sector-related jargon and current events happening in these worlds. Brush up! Also think about how you can be connected to organizations and causes you’re passionate about via social media!


Part 3 coming soon!