Like many people, when I reached my forties and after having worked several years in the corporate sector, I somehow felt that there had to be more to life. Don’t get me wrong, I had been blessed with a great life: I had exciting jobs, I was travelling the world, and I had good health as well as a loving family. Having received so much from life, I felt the time had arrived for me to finally give back. I resigned from my secure job, relocated to Cambodia, and happily shifted my career into the non-profit sector.
Since then, I have been contacted by friends and colleagues who are both surprised and curious about my choice. Some of them were thinking about a change of career themselves. They often ask, “How did you do it?” I would say that it was a combination of courage, luck and determination that helped me find my way. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned that I would like to share with any corporate professionals who are considering a career transition from the for-profit to the non-profit.
1. Volunteer before making any big decisions
To volunteer or to give away your intellectual property for free to a good cause is the best way to start. It is a move that will help you to understand, from an inside perspective, the culture of a non-profit organisation. It is a different set of values, a different pace and a different style of working from the corporate sector. Having a real, albeit non-paid, work experience in a non-profit is an invaluable factor when deciding to change careers. It also gives your CV an additional boost, which may be instrumental in convincing a recruiter to give your resume a second look and maybe an opportunity for an interview. For the more fearless of you out there, I would suggest taking a sabbatical, possibly abroad, to be fully immersed in the new world before deciding to quit your job.
2. Hone in on your transferable skills
Assess your core skills and make a list of which of those could be transferable to the non-profit sector. Declutter your CV of corporate jargon and reformat your professional history so that it highlights your transferable skills. Are you a human resources professional? An accountant? An expert on communication and social media? A specialist on strategic planning? Do you have an IT background? All of those are transferable skills that are very much sought after in the non-profit sector. The two worlds have more similarities than you may think.
3. Search for small-sized non-profit organisations
When applying for a job in a big non-profit organisation, experienced non-profit professionals will have a competitive edge. My advice would be to look for small- or medium-sized organisations where your expertise, even in the non-profit sector, may still be considered an advantage.
4. Assess your finances
Generally speaking, the non-profit sector doesn’t offer the same compensation, benefits, bonuses, stock options, incentives, allowances, or even the freebies of a corporate environment. My advice is to make an honest assessment of your financial status, of the quality of life you would not want to compromise, and of your pension scheme or mortgage rate. You don’t want to regret your choice once you receive your first salary sheet from the non-profit world.
5. Be humble and open to starting all over
Corporate experience may be helpful when switching career paths, but not always. No matter how experienced you may be in the for-profit sector, when you start working for a non-profit, you have to somehow unlearn what you knew before, and be ready and willing to recreate your portfolio of knowledge and expertise. Respect the knowledge and expertise of your new coworkers, and understand that you will not have all the answers straight away.
6. Be persistent and don’t give up
Lastly, be persistent and resilient in your choice. For example, you may not find something right away, your CV may be rejected, or you may not pass a few interviews. But stay positive and be persistent. Like any career switch, moving to the non-profit sector requires an investment of time and energy, which will always pay off if you do not give up.