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How to become part of a nonprofit organisation – rules for resume effectiveness

Your resume is your calling card, especially when you're trying to become a part of a nonprofit organisation. It, along with your cover letter, is how people decide to whether to invite you in for an interview. For that reason, you want to make it as good as it can be. That’s obvious. The question, of course, is how do you do that? What makes for an effective resume and what does not?

Those are the questions that we’re going to explore in this article, so that when you sit down to pull in those interviews you’re equipped with the right tools for the job. 


Follow the format

A natural reaction to the idea that you’ve got to stick out and get noticed is that you want to make your resume as original as possible. Maybe you want to throw in some unusual images, maybe you want to use your own format.

Let me put this simply: unless you’re applying in a creative industry resist that urge.

Why? Well there are two big reasons:

  1. There is a very good chance that the first eyes on your resume won’t be human. No, that doesn’t mean there is some evil alien conspiracy where your resume is inspected and laughed at by Martians. Rather, especially for big nonprofit organizations that are expecting to get a lot of resumes, your resume is likely to be looked at by a computer first. Therefore, if you use an unusual formula, chances are the machine won’t understand and your resume will simply get rejected without anybody ever laying eyes on it.
  2. The horrible truth is that your resume probably won’t get read. Instead, it’s going to get scanned. What else can you really expect when somebody has to get through a few hundred of those things a day? Again, if scanning HR personnel doesn’t see what they’re looking for in a few seconds, then your resume is destined to the reject pile.

So, make sure that you follow the expected formats for your resume, with clear columns, your information in the right places and your name near the top of the document.

Of course, that begs the questions. What is the right format? The answer is quite straightforward. Just look online. There are tons of basic resume templates that you can use. Some of them you can download. Some of them you can even fill in online.

Note that the latter have some distinct advantages, for not only will they make sure that things are well aligned and in the right place, they are also phenomenally easy to link to, meaning that you can make your resume available easily and effectively. 


No mistakes

In fact, because these people are only scanning and looking for any reason to throw out your CV so that they can shrink down the pile, you’ve got to make sure that you don’t make any spelling mistakes or grammar errors.

Because if they catch you in one of those and they’re not in a good mood, it doesn’t matter what else is on your CV, it’s goodbye resume, good luck applying elsewhere.

For that reason, you’ve got to read and edit your work, then read and edit it again. Then leave it for a day or two, so that you can actually read what you wrote (rather than what you think you did) and then you read it again.

Really, you’d be surprised how many little mistakes like missed articles and such slip through if you’re doing your own editing. In fact, while we’re on the topic, consider using somebody else. Do you have a friend with a sharp eye? Then get them involved. Don’t have one of those? Then try a resume service


Have a central message

Do you think that in principle your resume is little more than a number of dry facts on a piece of paper? In that case, you’re missing out on possibly the most vital element of your resume. What is that, I hear you ask? It’s that your resume in principle is a piece of marketing. You are advertising your abilities and your personality.

To do that effectively you’ve got to focus on your message. Yes, of course at its most basic your message is ‘hire me’. Just like car advertisements don’t say ‘buy my car’ that should not be your message on your resume.

What your resume should focus on instead is why you’re uniquely qualified to fill the position on offer. Every line, every word, every bolding should be aimed at bringing the message, ‘I am more suitable than anybody else you’re considering’ across. 



For that reason, it is vital that the first things that people see on your resume are the most significant and the most relevant. What about chronology, I hear some of you ask. What about it? Do advertising companies first tell you about all the products they sold before, or do they immediately get on to the product that is the most relevant?
That’s what you should do as well. The best strategy is to split up your work experience into two areas. The first area contains the relevant work experience (and is labeled as such), while the other work experience gets its own category further down.
So does that mean your work experience should always be at the top? Only if it’s the most relevant. If you’ve been working most of your life as a plumber but been taking night classes to become (I don’t know) a clown then when you apply to the circus, obviously those night classes (And what you learned there) should get priority.
If on the other hand, you decided that your clowning career did not work out and you want to get back into the piping business, that clowning mention should go far further down – if it should be included in your resume at all.


Forget about the kitchen sink

In fact, that’s a good point. Only include the things that are directly relevant and that make you look good. There are three important reasons for that.
First of all, if you try to include too much then your resume will look cluttered. And if there is one thing that people hate is to try to make sense of something cluttered. Just look at how quickly you close a web page where somebody has tried to cram everything and the kitchen sink onto the first page. That’s painful, that is!
Second, you might think that more is better, but that’s not the case. Human beings don’t have a good sense of quantity. Instead, we’re much better at the quality. That means that when you put more onto your resume and the quality is a bit less, you’re actually making your resume overall look worse. So put the best stuff on their first and only if it look really bare afterward, put the rest of your content on there.
Third, white space can be incredibly useful. For example, if you put a nice white border around something important, then our eyes are drawn there automatically. And that can be used as a fantastic way to emphasize important bits.
What’s more, white space can be used to make clear borders between areas and create a clean, easy to scan format. And seeing as that is probably the only thing you’re going to get those first few rounds when people look at your CV, that’s well worth doing.


In conclusion

Does all of that kick the shins of your confidence? Fair enough. It can be tough to get that interview and the job of your dreams. Fortunately, you do have one thing on your side and that’s that it doesn’t matter how many times you get turned down.

You see, since they’re scanning (and they’re probably looking at dozens if not hundreds of resumes, they’re not going to remember who you are. So go ahead and send out dozens. After all, it doesn’t matter how many times you get turned down. All that matters is how many times you get interviewed and how many people offer you a job.

And when you’ve got that offer and you start that new job you won’t think of all those resumes that got rejected as failures. You’ll see them as stepping stones to success. So what are you waiting for? Get sending. 

Further information

Resume service

Resume samples 

Nonprofit resume tips


Page last edited Jul 17, 2017 History

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