Are you interested in helping others? Using your special skills and talents for a common good? Solving some of the world’s most complex social issues? Then you’ve landed in the right spot to start exploring careers in the social and human services realms.
While both the social and human services sectors offer a wide range of opportunities for any major, most people have a strong desire to solve problems and make the world a better place — whether that means being a social worker for a local community services agency or a conservation scientist at an environmental advocacy group. The majority of these jobs are in the nonprofit sector and provide opportunities to perform impactful work for a variety of issues.
Fortunately, there is no one single major or degree that is required to work these industries. Social and human services professionals tend to wear a variety of hats – volunteer coordinator, data guru, public relations specialist, etc. Individuals with a variety of skills will find success in many different nonprofit roles. The following skills are highly sought after in the nonprofit sector:
- Communication (written and oral)
- Development (fundraising and major gifts)
- Grant/proposal writing
- Volunteer/project management
- Foreign language proficiency
- Data analysis/modeling
- Counseling/listening skills
- Graphic design/videography
Practical skills are an essential part of positioning yourself as a highly-sought-after candidate. VCU has a partnership with LinkedIn Learning, formally Lynda.vcu.edu, to provide free skills training. Consider taking some of these recommended courses as a part of your training.
- Write Effective Learning Objectives
- Office 365: Excel Essential Training
- Grant Writing for Education
- Management Fundamentals
- Having Difficult Conversations
- Social Media for Nonprofits
- Nonprofit fundamentals
- Data Visualization Storytelling Fundamentals
- Producing Professional Podcasts
- Strategic Planning Fundamentals
- Writing Proposals
- Up and Running With Public Data Sets
- Print Production Essentials: Direct Mail
- Keynote: Using Photos and Videos Effectively for Great Presentations
- Up and Running with Online Survey
Your resume is your first — and sometimes only — opportunity to differentiate yourself from other candidates, so it’s important to spend time developing a well-tailored resume. Most hiring managers are trying to answer the following three questions while reviewing your documents:
- Can you do the job?
- Will you do the job?
- Will you fit in?
Think of the resume and cover letter as your opportunity to answer these questions while showcasing your different skills and talents. These documents are your first impression to an employer and are crucial elements of securing an interview. While varied experiences (i.e. internships, volunteer work, clubs, etc.) are important, it is equally vital that those experiences are formatted in a way that best illustrates your career journey.
Start with the job description
Perhaps the most important tip for making your documents stand out is to use industry lingo. Review the position description, highlight key words or phrases, and reflect that same terminology in your resume or cover letter. This shows you have done your research and are familiar with the culture of the industry.
One of the best methods for getting involved with a nonprofit or social services organization is to start as a volunteer or intern. Highlight these experiences near the top of your resume or create a separate section if you’ve worked with multiple groups. Possible section headers could include “Volunteer Experience”, “Community Involvement”, or “Nonprofit Engagement”.
Don’t forget to highlight courses, group projects, or papers that are related to working at a nonprofit. Perhaps your group assignment was consulting with a local organization on a logo rebrand or to develop a communication strategy. Or maybe you’ve completed a course on counseling skills. These aspects of your academic career are valuable and are certainly worth highlighting on a resume or cover letter.
Your cover is meant to achieve two goals:
- To demonstrate your genuine interest in the position
- To explain why you are the MOST qualified person for the job
It’s tempting to fill your cover letter with clichés about work, commitment, etc. This will not help you set yourself apart. Instead, use your personality and tell your own story – honestly. Be specific about your skills and show them in action. Follow these general rules for writing a good cover letter.
- Keep the cover letter short (less than one page) and written in the tone of the organization.
- Tell the organization why their mission connects with the work you hope to do.
- Explain why you are the right person for the job and support it by discussing why you have some of the skills listed in the position description.
- Offer contact information and outline a plan to follow up (if able).
- If you are sending your files digitally to an employer, make sure to include your name and the words “cover letter” in the file name. It will make it easier for employers to locate your file (i.e. Last Name, First Name Cover Letter).
It’s always a good idea to have someone edit your cover letter before sending. Make a career advising appointment, or visit us during drop-in hours for assistance.
Human services interviews come in all different shapes and sizes – one-on-one, phone, skype, group, project-based, etc. Similar to what you would experience while working for a nonprofit or social services group, one must always expect the unexpected. Depending on the size of the organization, you can expect one to two interviews before receiving a job offer.
If you’ve never interviewed before, explore our interview tips to learn the basics of a successful interview. Nearly all interviews contain two parts, common questions about your past experience and situation-based questions to gauge your fit for the position. Afterward, you’ll be given the opportunity to ask questions of the interviewer.
While you can’t control the interview format, you should be prepared to speak about your relevant skills and experiences. Take some time to reflect on what you’ve done and how you can fill this organization’s need. How would you answer these sample interview questions?
- So why are you interested in working for a nonprofit?
- Describe a situation where you had to work with people from different cultures, what was that experience like?
- How will you manage volunteers successfully who are much older and more experienced than you?
- What experience do you have fundraising or grant writing?
- What techniques do you use in crisis intervention work?
- What populations are you most comfortable working with and why?
- How do you go about locating community resources in a neighborhood in which you have no relationships?
- In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges/barriers to the population that this organization serves?
You’ll feel more comfortable during your interview with a little practice first. InterviewStream is web-based video interface that allows you to respond to a series pre-recorded interview questions from your computer. Afterward, you will be able to review your recording to see how you did.
Have an interview coming up? Practice with one of our career advisors. Schedule a one-hour mock interview and we will show you how to answer likely interview questions and offer tips to help you make an excellent impression.
Experience matters. Fortunately, this industry offers numerous opportunities to build experience through volunteer work, shadowing opportunities and internships.
Use these and our other job search tools to explore opportunities:
- ConnectVA Local Career Portal
- Idealist Nonprofit Jobs & Internships
- Net Impact
- Common Good Careers
- United We Serve – Nationwide service initiative
- Change Corp – Grassroots organizing
- Volunteer Match
- Service Year Exchange – Paid service opportunities
- Guide to Social Work Licensure in Virginia
- Guide to Becoming a Social Worker