Nonprofit career tips by and for UBC students

Along with my colleague Roselynn Verwoord, fellow Next Leaders Network steering committee member, I presented on the topic of careers in the nonprofit sector at the latest University of British Columbia Student Leadership Conference (SLC 2010). As a UBC alum, I’ve presented at this conference before – I really enjoy meeting keen students interested in career development and the nonprofit sector.

The top tip I enjoy sharing with students is how a degree does not define you. You do. I demonstrate this by sharing my main post-university jobs (high school teacher, nonprofit gala event manager, and promoter of student engaged citizenship and community-university engagement) and asking what they think my undergrad degree was in. Chemistry and Biology are generally not the first guesses.

The workshop participants brainstormed different tips and resources related to finding employment in the nonprofit sector. They came up with a pile of suggestions in a really tight period of time – many that were new to me. Learning happens in every direction.

Looking for Jobs and Volunteer Roles

Networking and Mentorship

  • Arts Tri-Mentoring/Engineering Tri-Mentoring
  • Joining Clubs/Student Associations (e.g Emerging Leaders Group)
  • Sharing experience with other volunteers
  • Me Inc. – Commerce Conference (external networking)
  • Parents and family friends
  • Volunteer in residence
  • Professors
  • Friends of friends
  • Mailing Lists/talking to people at fairs
  • Make use of relevant LinkedIn groups (Non Profit & Philanthropic Job Board) and Twitter contacts (via Andrea)
  • Research ideal potential employers and conduct an informational interview (check out a WLU informational interviewing booklet) (via Andrea)

Resumes, Cover Letter and Interviews

  • Research company before interview
  • Career services (for help)
  • Hook for cover letter – be interesting
  • Be specific to job description
  • Be unique, passionate (to certain extent)
  • Interviews –
  • be down to earth
  • practice potential q’s
  • confidence
  • Don’t’ answer questions in conventional way
  • Situation, task, action, result, transfer (technique for answering interview q’s)
  • Reveal your transferable skills
  • Be honest

Learning and Workshops

  • Mentoring Programs
  • Involvement Showcase (CSI)
  • Green Book
  • SLC 2010
  • Google
  • Events UBC Site
  • Career Days
  • Community workshops
  • Company workshops
  • Clubs
  • Go Global (Exchange)
  • Read
  • Community centers/resources
  • Research seminars
  • Research the rules are for the part of the sector in which you’re looking (do you need a specific degree?) (via mjfrombuffalo)

Things NOT to Do

  • Don’t pick something you don’t find interesting
  • Don’t lie about your passion
  • Don’t be inconsistent in your approach (e.g. volunteer work can be just as important as paid work)
  • Don’t have ANY visible content online that’s questionable. Always manage your online personal/professional brand. (via Andrea)
  • Bashing – don’t criticize another organization
  • Don’t name drop
  • No assumptions
  • Don’t ask about wages (to begin with, anyway)
  • Don’t be in it for the money
  • Don’t burn bridges
  • Don’t do it just for the sake of your resume

What a fantastic list! You can find more ideas for young nonprofit professionals in Metro Vancouver here, including common mistakes made by new-to-nonprofit job seekers.


  1. If you don’t have a human services degree of some type, some jobs will not be open to you, or you may be able to get in on a line job but not be able to get a promotion without a human service degree – it’s not about you, it’s about government regulation. Know what the rules are for the part of the sector in which you’re looking.

    Once you’re in, though, keep your eyes and ears open for odd opportunities. I was a caseworker who happened to like computers at a time when computers were just hitting our desks and presto – when the job of Computer Trainer was created, I got it. Same thing happened for the MIS Director position. Now I’m in policy. Have a passion for the area in which you work and play around with stuff outside your job description, it goes far.

    1. I love the idea of keeping eyes and ears open in order to take advantage of opportunities that suit your passion. It also involves making sure people know what your passions are, so that when opportunities pop up, so does your name!

  2. I’m responding to this post in reply to your recent tweet: “What career tips do you have for uni students looking at the nonprofit sector?” Having worked with my university’s Career Development Centre, I have just a few points to add (with sub-headings included) that I feel would benefit university students seeking nonprofit careers.

    Looking for Jobs and Volunteer Roles:
    -More volunteer opportunities at

    Networking and Mentorship
    -Make use of relevant LinkedIn groups (Non Profit & Philanthropic Job Board) and Twitter contacts
    -Research ideal potential employers and conduct an informational interview (WLU informational interviewing booklet

    Things NOT to Do
    -Have ANY visible content online that’s questionable. Always manage your online personal/professional brand.

  3. Trina,

    Awesome lists! They are little short-cuts that have everything in one place! Could you elaborate a bit more on the situation, task, action, result, transfer technique for answering interview questions, please? I’ve never heard of that before and it sounds interesting.

    Thanks for sharing these brainstorms!

    1. The STAR (or START) method is a way to answer behaviour-based questions in an easy-to-follow way. For example “Describe a time where you worked as part of a team to accomplish a project.” Answer by first describing the situation, then the task you had to complete, what actions you took, what the result was, and how that transfers to the position you are interviewing for.

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