DOs and DON’Ts for Job Seekers in the Nonprofit Sector

With a core competency in leadership development, Armstrong McGuire advisors are often called upon to assist our clients with organizational strategies that include finding the right person to fill mission-critical positions. The change management model we employ, called Executive Transition Management (ETM), is designed to maximize the organization and individual’s chance for success. In addition to performing an organizational assessment and developing a position profile, the Armstrong McGuire team recruits and vets candidates, facilitates the interview and selection process, and provides onboarding and new hire support.

Leading clients through the ETM process these last few months, I’ve been surprised by the mistakes made by those applying for positions, even at the most senior levels. Therefore, I am devoting this week’s blog to applicant DOs and DON’Ts. For all you job seekers out there, these tips can make the difference between getting your resume immediately tossed into the recycle bin or moving forward in the process.

DO research the organization to which you are applying.

While functional skills and experience are important, working in a nonprofit organization requires a commitment to the mission. Learn everything you can prior to applying to ensure the organization is a good fit for you. Web research and sites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator provide a wealth of information.

DON’T try to go around the process.

While submitting your information online may seem impersonal, reaching out to a recruiter or hiring manager through email or telephone can actually delay the process. The software we use allows us to tag, categorize, and track applicants to ensure you don’t fall through the cracks. When you contact us directly, we have the added step of putting you into the system. And, let’s face it, sometimes things come up and that can take a while.

DO submit a complete application.

If the position post requests a resume, cover letter, salary requirements, and references, each of these is a vital part of the application.

  • The cover letter is nearly as important as your resume. It not only gives an example of your writing skills but helps us make the connection between your experience and the position. Your cover letter should be personalized for each position, reference the organization by name, and be in the format of a real letter.
  • We request salary requirements to determine if your needs are in line with the pay range of the position, not to see what we can get away with paying you.
  • Providing references up front means that, if we do want to move you along in the process, we have all the data we need to do so and don’t waste time with back-and-forth information gathering.

DON’T try to be fancy.

Be efficient with language. We’re not impressed with long flowery sentences or intellectual verbosity (see, doesn’t that sound ridiculous?). And, unless you are applying for a creative position, avoid resumes with distracting elements like color bars and clip art.

DO pay attention to the basics.

When applying for a position, we assume you are putting your best foot forward. Therefore, spelling, grammar, punctuation, or formatting mistakes in your resume or cover letter indicate a lack of attention to detail even when you are trying your best.

  • Run spell-check on your word processing software. Then have a friend or two review your resume and cover letter for accuracy. I recently received a resume where the applicant misspelled her own name. We notice these things.
  • Use a tool like Grammarly to check for grammatical and punctuation errors. It’s free, so there’s no excuse not to.
  • Ensure verb tenses match, bullet points line up, and format is consistent.

DON’T get frustrated.

Sometimes the recruitment process takes a while. In addition to thoroughly reviewing applicant submissions (I currently have 133 applications for one position!), coordinating calendars can be complicated. Be patient!

To learn more about how Armstrong McGuire helps organizations find the right leaders, visit

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