There are many women over 50 looking to transition into work from being at home or to change career paths. Non-profits are getting terrific attention these days as an ideal “go to” work sector where women can combine professional skills and a passion for a social concern with the bonus of giving back. But how hard is it to find a position these days in the non-profit sector? I decided to ask a pro, Jack Lusk, the Managing Partner of Harris Rand Lusk, a boutique executive search firm in New York City.
Q. So Jack, You run an Executive Search Firm that works with non-profit agencies seeking to fill leadership positions such as Executive Directors, Chief Administrative and Program Officers, as well as the all important top fundraisers. What is your experience in helping women over 50 find work?
A. We are often in a position where candidates who are over 50 come in to meet with us and seem uniformly concerned about their employability. At some point in every interview they verbalize the unspoken question — “Will employers be interested in me?”
Q. What types of positions are we talking about?
A. Executive Directors, Chief Administrative and Operating Officers, and Development Directors.
Q. What kind of background do they need to have?
A. Typically they are coming to us from other leadership positions and often have been fixtures in the non-profit community.
Q. What if someone hasn’t had previous experience in the non-profit community?
A. Leadership is a precious commodity. Also, I always ask if they have served on boards or have had other volunteer experience that gives them an understanding of how a non-profit functions.
Q. You mean that if they have been volunteering for the past five to ten years on boards, they may be a candidate for a paid position as an Executive Director or senior staffer, or for positive employment?
A. Yes, if they’ve shown the commitment and they know the language, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be reasonable candidates.
Q. Can you give me a specific example?
A. The question I ask people is whether they have the energy to engage and manage at a high level. That is the only question that is relevant if they are qualified.
Q. Let’s talk about qualified.
A. An expertise in the arena we have been contracted to do a search in–or a background in writing, legal work, financial work, fund raising, and/or management. Other specific skills that a non-profit may be looking for are: technology, HR, project or program management and especially sensitivity to mission.
Q. How do candidates find out about these job openings?
A. There are a number of internet posting sites including www.idealist.com,
www.chronicleofphilanthropy.org, sometimes www.execunet.com.
Most search firms and non-profits post exactly what searches they are working on directly on their websites.
Q. How do you know who those search firms are?
A. There are five to ten sizeable search firms in this arena in the Northeast: Isaacson & Miller is based in Boston and Philips Oppenheim is based in New York. The big firms, including Korn Ferry, do a lot of non-profit work.
Q. What about your firm?
A. Ah, Harris Rand Lusk, has been in this field for almost ten years and at any one time we are probably working on 15 assignments that are in the non-profit arena.
Q. Are there any key resume helpful hints you can give BA50s?
A. Don’t hide dates; it’s misleading and can lead to a search firm discarding a resume. Also, start with your professional experience, list your education, and then go to other activities that are relevant to your application. A two- to three-page resume is fine as long there are decent margins on top, bottom, and the sides. You should also ask yourself if you want to read tiny type at this point in your career.
Q. Hah! That’s clever. How many hours would a typical non-profit Executive Director have to work?
A. They work every bit as many hours as someone in the for-profit sector. They often have to be out multiple nights a week for fundraisers and events because they always have to keep an eye on their funding.
Q. I would think empty nesters would be the perfect candidates for that–unencumbered by children at home. Do you have a specific example of a hire?
A. One candidate I had was working part time as a consultant in management and I was able to place her as Chief of Staff to a College President.
Another candidate had taken time off from being a lawyer for a few years and wanted to switch careers. She had great people skills and I was able to place her as a Corporate Development Officer at a highly visible non-profit in New York.
Q. Wrapping up what are the key takeaways you want to share with BA50s when they consider work in the non-profit sector?
OPEN-MIND: The challenge is to think flexibly and to rely on your past success to give you the opportunity to move up in any organization.
ALIGNMENT: Don’t force yourself into an organization that isn’t aligned with who you are. If they can’t appreciate your background and where you came from–you’re not going to succeed.
DUE DILIGENCE: If you have identified an organization that you might be interested in, you should try to understand the culture. Try to talk to someone who is on staff or visit a work site.
BE AWARE: Your best bet is networking. That’s how you are most likely to get entre. If you are on a board and want to transition to become an employee, make that known to administrative leadership.
LEARN THE LANGUAGE: Transitioning to non-profit from for-profit. It’s not always a slam dunk because of differences in language, culture and expectations. That’s why serving on a board and volunteering is a useful transition strategy
Jack Lusk is the Managing Partner of Harris Rand Lusk, a boutique executive search firm in New York City. With over fifteen years of executive search practice, his hands-on management experience combined with an extensive public affairs background has provided him insight that is unparalleled in executive search. He focuses on building a nationwide practice of placing leaders in the government and non-profit sectors.
Prior to joining the field of executive search, Jack served as a Senior Vice President of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, Staff Attorney at the U.S. Department of Transportation, City Commissioner and Special Advisor to Mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins.
Jack consults and speaks widely on issues of leadership in the non-profit sector. His client list includes many of the nation’s top non-profit organizations and he has conducted a vast number of successful and complex leadership searches, working closely with a variety of selection committees.