Switching Sectors? You may be (or appear to be) overqualified.

Whether you’re seeking to find a job with greater meaning, are leaving the social sector to focus on your own financial bottom-line or want to break into the social enterprise space, figuring out how to translate your experience is paramount.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Rebecca Knight explores ideas for How to Apply for a Job You’re Overqualified For. And, while this isn’t strictly focused on sector switchers, at interSector Talent we’ve observed that many of these tips and ideas relate directly to those seeking to bring their business talents to the social sector. A few examples:


The author suggests being transparent (to a point) about your reasons for making the change. Be ready for these questions as we regularly see sector switchers fumbling to get this right. It’s not uncommon for us to hear such responses as: “I want to shift to the nonprofit sector to reduce stress and have more time with my family.” (Really? Do you have ANY idea how stressful it is and how much time it takes to raise the organization’s entire operating budget every single year?) “I’ve already made my money, now I want to give back.” (Better, but be careful with this one. Nonprofits run like businesses and they aren’t looking for your pity or charity.) Think carefully through your reasons and run them by some people in the know before testing them out on prospective employers.

Be Visionary

Thinking big is suggested, as well. While it’s important not to scare away nonprofit executive search committees with grandiose ideas of what you can do for the nonprofit, it’s not a bad idea to think through how your special skill set transfers over and can help the position to expand into new and innovative territory. Test the waters on this one, if you sense right away that talk of “bigger, better, faster” is overwhelming or putting off the hiring team, dial back your vision to one that represents a stretch, but is still achievable.


Okay, here the piece suggests “offering temporary help,” so we’ve taken this one step further and urge you to consider volunteering (rather than asking for a paid temporary assignment first). This is especially critical to consider if your plans to switch sectors are a year or more away. Nonprofits are constantly looking for volunteers and by offering your expertise on a committee, as part of an event, even tutoring or stuffing envelopes, you can get a better sense of how nonprofits and social ventures operate, start to get a handle on the terminology, challenges and opportunities of nonprofits, and position yourself well for your future job search. Check out Volunteer Match or your local volunteer agency for opportunities that fit your interests and skill set.

Remember: Switching sectors is not for the faint of heart. You will need to adjust from your typical was of doing things and put yourself in the shoes of the search committee or hiring supervisor. The more you know about their struggles and strengths, the better.

Read more at: Harvard Business Review

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