Who else could hire you? How program staff can switch mission areas

In the public service/nonprofit/government employment realm, there are two types of jobs: mission-specific, and non-mission-specific support roles. Mission-specific jobs are usually related to programs delivered by a particular type of agency, such as jobs directing programs or delivering direct service. Some examples include running a homeless shelter, working as a forester, delivering arts education, or working as a librarian, architect, or college admissions counselor.

Non-mission-specific jobs provide the support that keep programs running, and are much more transferable, meaning it’s easier to work outside your mission area. These include fundraising, contract management/accounting/budgeting, human resources, communications, and IT. If you want a new job, it wouldn’t hurt to know something about the mission of the new organization you want to work for, but it’s not essential.

I have found that people wishing to make a career move who work in a particular program area have a harder time finding new jobs, because much of their experience is tied to the specific mission they work in. This is all well and good, if you want to stay working on that mission area. But what if, for instance, you are interested in working on a new mission? Or perhaps the field you’re working in has been hard-hit by budget cuts and is no longer hiring? Or, perhaps you want to totally switch careers? Now you have to switch gears and start thinking creatively about where to look for a new job.

Each job has two elements: the job function and the mission area. To find new places to look, ask yourself:

1. What pieces of my job function are transferable to a non-mission-specific job? For example, if I do grantmaking in a certain policy area, could my outreach to grantees be emphasized to help me get a communications or public relations job? If I run a shelter program, could I run other programs for a different population, like other housing programs or direct services? Could I run a different kind of program for the same population?

2. What about changing my job function, but staying in the same general mission area? For instance, if I’m an attorney, could my research, analytic, and public speaking skills be used in a non-legal context? Or perhaps as an admissions staff person in higher ed, could I work as a student affairs person instead, or maybe alumni relations?

2. What other types of organizations work on my mission area? Who provides a similar type of service, but to a different population, or in a different geographic area? For example, if I focus on a particular health issue– say, drug addiction– who provides conducts research on this issue? Who provides direct service on this problem, and for which populations? (i.e. private drug rehab centers vs. programs for low-income individuals). Which federal, state and local government agencies deal with this problem? What policy-makers and Congressional committees work on the issue? How is it dealt with in the international context? Another example: if I provide career coaching in higher education, who else provides career coaching, but to other populations, like people who are unemployed (State Employment agencies), people who have been laid off (corporate outplacement), youth (workforce development programs), people with disabilities (workforce development programs and services for people with disabilities), diverse job seekers (diversity internship programs), or the public at large (freelance career coaches; websites like Monster.com).

3. Who are the stakeholders I work with on a daily basis who might appreciate my understanding of the mission area? For example, who are my vendors, grantees, neighbors, partner organizations?

4. Looking in my own backyard, what other types of positions exist in my own organization or similar organizations that might appreciate my background? For instance, if I work in arts education, are there jobs within my organization that are less mission-specific I could switch into, like communications or fundraising?

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