'JT & Dale Talk Jobs' is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country and can be found at JTandDale.com.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I am attempting to change careers from print journalism to marketing. After five years at newspapers and being let go in 2009, I decided to get direct marketing experience by serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America). I've completed my year of service and am now trying to distinguish myself in this highly competitive job market. Given my marketing experience was with a nonprofit, does that limit my job options? I would greatly appreciate your suggestions. I've visited my alma mater's career center several times, but have received no usable feedback. - Tomas
Dale: Your nonprofit experience might be of limited help to you outside of that world, but that doesn't mean you should let it limit you. Those in the nonprofit world will accept your past year as solid marketing experience, while corporate hiring managers regard it as something more like an internship; it will be up to you to sell it as relevant.
J.T.: You'll do that by taking a longer view. The secret to distinguishing yourself in a tight labor market is to provide insight into what has driven your career decisions. I'm not talking about pay or benefits, but about the personal connection with the work. Why? Hiring managers are trying to connect your passions and interests to their company and the open position. You need to be able to explain your decisions in terms of helping you prepare for the corporate world. It's your job to connect the dots for employers, and let them see how their job opening is the next logical dot.
Dale: Yes, your goal is to make hiring you a logical decision. That will be easier to do if you can create the network you wish your alma mater had provided - contact every AmeriCorps volunteer you can find, as well as every former newspaper colleague, and ask them for introductions to marketing people. There are plenty of companies that market to nonprofits, and plenty that are marketing newspapers and other media - these connections will transform your seemingly unrelated past into the perfect preparation for your future.
Jeanine J.T. Tanner O'Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm, JTODonnell.com, and of the career management blog, CAREEREALISM.com. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com.
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