Welcome to our new column, Career Therapy, where executive recruiter Pat Mastandrea will be answering all of your questions about your career path, career transitions, and career decisions. Read this Q&A, then email questions@themuse.com to submit your own question!

Dear Daily Muse,

I have been combing your blog and others, networking as much as I can, seeking out advice from recruiters, and treating my job search as a job in itself frenetically for a few months—and I am hitting a breaking point. I have yet to find advice that applies to me and wondered if you had any insights.

I graduated with my bachelor’s degree five years ago and just came back from volunteering as a small business advisor for two years in West Africa. I have a background in nonprofit communications and operations, but am looking for a job in the for-profit world (a B-corp, corporate social responsibility department, or a startup).

I feel as if I am very much in no-man's land. I was in a remote posting and am trying my best to catch up with social media and technology. I don't have enough specialized experience for a lot of mid-level roles and am over-qualified to be considered for some entry level ones. But I am willing to do the grunt work if it means I can learn and progress with a company—I just want a job and company that I care about. How do I get people to respond?

Any advice is much appreciated!

Dear Reader,

This is not an easy question for me to answer. Since I don’t have a lot of information on your specific situation, I’ll tackle this from what I can glean from your letter.

I’ll start here: You mention “having a background in communications and operations,” which is pretty vague. We are living in a world where the “generalities” of any given role or functional area in business no longer exist. The level of specificity and focus has rapidly progressed—for example, communications professionals can specialize in anything from social media to SEO to email marketing. The job market in the U.S. has moved leaps and bounds in new directions, and having spent the last two years in Africa, you may well have missed this major shift.

I believe your job search needs to be less about trying to transition from nonprofit to for-profit, but more about what specific skills and abilities are currently needed in today’s ever-changing business landscape and showcasing the ones you possess (or making a plan to gain the ones you don’t).

My partner describes it as the “purple cow that can jump over the moon” recruitment era. Let me explain: At my executive search firm, our clients used to look for “a great athlete” as a general manager—someone who has general management skills with knowledge and experience in sales, marketing, and general business acumen. Now, they’re looking for an executive who has worked in three specific industries, who has accomplished three specific things, who has four key attributes and a proven track record of leading a team through acquisitions and turn-arounds. Specificity is key.

So in your case, I’d suggest going back to the drawing board and creating a very meaningful elevator pitch that represents your “marketing speech,” or what specifically makes you stand out from other candidates. For example: You are obviously courageous to have picked up and gone to Africa for two years. You also have an entrepreneurial spirit—in order to be successful in Africa, you likely needed to be a real self-starter who is quite self-motivated. My guess is that these small businesses that you were advising were rudimentary startups, which would have given you meaningful experience with branding and grassroots communications and marketing.

This is all very, very valuable in the right situation. So, once you’ve come up with your value proposition, I would target your job search to organizations and positions seeking this type of candidate. I suggest you lose the mention of nonprofit to for-profit—focus on the business skills needed, regardless of profit motives.

Last, but most importantly, at this point you cannot worry too much about being “over-qualified” for a role. In my experience, the cream rises to the top, and if you prove yourself in a company, you will quickly move up to the next level.


Have a question for Career Therapy? Email questions@themuse.com!

Photo of woman thinking courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020