Skip to main content

Victoria Lopatka

Arts + Social Sciences › Criminology

empty
5 people waiting to go into an interview
Credit
Image from CC - Creative Commons
What are you interested in? Do you want to work with women? Youth or children? People who are homeless? Recent immigrants to Canada? Aboriginal people? Sex workers? Focus in on what you feel most passionate about and do research to make a list of local organizations that do that kind of work or serve that demographic.

My first co-op was a government position, where I spent most of my time doing historical research, booking travel for my boss, and drafting reports. When I left, I found myself craving more hands-on, community-oriented work. I wanted my energy and work to have a positive impact on the community around me. The non-profit industry seemed like an obvious choice, and I turned to myExperience and Indeed to find a new job – only to be disappointed. Firstly, these sites didn’t offer many non-profit positions. Secondly, the few non-profit posts asked for years of previous experience in the non-profit industry, including experience in client-relations, grant writing, and trauma-informed practices. None of which I had at the time. Now, a year later, I have found a self-directed co-op position in the non-profit industry that is hands-on and community-oriented – I love it. How did I get here? How can you get here? This article outlines my tips for those looking to find their own self-directed co-op and break into the non-profit industry with no experience.

Determine the type of organization you would like to work for and the causes you’re most interested in

What are you interested in? Do you want to work with women? Youth or children? People who are homeless? Recent immigrants to Canada? Aboriginal people? Sex workers? Focus in on what you feel most passionate about and do research to make a list of local organizations that do that kind of work or serve that demographic.

Focus on your transferable skills from other sectors and previous experience

Many non-profit organizations have a small staff community, and thus, those staff tend to wear many hats. A varied background and skill set can be a major asset. Comb through your previous experience looking for skills that could be helpful to a non-profit organization. Have you worked in a busy restaurant or coffee shop? You know how to keep calm and execute tasks in a high stress environment. Have you worked remotely and independently during the pandemic? You’re a self-motivator and independent worker. Do you get good grades on essays and verbal presentations in class? You have excellent written and verbal communication skills. Are you the “therapist friend” in your friend group? You have experience with active listening and providing emotional support. These are all high-value skills in non-profit.

Consult friends in the non-profit industry and get their advice

If your friends work in non-profit, ask them how they got to their current position or organization. Ask them about the skills they highlighted in their resume and interview. Importantly: ask them if their organization is hiring or looking for volunteers, or if any of their co-workers are leaving their positions soon. You never know who has connections where until you ask!

Let your co-op advisor know you’re interested in non-profit

Communicate to your advisor that you’re interested in finding a self-directed co-op in the nonprofit industry, and you’re not feeling like myExperience is offering good fits for you. This way, they can keep an eye out for opportunities, as well as provide tips for your job hunt.

Make use of websites like CharityVillage

CharityVillage helps connect non-profit and charity organizations with potential employees – it’s like Indeed, but specifically for non-profit. You can search organizations and keywords, and sort positions based on the city you’re in and remote vs. on-site work.

Reflect your interests and the causes you’re most passionate about in your resume and cover letter

Consider adding an “Interests” section to your resume to outline the causes you feel most passionate about.

Prepare your “mission statement” prior to interviews

Non-profit employers want authentic, genuine, interested employees. You will undoubtedly be asked why you want to work for the employer or why you’re interested in the social cause. Prepare a response outlining how you became interested in the social cause, any personal connections, and the impact you would like to have

Research organizations and their mission statements/values prior to any interviews

When I interviewed for my first co-op position, a government job, the interview largely focused in on how my skills and experience could be an asset to the team – I didn’t need to know anything about the branch or their work in advance. Non-profit interviews are different; in most interviews, I was asked about the pillars or core values of the organization I was interviewing with. An example question is: “Which of our core values do you feel you exemplify the most and why?”. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to respond: “I don’t know your core values”. Ensure you do your research on the organization beforehand, and take notes of their values, missions, pillars, etc.

Don’t be afraid to cold-call organizations

While I was looking for a self-directed co-op, I cold-called – well, cold-emailed – a lot of organizations, and eventually, it led to getting a volunteer position that allowed me to gain the skills for a future self-directed co-op. Though this initial position was un-paid, and thus, not a co-op, it allowed me to get a co-op position eight months later. Generally, I would find the contact information for an organization I’m interested in on their website. Then, I would send them a brief email explaining that I’m a student at SFU interested in a co-op work term with their organization and ask if they’ve considered hiring a student or if there are any open positions that would be suitable for a co-op student. I end the email asking to be added to their newsletter or hiring notices to keep in touch. You never know what’s available until you ask!

Look for un-paid and volunteer work at the organizations you’re interested in

Though un-paid and volunteer work will not count as a co-op position, sometimes you have to play the long-game and plan to reach your end goal of a non-profit, self-directed co-op in a few months or a year. My first non-profit job was an unpaid position at a crisis call line, which I gained through “cold-emailing” an organization I liked. I didn’t have relevant experience, but I focused on my transferable skills, and was offered a position. They provided some minimal training and resources, and I worked once a week for eight hours for a total of eight months. I viewed this position as my “foot-in-the-door” of the non-profit world, as a “steppingstone”, and thus, learned everything I possibly could during the eight months, including client support skills, resource-gathering, and problem-solving. I then beefed up my resume with the new skills and experiences I had acquired and began the searching process again, but this time, for a paid coop position: cold-calling, networking, interview prep, etc.

If unpaid work is not an option for you – understandable! – then try finding a low-level position at a non-profit you like and working your way up the ladder over time to gain the necessary skills. This low-level position could be part-time, or a full-time co-op.

  • Victoria Lopatka Sep 29, 2021
    Like to recommend this item
    visibility  67

Author

Victoria Lopatka

Arts + Social Sciences › Criminology

Posts by Author

Abstract art of business and fun cartoon man
Blog
Protecting Work-Life Balance when Working in Non-Profit

“Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life” has been attributed to several thinkers: Confucius, Mark Twain, and Marc Anthony. Regardless, this sentiment is unrealistic.

Victoria Lopatka
SFU Story
A Safe Space to Express Yourself

You Might Like These... Co-op Reflections, Professional Development, Career Exploration, Seeking, Work Term Extension

author, courtney, smiling
A Second Term in Government: More of the Same?

Having completed my first work term for Health Canada as a Communications Officer Intern, I was eager to try something new, and the government was not where I believed that was going to happen. That is until I was offered a position at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada...

tower in ottawa
Increasing Your Chances of Working for the Government

With the stability and the opportunities that a government position provides, it’s not surprising that a lot of students are interested with working for the government. The What Can I Do in Government session gave students an opportunity to network with a panel consisting of alumni, current students and managers who are experienced in working for the public sector. Read on for some insights and tips that the panelists provided!

a portrait image of a woman smiling and looking into a distance
Self Discovery

In the changing labour market there are increased opportunities for seeking your own Co-op placement through a Self-Directed Work Search. In this 3 steps blog series by our career advisor Heather Williams, learn about how to successfully conduct self-directed work search from self-discovering to landing an informational interview.

5 people waiting to go into an interview
library_books
Blog
How I Found a Self-Directed Co-op in the Non-Profit Industry with No Experience
Seeking, Job Search, Student Success, Co-operative Education

This article outlines my tips for those looking to find their own self-directed co-op and break into the non-profit industry with no experience.

You Might Like These... Seeking

Banner of Canucks Game
Scoring the Job

If you have a passion for hockey and can afford to work without a weekly pay cheque (a $1000 honorarium is provided at the end of the term), then applying for a Co-op job with the Vancouver Canucks could prove to be an unforgettable experience. Landing a coveted internship isn't easy, but if you're up for the challenge, read on and you could soon be calling yourself a Canuck.

Cherlene
Changing Attitudes to Debunk Co-op Myths

In this article, Charlene provides us with some hard-hitting truths about co-op and what it means to think positively when applying for a position. 

a laptop screen showing the text "Go Get It"
5 Reasons Why You Should Move for That Co-op Position

Ever spotted your dream co-op position on MyExperience but found out it was on the other side of the country? Or worse overseas! Srijani Datta, is here to tell you about why you should, in fact, relocate for co-op.