The Christmas Break is a perfect time for contemplation and planning. You might be a professional trying to break into the not-for-profit sector, or somebody already working within the sector who wants to move up the ladder, either way there are a few things you can do to help you on your way.
Here’s our 12-step guide to using the break wisely to boost your career prospects.
1. Apply for internships or get some work experience
If you’re interested in a career in the not-for-profit sector, internships are useful step on the recruitment ladder especially for individuals that have newly graduated from college or professionals wanting to steer their career in the direction of the sector. Most Irish not-for-profits organisations are small in size meaning you can be exposed to most of the operational areas within it and as a result gain a far better understanding of the inner workings of the organisation and sector.
Try contacting organisations in your local area that may be able to offer you a short-term placement or work-shadowing day over the Christmas Period. Christmas is the busiest time of the year for a lot of charities, so they will welcome the extra help!
Showing that you’ve taken the initiative to gain skills and experience in the sector can help when you apply for paid roles.
An outstanding candidate is someone who doesn’t just grasp an opportunity when it comes along, but who goes out and creates opportunities for themselves.
2. Update your CV
The past year may have flown by faster than a French hen, but if you’ve done a bit of volunteering, taken on new responsibilities in your current position, had a part-time job or even discovered a new hobby, you’ll have gained new skills and experiences.
Take a moment to think about your achievements and update your CV. Ask yourself: What have I done? What did I learn? How can I communicate it to potential employers?
Employers are looking for candidates who have a high degree of self-awareness and understand their own strengths, weaknesses and development needs.
3. Boost your not-for-profit awareness
The Irish not-for-profit sector has rapidly evolved over the last decade and still continues to do so. For example, up until October 2014 the sector was not regulated. Many changes have and are coming into effect so it would be wise to keep on top of the sector headlines.
Use this down time to read any recent reports of articles through the national news channels. Signing up to the newsletters on The Wheel, Charities Institute Ireland and Dochas and following your preferred organisations on social media would be a good start.
4. Do your research
Whether you’re just starting to think about a move to the not-for-profit sector or actively hunting and applying for a new job, researching the organisation, the team and the role you’re applying for, and their application process is the way to success.
The best thing you can do is to know what you’re getting yourself into.
But, finding out all you need to know can be a workload equivalent to a part time job. So, use some of your holiday to read up on opportunities that interest you, think of any questions you need to ask, and prepare applications.
5. Curl up with a book or a blog!
Picking up a book might be the last thing you want to do over the holidays, but reading up on an area you’re interested in moving into is a great way to learn something new, and discover different perspectives.
You might be lucky enough to bump into the CEO of a large Irish charity over mulled wine and canapés at your next-door neighbour’s annual Christmas Eve party. If you do, now’s the perfect time to network.
You can also use the break to take your mum’s advice and send out “thank you” notes, or rather networking emails, to anyone interesting you met over the course of year. It can feel awkward, but if you’ve collected a stack of business cards from events and courses, spend a few hours sending out tailored emails to each person thanking them for any advice they’ve given, asking questions, and wishing them a Merry Christmas.
You’ll be amazed at the response you get!
‘Tis the season of giving, and giving your time to support a worthwhile cause is a rewarding way to spend the holidays.
Whether you’re visiting patients in hospital, singing in a choir, serving food to the homeless or sorting donations at your local charity shop, through volunteering you’ll also gain skills that you can apply to your career and life in general.
In addition to academic achievements, recruiters look for personality, communication and overall employability skills. Any commitment shown to volunteering or fundraising activities is a good way to demonstrate those abilities, whilst showing your interest in the sector.
8. Clean up
We’re not just talking about clearing your home of Christmas wrapping and mince pie packaging. If you’ve worked hard and played hard this year, and have the photos to prove it, make sure your virtual CV (aka your Facebook page) has been cleaned before you start applying for jobs.
Employers are increasingly searching applicants’ online profiles to find out more about them, and if you don’t want a dodgy “stag party” photo to stand in the way of your dream job, anything questionable is best removed.
9. Put yourself out there
If one of your goals for the New Year is to find a new job, use this time to connect with the people and organisations that can help you achieve that goal. Register with recruiters who specialise in your area and sign up for job alerts that are catered to your search, so you’ll be the first to know about the latest vacancies in your area/line of work.
10. Hit the sales
Getting up at 5am on Stephen’s Day to make your way into town and join the queues of bargain hunters waiting for the shops to open their doors may not be one of your favoured Christmas traditions.
But make the most of the seasonal sales and treat yourself to a stylish new suit and shoes. You’ll save money, banish pre-interview clothing crises, and be ready to put your best foot forward come New Year job application time!
New Year is the time of new resolutions – take some time over the holidays to look back and take stock of the year just gone. What did you enjoy most? What was the biggest challenge? Where could you have done better? When did you excel? What did this year teach you?
Reflect on where your career has taken you and where your future ambitions lie. Using the Christmas break to reflect on what you’ve achieved over the past few months can also help you to identify any gaps on your CV, and think about what you can do next year to fill them.
Write down your five biggest wins of the last year and five professional goals, big or small, for the year ahead.
Don’t forget that the Christmas holidays are for relaxing, catching up with friends and family, eating too much, and enjoying yourself!
In between developing your skills and brushing up your CV, take some time to sip on some mulled wine, munch on a mince pie, and recharge your batteries for the New Year ahead.