Q. A few months ago, I graduated with a master's in public administration, and have spent seven years working in the nonprofit world. I'm now diligently seeking a mid-level job in the field. However, I've sent out 168 résumés with only one response. Since strategically helping missions achieve so that underserved populations are empowered means a great deal to me, I am feeling pretty worthless. Can you offer any advice?
A. Job-search experts we sent your question to worry that you may be sabotaging your employment prospects by sending too many cookie-cutter résumés and, if your letter to Hotline is any indication, by using off-putting jargon such as "strategically helping missions achieve so that underserved populations are empowered."
"I had to read that three times to figure out what the person is saying," says Alison Doyle, author of The About.com Guide to Job Searching: Tools and Tactics to Help You Get the Job You Want.
Jargon doesn't impress employers, she says, and vague language keeps you from communicating to them your true passions and your specific qualifications for the job for which you are applying.
"Employers get so many cover letters that you have to make that impression in those first few seconds," Ms. Doyle says.
To get noticed, she says, be clear, be concise, and use statistics, facts, and concrete examples to show that you're the person for the job.
Abbe Land, co-chief executive officer of the Saban Free Clinic, in Los Angeles, suggests you take a step back and think about what motivates you and what you're passionate about. Then focus your search solely on organizations that work in that area.
When you find a posting for a job for which you think you're qualified, she says, "customize your résumé to highlight skills that match what the organization is looking for."
An easy way to do this, suggest Matthew DiLauri, managing director of People & Systems, a New York company that recruits and provides human-resources services for nonprofit clients, is to add to the top of your résumé a "summary of qualifications" - four to six bullet points that show up front how you fit the position for which you're applying.
For instance, if a charity is looking for two or more years of fund-raising experience, mention your fund-raising credentials in the summary. Make sure that the highlights of your experience stand out, he says, so that a potential employer can glean critical information simply by skimming your résumé.
The Philanthropy Careers archives includes more tips for creating the ideal nonprofit résumé.