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Career Guides

Nonprofit HR Manager/Generalist: Career Guides

Posted by Mitch Corlett on Dec 8, 2014 11:37:32 AM

Who is your competition for that association or nonprofit Human Resources Manager or HR Generalist job in the Washington DC job market?

When you see a job advertisement, some aspects of the job are obvious. You can envision the kind of work you would be doing, and recognize the new skills you can learn.

But you almost never see your competition for the job, or know what truly drives the hiring decision.

That’s why we’re bringing a little transparency to the hiring process, by pulling back the curtain on the data we've collected from our executive searches for Human Resources professionals in the association and nonprofit sectors.


What do you need to know about mid-career association or nonprofit Human Resources jobs?

At this point in your association or nonprofit Human Resources career, you can essentially diverge into one of two tracks -- you can become specialized or follow the generalist to manager to director track.

If you have a strong interest in a particular area of Human Resources, you may want to become a specialist, channeling your expertise into a particular facet such as employee relations or benefits to become a subject matter expert on that topic. Your skill-set will likely be most in demand by larger organizations.

To be competitive for a manager position, you’ll want to become a strong generalist, not overspecialized in one area. You will be called on to do a variety of tasks within the broad spectrum of the HR function. Most associations and nonprofits rely on HR generalists to fulfill their needs.


So how will your resume stack up against your serious competition?

One size does not fit all in Human Resources. Hiring requirements vary depending on the needs of the organization and how they want to focus their HR support. But there are a few things that employers usually tell us they want to see for mid-career HR generalist and manager professionals:

  1. Do you handle the day-to-day administration of HR activities? Do your tasks cover a broad range of support for HR processes and programs (e.g., recruitment, performance management, employee development, training,
  2. Do you develop and execute leadership-directed objectives, such as staffing strategy or goal setting for new hires?
  3. Are you the first level of contact for managers? Do you partner with managers to develop strategic plans, establish performance objectives, identify training needs, etc.? Do you provide guidance in HR policy interpretation?
  4. Do you have an employee relations background? Do you provide direction and guidance to managers and employees on disciplinary issues? Counsel on personnel issues?
  5. Do you have supervisory experience? Have you managed vendor relations?
  6. Are you responsible for managing program budgets?
  7. Have you administered an employee benefits program? Are you responsible for benefits analysis? Determining value and competitiveness?
  8. Are you well-versed in HR laws and regulations? Do you ensure adherence to compliance requirements? Organization policies and procedures?


And what might prevent you from getting the job?

The most common reason candidates do not move forward in the manager role is because they are perceived as not having broad enough experience in all facets of Human Resources.

Top companies typically look for a career HR professional who shows good, natural progression without too many job hops (ideally, stay at least 3 years in one place). Experience in different sized organizations and different industries will be viewed favorably, as will having run your own shop.


If you aspire to be an association or nonprofit Human Resources Manager or Generalist, how can you set yourself apart?

  1. If you don’t already have your credentials as an SPHR, study for the exam and become certified. Undergo additional training or take classes for certified programs through accredited colleges.
  2. Develop your experience and expertise by taking on as varied a selection of tasks as you can. Gain perspective to your organization’s overarching business operations by attending meetings, listening to staff, and learning about strategy and business objectives from senior leadership.
  3. Spend 2-6 years broadening your experience and leveraging opportunities to learn and understand all aspects of HR support. Work on niche projects for 6-8 months, then move on to something else.
  4. Be a proactive problem solver. Actively identify HR issues and recommend solutions. Keep a good ear to the ground to identify and resolve issues.
  5. Garner respect at all levels. Hold issues confidentially to develop trust and credibility.
  6. Be reliable. Follow up on issues and get back to people within a reasonable timeframe. Don’t run a long list of To-Do that doesn't get done.
  7. Develop some management experience by working with vendors or consultants, or by managing a team project or policy implementation.
  8. If you target a specific area to specialize in, volunteer to do specific projects that will broaden your experience and expertise in that area. Manage up to your boss to take on specialized tasks in addition to your regular duties.


How do you get yourself noticed by employers?  

Just doing the work and developing the right skills is not enough. If you want more career opportunities to come your way, you need to make yourself visible. Highlight aspects of your background that employers will seek out most often. Frame your experience using the same language that employers and recruiters use for the job description.

At a minimum, your resume, website bio, and LinkedIn profile should reflect key concepts that help you stand out from your competition. One of the best places to find the right language is in the job advertisements that you find attractive. But to get you started, here is a short list of key phrases used in some of our recent searches:

HR expertise: leads training, workforce planning, recruitment, compensation and benefits planning, employee development, HRIS, performance management, risk management

Initiative: administers plans and policies, implements initiatives, developed HR strategies, identified training needs, launched HRIS, streamlined recruiting process

Employee relations: professional practices, counseled employees on grievances, resolved work-related issues, mediated disputes, conflict resolution, progressive discipline, problem resolution

Compliance: employment labor law, FMLA, ADA, EEO, WC, unemployment, ensured adherence to regulations

Consultation: partners with managers, advise management, internal consultant, point of contact, employee communications, worked closely with senior leadership

Management: vendor relations, managed workload assignments, career development, conducted performance evaluations

We hope you found this overview helpful.

All of our open searches can be found here. If none of our current searches are a match for you, you are welcome to send us a copy of your resume so we can keep you in mind for future openings. Please email your resume to resumes@staffingadvisors.com, subject line: "Keep me in mind."

As a candidate, what can you do to make hiring more personal?

What exactly improves your odds of creating a strong connection with another human being? How can you get the attention of the hiring manager and make your case? How can you get your point across even when the hiring process is trapped in the land before time? Your ability to tell the right stories about your experience is every bit as important as your experience itself.

The Staffing Advisors team has successfully completed hundreds of executive searches. We know from experience that the job search process is stressful for even the most accomplished executives. But it doesn't have to be. It’s what our Job Search Guide is for.

 The Senior Executive Guide to Job Search

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