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Career Guides

Nonprofit VP of HR: Career Guides

Posted by Mitch Corlett on Dec 8, 2014 12:00:57 PM

Who is your competition for that association or nonprofit VP of Human Resources 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. Maybe you can even take a peek at the 990 tax filing to see the salary of the last person in that job.

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.


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

Hiring requirements vary widely and are unique to each employer’s situation. But HR jobs are variations on a theme, and there are a few things that employers usually tell us they want to see:

  1. Do you have at least 10 years of progressively-expanding HR experience across all aspects of HR functions? Do you have 5-7 years of management experience at the director or senior director level?
  2. Are you a member of the executive team? Do you have a seat at the executive table? Does your contribution to organization strategy discussions go beyond giving recommendations and compiling reports?
  3. Do you have experience negotiating and problem solving with other members of the executive team? Making presentations to the board?
  4. Do you translate business needs into effective HR strategy? Do you gather the data and conduct analyses on trends? Do you lead new initiatives that integrate HR into business operations and drive business impacts?
  5. Have you helped guide an organization through change? Are you a strong organizational development specialist? Do you know how to help an organization grow, contract, or maintain its operations according to its business needs? Have you guided an organization’s response to market changes or industry developments?
  6. Do you conduct leadership training and coaching at the executive level?
  7. Do you have a deep understanding of workforce planning, to include financial projections, staffing strategies that include both recruiting, retention, and succession planning, benefits planning, and financial performance planning? Do you proactively manage complex personnel issues at the organization level?
  8. Have you managed and mentored a staff of 3-12? Do you have at least 5-7 years of staff management experience?
  9. Are you well versed in compliance and other technical aspects?
  10. Have you developed and actively utilized metrics to measure the success of HR programs in attaining organizational strategic goals?
  11. Have you developed and managed a department-level operating budget? Do you provide oversight of subordinate functions within the budget?


And what might prevent you from getting the job?

The most common reason candidates do not move forward in this kind of role is because they have not had a seat at the table as a strategic partner to executive leadership. To be competitive for a VP of Human Resources job, you need to have worked as a strategic business partner to organization leadership, proactively evaluating current and future needs and providing strategy to support business objectives.

An HR professional competing for a job at this level must have broad experience across all functions of human resources. Candidates that are perceived at being too “niche” or pigeon-holed, other than as an organizational development specialist, may be at a disadvantage.


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

We recommend that you:

  1. Develop a strong sense of your organization’s business operations and business management, including financial activities, by working closely with the CFO and interacting with the executive director.
  2. Support the strategic needs of the executive team with initiatives such as workforce planning reports, making hiring projections, or conducting a benefits analysis that ultimately saves the organization money.
  3. Work with the leadership team on one or more strategic projects.
  4. Design HR policies that are aligned with your organization’s strategic direction and business plan.
  5. Work with the CFO and CEO or president to help you prepare board reports before presenting.
  6. Establish a strong track record of keeping all systems and processes running smoothly. Develop a reputation for leading reliable, supportive HR activities across all levels of the organization.
  7. Be directly involved in mentoring and developing your staff.
  8. Get an advanced degree (business degrees are always helpful) or additional training in organizational development.


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:

Strategy: grow HR function, supports scalability, managed HR strategies, align with strategic goals, policy formulation, in-depth analysis, linked strategy to performance goals, drive performance objectives

Leadership: partner with executives, worked with stakeholders to meet business needs, plan and lead all aspects of HR department, coach managers on performance management, provide guidance, interdepartmental collaboration, strategically support executives

Organizational development: executive advisor, developed action plans, supported organizational goals and values, work closely with executive leadership, led reorganization, functional realignment, established HR function, established goals within departments

HR delivery: oversee comprehensive HR services, HRIS, implemented cost effective and data-driven HR solutions, implement HR policies and procedures, evaluated benefit programs, HR operational budgets, designed and implemented training programs

Workforce planning: talent strategies, talent acquisition, collective bargaining, implemented new employee orientation, compensation planning, succession planning, created performance evaluation plan, developed and standardized job descriptions


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

Other HR Career Guides:

Topics: Career Guides, Human Resources

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