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Play Your Career Like a Chess Master: Think 10 Moves Ahead

If you’re like most people, you want purpose, personal growth, and professional development. You want flexibility, freedom, economic security, and work-life balance. Your quest, either by luck or design, is to land a job in an organization that works with you to develop your future in exchange for your doing a kickass job. You also likely understand that you need to take charge. Master chess players anticipate ten moves ahead; rookies make one move at a time.

There are organizations and experiences—in any sector—that can suck the life out of you, leaving you feeling trapped and taken for granted. Our counsel is to beware of the organization that does nothing to invest in your future. It’s a predictor of negative consequences, mostly for you. Try to find out how the job will help advance your personal and professional growth—even before you accept an offer. More importantly, deliberately create and follow your own path so you’re not overly dependent on somebody else to make those decisions for you.

Many people actually want to jump around between jobs these days, which allows you to try on different positions in different types of organizations, move to new places, and learn different skills. But it can be hit-or-miss in this field if you’re not careful. Try to understand as early as you can what your own long-term goals are—understanding, of course, that we’re all a work-in-progress and that your interests and goals will shift and evolve over time.

If you want to be an executive director, for example, a good way to go about it is to position yourself to be an executive director of a small organization first; those jobs are easier to come by. You can get an executive director job for a two- or three-person shop at 30 years old, or even younger. Large organizations usually don’t hire executive directors under the age of 40 or 45, and there are a lot of good reasons for that. You’re not as experienced, you don’t have great connections to funders, and so on—but if you want that job eventually, having executive level experience at a small nonprofit, learning how to manage a board, and so forth, are key. That said, if you want to be a program person, communications officer, or a frontline staff person, it’s smarter to work at a bigger organization so you can learn the more complex logistics.

The earlier you can start networking, building relationships in your community, developing a reputation, and understanding what other organizations do, the better. You want to give yourself the opportunity to move from one organization to another, and one of the best ways to make those transitions is to lean on people you know. Serving on committees, boards, and associations—these are all great things you can do for yourself.

To be exceedingly courageous and strategic about your next career move, and to gain serious insights into what possible for you, read Compassionate Careers: Making a Living by Making a Difference in it’s entirety!

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