It's nearly two years ago, and I've just arrived in the most expensive city in the United States, with the intention to stay. I have one backpack, two friends to call, no job, no place to live, and a single meeting scheduled: with the CEO of a local environmental nonprofit who might be looking to hire.
When I show up in the CEO's water-view office, I am wearing a crisp blue dress from Banana Republic and holding a folder tucked under one arm with my resume inside -- which features, among other fun oddities, a colorful pie chart in the "Education" section attributing 20% of my learning to school, and the rest to nature, people, books and experience.
After thirty minutes of chit chat, back-and-forth, and exploring the direction he wants to take the organization, he cuts right to the chase:
"Look, I have three positions available. They are this; this; and that. Which one do you think you'd be interested in?"
This catches me off guard. I hadn't even looked at a job description before I sat down for the meeting, so all I have to go off of is the one-sentence explanation he's just given of each.
He is waiting expectantly for me to answer. Here are a few things I could do:
1. Just pick one already!
2. Ask for more information
3. Ask for more time to make an informed decision
4. Say, "Yes, all of them sound great!"
5. Think out loud while making a best guess.
While #2 and #3 are certainly reasonable choices, I choose Option #5, which sounds like this:
"Alright, well, I AM a communications person, but I'm not going to build your website. It's just not what I do best. So, the Media Lab position is probably out.
"As for the Sales position, I LOVE to travel, and that would have really appealed to me two or three years ago when travel was a big priority in my life. But now, I've just arrived in SF and I'm really looking to put down roots and build community. So that position doesn't make sense for me right now, as fun as it would be.
"But, from what I understand, the Development position is all about building relationships with our biggest donors and helping them get excited about the mission -- is that right? -- Which is aligned with my goal of building community locally in San Francisco. Plus, I love people, and I could talk about how amazing and imperiled nature is all day long. So I guess, if I had the choice, I'd pick that one."
Mind you, I had NEVER worked in fundraising before in my LIFE.
Later, I would see that the job description required "at least three years experience in fundraising and a demonstrated track record of bringing in gifts of $1,000 or more."
But I don't yet know this; I just suspect it's the best of the three for me. And do you know how he reacts?
He looks at me like he is seeing me for the first time, and says: "You have no idea how many young people come in here asking for jobs, and when I ask them what they want, they have NO idea. I have to ask, well do you want to make money? Do you want to work with people or behind the scenes? I have to DRAG it out of them... It's just so refreshing to meet a young person who knows what she wants."
I leave that meeting with the promise of a followup lunch meeting with him, the head of Development, and the Manager I would be working under. While the CEO and Director are both gregarious and disarming, the vibe I get from my would-be manager is: I'm extremely unconvinced that this person is qualified to do this job. She is also sitting directly across the table from me, which makes her seem extra confrontational.
Then, when the calamari arrives, she asks why I want to work for them.
Ah, I think. Here is my opportunity.
And I tell her the story of how nature changed my life as a teenager; how I later witnessed it change the lives of other young women as a wilderness expedition leader; and how passionately I care about connecting people with nature today -- because in the absence of firsthand experience of its incredible restorative power, people won't be inspired to protect it.
From her reaction, I can tell she likes this answer. She even shares an anecdote of her own about nature, which she also loves. Then she asks, pointedly: "Have you ever effectively managed a caseload of 100+ relationships before, and how do you envision yourself doing that?"
To which I respond: "To be totally transparent, I've never managed a hundred relationships at once. But I do learn pretty fast, and if I had to guess, I imagine I might use Excel."
This gets a bit of a chuckle from the others at the table.
Within a week of that lunch, they called and offered me the job. And I ended up becoming good friends with that manager; a friendship that would continue long after we both left the organization.
So the question is: Why did they give me the job, when I didn't meet their qualifications?
The answer lies in the fact that there are many things an organization can train for, but there some things that just can't be taught.
Managing a caseload of relationships is a teachable skill. Here are some of the things that aren't:
2. Caring for and/or personal connection to the mission
3. The ability to ARTICULATE why the mission is important
4. The ability to REMIND others of the fact that THEY also care about the mission
5. A sense of humor.
All of which are vital assets for someone whose job it is to raise money from individuals for the mission; and all of which are best illuminated by story.
Ask yourself: What do YOU bring to the table that can't be taught? And what story can you tell to demonstrate it?