Maybe its because I live in hipster-saturated Brooklyn or because most of my friends hail from the world of food, but it seems like “good food” jobs are in high demand: cheese monger, farm apprentice, farm to school advocate (that’s me!). Luckily, it seems to be a growing field, although we could have a whole separate conversation about how sustainable or lucrative it is for those who make it their life.
I think a lot about how I got here and what advice I would give to anyone hoping to join me. The nonprofit I work for has done a lot of growing, and over the last three years, I have been on at least six different hiring committees and reviewed somewhere between 300 – 500 resumes and cover letters. This doesn’t make me an HR expert, but every, single time there is something about the process I am eager to share. Best practices and patterns emerge. Specifically, it has led me to think a lot about how to get a job in the world of good food or, for that matter, in the world of good-anything. Here are six things I contemplate every time I face a pile of resumes:
1) Be a do-gooder who can do something. If you want to build a career in the world of social good, think first about what you can do, then develop your do-gooder street cred. This means you need an education/skill/trade that you can bring to the table and apply toward the cause you believe in. Note that skill and talent are not the same things: I don’t care if you have an eye for design if you don’t know Illustrator inside and out. If I’m reading your job application, I do care that you’ve demonstrated your passion and gained valuable experience working on a farm or in a hip and socially conscious bakery, but I care even more that you are a proven fundraiser/editor/designer or whatever I’m actually hiring you to do every day.
2) Would you rather bake the bread or organize the bakers? Try to find out if you need to have your boots on the ground to feel fulfilled or if you would derive more satisfaction from knowing your work has a broader (if sometimes less tangible) impact. You might not know for sure until you give each a try, and you will probably find yourself shifting roles over the course of your career. That’s okay.
3) I want to see your skills. Don’t make me read your cover letter or even your work history to know for sure if you are an expert at Photoshop, Salesforce or animal husbandry. I want to see those details spelled out, clearly and upfront. Depending on the vibe of the organization, don’t hesitate to throw in a few “bonus” skills, like pottery or fermentation, that indicate you are an interesting and well-rounded person who will be fun to work with.
4) Brag specifically. In your work history, don’t just list tasks and things you were in charge of, also list major accomplishments and try to throw in some numbers. I want to see “300 percent XYZ” and “gain of 4,500 Blah, Blah Blah” as well as things like specific media outlets or partner organizations you have relationships with. Ladies, this one is really aimed at you: In my completely unscientific survey of resumes and interview subjects, men do a LOT more specific bragging, and it makes them seem like real achievers. Women are much more likely to use phrases like “supported my team” and “helped build.” Obviously, you want to come across as a team player, but also grab what’s yours and brag about it!
5) If you can’t sell yourself, I can’t trust you to sell my organization. This is true not just for sales jobs but for any position with a public face, especially communications, marketing, fundraising and leadership. I know this is often easier said than done, but be confident, make your skills and accomplishments easy to find in all of your materials, and also make sure that any websites and other communications channels you are in charge of are in good, working order. A web developer once tried to sell me on his services, but when I clicked the link in his email signature to visit his online portfolio, half of the pages weren’t working. Don’t be that guy.
6) It isn’t enough to dress for the job you want, not the job you have; sometimes you have to DO the job you want, even if it isn’t yours yet. Start your own thing, find a niche and fill it, work above your pay grade. The world is full of fledgling organizations where you could quickly talk your way into a volunteer position as “director of marketing” or “distribution coordinator.” That’s how I became the outreach manager of the Oklahoma Food Co-op, and its how Jeff became founder and editor-in-chief of his own online magazine. I’ve also started a community garden, worked at a farmers’ market and organized a local-food distribution site. Work hard, even before someone is willing to pay you. This tip isn’t necessarily fair and it certainly isn’t easy, but it is part of the mantra of self-made men and woman since the beginning of time. If you are on the right path, it might not feel like work at all.
I might have a job, but I haven’t lost touch with the fact that’s it’s hard out there. So even if you are doing all of these things and more, don’t beat yourself up over every failed application. Follow what fascinates you. Work hard. Learn things. Meet people. I’m not saying you’ll get rich, but your career will coalesce into something you can be proud of. For more of my thoughts on working with do-gooders, check out this post from my archives.
Note: These are my opinions, based on my experience with multiple organizations, and they do not necessarily reflect my employer’s hiring practices or views.