A reader writes:
I’m wondering about how to reassure interviewers that I am able and willing to perform administrative tasks despite the fact that I have a master’s degree and have some higher-level work experience.
Some background: I’m in my mid-twenties and have done a lot of internships, part-time jobs, and AmeriCorps, and am looking for my first full-time salaried position in the nonprofit world. I graduated with my master’s last June and moved to a very progressive metro area with an extremely tight nonprofit job market. Given my background and the tough market, I am finding myself applying to positions that either a) expect a master’s degree but also seem to want more paid work experience than I have, or b) ask for only a bachelor’s and are heavily administrative, but are with organizations that I really admire. While admin work isn’t exactly my dream, I think I can do it capably and know that that may be my best option to get some more full-time experience under my belt.
In my last two interviews in jobs from category B, interviewers have asked me point-blank how I feel about the heavy admin duties required for the job, given my education and some of my past experience. It doesn’t seem reassuring enough to just say “I’m fine with it,” and it seems like it would be obviously disingenuous to claim that I truly want to be doing admin work forever when my education says otherwise. Any ideas for good responses to this question?
If I’m asking that in an interview, I want to hear something like, “I know it’s a big part of the job, and that admin work is really crucial in keeping things running smoothly.” Or — if it’s true, and only if it’s true — “I’m obsessive about organizing and making things run well, so that part of the job actually really appeals to me.” Or “I’m excited about learning more about how an organization like X runs, and I know that at this stage in my career, a job with a heavy admin component is the best way to do it — and as someone who’s obsessively organized, I’d look forward to taking that on.”
I also, frankly, would probably want to hear why you’re okay with doing work outside of the field you got your master’s degree in, if indeed that’s the case. Which is one of the annoying things about having a master’s in some situations.
Overall, though, the key is to figure what’s really true for you and then to communicate that in a credible way.
What I wouldn’t want to hear: answers that sound like you’re begrudgingly accepting the admin work, or that you haven’t thought through what that will really be like or that you’re underestimating how much admin work the job entails, or that you think that if you quickly prove yourself at more glamorous aspects of the work, you won’t really have to do the admin work anymore.
If you realize that any of those do describe your thinking, that’s a flag to either reconsider applying for those jobs or reposition your thinking so that one of the answers in my first paragraph actually becomes true.
Also, it might be helpful to realize that you don’t necessarily need to want to do admin work forever in order to be a good candidate for these jobs now. In nonprofit work in particular, hiring managers are often looking for candidates who are driven to eventually move on to something other than admin work, but who recognize that it’ll give them necessary experience at an early stage on their career and who are smart, highly organized, great with details, good at problem-solving, pleasant, and flexible, and who thrive on making things run well and a excited to support their mission. If you can show that you have those traits, and that you are indeed okay with a bunch of admin work for a couple of years, you can end up as a pretty desirable candidate.