Why Working for a Small Non-Profit Out of College Was My Best Decision Yet

When I first graduated college, I spent a month or two non-stop searching for jobs, interviewing and feeling just plain distraught over the fact that (in my mind) I was never going to find a job.

As I sit down to write this, it’s hard to believe that my college graduation was one year ago. And while it took two months for me to finally get that “you’ve got the job” phone call, it eventually did happen.

And the funny thing is, I didn’t really want that job. It was for a mediocre size company, in the middle of No-Wheres-Ville, PA. It was far from my home, my friends, my family. I didn’t know anyone in the area. It didn’t pay great. I was excited, and then not really all that excited at the same time. I told them I needed some time to think about it.

A few days later, I decided I couldn’t wait around for something else to fall into my lap, and that this job might very well be the only one I was going to get at the time in as a young professional in a wildly-competetive job market, and I accepted the position. I was ready to give up my Netflix addiction and start my career.

I moved to the new, minuscule area a few weeks later and started my first “big-girl” job in a tiny health care non-profit where I would stay for the next nine months before landing a job that was more ‘up my alley’; closer to my friends/family, better pay and more opportunity for professional growth.

And although I wasn’t thrilled at first for my job with the non-profit, I couldn’t be more pleased that I chose the road (less traveled? Here’s to looking at you, Robert Frost) I did. Working for a small (in size and budget) company opened my eyes to the back-ends of everything that makes an organization tick. I gained more experience in those nine months than had I ever waited around to take some other, entry-level position.

And here’s why:

Because my department contained all of three employees. You heard me — THREE! Which meant a ton of responsibility fell on my shoulders. I was able to explore, voice my opinions and work closely with my team to make things happen. I was a part of every in and out of every move we made.

Because I got to know everyone. I knew every employee in every department; including each volunteer we had. When I had a problem and needed IT’s help, I would sit in their office and watch how they ran the back-ends of the company. I had the opportunity to work with nurses and doctors, learning what was done on their end — outside of the office — helping me to better understand my job. I worked closely with accounting and billing and watched how every number of every budget was broken down. I assisted human resources and witnessed what went on behind closed doors. I could sit down with the CEO, face-to-face, and discuss projects, events and employee relations. I was able to work with each and every manager, no matter the department, and learn how each of them played a role in operating the organization. These are things I might never have the chance to do in any job ever again; but at least I know, when I’m (now) one of 19,000 employees, the types of things that are going on elsewhere in other parts of the company — and that, in itself, is forever invaluable.

Because I was given more tasks than my job description noted. And while, at times, that felt unfair and frustrating, it was really a blessing in disguise. I ran around like a chicken with my head chopped off more times than not and thinking, “This isn’t my job,” or “I’m not getting paid enough to do this,” when — in reality — I was gaining more than I could see. Looking back, I’m grateful for those experiences. I wore a lot of hats and I’m happy that I was given those responsibilities for the sake of learning to accomplish something regardless of whether or not it was my job, and in doing so, gaining more knowledge than I would have if I was just given my assignments. Every day was something different, and it caused me to become adaptable to a lot of different work environments.

Because when faced with difficulties, I had to pick up the pieces. There weren’t a whole lot of people to count on. As I mentioned before, there were three of us in one department. When sh*t hit the fan, I had to think on my feet to relieve the problem. Because there weren’t other people to run to for help, I relied on myself to fix the problems. I couldn’t give up, because, sometimes, I was the only person I could count on.

Because it made me learn to work with people I didn’t like. With a small group of working (mostly) women, you could sometimes feel the tension floating around the office. There was gossip, and fights and a lot of secrecy; and though these are things you might come to find in any work place, when you’re working with a smaller group of people, it tends to make it harder to respect them or find an outlet. I learned to not involve myself in anything besides my work because of the small territory we all shared — later helping me to understand and respect those in a larger organization.

Because I learned how to budget. I knew people who were making more than I was, and I knew people who were making less. I was well-off in the sense that I could afford my rent, bills, food, dog and social life. But, after taxes, it wasn’t the world’s best paycheck. Yet, I made it work. I learned how to budget my life (for the first time ever, mind you) from the smaller paychecks I received, which made it that might easier to become a “saver” once the larger paychecks started to come around.

Overall, working for the small, non-profit right out of college was the best decision I could have made. I learned a lot about myself in those nine months; professionally and personally. I gained experience, I gained professionalism and I gained a sense of self. It was like being thrown into a pool for the first time ever and learning how to swim and, though it was a tough nine months, I’m thrilled that it landed me where I am today: a place I don’t think I’d be had I not chosen to work for that small non-profit.

It’s hard to believe that, at one time, it didn’t sound so great.

– C

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