Dan Fielding graduated from Hamilton College in 2007 with a major in Public Policy.
After graduating, I moved to New York City and started working at Bear Stearns. It was June of 2007 and I believe I was the last person hired in the Private Client Services Department. Bear was sold to JP Morgan in a transaction facilitated by the Federal Reserve in March of 2008. My team somewhat simply moved across the street from 383 Madison and became a part of JP Morgan at 277 Park. We actually did quite well in 2009 and 2010 but I did not enjoy my work, working for a very large bank or the culture of the firm or Wall Street in general at that point.
I left JPMorgan and NYC in April 2010 and spent about 4 months traveling with a Hamilton classmate. My four months of travel brought me to impoverished parts of the Deep South and to Developing countries for the first time. When I returned to NYC in Mid-September 2010, I knew that I wanted to work in the nonprofit field, but I wasn’t quite sure what that meant.
I applied to a bunch of jobs but was regularly told that I “did not have enough non-profit experience”. I used the Hamilton network to speak with other graduates working in various “nonprofit” and “philanthropic” fields at that time. And I started volunteering. I volunteered because I wasn’t exactly sure what I really wanted to do. I had only one “real” job at that point, and this was a great opportunity to see what different work/office environments were like and I needed to gain the experience that potential employers told me I was lacking.
I was volunteering with a few different organizations including Habitat for Humanity NYC. Sporadic volunteer work at Habitat NYC, progressed to into regular, 20-hour per week volunteer work, and ultimately a full-time position when one opened up in the Homeownership Department. I am now the Homeownership program manager working directly with the families that purchase Habitat homes. I love my work, my coworkers and my office culture and environment.
My biggest piece of advice for current students or people just starting their careers: Intern and/or volunteer, show up on time and demonstrate that you are willing to put in the effort and ask questions. I really didn’t know much about affordable housing when I was hired by Habitat NYC, but I had been reliable, I worked hard and I demonstrated a willingness to learn and take on new projects.
I believe it is easier for an organization to train someone for the specific skills needed for a job when the organization knows that the person is going to show up on time, work hard and is willing to learn as compared to hiring someone with all the skills needed listed on the resume, but the organization is not sure about a person’s work ethic or ability to adapt and grow.
Volunteering is especially important if you are interested in a non-profit career. Unlike for-profit companies that have the ability to hire as they scale, non-profits are forced to rely heavily on volunteers. Hiring a new FTE is a big step for any company but it’s especially risky when the new salary relies on donations.
Many of Habitat NYC’s full-time staff started as either volunteers, part-time employees or AmeriCorps Service Members. The AmeriCorps Program is a great opportunity that I encourage people to research. Many people do AmeriCorps as a sort of gap-year before graduate school but it can also lead to a full-time position.