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5 in 5! with Mercy Corps

February 17, 2011

Jennifer Schmidt is the director of cause marketing partnerships at Mercy Corps, a 32-year old humanitarian aid organization that works to save and improve lives in the world’s toughest places.

Jennifer Schmidt

1. How did you get started in the industry?  How can someone who is interested in your work get started?

The nonprofit sector has a keen appreciation for free labor, and doing internships was how I learned how the sector worked, gained experience, and made contacts. For prospective nonprofiteers, internships or meaningful volunteer work are critical to getting your foot in the door. For anyone interested in oversees work, you still can’t beat the Peace Corps for the experience and the network.

2. What’s the future of your industry or job?

Today there are more than 1.2 million registered nonprofits – almost twice as many as 15 years ago – and the need for nonprofit services is greater than ever. There’s also a blurring of traditional lines between the nonprofit and private sectors, as entrepreneurs create businesses focused on a ‘triple bottom line’ of people, profit and planet, and nonprofits partner with companies to provide services more effectively.  An example is Mercy Corps’ work with mobile operator Voilà to introduce Haiti’s first “mobile wallet,” a cellphone account that allows earthquake survivors to store savings securely and purchase food and household items.

3. What do you look for when you hire an intern or entry-level candidate?

I look for people who are resourceful, learn quickly,pay attention to detail,and can take a project and run with it.  A passion for the organization’s mission is essential – nonprofit work can be difficult, low-paying, and unglamorous, so people with that internal motivation to make a difference in the world tend to be more successful.

4. What is one thing an intern can do to make a favorable impression?  To make a negative impression?

It’s pretty simple. Show up on time. Have a positive and helpful attitude. Pay attention to office etiquette.  Ask questions to clarify your assignment but also use the resources available to find the answers on your own so that you don’t come across as high maintenance.

5. Can you share a positive intern story and an intern horror story?  No names needed…

My most recent intern was super professional – always dressed above her pay-grade (so to speak), was polite, on time, and focused in her work. She greeted any task – large or small – with enthusiasm and creativity. And she ended up being offered a job.

The closest thing I have to a horror story was an intern a few years ago who ended up being pretty neurotic when it came to her work space – she was territorial and would get upset if someone sat in her space on days she wasn’t there. I wanted to say to her look, focus on doing your best work, be friendly and helpful, demonstrate to your employer that you have something valuable to offer and you’ll go far. After her internship, we never spoke again.