Meet Michael Ziener, Executive Director of Illinois for the American Cancer Society (ACS). Michael served his country in the U.S. Navy before entering the for-profit business community. Ultimately, Michael chose to follow his passion and pursue nonprofit leadership with organizations such as Susan G. Komen and the Patriot Education Fund before joining ACS. Michael has worked diligently to grow in high-profile leadership positions.
What has been your biggest challenge in making a career change from for-profit to nonprofit? You have to be careful not to be a bull in a china shop in your ambition to solve the problem or serve the mission. Also, be open and willing to learn from others along the journey.
How did you overcome this challenge? I sought executive coaching to learn how to become situationally aware and open to feedback. Having a coach was the best decision I ever made. Feedback, positive or negative, is wasted unless acted upon. Remaining open to feedback has been vital. Those who don’t want to hear or act upon difficult feedback will continue the same mistakes.
What’s the one piece of advice you wish you’d been given at the beginning of your search? It doesn’t matter how experienced you are or how great you are in your field. You don’t deserve the offer. You may think you’re the best, but that’s not always the case. Knowing that keeps you from beating yourself up and allows you to keep going in the face of rejection.
What is your advice for someone looking to get into your profession/industry?
- It’s the hardest job you’ll ever have, but it will never feel like work. If you’re entering nonprofit work, have a fire and passion to change the world.
- Be your authentic, true self in the interview. Being someone else in the interview does you and your potential employer a disservice.
- Volunteer! You and your skills are needed, and the benefits on both sides are tremendous. I was hired at Komen because I was a volunteer, and I became the Executive Director. I was hired at the American Cancer Society because I volunteered as a Real Men Wear Pink. I became an ACS Director of Philanthropy, which led to my promotion to Executive Director.
How do you stay prepared for future opportunities?
- Always follow the ‘learner leadership’ model and always have an executive coach or mentor that can guide you through the good and difficult times in your career.
- Don’t damage your professional reputation on social media because of your personal views on politics, religion, or inappropriate posts. Social media is a historical record that will always follow you. Be respectful in all aspects of your communication.
What was the most difficult part of the search process? Desperation can be hard to overcome when you’re in the middle of the search and facing rejection. Do your best not to accept a subpar job that doesn’t match your skills just to have a job. Keep the faith and apply to the right roles that match your skills with opportunity for growth.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the job search process?
- Treat others as you wish to be treated, have a servant leadership approach to your work and your search.
- Go to work in your job search. Set your goals, work hours, priorities, etc., just as you would in your paid position. Finding a new job can be a full-time job.
- Continue your regimen even if you’re not working. Go to the gym, leave the house, and get dressed!
- If conquering cancer is of interest to you, keep an eye on career opportunities at the American Cancer Society. Our mission is to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer. We are all in, we are innovative, and we #WinTogether.
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