Monday, August 25, 2014

Advice From the Top

Originally published in Working Class as a three part series written by Stephanie Longo. 

Part One: LinkedIn Influencer Ken Berger discusses his career path
If Ken Berger, the chief executive officer of Charity Navigator, had the change to sit down and talk to himself at 22 years old, he would suggest one major thing: have humility.

Berger was recently asked by LinkedIn to participate in a series of articles entitled “If I Were 22,” where various LinkedIn Influencers had the chance to travel back in time and imagine a conversation where they taught their younger selves the lessons they have learned throughout their career. Besides advising that humility was necessary and important in the workforce, Berger also added that having an open mind, listening and remembering to have a personal life, among other things, were necessary for fulfillment at work and in life.

Berger explained that one of his biggest mistakes when trying to get his career off the ground was a naivete regarding the non-profit sector.

“I would probably say that the biggest erroneous assumption that I made was that everybody who works in the nonprofit sector is good-hearted, well intentioned, and is dedicated to helping to others and meeting the missions of their charities,” he said. “The other disappointment that I found in my career was that there were a very significant number of leaders and CEOs of charities that were nowhere near mission driven or well intentioned. In fact, their mission was to line their pockets and their intention was to do it as much as possible. And, in some cases, they really did not care at all about the mission, so that was a very sobering reality for me.”

Berger said that Charity Navigator was founded in 2001 by Pat and Marion Dugan, self-made millionaires who were looking to give back to the community. The Dugans felt a place where people could get independent information on charities was necessary because of scandals that were erupting at the time. Charity Navigator's core product is a rating system where charities are rated on a scale from zero to four stars based on performance in a variety of areas.

“We certainly try to match up donors with the correct charity, but we often find that many people come to our website with a specific charity in mind and are looking for validation that it is indeed as good a charity as they thought it was, Berger said. “Beyond this, people often come to our site without a specific charity in mind when there are situations far away like a disaster or a tragedy where they are less familiar with the charities on the ground in that area.”

Berger suggested that people take steps to realize when they are in a situation that isn't working for them and offered a few suggestions. 

“There were situations where I stuck around longer than I think I should have and I tried to make changes from within the organization,” he said. “I discovered that that is a very hard road and, more often than not, the deck is stacked against you because the board is enamored by the CEO and the CEO may actually stack the deck of the board so that the board is comprised of their friends and vendors that they use; with all of these factors in place, it becomes an almost impossible task to overcome within the organization.”

“If I had to do it over again, my advice to people would be to get out of a situation like this,” he continued. 

“If you find yourself in a job where the leadership really does not care about the mission, then leave as quickly as you can and find another place that is mission-driven and where you can excel. Do not waste your time and your career dithering around with that kind of nonsense.”

Berger also added that if an employee sees leverage points where he or she can let someone outside of the organization, such as the state attorney general's office or the board or governmental entity, know about internal issues, the employee should try to report that organization. He also suggested that the employee find out if it is possible to report issues from within.

“I worked for one place where we created a chief compliance officer who reported directly to the board and where anonymous reports were possible,” he said. “With all of this in mind, there are some exceptions, but the basic rule is to get out fast and find a place that is really mission driven.”

Part Two: Ken Berger discusses how LinkedIn helped boost his career
For Ken Berger, the chief executive officer of Charity Navigator, his path to becoming a LinkedIn Influencer began when he was unemployed during one of our nation's worst economic times.

“I got laid off after thirty years and I was faced with realizing that I was never really diligent in keeping track of my contacts, so my Rolodex, to date myself, was out of date,” he said. “And so I decided that I needed a virtual Rolodex and LinkedIn seemed to be the ideal candidate for that. I then made it a practice to, after meeting anyone, request that we become connected on LinkedIn. Since coming to Charity Navigator in 2008, I have had more exposure to people than ever, so my virtual Rolodex went from nothing to thousands of people within a few years.”

Berger's story illustrates the power of professional networking as representatives from LinkedIn contacted him to tell him he was among the site's top one percent users. What followed next gave Berger the chance to reach many more people.

“At the beginning of this year, a colleague of mine who had contacts there urged me to become what is called a LinkedIn Influencer, so again it is who you know as well as what you know,” he said. “At first, I was simply writing whatever struck me to fulfill the article quota, because you have to write an article every month. Then, I discovered that LinkedIn provides a suggested topic and, that month, the suggested topic was, “If I were 22, what advice would I give to myself and to other people of the same age?” and it was from there that the article was written.”

“Other LinkedIn Influencers choose to write on the topic that LinkedIn suggests,” Berger continued. “The other advantage to writing on those topics is that LinkedIn will heavily promote those articles more than the others that are posted on the site. I decided to participate this particular time because this topic is something that I have written on before and have some strong views on. I wrote an article a few years ago called '20 Rules for Moving Up in Your Career if You Want to Become a CEO' and so I thought that this topic aligned well with my experience and my thinking, because I have had some really lousy bosses that I really struggled with because they did things the wrong way. My ideas on what I thought would be the right way to try to manage and treat people was another part of what prompted me to write the article.”

Berger said that he feels that other factors played into being chosen for his role as a LinkedIn Influencer, inclusing how much a person uses the site, how active they are and whether or not a person makes a lot of connections on it.

“All of these things speak to your existing reach on LinkedIn,” he said. “I had a couple thousand contacts on LinkedIn by the time they approached me to become an Influencer. And, since I have become a LinkedIn Influencer, I have what are called followers, and that number has more than doubled. It is getting close to six thousand people that I am connected to, which has also expanded my contacts in the world.”

Berger said that the best part about the social network is that it gives him a larger platform to connect with people all over the world.

“What it means to me is that I have been provided with a special opportunity to speak a larger audience than most of what I have written in the past,” he said. “Some of the topics that I have written on for LinkedIn I have sort of covered in the past on my blog, but it was perhaps just a handful of people that would read what I wrote. It has been very heartening to see that there is a larger audience that is interested and appreciates this.  

To follow Berger on LinkedIn, visit

Part Three: Ken Berger offers suggestions for job seekers
Looking for a job should be treated as a job, that's the advice that Ken Berger, chief executive officer of Charity Navigator, wishes to give those who are currently seeking employment.

“I think that a job search should be treated like a job and that you should get up every day like you are going to a job,” he said. “You should structure your day so that you dedicate a certain number of hours searching for jobs, whether this means going online, looking at articles, revising your resume, visiting companies, reconnecting with some of your contacts, et cetera. All of the above should become a part of your daily routine and, if you want to put in four or five hours a day, that is fine, too. By the way, I am also suggesting that you pace yourself, take breaks, do fun things, do not sulk and do not sit around. Engage yourself in other activities, socialize, do not worry and just do the best you can.”

As a LinkedIn Influencer, Berger has experienced firsthand how networking can impact a person's success not just while looking for a job, but also as a full-fledged member of the workforce. He suggested that any form of networking, either in-person or online, has its benefits.

“The best part about the job search, I think, is that you can reconnect with some of your old contacts, you can meet new people and you can learn about different industries or parts of the industry that you might have been in,” he said. “I think that you can also learn how to do job interviews. I would recommend that you read up a little bit to learn about the best ways to present yourself in a resume and the best ways to present yourself with a cover letter.  People do not realize how important it is to customize a cover letter, how to conduct themselves in an interview and the best ways to follow up to interviews. I think you can learn a lot during this process and that it is a skill to do a job search.”

While the job search has its ups and downs, Berger did say that possible rejections are, to him, the worst part of the job search.

“The rejections can sometimes be very mysterious because you do not get the courtesy of any reply at all, you have not got a clue what is going on, or you can even go in for an interview and then never hear from them again,” he said. “You send emails and you do not get responses. That can be very frustrating, especially when you apply to jobs that you think you are perfectly suited for and you do not even get the courtesy of an interview. It can seem somewhat arbitrary and random and, depending on how confident you are in yourself, you can think you are being persecuted. Not true! So you have to have a certain backbone and do not despair. I think the key is to do your best.”

Berger advises job seekers to keep moving forward and realize that opportunity might knock in places where you might not necessarily thought it would.

“The most critical thing is to not take the obstacles out there personally; just do the best that you can,  look for situations that suit your interests and desires,” he said. “If you cannot get a paying job that you like, do not think that there are not perhaps some volunteer opportunities for you. And keep your eyes open as there may be some opportunities where you are volunteering that could actually lead to a career for you. Even if it is not a paying job, look for volunteer jobs and never underestimate the possibility for new opportunities. I think your personal attitude can be critical to that—so do not look at the glass as half empty, just look at is as half full and continue to keep your eyes open for things and, if there are structural things like technology making it hard to find jobs, do not personalize that and just enjoy your life and do the best you can with the opportunities that are available to you.”

For more information on Ken Berger and Charity Navigator, visit

1 comment:

nancy john said...

I would love to indulge in my passion as a career, but then the sustainability to me doesn't make sense. If I can get a job where I can sustain my passion outside of work, whilst being able to sustain myself, I don't see why not. 

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