Want to change the world?
Consider these 4 steps before taking the leap to a social impact career
It’s easier than ever to find a social impact career, be it for a traditional nonprofit or a for-profit that gives back to the communities it serves or to causes its employees care about. Given the numerous choices and opportunities, it’s wise to be strategic about how you go about making your mark in this space. As someone who specializes in bringing talented people to the social impact sector, here’s my advice about how to pursue a highly rewarding social impact career.
1) Assess: What are you passionate about? What are you good at professionally? It’s helpful to know the answers to both of these questions. The social impact space is teeming with individuals who are mission driven with a capital M. You have to deeply believe in the cause or at the very least, have an interest in it. So before you take the leap, think about the causes that excite you, be it education, the arts, youth development, the environment, or international development, among other possibilities. Identifying how you want to impact the world is a critical piece of the puzzle, because it allows you to align your passion with the work you choose to pursue.
In addition to assessing what most inspires you, also think about what you’re good at professionally. Many people that I talk to that are interested in making a career switch, don’t often see the parallels between what they currently do and the skills they can bring to the social impact sector. If you’re a great marketer for soda or lunch meat, you’re likely just as great at doing the messaging for an environmental or human services organization. You may even find that you’re better at marketing in the social impact space because you have a stronger belief in what you’re selling. Ultimately, knowing your strengths will ease your transition.
2) Explore: There are many social impact organizations to choose from, so now is the time to drill down and get more specific. If you’re interested in changing the word by improving education, you can do so in many ways – be it at a charter school, or a nonprofit that works directly with K12 schools, or a for-profit that supports a portfolio of education nonprofits, among a host of options. If the environment is your passion, you can choose a company that makes environmentally safe products and gives a percentage of profits in support of environmental causes, or a nonprofit that educates young people about the benefits of urban gardens by teaching them to build their own. Because there are so many options, educate yourself by doing further research through Google searches, social impact blogs and other media, and talking to people who are aware of the organizations that operate in the space of your interest. As you learn more, build a list of companies that you think align well with your passion. Doing so will allow you to narrow your focus so that you can begin to talk to others and launch your job search.
3) Connect – It’s widely believed that the most constructive way to find a new job is through networking. People hire people, not resumes, so a savvy approach to finding your dream career is to start talking to others. LinkedIn is a valuable tool in this regard because it helps you figure out whom to talk to. By searching first and second connections to agencies or organizations that interest you, you will immediately identify individuals to reach out to.
Set up short 15- minute phone conversations (a warm intro is often helpful) with people who work in the social impact space. Through these conversations, learn more about these organizations -- their long-term goals and growth plans, for starters. Make sure to research the companies beforehand to ask questions that give you more insight than what’s already covered on their websites.
In addition to having in-depth conversations with people working in the social impact space, it’s also key to let friends, family members and close associates know about your goals – you never know what connections or leads they might have access to that can benefit you in the long run.
4) Refresh: Although your resume is not the most important part of your social impact job search, it does help communicate who you are and what you’re looking for. Now that you know what you’re looking for and how you add value, give your resume another look and refresh it. As you network and build new contacts in the social impact space, ask a few of these individuals to review your resume and provide critical feedback.
Also send out your new resume to friends, family, and former colleagues and let them know what you’re looking for. If you’re currently in a job, be cautious and send your resume to people who can keep your confidence and who will be on the look out for you as opportunities arise.
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, the next step is to take the leap. So, jump. A rewarding career awaits.