Breaking into the social impact sector

At Society we source talent for the social impact sector and thus regularly get asked advice from individuals looking to transition their career in this direction. We asked Tanya Stevens, the head of our not-for-profit practice to give us some of her top tips...

Where should I be looking? How do I find the right role? What is the most effective means of demonstrating my transferable skills into roles with a more social angle?

Proactively shifting your career to a role / organization that champions social impact is not rocket science. The key to success is a healthy dose of self reflection, networking, graft and passion - here are some tips for making this transition.

1. What are you good at?
Be honest with yourself about your skills / talents. Are you a social animal, or do you prefer less interpersonally driven research? Do you bring experience of program management / impact measurement, or do you prefer roles with a strong influencing or selling angle? Make a list of your top three must-haves in a job that will fit your skill set and make you happy.

2. What are you passionate about?
A golden thread for many in roles with a strong social dimension is commitment to a cause. Channelling your energies towards something you feel passionate about will not only make it easier to get out of bed in the morning, it will also enable you to speak to potential employers with more genuine motivation and interest, which they’ll pick up on and warm to.

3. Where do your skills and passions collide?
This is all about thinking through some credible career paths that capitalize on your skills and passions. For example, if you are working in sales or marketing for an FMCG company with an interest in corporate responsibility, you might consider a career in Corporate Social Responsibility or a corporate fundraising role for a charity or foundation where you can leverage your knowledge of corporate positioning for a cause that you believe in.

4. Do your research
Once you have some career avenues in mind, do your research. Look up firms or organizations that offer such opportunities. If you feel strongly that you want to apply your project management to the post conflict international development arena, take time to understand the major players on that scene and the business structure / types of roles on offer. Some simple but thorough desk-based research will provide insight that you can draw upon when applying for jobs or making speculative enquiries.

5. Network
Talking to others in the social impact arena will develop your understanding. Join the conversation on Business Fights Poverty. Join relevant discussion groups on LinkedIn. Make speculative enquiries to senior decision-makers in organizations of interest, but make sure you clearly and succinctly state why you are actively pursuing this new career and how you hope they might help. Proactively putting yourself ‘out there’ can pay major dividends.

6. Don’t apply to jobs blindly
If you see a role of interest advertised, speak to its recruitment partner, or the organization directly where appropriate, to gain perspective on the opportunity. Use these conversations as a platform to advocate your experience and fit. As a recruiter I often sense candidates who view an advert are happy to bypass a conversation with me, despite the fact that I am often in a position to offer valuable insight into the ‘story’ behind a role.

7. Take time with job applications
Many jobs request a CV and supporting statement demonstrating your fit to a person specification. Tailor these documents to the role at hand. Picture yourself in the job while writing your supporting statement, and draw out examples from your background that will resonate most effectively with the requirements of the post. Importantly, also share your interest and motivation for the role in your supporting statement – this makes a real difference.

8. Self conviction is important
A consistent theme I’ve picked up on in the How we Hire series is an interest in hiring individuals who display intellectual curiosity and sharpness, bravery and the ability to demonstrate achievement and a personable nature that ‘fits’ within their organizational culture. If invited to an interview, make sure you know your story and let it shine through. Be able to demonstrate your transferable achievements and commitment to the cause. Having done your research, ask smart questions and pitch your experience effectively to the role at hand. Practice prior to an interview will enable you to breathe that bit easier and hold your head high as you make your case for why you would be a great hire.

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