The One Thing You Need for a Social Impact Career

Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating Making Positive Social Impact in Your Life and Career, a panel discussion at Portland State University, highlighting employment options for students interested in affecting positive social change.

The panel included representatives from an array of social impact catalysts: local government, the nonprofit sector, and benefit corporations / B corps.

Here at Mac’s List, we regularly get questions from our readers about what social change organizations are looking for in new employees. So I presented this question directly to the panelists. Here’s what they had to say:

John Wasiutynski, Director, Multnomah County Office of Sustainability

“I want to hire someone who has a passion for the work, who has developed hard skills relevant to the field, and is able to work well in a team environment. Passion to me, means that you believe in our mission and you see how you can help us make a difference. Hard skills are the things you have learned to do in school or by doing, such as graphic design, statistical analysis, etc. And teamwork means figuring out how you can apply your skills to the work and raise the overall performance of the group.”

Laura Kutner, Founder, Trash for Peace

“The skill sets that I believe to be most valuable for social change careers include, first and foremost, a passion for the work, the ability to work on a team and be flexible, a desire to constantly be challenged to learn and grow, experience working with multicultural youth and families, and bilingual skills.  In addition, a focus in fundraising, grant writing, web design, social media, and marketing skills.”

Simon Love, Managing Director, Hatch Innovation Lab

“Underlying passion is essential. Otherwise, jobseekers should be developing practical skills: clear speaking and writing skills, social media and marketing, and data management/analysis are some I would suggest. Independence and autonomy are always great, and critical thinking is crucial: be ready to call people out when they are wrong. Finally the right attitude. If you feel that data entry or cleaning tables are tasks that are ‘below’ you, then you won’t fit in in small organizations that need everyone pitching in.”

Franklin Jones, Owner and CEO, B-Line

“Today’s high growth social impact ventures seek dynamic change makers who are willing to strategically match their skills and passions to the companies need. These problem solvers need to be comfortable with autonomy and ambiguity and be willing to take ownership for their success and failures. They need to be able to both create structure and work in an environment where the structure that does exists is constantly changing and evolving. They need to be able to communicate in multiple disciplines (speaking, writing, drawing, singing, acting…) and to do so without hesitation or fear and with the passion that represents and reflects the organization. They need to pitch in, clean up, balance their life, and have fun. In short, they need to be superhuman but realize that in the end we are only human and can never do it all.”

Over and over, passion was mentioned as a prerequisite for anyone looking for a social change career. Enthusiasm for the cause is what gets your foot in the door at an organization, deepens your connection with prospective employers and colleagues, and sustains you in a very challenging work sector. Whether you want to join an established organization or start your own, you need to be truly passionate about the issue you are working on.

See also  4 Steps to Work-Life Balance

Above and beyond passion, you need to bring additional skills to the table if you want to have a meaningful and successful social impact career. This includes both soft skills (like the ability to work on a team and communicate effectively) and hard skills (data analysis, marketing, and graphic design). And, of course, the “ideal” skill set will vary across organizations and positions.

True social change is only possible through both passion and productivity. The best job candidates are the ones who can demonstrably contribute both aspects to their prospective employer.

Making Positive Social Impact in Your Life and Career, was coordinated by the PSU Student Community Engagement Center, the PSU School of Business Administration: Impact Entrepreneurs, and PSU Advising and Career Services, as part of Portland State University’s week-long Changemaker Series: Pathways to Social Impact event.