Find Your Dream Job, Episode 295:
How to Get a Social Impact Job, with Erin Ewart
Airdate: May 12, 2021
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Many job seekers want to work for companies that make a positive impact in the world.
Our guest today says to find and get a social impact job you need to understand your motivation, know where you want to go, and explain why you want to do this work.
Here to talk about this is Erin Ewart.
She’s a career coach and the founder of Careers for Social Impact. It’s an organization that helps mission-driven professionals get jobs they love.
She joins us from Brooklyn, New York.
Erin, here’s where I want to start, just with a basic question, what is a social impact job?
Great question and I think that everyone, at some level, has to decide for themselves, you know, in determining what type of impact they want to make, but the way that we think about it is a job or work that has a bigger social mission. So, it’s not just about making a profit, it’s about having an impact on people, an impact on society, in a positive way, and so that can look a lot of different ways. I think a lot of people tend to think about the nonprofit sector, which, of course, is a big part of the social impact sector but there’s also other ways to make a social impact, whether in the business world, in government, or philanthropy.
We work with clients across all those different spaces and help them think about the type of impact that they want to make in their work.
I agree that I think many listeners would think of nonprofit organizations when they hear the phrase social impact job. Could you give a few examples of social impact jobs in the business world?
Sure, sure, so some of the big ones, I would say, are in the corporate, social responsibility space. So, a lot of organizations, larger corporate organizations, now have teams dedicated to corporate social responsibilities, so that would be anything from working on their supply chain to working on sustainability, to working on employee volunteerism initiatives. There’s a lot that can fall under that umbrella but that’s a big initiative within the corporate world that’s focusing on social impact right now.
Another one that’s really big and growing, especially after this past year, there’s a real focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion work, and so that can fall in different teams within organizations but that’s also a big area in the corporate world where organizations are learning to increase their social impact and really make a bigger focus in that area.
Is it hard to find a social impact job, Erin?
It can be. It can be hard to find a job that has a social impact title, I would say. So, those corporate social responsibility jobs are often the ones that folks will look at or think about first because they might have that in the title, right? “Social responsibility,” or, “Social impact.” However, there are lots of ways to make a social impact in lots of different roles and lots of different organizations. So, I think it can be hard to find a role that has that exact title just because there still aren’t that many of them out there and they can be very competitive because a lot of people are interested in doing this kind of work.
That being said, if you’re just interested in doing work that you feel is meaningful and that has a broader social impact, I don’t think that it has to be difficult, and you know, it really starts with thinking about the type of impact that you want to make and building from there.
I want to talk more about how to find these jobs, but I’m curious, are these largely professional positions?
Yes, yes, for the most part, although, again, I think you can have an impact in lots of different roles, but in terms of the roles that we work with or the clients that we work with, typically they are looking at professional positions across lots of different impact areas. There could be positions in marketing, positions in operations, program and project management; so all that kind of traditional business functions also exists in the social impact sector, as well as those roles that are targeted specifically on responsibility or impact.
Well, let’s talk about how to get a social impact job, Erin. Do you need a special background to do this or can you transition from another career, another field?
Yeah, that’s a great question, you can absolutely transition from another career. We see people doing that all of the time. Again, as I mentioned, all of those traditional functions are needed in the social impact space. So, if you’ve been working in the corporate sector, for example, doing marketing or communications, those skills are absolutely needed in social impact, as well. So, you can make that kind of transition in terms of taking the skills you’ve built in one area and bringing them into this work, for sure.
Then, lots of folks might make transitions within the world of social impact as well, so there are people who want to get into doing this work who maybe haven’t been doing it before, and then there are people that we see a lot who maybe have been working in a nonprofit and are interested in working in philanthropy or working in government, for example. Those transitions are absolutely possible but just like with any career transition, it’s really important to get clear on what it is that you want. What are you looking for, what types of roles you’re looking for, and then how are you qualified for those roles? How can you tell a really clear story about your skills, and in particular, in this field, about your mission, interest and alignment?
Why are you interested in the organization’s work and the mission that they have? That’s one area that I think is different from other types of job searching is that piece becomes much more important and being able to articulate why that’s important and what connection that you have with that work, even if that’s not in a full-time job that you’ve done before, really helps you in making those kinds of transitions.
How do you recommend a listener get started?
Sure, sure, yeah, well, we always recommend that folks start with some of the foundational elements of understanding why they want to do this work. And the pieces that we tend to work on most with people are clarifying their values, what’s important to them, because that’s going to really inform everything that you’re looking for when you start there. Getting clear on what your strengths are, those transferable skills, and what really energizes you. What could you bring to a social impact role? The skills and the strengths that you have. And then your priorities, what are the most important things to you in your next role and organization?
That one can be a bit tricky for folks who are entering this sector because you need to start narrowing things down a little bit. So, what type of organization or cause do you want to be working on? And that’s something that takes some reflection and thinking often to start to narrow down and get more clear on that often.
When you work with clients, Erin, how do you take them through that process of getting clear about those values, identifying their strengths, and setting those priorities? What practical steps do you take them through?
Sure, sure, so we have some exercises that we have them work through, in particular, with strengths, we refer people to an assessment called Clifton Strengths that we really like a lot, and we also have them ask other people what their strengths are and do some reflecting on times where they feel like they’ve had the biggest impact, and what skills they were using during those experiences. So, there are different ways, I think, to get at those core strengths. Those are some of the pieces that we really like to emphasize with people to help them get that insight into their strengths.
With values, there are some great exercises out there to give you a list of values and help you prioritize them. So, we have plans to do that and then we also have them think about the times where they feel like they’ve been…where their values have been challenged. When have they gotten upset about something? That’s often an indication of a value that they hold, so helping them think through that and clarify what’s most important on a values level, and then with the priorities, we have them start by really just brainstorming.
What would your ideal next job look like? What conditions would be in place? What type of people would you be working with? What type of work would you be doing? What would that ideal day look like for you and what kind of logistical components might you need in terms of salary, or remote work, or flexibility? All those different pieces. We want them to think about all of those things and then really identify their must-haves. Which are the top 5 or so things that they really, really want in their next job?
Forcing themselves to really prioritize and understand what their trade-offs might be as they think about those next steps.
For someone who might not have the opportunity to work with you and your colleagues, how would you recommend they apply this approach at home? What could they do practically?
Sure, sure, so I think a lot of this part of the process is really around reflection, so thinking about, what are the jobs that you’ve had in the past, and what have you enjoyed most about them and getting granular about it. Or if you’re working now, try to keep a log or journal for a couple of weeks and think about, at the end of each day, what was really energizing for you? What did you enjoy? And take note of those things and start to see those patterns. That would be one activity that we would definitely encourage folks to do. And then in terms of thinking about the type of work and the type of mission or organization, really thinking about where people are already spending their time.
Where do you donate? Where do you volunteer? What are you reading about? What issues or topics really ignite your passion or your energy? So, that’s another area to really track or pay attention to over the next few weeks or so, and start to notice because I think a lot of times, we’re doing things without paying attention to them and we feel like we don’t know things, and really we know a lot more than we think. So, we would encourage people to do some of that journaling and tracking for a couple of weeks to start to pay attention to what they’re already doing and what’s bringing them energy and interest, and so starting to formulate what they might want to do next.
Terrific, I want to take a quick break, Erin, and when we come back, I want to talk about the process that you just outlined and what you might do differently because you’re looking for work in a social impact field because the suggestions that you’ve made are excellent and I’ve heard them used in other fields as well.
Stay with us. When we come back, Erin Ewart will continue to share her advice on how to get a social impact job.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Erin Ewart.
She’s a career coach and the founder of Careers for Social Impact. It’s an organization that helps mission-driven professionals get jobs they love.
Erin joins us from Brooklyn, New York.
Now, Erin, before the break, we were talking about building a kind of foundation. Getting clear about your core values, identifying your strengths, setting your priorities, and I love the practical tips that you shared about how someone could do that on their own. And I’m just curious, I think it’s a good process; is there something that you need to do differently than you would when setting any career goals? Something that you’d need to do differently for a social impact job?
Yeah, thanks, Mac, I think there are a few things that I would say. One thing is, again, getting clear on your personal connection or interest in the work. I mean, again, for any job, hopefully, you’re doing some of that, but I think that for social impact or mission-driven work, it’s really important to have that personal drive and that personal connection to the mission. Because that is something that organizations are going to ask about. And that could be, again, you volunteered in a certain interest area before and you’re interested in doing that but you need to really be clear on that and be able to really articulate and talk about how you are involved with or want to be more involved with a particular mission or cause in that sector. So, that is a piece that I think is different than other types of work.
I think another piece that is just a little bit different is really thinking about the type of organization and sector that you want to be a part of. Because there are big differences between philanthropy and corporate social responsibility, as we talked about earlier, in the nonprofit sector, both in terms of the pace of work, things like salary and benefits, things like how decisions are made, those are very different.
Well, let’s talk about next steps. You’ve done this foundational work, you’ve gotten clear about those values, strengths, and priorities, what do you do next, Erin?
Sure, sure, so then you really want to start to take action, to think about your strategy for your job search, and map out where you want to go. And so, what are the target organizations, the target roles that you’re interested in, and how you’re going to connect the dots between your past experiences and what you want to do next. And that’s where those experiences come in, in terms of getting volunteer experience or learning, maybe about a new field or a new social impact interest area that you might have. You’re going to rely on both your past experience but also really learning the language of the sector or type of role that you want to go into because that translation is really important when you’re going into the social impact world in particular. Especially if you’re coming from another sector.
Along with that, of course, you’re going to be wanting to engage with your network. That’s important in any type of job search but I think in particular with social impact work because these jobs can be, sometimes, harder to find. They’re not necessarily out there on the job boards, they may not be as easy to find in a traditional type of search. So, really engaging with your network both to learn about the different types of roles that are out there and what you might be best suited for, as well as to start to get referrals and make sure that you’re known to organizations that you’re interested in.
Why are social impact jobs harder to find?
Yeah, yeah, great question. I think there are a couple of reasons, and again, it depends on the type of role that you’re looking for, but I think organizations tend to hire these roles a little bit more ad-hoc sometimes, especially in the private sector. It might be a new team or a new type of role for the organization. A lot of times, those roles can go to internal candidates because there are so many people interested in doing this work, and if people are already working in an organization, they might get first preference for those types of roles, in particular. So, again, it depends on the type of work that you’re looking for but I would say that a lot of this is driven through your network, through understanding the types of organizations and the types of hiring that they want to be doing, and making sure that you’re tuned into that. Because the hiring process in the government, for example, is quite different from the hiring process in the nonprofit or the private sector, so you want to understand how those jobs are posted, and where they’re posted, and maybe if they’re not being actively posted, what are are other ways that you may tap into different sources to find out about them?
Can you share examples, Erin, of clients you’ve worked with who’ve taken specific steps to become more competitive and overcome the odds?
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. A couple of examples I’ll share. We had a client who was interested in transitioning into the sustainability space, which is certainly a big area of growth right now and I know a lot of people are interested in it. She was coming in from a professional services firm and didn’t have that background, so she actually started a sustainability program within her organization and ran that on the side, and was then able to use that experience to transition into a more sustainability-focused organization. That’s an example of how you can be building your skills and experience, even if your day to day work isn’t focused on social impact.
There are ways that you can be building that and engaging in that work, whether within your organization or outside, so that makes you a more competitive and attractive candidate.
Another example would be a client who joined a board of an organization that was doing the type of work she was interested in and served on that board for a year or so, as she was also doing a lot of networking and building her connections in the areas that she was interested in, and that was another way to raise her profile, build experience, and ultimately helped her land a job in the area that she was interested in because she was able to use that experience and the connections that she made through that board work.
How about an example of someone who’s connected the dots, who’s done a particularly good job of telling their story, especially moving from, say, one field into the social impact field?
Yeah, yeah, certainly, certainly. I think…a couple of examples come to mind but I’ll just share one of someone who was in the corporate sector and moving into government, and she was able to really talk about her experience working in the policy space for her organization. She had never worked in government before but she was able to talk about those skills she had built in stakeholder management, the skills that she had built doing internal policy work for her organization, working in very complex environments, very similar to what the government is, and she was really able to tell that story about her comfort level and the skills that she’d be able to bring navigating really complex environments to the government space. And telling that story and being able to weave in her skills, even though they were in a completely different sector, helped her make that transition and ultimately be really successful in the new field.
What tips do you have for a listener who’s trying to figure out that strategy? They may know how to tell their story, perhaps they’ve got that volunteer or board experience that is helping them connect with others, but they’re not quite sure how to put it all together.
Sure, sure, yeah, I think getting feedback from other people is so, so helpful in this process, and it certainly doesn’t have to be from a coach or someone who’s working in this field directly, but even somebody who is already working in the social impact space or in the type of role that they’re interested in, tapping into those people and sharing with them where your story is and asking them for feedback, asking them for advice, and how it’s coming together and what you could communicate.
You could find those trusted folks in your network of friends and family and others who you can get that kind of feedback with that’s going to help you improve, and other folks who are in the job search process are really helpful for that as well. So, if you have people who you know who are also going through this process, you can trade feedback with each other and we see that all the time with our clients, that people might feel stuck for themselves or like they’re having a hard time pulling it all together for themselves, but they’re able to give other people really, really great advice, so I would just encourage people not to feel like they have to do this alone, but to lean on other people or groups.
There are a lot of groups out there, a lot of networking groups and things like that with a social impact focus, whether it’s sustainability or corporate social impact there are others. So, tapping into those groups and learning from them and meeting other people who share your interests that you can get that kind of feedback with, is also really helpful.
Well, let’s talk about what happens next; you’ve done this foundational work, looking at values and strengths and priorities, and you’re clear about where you want to go, and what you have to offer. What do you do next, Erin?
Sure, sure, so really that’s where the more active job search pieces come in that folks may be more familiar with. Making sure that you resume and your cover letter and your LinkedIn profile really reflect that story very clearly, making sure that you’re prepared for the interview process and able to articulate examples and specific results of the work that you’ve done, and also that interest in the mission and why you want to make a transition, if this is a new area for you, and then also really going back to those priorities that you set early on in the process to help you evaluate and make a decision on potential opportunities.
Those are the pieces that are the more traditional job search pieces that folks think about, but from a social impact lens, it’s really keeping in mind, what is that impact that you want to have and how are you going to be doing that in your work, whether it’s your full-time work or even outside of that day-to-day.
It’s been a terrific conversation, Erin. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?
Yeah, absolutely, so some of the things that I’m excited about this year are, we’re going to be continuing our focus on group programs . So, we do group coaching programs for folks who are interested in social impact work or making transitions within this area, and we’re going to be running several more of those this year. We love to build community, bring people together, help them support each other as they look at this type of work. So, I’m really excited about that, as well as our social impact series that we hold every quarter, which is another way for folks to come together and meet other people who are interested in this work.
Those are two things that we will be continuing all year and we would love to have people join us.
Listeners can learn more about your work by visiting careersforimpact.com.
Now, Erin, given all of the great advice that you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to get a social impact job?
Yeah, absolutely, I would just remind people that the world of social impact is broad, and so it’s ultimately thinking about what you’re interested in or the impact that you want to make and taking those steps to find work that is fulfilling for you. So, don’t feel like it has to have a certain title or a certain look to it, but really thinking about, what does making an impact look like for you and using that as the center as you embark on this process.
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Next week our guest will be Erica Mattison. She’s a certified career coach who specializes in helping mission-driven individuals craft fulfilling careers and lives.
You will likely change careers several times.
And Erica says how you present yourself is vital as you switch fields.
Join us next week when Erica Mattison and I talk about how to reinvent your personal brand for a career pivot.
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