Navigating the $ word

Navigating the S word

In my previous post, The million dollar question, I discussed why it can be difficult to know what you can expect to earn in a social enterprise job and suggested some starting points for research on salaries.

But having a sense of what you might earn is one thing. Successfully navigating a salary negotiation or conversation in a nascent and growing sector like social enterprise, which does not yet have standard career paths and generally accepted salary ranges, is another. Once you are in the interview and offer negotiation process, how do you have a smart conversation about salary?

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Any advice you read on negotiation will emphasize the importance of preparation. You need to know what you’re hoping for, what you will settle for, and what you think the company you’re negotiating with is expecting to pay you (and would settle for).

Know your non-negotiables

In addition to doing your research, this means reflecting on your own needs and desires. Knowing what you need to earn to meet your personal responsibilities and finding jobs that satisfy this is key to building a career that works for you and your family. Create a budget that considers the complete implications of living in various locations (sometimes moving to a lower cost of living market means incurring new costs like travel and private schools). And, ultimately, be realistic that the higher the salary you are seeking, the longer a job search may take.

Ask Directly

At some point in the hiring process, it is definitely acceptable to ask a company you are interviewing with about the salary range of a position for which you are interviewing – but it is probably best to wait until at least a second interview when you have already impressed your potential future employer, and they want to keep you excited about the role. NOTE: It is important to do your research on the proper approach to salary inquiries and negotiation depending on the cultural context in which you are interviewing.

While companies rarely share the entire salary range, you should get a sense of what they are hoping to pay you. If the amount stated sounds too low, don’t walk away immediately. You also don’t have to react in the moment – you can take some time to think it over and come back in a day or two with a response.

Remember – If you take this approach, be prepared to have the question turned on you: you might be asked to share what you are hoping to earn (and you should name an amount that leaves yourself a bit of room to negotiate).


For many of us, salary negotiations are one of the most uncomfortable aspects of a job search. But they are key to securing a role at a salary that you and the company both feel good about. There are tons of resources out there on salary negotiations. Make sure to learn about cultural differences regarding negotiation in new contexts. The key is to prepare, even practicing saying the words you will use.

Investing in your career

Beyond these tactical approaches, some personal reflection on your personal ‘salary mindset’ can also help you prepare for you navigating the financial reality of careers in social enterprise.

As one of IBL’s wise instructors said, you “might have to make an investment to qualify.” In making a transition to a new field or a function, it is unlikely you will make the same salary you’ve made in the past. Often, it is necessary to prove yourself to be able to eventually land a more senior and better-paying role. If you believe a job is a significant professional opportunity and that it will lead to other roles with greater responsibility, fun, and earning potential, you might want to consider accepting a lower salary to start.

Also, remember why you are seeking a job in the sector: The entire objective of social enterprise is to make an impact while also being financially sustainable. But remember this is a start-up sector, and most companies are very early stage or just building sales. Furthermore, maximizing profit is not the business driver as it is in the commercial economy. Just like the company you will work for, it is likely you will need to invest in making an impact.

The million dollar question – salaries in social enterprise

salaries in social enterprise

One of the most common questions we are asked at Impact Business Leaders, is “what salary can I expect to earn in a social enterprise?”

Let me save us both some time and tell you the answer: we don’t know.

This can be a frustrating answer for people considering a career switch into social enterprise. But the fact is, salaries depend on factors that vary depending on a company, role and candidate.

And while it is hypothetically possible to state an average or a range of all of the salaries we have ever heard of someone earning, because of the many things that influence salaries, the number wouldn’t be helpful. That is why we think it is important that each person try to understand the salaries they might earn based on their personal preferences and goals. That way, you will be best prepared to ask the right questions and to negotiate the best offer.

Sectors pay differently

To perhaps state the obvious, in the social enterprise sector, maximizing profit is not the business driver it is in the commercial economy. This obviously affects salary levels – in our experience, you can generally expect they will be lower, but livable. Additionally, most companies are very early stage or just building sales. These are the biggest reasons for the disparities in salary within this emerging sector.

Salaries vary across companies

Within every sector, there are companies that pay more or less for a variety of reasons. Some companies spend less on offices to be able to prioritize spending on salaries. Others are located in markets with very small talent pools or high cost of living and choose to pay more. Business models may also affect compensation – for example, an impact investment firm may have a different salary and bonus structure than, for example, a consumer goods company.

Salaries differ between roles

Beyond the obvious factor of seniority, which usually affects relative pay with in a given company, there are many reasons different jobs command different salaries. For example, some roles offer bonuses based on revenue. Positions requiring employees with rare skill sets or specialized training typically have higher base salaries. Comparing across companies is also difficult as roles with the same title in different companies can have very different responsibilities.

Different people have different earning potential

Companies generally budget a range they are willing to pay for a given position and finalize compensation when negotiating an offer with a future employee. This practice allows for flexibility to adjust pay based on years of experience, to compensate for relocation, or to bring a riskier hire with a low starting salary and potential for quick increases. This adds another layer of complexity that makes it difficult to know what you can expect to earn.

All of these factors make it impossible to answer that initial question in a general way. Add to that the fact that the social enterprise sector is nascent, and the result is that there is very little reliable information available out there about compensation.

In the meantime what’s a potential social enterprise job seeker to do?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Leverage your network. Use informational interviews to ask about hypothetical salary ranges in a specific company, location, or role. While the information you collect may still be vague, by throwing out some numbers and asking if they sound reasonable, you might be able to get a sense of what you can expect.
  • Research what data is available. Depending on the type of role you are seeking, there may be salary data available online through salary surveys or websites like If you are considering a job with a social enterprise registered as a 501(c)3 non profit in the U.S., check out their 990 tax return on for the salaries of the highest paid employees and adjust from there.
  • Use parallel roles in other sectors or geographies to get a baseline and adjust. If you are looking at a role or an organization that has parallels with another sector, for example, investment portfolio managers, banking, etc., see what you can learn about those salary ranges and ask your network about how salaries compare in social enterprise. Use sites that compare cost of living in various geographies to get a sense of a livable wage in a specific location. You may not be able to expect a corporate salary, but you should expect at least a livable wage.

Consider it an investment

In my, my colleagues’ and our participants’ experiences, tradeoffs between responsibility, opportunity and salary are very common, especially when considering the first job in a new sector or market. If you think a lower paying job is going to give you great opportunities for professional development and impact, you may want to consider taking it with a long term view toward investing in your career. In our experience, this willingness to take a risk can have a huge impact on your long-term opportunities compared to someone who is just seeking to maximize income.

Remember, ultimately the decision is in your hands

Everyone has different financial priorities and commitments. While we encourage our participants to be open-minded about what they need to earn in the short and long term, we never recommend taking a salary you are uncomfortable with. We strongly believe in sustainable careers – and this means sustaining you financially, as well as aligning with your personal values and professional goals. IBL is here to help you identify your priorities and to navigate the challenging process of making these exciting decisions – but only you can know what is right for you.

How to Speed Up Your Job Search

How to speed up your job search

No one likes to hear it, but job searches almost always take longer than you expect. This is true in any sector, but especially in sectors as nascent and fragmented as social enterprise and impact investing. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to speed up the job search. These tactics work for the participants in our program, and we think they can work for you as well.

Reflect on your goals

It sounds obvious, but if you don’t know what you are looking for, you’re going to have a tough time finding it. We are not suggesting that you need to know the exact organization you want to work for and title you would like to have (in fact, this level of specificity can be limiting), but you should have a general idea or a few hypotheses to help you focus your search – otherwise you risk wasting time on applications for jobs you wouldn’t want or would never get.

In our experience, people who find roles that are meaningful and a good fit take the time to reflect on their personal and professional goals as well as their constraints. They also explore how their skills will best translate. You don’t have to do this alone. IBL provides one-on-one career counseling to guide you through this process, and there are tons of other resources out there to help you clarify what you’re looking for.

Have your network at the ready

While some are lucky enough to get a job by simply applying on a website, most of us have to leverage our networks to land a new job. Reconnecting with current and new contacts takes time –and generally happens on their schedule, not yours. In my experience, two to four weeks can pass between an initial email outreach and an actual meeting with a person in my network. If they offer to connect me to others, it can take a few more weeks for them to follow through. Suddenly, six weeks have passed.

So how do you make your network move faster? Consider whether you need a meeting or could you accomplish what you need by asking a few specific questions over email. If you think a conversation would be most helpful, often calls are easier to schedule than in person meetings. Finally, make it easy for your network to help you by, for example, drafting emails for them to forward, sharing links to the jobs you’re asking about, or attaching your CV to updated them on your most recent work.

Applying: Invest in quality over quantity

We all hate to do it, but tailoring your cover letter and CV to the specific job and company you are applying for is almost always essential. Researching the company and the role, reflecting on why it is a good match for you, and drafting and articulating a compelling application takes hours. However, the alternative of sending a generic cover letter and CV into the black hole of a recruiting system – especially if you are a looking to take on a role in a new sector or function – generally doesn’t work in IBL applicants’ experience.

There are a few strategies you can use to save time. Cut down unnecessary applications by being thoughtful and realistic. Invest time in quality applications for roles you are suited for. Get past the initial application gatekeeper by seeking referrals from your network. And create master CVs and collections of thematic paragraphs for cover letters that include all of your experience but can be edited for a specific application. Or, work with a program like IBL, which can help you identify appropriate jobs and refer you directly to hiring managers –sidestepping the initial application process.

Accept the job application time warp

It is safe to assume that the actual application process will feel (and take) longer than you expect. For the excited job applicant, the application review processes can seem to drag on. From the inside, hiring managers are generally overwhelmed with running a search on top of their day job. Getting back to you is not always their top priority. Things can also come up which put a job search on hold or change the process.

Here’s what you can do: Apply as soon as you hear about an opening. Reply to scheduling and information requests from potential employers as quickly as possible. After an interview or submitting an application, ask when you can expect to hear about next steps and (politely) follow up once that date has passed. If you know someone within a company, you can also ask them for the inside scoop on the search timeline.

While job searches are unpredictable in length – some of us have jobs land in our lap unexpectedly and others of us slave over applications for months or years before finding the right fit – by following these tips, you can take some control over the timeline.

Remember, there is no reason you have to wait until you are actively job seeking to reflect (even in a job you are happy with) about your professional skills, preferences, and goals. And, best practice is to maintain your networks even when you are not looking so that they are at the ready when you need them. Finally, consider seeking help, like dozens of others have, from programs like IBL that support you through the career reflection process, help you position yourself for the jobs you are seeking, and connect you to our wide, established networks.

How to Use Your Personal Story in an Interview

How to use your personal story in an interview

When I interview candidates for one of Impact Business Leaders’ programs, I begin with the question, “tell me your story and why you decided to apply to Impact Business Leaders.” Often times, candidates respond by reading their resumes to me. They tell me what they studied, where they worked and sometimes where they volunteered.

These candidates usually tack on the end, “I applied to Impact Business Leaders because…” and then tell me why they are interested in social enterprise careers.

A resume recital is not what I’m looking for with this question. I have the resume already. I’ve looked it over. It was informative, and now I want to hear the story behind how and why we’re in this interview.

Resumes and LinkedIn profiles are great tools for presenting skills and experiences but are less effective at conveying values and passions. In an organization with social objectives, values and passions are just as important as relevant skills and experiences.

My goal in asking for a candidate’s story is to understand, a.) What are the candidate’s values and passions, and b.) Can they express them effectively? IBL uses this information to decide if a candidate will be an attractive applicant to social enterprises and what kinds of organizations will be a good fit.

Values and passions are certainly not the only areas we explore in our interviews. They are, however, critical components of our decision-making process, along with skills, experiences and mindset. We also believe this is true of most social enterprises we work with.

So, what makes a good personal story? There are many methods that work, but here are a few tips you can use to win us over at IBL. We believe these tips will also help you in any social enterprise job interview.

Start at the beginning

University was not the beginning of your life. Starting your story with a couple sentences about your childhood adds context to the story and makes it more memorable. It can be as simple as where you grew up and one thing that influenced you.

Maybe you grew up in a farming village in India, and your father was an inspirational community leader. Maybe you grew up in a major city and were struck at an early age by the great disparity around you. For more on crafting this part of your story, read through this great Harvard Business Review article on how to tell your whole story.

Show progression toward your goal

The end of your story has already been defined at the beginning of the interview: You applied for IBL because you want to pursue a career that has a positive impact on the world. As you explain the major experiences of your life, make sure they are progressing toward that conclusion.

If you applied to IBL because you want to switch into a career addressing energy access, include in your story the earliest experiences you had with this issue and how you came to pursue it as a full-time career.

Emphasize what sparked you

As you progress through your story, be sure to emphasize the moment that pushed you to consider a career in social enterprise. This could be an experience on the job, a course in school or a period of deep self-reflection.

Then explain what action you took because of that spark. If a social enterprise course back in university sparked you to want to tackle extreme poverty with micro-enterprise, explain what you did with that realization. You may have volunteered or continued to study the issue on your own time, but even explaining that you considered how your existing skills could positively impact this issue is an important action.

Finish with next steps

If you’re able to show progression in your story and explain what specifically sparked your interest in social enterprise, the interview you’re currently in is just the next step toward your aspiration for a career in social enterprise. Be sure to explain how this job/opportunity will help you on the path to have the impact and career you envision.

Keep it between 3 and 6 minutes

When I ask for someone’s story, I know that I’m asking for a pretty long answer. I’m ready and willing to listen. I also have other questions to ask. I find myself checking the time when a candidate has answered my question in less than 2 minutes or is still talking after 8 minutes. This acceptable range for the length of answer is totally unique to the interviewer, but I think a safe goal is between 3 and 6 minutes. Remember, you can always ask if the interviewer if s/he would like you to add more detail.

A strong personal story will convey how and why your values and passions are a fit for social enterprise. Since humans remember stories much better than facts, your personal story will also make you more authentic and memorable.

Not every interviewer will ask you about your story, so I encourage you to consider how pieces of your story can be weaved into the answers of other questions. Knowing that it is important to convey your values and passions, even if an interviewer doesn’t specifically ask for them, will set you apart in the hiring process.

A strong personal story is just one important aspect of interviewing well. What is one of your favorite interviewing tips?

School is Not a Substitute for Experience

Desk - School is Not a Substitute for Experience

In my previous life as a recruiter for a social enterprise, I was always surprised when job applicants answered my question: “What experience do you have in x, y, or z?” with, “I took a class on it in graduate school.” I am still surprised today at how many people explain why they think they are qualified for a given role in social enterprise or impact investing because they have studied the field, function, or region. This is a myth that we at IBL are trying to dispel.

From a manager’s perspective, the goal of a job application process is to find someone who they are confident can do the job at hand, whatever his or her past experience. We all know people who are smooth talkers but underperformers, so good interview skills (while incredibly important!) are not enough. To be more certain in a hiring decision, managers look for specific examples from past performance that demonstrate the skills needed in the job they are hiring for. And at least for me, having passed a class is not sufficient proof that someone knows how to perform a task on the job.

Why am I so skeptical, you might wonder? First of all, think about theories you have learned that haven’t exactly worked as you thought they would in practice. Or the course you passed several years ago but don’t really remember. We’ve all been there, hiring managers included, and so we are not easily convinced that passing a course leads to success in the workplace. As a wise person once said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

So what can you do if your experience with a given topic is limited to coursework?

It is most important to show a prospective employer that you have used what you have learned: meaning that you applied the theories or used the tools, adapted them to reality, and reflected on the process. If you know when you are taking a course that you want to leverage the skill you are learning in a future job, take every opportunity to do applied projects, ideally working hands on with real companies and real problems. If you cannot or did not do this as a student, do it on your own now. Is there a local company where you can apply your coursework and learn from it? An internship you can take on? A case study you can create for yourself?

So instead of saying, “I took a class about x or a training on y,” answer with how you have used the material you learned and then mention the coursework you have completed. Reflect on how it went, what you learned, and what you would do differently in the future. Be honest about the limitations of your experience and proactively share how you are trying to overcome them.

In the future, be sure to seek out courses and workshops based on case studies, simulations, and real life examples – like IBL’s social enterprise orientation workshop. By having practitioners teach the workshop using interactive case studies based on their own experience, our goal is for participants to get as close to an applied orientation to the field as is possible in seven days. By learning from practitioners about the decisions social entrepreneurs and impact investors must make on a daily basis, the idea is that you will have a better sense of how your past experience will serve you in a new role in the social enterprise sector. Our goal is that you will be able to clearly convey that in an interview and use it on the job.

Can you think of other ways to apply what you learn in the classroom? – let us know.