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.
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?
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.
Shifting your career path is rarely easy. It can feel like you’re trying to convince someone to pay you to do something you’ve never done before or to work in an environment in which you’re unproven.
Helping professionals to transition to a new sector is all in a day’s work at Impact Business Leaders. There are a few different ways we think about career change. You can change sectors, from private to social enterprise, for example. Or you can change functions, for example, from operations to HR or from finance to marketing. Or you might be interested in working in a completely new region or organizational context, for example, moving from the U.S. to an emerging market or switching from a multinational corporation to a start up.
In our conversations with professionals making this transition, we often hear about how their new role will be different from their past experiences. But in whatever career change you are contemplating, we often recommend that you start, perhaps surprisingly, with what will not be different – in other words, the fundamental skills you bring with you to any job.
Not focusing on the change you are trying to make might at first sound counterintuitive. However, it’s key to keep in mind that when approaching a major career change, you are trying to convince a company and hiring manager to take a risk on you. So you want to minimize the perception of risk by pointing to what you know you excel at and explicitly make the connection to how it translates to the role you are applying for.
Sometimes this will mean getting more specific, for example, explaining how your general financial management skills have prepared you to evaluate the ROI of a marketing campaign. Or, you might need to generalize your skills, for example, sharing how a very specific technology project management method can be more widely applied in a general management role.
You won’t make these connections if you start thinking about them in the middle of an interview. So before you even apply for a specific job, research how your strengths might apply in a new function, field, or context (by the way, this is a great use of informational interviews, a topic of a future post). Capture specific examples of how you have demonstrated your strengths in the past and test these examples on someone who works in the new setting you’re targeting to make sure they transfer. We’ve seen this approach help professionals successfully land new jobs in social impact.
Whichever direction you decide to go with your career, start with your strengths.
Have other tips for making a major career change? – let us know.
As one might expect, Amol, a product management expert in the apparel industry, started his journey in social enterprise by focusing on results. As he explains it, “I was working in a traditional industry focused on business deliverables and fulfilling social objectives was missing in the sector.” He decided to educate himself further on business and social KPIs by going for his MBA.
Amol learned of Impact Business Leaders while pursuing his MBA at Oxford. He was interested in trying out the social enterprise sector, but wasn’t sure if it would be right for him. Amol said that IBL’s combination of individual career advising, orientation workshop to the sector, and job referrals “seemed like a way to test the waters and look back in a year and see if this is the right thing for me. IBL is a platform which allows someone from a non-social background get their foot in the door, experience what the sector is like, pros and cons, challenges etc.”
Reflecting on the social enterprise orientation workshop, Amol remembers, “The training was awesome. I had already covered much of the content in the MBA, but the way in which the content was presented was really novel. I was very impressed with the practical content and interactive style. The instructors had spent so much time in the space and shared their own experience with us.”
Via IBL’s networks, Amol found a role with Cotton Connect as a Commercial Development Manager. Cotton Connect is a social enterprise that works with cotton farmers and apparel retailers to ensure a sustainable supply chain. Amol is working as part of the commercial development team to identify new revenue and to build the organization’s financial sustainability.
Amol’s role combines his past experience – professional and academic. “I am drawing on skills from my previous experience in the apparel sector. I understand supply chain, manufacturing, how apparel is made. It also draws on the MBA.”
For someone who was merely testing the waters, Amol is finding his place, “I had the idea a job like this existed in corporate world, but I didn’t know if I would be able to find a place for myself in the social sector.” But Amol is not blind to the challenges of working in social enterprise – he’s up front about the fact that the salaries in the sector are not in line with the private sector. However, his perspective gives you a sense that he’s committed to the sector: “I think this is in our hands as employees in social enterprise – it is up to us make the sector able to stand on its own.”
Asked if he’s happy he made the choice to participate in IBL and to accept his role at Cotton Connect, Amol answers, “I am intrigued by what I am doing, and see potential in my role and in the sector as a whole. Working with an enterprise that is trying to be more self-sustaining really motivates me.”
He continued, “One thing that I have learned is that if somebody doesn’t have that motivation to create an impact, then this isn’t for them. There has to be a thing within them: a desire to create a change and impact and to give back to society. If that is there, I will always suggest they pursue the sector.”
Apply for our upcoming 2015 Oxford Program – [email protected] for Global Enterprise
Apply for our upcoming 2015 India Program – [email protected] in South Asia
Amol is a Commercial Development Manager at Cotton Connect, which delivers business benefits to retailers and brands by creating a more sustainable cotton supply. Amol graduated from India’s ‘National Institute of Fashion Technology’ in Bangalore and spent 5 years in product development and management, merchandizing, costing, pricing, vendor management, quality approval and brand management in the apparel industry in India before pursuing his MBA at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School in 2014.
July 7, 2015 by Admin in
As an Associate at Price Waterhouse in Delhi, Anchal wished she had more time to volunteer. When she looked for her next job, she made it a priority to find one with a schedule that would allow her to volunteer – and signed up to do so not with only one, but two NGOs. She was inspired by the impact she was able to make and loved the satisfaction she gained from giving back, “It made me realize what an impact I was having. I was happy to be having an impact on one person’s life in one way, and I realized there is so much more that I could do and that can be done overall.”
Anchal decided to transition her career to the social impact sector. Realizing that management skills are universal, she started by getting her MBA: “I knew I wanted to work in the sector, but there was so much I needed to learn about how to run an organization and about the sector in general. I spent my MBA at Saïd Business School at University of Oxford learning everything I could about the social impact sector and from everyone who had something to share. As a complete newbie, I went in with the attitude that I wanted to learn whatever I could, to understand what interested me most and where I could apply my skills best. I took all the related electives and signed up for social impact events, projects and interned with an organization working in the sector.”
It was during her MBA that Anchal learned about Impact Business Leaders. “It was in line with what I was looking for, and I realized that it would give me an opportunity to step into this new world with some guidance and credibility.”
Through the IBL training program and the interviews that followed, Anchal refined what she was looking for, “I realized I wanted my first job in the social impact sector to be one through which I could learn about the work of these organizations on the ground and the nuances of the sector, so I approached Dasra and leveraged the IBL brand, which I believe gave me credibility.” She continued, “As I was interviewing with Dasra, I consulted with the IBL team. David, IBL’s Director, had worked with Dasra and knew the founders. His knowledge of the organization gave me confidence that I would enjoy working with the team.”
Anchal landed a role as a Portfolio Associate on Dasra’s Portfolio team. Her team provides hands-on capacity building to organizations funded by Dasra’s giving circles as well as grant management of organizations funded by foundations/ corporates. “I got the exact kind of role I wanted, working with an intermediary that serves several NGOs, where I am gaining an understanding of the sector.” Anchal works with these NGOs, providing consultancy to them on topics including recruitment, fundraising, and strategy and monitoring and evaluation
From her first day, Anchal has been using what she learned in the IBL workshop, “Fundraising is an issue that most NGOs or social enterprises face. Pitching, building decks, and knowing how to talk to funders, these are skills I learned in the IBL workshop and directly applied in my job in the first week.” She reflected that the workshop complemented her more theoretical learning from the MBA, “I gained so much practical knowledge from the people who came in from the sector to teach us. It was amazing to actually get to hear from practitioners about their experience.”
Anchal’s advice to future IBL participants? “I would reach out to the IBL team for mentorship and advice as soon as you are accepted into the program. Let David know what you really want to do. If I could go back to last year, I would also do more research of my own earlier. There are only so many jobs in the world, and when you know what you really want, you have to do your homework to find it, because only you know what you are exactly looking for. At the same time, talk to as many people as you can because the sector is evolving and there are so many opportunities you many not be aware of.”
Apply for our upcoming 2015 Oxford Program – [email protected] for Global Enterprise
Apply for our upcoming 2015 India Program – [email protected] in South Asia
Anchal is currently a Portfolio Associate in Mumbai at Dasra, India’s leading strategic philanthropy foundation working with philanthropists and social entrepreneurs to create large-scale social change. She graduated in 2014 with an MBA from University of Oxford’s Said Business School. Prior to Oxford, she spent more than 4 years at Price Waterhouse in New Delhi. Anchal is a chartered accountant from the Insititute of Chartered Accountants of India and has a bachelors (honours )degree in Commerce from Jesus and Mary College at Delhi University.
Over the last year and a few months, I’ve had the great privilege of working with a social enterprise that helps professionals develop their careers in the social enterprise space. Impact Business Leaders (IBL) runs training programs and job placement services for professionals with 4+ years of experience who want to use their business or technical skills to make a tangible difference in the world.
During this time, I have watched around 70 professionals interact with hiring managers at social enterprises from Mumbai to San Francisco to Nairobi to London. This exposure has repeatedly taught a few key lessons about managing expectations in this exciting sector.
1) It’s a start-up world – adjust your expectations accordingly.
Perhaps the most important piece of information to know about social enterprise is that the sector is still nascent, and most social enterprises are less than 10 years old. This means that transitioning into the social enterprise space often also means transitioning into a start-up.
Because of the start-up nature of the sector, there are three more things you should expect if you are getting into this sector. In my experience, the following are the top expectation mismatches that can derail potential job opportunities (or cause problems once you have already accepted a job).
2) Be ready for the “all hands on deck” mentality.
With small staffs and limited budgets, most social enterprises expect a lot from their employees. Though the work is often exciting, hours can be long and demanding. There is no getting around a sudden problem that needs your attention, so be ready for sacrifices of time.
You are also likely to end up doing tasks you did not expect. Every job has work that may not be the most interesting but that is crucial for success – data entry, cold calls, supply errands, etc. You should expect to take on some of these tasks even if they were not spelled out in your job description. Doing the essential work with a good attitude will be noticed as a sign of commitment and lead to more exciting opportunities down the road.
3) Be prepared to learn and grow with new tasks and experiences.
In a start-up, projects arise urgently and need someone to take them on immediately. This may give you the chance to take on exciting work that you do not necessarily feel prepared for. These tasks can be nerve-wracking but are ultimately the areas where you will grow the most.
Last year I had the chance to take on the management of IBL’s Salesforce roll-out. I knew absolutely nothing about Salesforce before taking on the project, but now we use Salesforce to manage most of our key business processes and I am our Salesforce administrator. (Much credit is also due to an external consultant who helped guide us in the initial set-up.)
Through this process I learned a great deal about project management and implementation, also becoming proficient in a tool used by thousands of organizations and realizing along the way that I really enjoyed building technology solutions for business. In most organizations I would never have had the chance to manage this type of project at this point in my career, but I have grown immensely as a result. Be ready to take advantage of these situations that arise, unique to the start-up setting.
4) Compensation starts on the low end but improves with time.
Compensation at social enterprises tends to be initially lower than in more established companies. This is often the biggest adjustment for job seekers in the social enterprise sector. Most people (myself included) who end up in this sector have a story about how they worked for at least a few months for next to nothing in order to break into the sector. Many of those people are now hiring managers, and they expect no less dedication than they themselves proved in the early days.
As you gain experience, salaries do get better and are livable, but you should not expect to get rich in social enterprise. Remember that you are getting into this space because you care about it. If your main goal is money, this is probably not the space for you.
Working for a start-up social enterprise can be very exciting and rewarding, but it helps to know what you are getting into. Coming to the sector with adequate expectations will help you and your potential employers have a better experience.
June 24, 2014 by Admin in
Building Careers for Future Leaders of Social Enterprise and Impact Investing
24 June 2014
Summary: Impact Business Leaders (IBL), a company dedicated to building the social enterprise sector, announced the launch of their [email protected] program in Salt Lake City, hosted by the James Lee Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center (SGII), with further support by The Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund and Hitachi Foundation. The program aims to provide skills, mentorship and job opportunities to professionals looking to kick-start their career in social enterprise.
Around the world, social enterprises—for-profit businesses that produce a good or service to solve a social problem —are proliferating as more entrepreneurs connect their desire to create lasting social or environmental impact with their urge to innovate and build world-class businesses. But these social enterprises often struggle to find the right talent to scale, and it can be a surprisingly hard sector to break into. It is estimated roughly 40 percent of U.S. social enterprises have fewer than five employees.[i] Yet many young professionals are eager to use their business skills to make a tangible difference in the world.
“We have found that globally it is difficult for young professionals to break into social enterprise careers and equally difficult for social enterprises to find the right experienced talent needed to grow,” said IBL’s Executive Director, David Kyle, who has built start-ups on several continents and worked with Citibank, Acumen Fund, and Calvert Foundation. Impact Business Leaders is filling the market gap by training business professionals, thoroughly vetting both fellows and job opportunities, and matching candidates into social enterprises. By 2015, they aim to have placed 250 professionals into social enterprises globally.
“Our experience shows that our process is very effective at connecting people with jobs in a way that both sides can be excited about, and we expect the vast majority of fellows to secure placements with our partners,” said Kyle.
The [email protected] program begins in September 2014 and will offer up to 30 fellows an intensive two-week course exploring social enterprise and impact investing at the University of Utah’s James Lee Sorenson Global Impact Investing Center (SGII). Unlike other training courses, the IBL program will be taught by leading practitioners such as Ross Baird of Village Capital, Lewis Hower of SGII, Andy Lower of ADAP Capital, and others.
IBL fellows will learn the hands-on reality of building and sustaining innovative businesses and working with investors. They will also gain an enhanced skill-set that will help them add immediate value to social enterprises. SGII’s Executive Director, Lewis Hower, noted: “IBL fellows leave the training with practical knowledge they can leverage from day one in their job placement. We have a great network of investors and entrepreneurs to provide top-notch workshops, so fellows should come ready to engage and learn.”
IBL fellows are also provided with valuable support in getting their first job in a social enterprise. IBL’s wide network of social enterprises and impact investors enables IBL to find and place fellows so that they can gain practical experience for up to a year. IBL’s partners are also excited about the program as it provides a source of strong talent to grow their businesses. Previous fellows have been placed with IBL partners around the world: Village Capital, SOCAP, Waste Capital Partners, Unreasonable East Africa, and others.
Corey, an IBL Fellow with a consulting and international development background, discussed her placement with a company in Kenya: “IBL facilitated a placement for me at One Degree Solar as a Project Manager. I still have to pinch myself each day that I am working for such an incredible social enterprise. I would not have been able to get to where I am today without IBL and I highly recommend IBL to any early to mid-career professionals.”
IBL is looking for professionals with 3-5+ years of experience, an undergraduate degree, and a genuine interest to pursue a career solving major global challenges. Mr. Kyle encouraged potential applicants to learn more and apply at www.impactbusinessleaders.com.