After interviewing more than 100 impact professionals, the best advice they have share these themes.
Insights from our interviews could changes how you think about your impact career.
Opportunities for having a social impact career are on the rise, but as the number of jobs increase and the sector grows, so does the level of competition. The difference between those who succeed and those who don’t lies in their actions.
We’ve interviewed more than 100 successful social impact professionals and this article shares many of the best tips, tricks and strategies for excelling in an impact career. From successful senior executives giving tips about networking to social entrepreneurs revealing their ‘don’t ask, don’t get philosophy’- we’ve distilled the advice down to five themes.
Start with yourself.
It’s important to figure out what is meaningful to you, build essential business skills and stay on top of trends in your area of focus.
“My advice would be to really think about what is meaningful to you personally and how your skills, talents and interests might be utilized best. Developing our annual business plan is very meaningful to me but I can tell you that many of my colleagues would rather do anything else. There are so many more options available from both the traditional work environments like the public sector and increasingly more in the private sector through corporate social responsibility or social enterprise. There is no ‘one right answer’ to what is meaningful work.” – Andrea Cohen Barrack, currently VP Community Relations and Corporate Citizenship at TD
“I would encourage everyone to gain real skills that can be used across a variety of jobs/sectors. That way, when you finally land that dream job, you will succeed.”- Aria Finger, CEO of DoSomething.org
“Follow your passion, be an expert at something and be ready and willing to expand your horizons into other areas of the company. If you want to have a long career in a particular field, show that you can do a variety of different things at a high level, get it done and deliver. People don’t get to a senior management position or CEO, without being fantastic at something in particular then expanding their competencies from there.”- Landon French, President Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities
“What is your end goal? How can you gain the necessary skills, tools, education and networks you need to achieve that goal? What is your expertise? If you don’t have one, what can you make yourself an expert in to stay relevant and to be a leader that people seek out to learn from? – Sarah Saso, Managing Director Social Innovation
Find a company that aligns with your values.
Many of the most successful social impact professionals recognize it’s not just the job, it’s the organization you work at.
“Find a company that shares your values and get your foot in the door. If you cannot get a direct role in CSR, then find a role where you can contribute or even blaze a trail.” – Walter Kraus, VP Environment and Corporate Sustainability, Weston Foods.
“Know your values and find a company that lets you live them and bring your whole self to work everyday”- Jennifer Jones, President of The Toronto Public Library Foundation
“First you need to identify what skill set you have, where your passions lie and what values are important to you. As you begin your job search, don’t fall into the trap of basing your search on a title or a specific role. Look for a company or organization that lives those values that are important to you. See what their vision is and be open minded to opportunities. For example, you could work for a company that is innovative and contributing to a major shift in its category- like a new environmentally friendly product- rather than being focused on a job title only.” – Klaudia Watts, Corporate Responsibility Manager, PWC
Networks are important for a number of reasons.
From getting a job to moral support, having a strong network of peers and of different levels of experience is critical.
“It can be a lonely job, so finding a good network of like-minded people is essential. – Frances Edmonds, Currently Head of Sustainability at HP Canada
“Networking is invaluable. Coffee chats – Reach out to the people in the industry and as to take them for coffee for an informational interview. Don’t position the coffee chat as you are job searching but rather information gathering and getting advice. Attend networking events – an example is green drinks which is an environmental field meet up in an informal setting.” Jeremiah Brenner, Manager of Corporate Responsibility, Loyalty One
“Hire an amazing coach to have a safe sounding board for all the questions you can’t ask the Board or your team. Build a strong peer network for the same reasons and to share best practices…Establish a strong network across all sectors of peers and people more experienced. Find a mentor that will invest in you. ” – Jennifer Jones, President of Toronto Public Library Foundation
Take Action Before Someone Tells You To
One of the best qualities an employee or social entrepreneur can have is taking initiative. Often in life, and in our careers, people wait for opportunities to come their way but what sets successful social impact professionals apart is the tendency to be proactive.
“Don’t wait for someone else! Take on the challenge and build up your cause by finding common values to influence those around you. When in doubt, find a mentor either within or outside of your organization, to help navigate the path to impacting change. Chances are, if you are inspired, you will inspire others around you!”- Jessica Kirshenblat-Gooderham, Sustainability Intrapraneur at General Mills
“Don’t ask, don’t get. If you wait for someone to give you the invitation or permission to make bold change, it’s likely not going to come. Practice empathy when sharing your vision for meaning and change, consider what the employer needs, and what you need, and find a way to share your ideas in a way that honours both. But don’t wait for the permission to do so. – Zahra Ebrahim Co Leader at Doblin
“Go after what you want and don’t settle. There’s so much important work out there. There’s so many things you HAVE to do in life, pay rent, mortgage, etc., and so many things you can’t change- but you do get to choose your job, so go after what you want and believe that you can find it. – Fatima Crerar, currently Sr. Manager, Social Impact at Ecobee
Recognize when to be patient.
Patience is truly a virtue when it comes to social impact as change takes time and careers are built over time.
“Don’t be afraid to take on, or try, new things even if you can’t see the benefit right away. You really have to be patient because change takes a long time to embed, and the payback is not always visible at the start. – Frances Edmonds, Currently Head of Sustainability at HP Canada
“Be patient. You never know where your career will develop. Get involved in your community and network in the sector that fascinates you most. Remain passionate for change which means you will always have meaningful work, whatever you do”.- Lisa Gibbs, Director Community Investment at Shopper’s Drug Mart
“My top pieces of advice would be to demonstrate your commitment by volunteering with a charity or non-profit, or by offering to get involved with a cause supported by your organization, to be on the lookout for gaps or problems in your organization and come up with creative ideas to solve them, to cultivate and maintain relationships along the way with people of “like mind”, and to be patient and tenacious – most careers are built “brick by brick”. – Shari Austin, Former VP Corporate Citizenship RBC
Keep in Mind
Some other words of wisdom we couldn’t help but share from recognizing that there’s not always a clear answer, the truth behind ‘dream jobs’, and what to keep in mind when you’re applying for a job.
“That it’s hard and there are no clear answers. That starting something of your own is a long haul. That ‘meaning’ can come from many places and that having a career with a ‘good’ company does not guarantee that you feel meaningful every day.”- Assaf Weisz, co-founder at Purpose Capital
“I love my job, but I think sometimes that “dream jobs” are perceived as being fun all the time. For the most part, it’s fun, but it’s also hard work. What makes this job meaningful is, in part, always keeping the big picture in mind and knowing that you’re helping high school students across the country.” – Jason Shim, currently Associate Director, Digital Strategy Pathways To Education
“I see a lot resumes that focus on the individual and not the cause. My least favourite cover letter to read is the one that just tells me why the applicant wants the job more than anyone else. Instead, they should be looking at the organization and explaining how they can help. People in this sector need to present themselves in a way that honestly articulates what’s in it for the organization.”- Mike Bartlett. Senior Director, Corporate Responsibility, MLSE & Executive Director, MLSE Foundation
Did anything surprise you? What’s one insight, that after reading this article, you will try to apply to your career? Let us know in the comments below.
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