Although this was post was originally written in 2016, it has been updated in 2020. The key lessons are still very valid for anyone seeking to advance a career in the social impact space.
In 2016, I attended a great session on Hired: What Impact Employers Want at the annual Net Impact Conference (a leading gathering & network of professionals and students working to integrate business with social impact). The session featured four leading professionals (some have changed roles or organizations since the event) working in the social sector space including:
- Abe Taleb, CEO of Rework which was acquired by Koya Leadership Partners. He now serves as a Managing Director with the organization.
- Peter Grunert, Consultant with the Bridgespan Group (he is now a Manager at organization)
- Jillian Joseph, Recruitment Manager, People Operations, One Acre Fund (now owner of Kizuri, a fair-trade store)
- Cassie Scarano, CEO and Co-founder, Commongood Careers which was acquired by Koya Leadership Partners. She is currently a Managing Director with the organization.
The session was moderated by Victoria Crispo, from Idealist.org.
The panelists covered a key number of topics including the following:
- Trends regarding hiring in the social sector
- Tips to help one’s application stand out
One of the key points of discussion focused on the growth areas regarding recruiting for talent in the social sector. The panelists identified three key areas including fundraising, organizational development (basically internal operations) and monitoring and evaluation. Many employers want to see candidates with a wide variety of competencies and skills including including emotional intelligence, cultural competency, project management as well, a passion for the sector and ability to adapt.
Fundraising according to Cassie has switched from “begging for money” to support operations to a more diverse range of revenue generation schemes including impact investing, social enterprise, earned income and more. Based on my extensive work in this sector regarding the career trends, I would like to highlight a few growth areas for 2020 including using technology for social impact (for both internal operations and embedding tech into external programs), advocacy skills to help foster change at the policy level and foster collaborative cross-sectoral coalitions, using human centered design to build more effective programs based on the beneficiaries and understanding of how to leverage the power of big data to inform and evaluate programs. One additional which is even more critical in 2020, is being skilled at using, producing and leveraging the power of diverse media platforms.
A central recommendation the panel had is that job seekers need to do their homework when applying and interview for positions. It is the responsibility of the job seeker to ensure the case is made for why his/her skills and career path match the needs of the organization. Even in informational interviews, one should ensure that more focused and strategic questions are developed and not to ask too many easily answered general questions.
Having been involved in the social sector for nearly three decades and having hired, taught and mentored many younger professionals this need to prepare is essential. In interacting with candidates, whether they are applying for a job, internship, fellowship or grad program, I find it a pleasure to chat with someone who has done his/her homework. At the opposite end I’ve had many encounters at job fairs, interviews and other settings where the candidate hasn’t done an ounce of homework and this does not bode well for his/her chances of securing a positive outcome.
One of the most interesting parts of the discussion focused on the difference in the hiring experience between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. According to Peter from the Bridgespan Group, research shows that only about 25% of nonprofits in the US have a dedicated yearly recruiting budget, while the overwhelming majority of for-profits have dedicated staff focused on finding talent. In practice this can mean that hiring in the nonprofit sector can take longer and be a more informal process. Of course many nonprofits of a larger size (I would estimate at least 30-50 staff) and budget will have a person or team responsible for recruitment.
A great piece of practical advice if one is called for an interview (particularly a second or third one) regarding who should raise the question of salary first? Most of the panelists suggested, particularly with more senior level openings, that if the potential employer doesn’t address salary, it can be appropriate for the candidate to bring ask for a range to ensure to ensure there a potential match of expectations. I know from my personal experience this can be a valid approach to avoid getting too deep into a job interview process if a potential salary will not match one’s needs. For example,I once had a great phone interview for a position in New York City (I was living in the Washington, DC area). The organization then asked me to come for an in person interview the following week. The salary range hadn’t been raised at this point in the process but I did decide to inquire before proceeding further. It turned out the range was far below my expectations (and there wasn’t much room for negotiation), thus I gracefully exited the process. This helped avoid a waste of time and potential frustration on both sides.
The session was very informative and provided actionable guidance for job seekers and recruiters.However, there were a few key questions I have been exploring that I wish had been addressed (in 2020 I am still seeking more data on these questions) regarding recruiting in the sector including?
1) Is there a revolution coming to the recruitment process, particularly regarding skills vs. pedigree? To date much of the recruiting process in the social sector relies rely on recruiting talent from more elite universities to fill top positions. A few social sector organizations have begun to put less emphasis on credentials and more on competency. But the social sector is far behind an increasing number of tech companies who have publicly declared skills trumps credentials for many openings. university a candidate has attended and more on their skills competency. This also relates to how the sector can better ensure diversity and representation at all levels.
2) What change(s) do they want to see in the recruiting process in the next decade? The session missed a discussion of how recruiting will change or what the panelists hope to see in the future. For example, how will the social sector be impacted by the uberification of employment? Many futurists are predicting that high levels of stable employment will decrease in the coming decade or two.
3) Is higher education providing the training needed for social sector jobs? One of my central research areas the past 20 years has been on how effective (or not) are higher education institutions in providing the skills, knowledge and abilities for 21st change making careers. I’ve found through ongoing research (I’ve written several publications on the topic happy to share with any readers) and conversations with many people that there is a very strong gap for many programs. This is especially concerning for given the increasingly high costs of undergraduate and graduate education in the US.