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Got Questions? Get Answers for Building a Career in Change

Craig Zelizer

August 1, 2017

As we have announced, today PCDN launched the Social Change Career Helping Line. This idea has been germinating for a long time. Over the many years PCDN has helped to provide the resources, tools, connections and opportunities for individuals seeking to advance careers of purpose, we've encountered countless students and professionals around the world who aren't sure where to go to find their next right step.

We've made very strong efforts to help in this area, through our Resource Guides, Career Series, Webinars, in-person workshops and more.  But we have consistently found that we need a space where people can ask questions in real-time (24 hours a day) and get actionable suggestions and wisdom from their peers.

While many people might have peers, university professors or career counselors, it can be beneficial to expand one's circle and some are not lucky to have professional and peer support around careers of purpose.

In our first day of the Social Change Career Helping Line, we've had many people join (we are looking forward to many more) and numerous questions raised (and some answers coming in).We've selected a few of the questions people have asked and put them into this post and provided some initial thoughts. We strongly encourage everyone who is reading this to join the Social Change Career Helping Line Facebook Group and add your own thoughts/questions, etc.

The Career Helpling Line live activity will take place in our Facebook Group. The PCDN team will regularly select key questions and answers and put them into blog posts on our site.

Here are some of the key questions from today (feel free to post your thoughts here in this blog) or better yet join our Social Change change Career Helping Line to be part of the live action. As indicated the career helping line is both crowd and expert sourced. Each month we will select a few of the most critical questions and ask select members of our career advisory board to share their unique insights. Please also keep the questions coming and let others know about the platform.

Here are some of my thoughts to the initial questions based on my many years of working on, researching and mentoring people in careers in change.


Question from our Social Change Career Helping Line
1) Do you need to know a second UN official language to be competitive or eligible for positions at the UN?
Some thoughts: In general having a second language is important for those seeking to pursue international opportunities with the UN. It may not be as important for those seeking to work in national positions.
2) What are good conferences related to peace and arts?
I am on the board of one of the main networks for peacebuilding, the Alliance for Peacebuilding
They have a wonderful annual conference, that often includes some arts-based approaches. A number of of the 100+ AFP member organizations also integrate arts based approaches (film, music, visual arts, etc.0 into their work) including Search for Common Ground which is a pioneer in this area. I also did my doctoral work on arts and peacebuilding. One article I did on this a long time ago is available here
Some other great resources for arts and peacebuilding include Masterpeace.org , PeaceOneday, Brandeis Center for Arts and Peacebuilding
Welcome other suggestions here.

3) How does one present short-term positions across multiple orgs in a positive way?

One key is to ensure that you not only describe what you did at a particular organization, but also try to show where possible the results of your work. Can you show for example that you work helped contribute to a positive change? Also focus on what skills you have across consultancies or short-term positions.

Another essential approach is to tell a coherent story about the change you're trying to affect through your work and how the experiences make you qualified for the next opportunity?
4) What terminology can cross-cut my previous experience to communicate my suitability for social change?
This is a general question thus a bit hard to answer. Some suggestions include:
Explore how to reframe your skills in the appropriate language for the sector you want to work in, even if you work didn't involve "social change."
Make sure to demonstrate a coherent narrative about your career path.
5) Are they low cost or free organizations that you recommend for career coaching?
Great question. We hope that you will find the Career Resources on PCDN to be very valuable. Idealist.org is another great resource that has many free guides and tools, as is Devex.com
If you are a university grad often your career center may have some good resources or workshops.
One of our PCDN partners is Net Impact, which runs a wonderful annual conference attracting over 2,500 attendees each year. This year I, along with two amazing colleagues from leading institutions will be conducting a three hour bootcamp on careers in change. More info will be available shortly  but for now see this link
Also make sure to read all the free materials in the PCDN career series including the blog and webinars (and join us for future ones).
You can also put general questions in the Social Change Career Helping Line. We will also start offering via PCDN some limited career mentoring via individual sessions and also we're always open to exploring workshops for groups as we have done many sessions for organizations, universities, professional groups around the world. Contact us for more details at info(at)pcdnetwork.org
6) What are good training courses in this area? Some are very pricey and how do you determine which is the right one?
Great questions. First, when you say in this area it isn't clear do you mean social change, peacebuilding or a particular area? Second, there are many programs and it is critical to not jump into a particular effort before doing a full investigation such as what is the org's mission, what is innovative about the curriculum, how did they decide on the design, what do they do to provide concrete skills and experience, is the organization contributing to field-building and part of a network of institutions engaged in collaboration, do they provide support for alum, do they attract diverse students, etc.
There are many, many questions.
Also one should ask oneself what training do I need? What is the best day to do this? Via an intensive in-person program, on-line, self-study, higher education or some combination.
Also make sure to talk to alum, read reviews, etc.
I am personally on the advisory board of some programs I highly respect including the Amani Institute, TechChange, International Peace & Security Institute
(note some of these are advertisers or organizational members on PCDN in fully transparency).
Other orgs that are amazing include the UPEACE Executive Education Centre,
Frontier Market Scouts (each of these programs also do advertise sometimes on PCDN).
There are also great options that may provide funding for skills building such as the Rotary Peace Fellowship, Atlas Corps
and see some key resources on fellowships including 14 Social Innovation Fellowships you need to know
7) What is the best way for young people to enter the field? What are good graduate schools and what are good opportunities to make me a strong candidate at a young age?
A few key suggestions:
  • Get as much practical experience as possible through internships, fellowships, get concrete skills in communication, fundraising, evaluation and related sectors.
  • Use social media (blogging, Twitter, etc.) as a way to build a track record of writing and find network
  • Join professional organizations (it is usually cheaper as a student) and attend conferences (sometimes you can get in as a volunteer)
  • Make sure if you're still in school to focus not only on academic skills but get applied projects.
  • Be humble but show you have skills and something to contribute to the world.
  • Plan but don't overplan
  • Grad school is a whole another topic and we will be covering that in September as the focus of our career series.
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