Career Paths

Getting Started: Creating a Social Value Career Path

Know where you want to go: Knowing where you want to go is half the battle. We’ve summarized six broad categories that encompass a variety of social value careers:

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  1. Corporate Social Responsibility: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) professionals work to blend social and environmental considerations into all aspects of business. Individuals working in this career category usually work for large companies in the Community Relations department. On a day-to-day basis, they may be tracking how their company is doing on their social and environmental goals, working with the community to develop new partnerships that create value, or designing volunteer programs for firm employees.

  2. Impact Investing: Impact investors seek to use traditional investment strategies to generate positive social and environmental return alongside financial return. These individuals usually work for investment firms focused on social value, or within traditional investment firms focused on socially responsible funds. On a day-to-day basis, they may be monitoring fund performance, assessing new investment opportunities, or meeting with investors to go over possible risks and returns.

  3. Social Entrepreneurship: Social entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs with a social twist. Social entrepreneurs use business and innovation to solve pressing social and environmental problems. On a day-to-day basis, they may be strategizing with their team on how to scale for impact, or putting pen to paper in search of funding - or their next great idea.

  4. Consulting and Capacity Building: Individuals working as consultants or capacity builders provide strategic and operational services to others working in the social value space. These individuals are your impact consultants working at FSG or Arabella and your accelerator operators working at places like Impact Hub. On a day-to-day basis, they may be helping a social entrepreneur think through a big problem, opening their space to encourage new connections and networking, or providing direct services like building specialized marketing campaigns or drafting grant applications.

  5. Sustainability: Sustainability professionals often operate at the intersection of business and the environment, helping to make traditional business services more sustainable and often, more affordable. They also play a role in translating the science of sustainability into actionable policies and strategies. On a day-to-day basis, a sustainability professional may check in with suppliers to ensure compliance with sustainability standards,coordinate corporate goals internally across departments, or develop operational strategies to reduce the company’s environmental footprint.

  6. Philanthropy and Nonprofits: Individuals working in philanthropy and nonprofit management are mission driven leaders that put the impact of their work before anything else. Professionals in this space usually have a cause they care most about like international development or homelessness, and work everyday to make things a little bit better. On a day-to-day basis, they may be developing new performance measures, meeting with donors, developing a fundraising strategy or working directly with program partners and the constituents they serve.

Narrow your focus: Once you have identified one or two social value career categories of interest, it’s time to hone in. Visit LinkedIn to explore the profiles of industry professionals working in those areas. Identify both stepping stone and aspirational job roles, and take note of the self-described job functions and responsibilities. Practice articulating the career journey you imagine, aligned with your goals and interests. In the words of Shannon Houde, an ICF-certified career coach and founder of Walk of Life Consulting, “narrowing down the types of roles is vital for telling a consistent ‘story’ in your CV, LinkedIn profile and networking. If you are looking for too many types of things no one will know how to help you.”

Build your knowledge base: Building your knowledge base and staying current on social value creation trends will help get you familiarized with key players and innovators across the sector, learn the vernacular of the social impact space, and better understand the social value landscape and trajectory. Here are just a smattering of resources we recommend:

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Gain experience: The classroom is essential, but hands-on experience sets you apart and adds value to your resume. The Center offers a number of experiential learning opportunities for students to explore interests, including the Change the World Consulting Program, Impact Ambassador Program, Social Innovation Fellows, Social Enterprise Symposium, and more. Be sure to review the Smith club offerings and consider volunteer opportunities when and where it most makes sense.

Grow your network: One of the most important things to do is to grow your network by attempting to develop meaningful and authentic connections with individuals in the space. You can join professional societies, network at conferences and events, leverage existing relationship with faculty and staff, or offer your help to organizations and professionals that you admire. Requesting (brief) informational interviews is another great way to build inroads and rapport.

The  the D.C. Net Impact Professional Chapter, Young Nonprofit Professionals Professionals Network, CSVC’s Social Enterprise Symposium, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizen Conference are all good examples of local resources to get you going. A quick google search with category-specific keywords will reveal even more.

Hustle (use LinkedIn, job boards and yes… Twitter): Landing a job in the social impact sector requires hustle. Take advantage of the advice offered above, and fully leverage online resources like LinkedIn, job boards, and even Twitter. For those willing to do their homework, a world of opportunity exists. Job boards like Net Impact, Idealist and JustMeans enable job seekers to connect with others and browse posted opportunities. In today’s world though, that may not be enough.

Using LinkedIn for your job search enables you to brand your best attributes and market your skills to companies and industry professionals in a network more than 150 million strong. Check out “How to use LinkedIn to find your dream job” for a rundown of helpful points. Twitter is another underutilized, but extremely useful job search resource. It’s big advantage is timeliness; a company can tweet a new position faster than they can get it distributed through a job board network. The key is knowing how to find the opportunities. Perhaps not surprisingly, hashtags are your greatest asset. By searching for  #ImpactJob #SocEnt #SustyJobs and others, you can not only find fresh opportunities, you may discover new organizations and individuals to grow your network. For even more hashtag search terms, check out this list.