Career Pathways

Students and young alumni often seek us out to ask, “how do I get a job in sustainability?”, or “how do start a career in social value?” We truly wish there was one easy answer. Careers in sustainability and social value span a myriad of roles and job titles, require different skill sets and expertise, and show up in the private, government and nonprofit sectors. A purpose-driven career can be incredibly fulfilling, but it takes some work to begin to navigating your pathway. The advice and resources offered on this page will help you begin to frame your thinking, and start understanding some of the career pathways available. This information is by no means exhaustive, but should help jump start your efforts. Good luck!

Exploring the Landscape

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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. 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 tend to be mission driven, and 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, managing programs and events, or working directly with partners and the constituents they serve.


Narrowing Your Focus

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Once you have identified one or two 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.”

Building 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 landscape and trajectory. Here are just a few suggestions for online content and organizations that can help you build your base:

And some organizations to keep an eye on:


Sharpening Your Skills

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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 Skills Workshop Series, Impact Ambassador Program, Social Innovation Fellows, and more. Be sure to also take part in student club offerings and consider volunteer opportunities.


Growing Your Network

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Landing a job in the social impact sector requires hustle, and developing authentic connections with individuals in the space is one of the most important things you can do. Join professional societies, network at conferences and events, leverage existing relationship with faculty and staff, and offer to help 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, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizen Conference,  and CSVC’s Impact Ambassador program and Lunch & Learn series, are all good places to start. A quick google search with category-specific keywords will reveal even more opportunities to grow your network.


Going 'Conventional'

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Fully leverage online resources like LinkedIn, job boards, and even Twitter. Job boards like Net Impact, Idealist and JustMeans enable job seekers to connect with others and browse posted opportunities. LinkedIn alone can enable you job search by allowing you to brand your best attributes and market your skills to companies and industry professionals, all within a network that is 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.