Susan Blue's blog

Your Career Path Might Be Wrong: Here’s Why (And How to Fix It)

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you know that dream job you think you want? You might be wrong. It turns out that people are really bad at predicting what will make them happy, and a career is a big part of happiness. If you don’t believe me, watch a great TED talk from Dan Gilbert on this topic.

There is also some data to back this up. One of the shocking stats – especially for those of us working to make a positive impact – is the alarmingly high attrition rate for people working in the nonprofit sector. In fact, according to a recent study from Opportunity Knocks, 45% of people working in the nonprofit sector are looking to leave their jobs.

That’s a lot… and is much higher than the for-profit world. As one shocking example, only 50% of people working at Gates Foundation would recommend their friends work there, whereas Monsanto has an approval rating of 79%. That’s hard to believe, right?

Once you break it down, though, it becomes easy to understand. Research shows that employees consistently emphasize three drivers of satisfaction:

  • Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
  • Autonomy: The desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery: The urge to get better and better at something that matters

So why are so many people working in the impact space dissatisfied with their career? It’s because they put purpose over everything else, and they sacrifice autonomy and mastery for the sake of mission.

I’m not saying don’t pursue a job in the impact space. In fact, I work in the impact space and love what I do. I think everyone should work to make a positive impact in their job. However, I see so many people make mistakes in identifying their dream job and then work tirelessly to get it, only to find that it’s not what they thought it would be.

If you are interested in finding a “dream job” that also makes the world a better place, it’s vital that you consider your ability to work autonomously in that position, and to make sure it uses your real strengths while allowing you to develop new skills, too.

Ask yourself the right questions 

At the Net Impact conference this November in Seattle, I’ll build on last year’s Using Lean Startup Principles to Validate Your Career Choice session. We’ll expose our own assumptions, and then explore ways to use simple tests to validate them.

1. Autonomy

  • Do you prefer working as an individual contributor or as part of a team?
  • Do you want to work at a big company or a small company?

2. Mastery

  • What skills really make you come alive?
  • What skills – soft and technical – do you want to learn ... and how do you know?
  • What are your strengths?
  • Do you need another degree to succeed?

3. Purpose

  • Do you have to work at a nonprofit, startup, educational institution, governmental group, or social enterprise to really make an impact?
  • Can you make a positive impact and find purpose at a for-profit company?

Put the questions in motion 

So how can you test these important assumptions before you commit to a direction? It takes some creativity, but I recommend following this 4-step process:

  1. Research

    Spend time on Glassdoor and LinkedIn to see buzz about different companies, sectors, and company sizes. Use Quora to ask questions related to your career path.

  2. Interview

    Talk to people working at the company you think is your “dream employer.” Ask them smart questions that expose if you will find purpose, mastery, and autonomy. You can use tools like LinkedIn to easily find people working in the industry, role, and/or company you want to find. As an example, don’t ask, “Do you love your job?” Instead, ask a series of questions like...
    ...Do you tend to work alone or on teams?
    ...Does your manager invest time and resources in helping you learn new skills?
    ...What drives you to work longer hours?

  3. Experience

    Arrange a job shadow, offer to volunteer, and/or attend networking events with organizations in the sector that you want to be in. If you want to work at a startup, first try volunteering at one. If you want to work in global development overseas, go experteering there first.

  4. Reflect 

    This is one of the most critical steps, and the one of the most often forgotten. Use a coach, mentor, and friends and family to help you distill all the information in steps 1-3. They can help you uncover more about your real self than you can do alone.

We make assumptions about our future all the time. Unfortunately, we’re often wrong. According to Peter Drucker, famed management consultant and author, “Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong. People know what they are not good at more often - and even then people are most often wrong than right.” 

By breaking apart your assumptions into smaller tests, you can bring a lot of clarity to your quest for a dream job that makes a positive impact – and, chances are, you’ll meet some amazing people in the process.

About Mark 

Mark Horoszowski is co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org, a global platform that helps people find the best place to volunteer their skills around the world, on their own or through corporate-sponsored programs. Mark holds a Master's in Accounting and a BA in Business from the University of Washington and sits on the American Cancer Society’s Nationwide Leadership Training Team.

He's leading a session about how you can find your right career at this year's Net Impact Conference. This year's theme is Game On! Want to find out more?   

At MovingWorlds.org, Mark Horoszowski helps people build skills by volunteering around the world. Here, he shares how to find the right career path.

Four Tips for Starting a Career in CSR

This blog post was originally published on May 6, 2015.

This post is part of our ongoing impact career advice column. In this edition, longtime corporate social responsibility (CSR) leader Marcus Chung fields a question from our network.

Advice for getting started in a career of corporate social responsibility

I'm graduating from Columbia this May and interested in entering the field of CSR. I've been unable to find many entry level CSR positions and was hoping to get some advice as to how one can enter the field. Thank you! -ALLIE

One of the things I enjoy best about working in the field of CSR is that I encounter people with a wide diversity of backgrounds and expertise. Some come from a traditional business background, some are attorneys by training, and others come from the NGO or international development world. This variety in backgrounds and interests makes for some very interesting discussions and leads to innovative partnerships and projects, but it can make it difficult for those trying to identify a “CSR career path.”

I get to speak with many people who are interested in starting a career in CSR. Whether they’re starting fresh in their professional lives or trying to transition from a different discipline, I often share some fundamental pieces of advice:

  1. Do your homework – “CSR” is a broad term and can mean very different things from one company to the next. You should learn as much as you can about different companies, industries, and practitioners’ day-to-day work. This will help you focus on the types of roles you will truly be interested in and those where you can contribute to the company’s goals.
  2. Network – When I was transitioning into a CSR career, I spent the second year of my MBA program doing as many informational interviews as I could. I leveraged the Net Impact network and learned about opportunities through my own curiosity and eagerness to learn more.
  3. Look for non-traditional opportunities – When I joined Gap Inc. in my first CSR role, I took an internship even though I was looking for a full-time role. What was designed as a three-month opportunity turned into a four-year stint.
  4. Pitch – If you identify a body of work that can help a company advance its CSR goals, don’t be afraid to propose a project or a role that you are uniquely qualified for. Let a company’s CSR manager know how you can help him/her be successful and develop a project to work on.

Although it may seem frustrating to be searching for a role in a field with few opportunities, don’t lose hope! When I look at the private sector today, there are so many more CSR roles than when I first started in this field. CSR is an area in which companies continue to invest, so more and more opportunities present themselves every day.

About Marcus

Marcus Chung has held CSR and strategy roles at Gap, McKesson, and Talbots. He serves as Vice President, Social Responsibility & Vendor Compliance for specialty apparel retailer The Children's Place, leading a global team responsible for protecting garment workers' rights and minimizing environmental impact in the company's supply chain. Read more about him here.

This series is your chance to get answers from experienced impact-career pros. Ask one of our three experts for advice, and your question may be featured in an upcoming column.

 

Get a job in CSR
Get a job in CSR

6 Questions with Mark Horoszowski

This ongoing Q&A series profiles a few of the speakers we're looking forward to seeing at this year's Net Impact Conference. Mark is co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org. He'll be speaking at the Using Lean Startup Principles to Find (and Get) Your Dream Job workshop at this year's conference.

Describe the work you do in one or two sentences.
We help people volunteer their skills around the world, on their own, or through corporate-sponsored programs. We call it Experteering. In the process, we give them the connections, resources, and training to grow as a leader while making a positive impact.

What was your personal “Game On!” moment?
Six years ago, I applied for an Acumen Fund Fellowship. I made it to interviews, but didn’t make the final list. When I got my (nicely written) rejection letter, I thought to myself… “If they aren’t going to accept me, I’m going to create my own fellowship.” I then quit my job two months later and spent a year traveling and volunteering my skills around the world. That rejection letter was my “Game On!” moment.

What skills or characteristics do you think are most important for your job or industry?
One of the exciting things about our work is that we interact with a wide variety of people, from leadership development professionals in Fortune 50 companies to young entrepreneurs just getting started. No matter the experience level and scope of responsibility, we see that humility and grit are the most important skills that anyone can have – as an employee or as an Experteer.

The challenging thing about both of these skills is that they are almost impossible to teach. The only way people can develop these is by expanding their worldview, doing a lot of self-reflection, and being very open to feedback and coaching. I assembled a TED Talk MBA that talks about a lot of these skills, and how to develop them.

What’s an unexpected quality that makes a great leader?
Sharing failure! We support some really exciting leadership development programs that use skills-based service as a learning platform. In our training, we talk specifically about how to recognize failed efforts, how to learn quickly from them, and how to tell others about them so that they can learn from your mistakes, too.

Leaders are going to be wrong more than they are right on day-to-day decisions. As leaders we need to be OK with that, and we also need to recognize that every failure is a great learning experience for us, and for our teams, if we provide the time and space for it.

There’s a story about IBM’s founder Tom Watson:

A young man working for IBM made a decision that most warned would be unwise. However, he was convinced that he knew best and went along with his plans.
That mistake cost the company 10 million dollars. The young man was immediately called to the office of IBM founder Tom Watson Sr. Upon entering Mr Watson’s office the young man looked down and said, “Well I suppose you want my resignation.”

“You can’t be serious!” Mr Watson exclaimed, “We just spent 10 million dollars educating you! You’re not going anywhere!”

I spend time everyday reflecting on the mistakes I made, and how I can improve. I encourage my team to do the same. If they’re failing, it means they’re pushing their and our limits as an organization, and if we’re trying to build a better world, leaders need to reward that kind of behavior.

If you’re in the position of hiring people, what question do you most like to ask?
I don’t have a go-to question, but I do have a go-to process. I start at the bottom of your resume with your education and activities, and then move up through work experience, finishing with your most recent experience. At every line item on the resume, I ask, “Why did you choose that _________ (volunteer position, degree, job, etc.).” Then I ask, “What was the highpoint and low point of your experience there.” Lastly, I’ll also ask, “Why did you move on from that position.”
I want to find people who work hard to solve problems, create their own future, and take responsibility for their work and careers, and this process is an incredible way to see if people are positive, motivated, and inquisitive.

Going through that process helps me see if you have your own why/purpose and if you have the grit and personality to succeed on my team.

If you were given an extra hour every day, what would you do with it?

I’d take 20 minutes of it first-thing in the morning to do a little yoga and meditation. I’d then take 30 minutes around dinner time with my wife to have more one-on-one time, and I’d save the final 10 minutes for some time right before bed to journal my thoughts and reflect on everything I’m grateful for.

About the Conference  

We're excited to bring the 23rd Net Impact Conference to Seattle, where student and professional leaders will come together to tackle the world’s toughest social and environmental problems. The challenges we face are complex, and it’s time to come together and create innovative solutions. It’s time to suit up, push your limits, and leave it all on the field. This year's theme is Game On! Want to find out more?  

 

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7 Questions with Drew Bonfiglio

This ongoing Q&A series profiles a few of the speakers we're looking forward to seeing at this year's Net Impact Conference. Drew is Co-Founder & Partner at Emzingo Group. He'll be speaking at the Crash Course in Social Business Model Ideation 2015 session at this year's conference.

Describe the work you do in one or two sentences.
Emzingo works with organizations, universities, and individuals to instill a mindset of responsible leadership and accelerate the pace at which they drive positive workplace, social, and environmental change as well as achieve financial success. We accomplish this by designing leadership solutions that integrate experiential learning, social impact, and a human-centered approach.

What was your personal “Game On!” moment?
A fews days after leaving my job and moving from the U.S. to Spain to pursue my MBA, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy - a defining moment in the financial crisis and my career. The conversation about business completely changed. For me and my co-founders, this was profound. It led us to create Emzingo and take part in shaping how the next generation of leaders views business’s role in society.

What’s the most exciting solution (or potential solution) you’ve seen lately in your field?
There are three movements in people development and employee engagement that I find very interesting. Each may not be right for every company, but they are certainly exciting and create thoughtful dialogue.

  • Transparency: Emzingo has followed - and uses - Buffer. It is the most transparent company I have seen. (Read more.)
  • Holacracy: This concept, which was recently embraced by Zappos, is powerful because it is challenging a decades-old hierarchical paradigm. Emzingo integrates this concept into workshops and facilitated dialogues to encourage businesses and individuals to see people management from different points of view.
  • Strategic Corporate Volunteerism: IBM pioneered the Corporate Service Corps in 2008 just as Emzingo was starting. Over the past 7 years, we have observed a very strategic shift in the way organizations view volunteering. As a proponent and provider of local and international corporate volunteerism efforts, Emzingo and I are fired up to see how far we’ve all come in recent years. There is a lot of work to be done, but with giants like IBM, Microsoft, and Intel investing in the space, there is reason to be optimistic.

What’s an unexpected quality that makes a great leader?
What I have observed, and what Bill George does a great job of showing through his book, True North, is that a leader takes on different characteristics depending on her/his personal story, innate talents, the team that surrounds him/her, and the context/industry/time in history in which the person is asked to be a leader. Although I believe there is not a “right” answer to what makes a good leader, a couple of unique qualities I have observed are:

  • Being soft-spoken - the larger-than-life charismatic leader is not always the most effective. Being soft-spoken can be a big advantage and preferred in some cultures
  • Fully embracing failure: this is not just resilience or a positive attitude. This is truly embracing failure in a way that makes it impossible not to learn from it and “fail forward.”

If you’re in the position of hiring people, what question do you most like to ask?
“How would you change our business?” I want someone who has bought into our vision, values, and purpose, but I don’t want her/him to blindly assume that we know it all. I want them to come in firing on all cylinders with ways we can be better and provide a perspective that will open new doors either in the way we operate or in the form of new market opportunities. This question also provides a lot of insight into what the person really wants to do and how much they have thought about the “space” we work in.

What book do you wish everyone would read? Why?
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. It was given to me years ago and is still a source of inspiration. I like it so much because it reminds me to live the life I want to live, to prioritize the things that are important to me, and to value the things I already have. The fact that he writes in such an inspiring, playful way despite the personal pain he and his family were going through during his bout with cancer makes it that much more powerful.

If you were given an extra hour every day, what would you do with it?
Spend it with my wife. She is amazing. We both love our work, and that means we probably have the laptops out too often.

About the Conference  

We're excited to bring the 23rd Net Impact Conference to Seattle, where student and professional leaders will come together to tackle the world’s toughest social and environmental problems. The challenges we face are complex, and it’s time to come together and create innovative solutions. It’s time to suit up, push your limits, and leave it all on the field. This year's theme is Game On! Want to find out more?  

 

Drew Bonfiglio facilitating a workshop.

How to Keep Your Spark Alive

The organic baby and toddler food company Happy Family is now a beloved and hugely successful brand, but keeping the idea alive for founder Shazi Visram wasn’t easy. In this keynote at last year’s Net Impact Conference, Shazi shared just how hard it was to get there. She also shared the ingredients for keeping an idea alive.

“When you have this idea,” Shazi told the audience, “you think, wow, is this real? Is it possible that nobody has done  this yet? Is it possible that I'm the first? And you start doing your research, and your idea starts turning into this energy, this creative force in you. And it becomes this spark, this ember. And I think what the key is in the beginning stages, is to keep that spark alive.”

Shazi says that "a million people are going to tell you you can't do what you want to do." You have to create an armor against the word no, she says, so you can keep the spark alive until you get a yes. Then the spark will blaze.

Through her story, she shared four ingredients to keep the spark going.

1. Know your role models. Shazi's parents were her role models when she was founding her company. They grew up with dirt floors and knew if they brought her to America, she could have a bigger dream.

2. Have a purpose. She wanted to start a company that would do something good for the world in every way.

3. Have a strong mission. “Make it very clear,” she encouraged the audience. “Make sure everybody lives it and breathes it. Having a strong mission is what keeps people at your side when times get tough.”

4. Feed your soul with what you do. Her business has been about creating abundance and giving back since day one, she says, not just making a profit. (In the case of Happy Family, they give to Project Peanut Butter.)

Those are her tips, but her stories are even better. Watch the video and see for yourself! And see what's on tap for this year's conference, too.

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10 to Follow: Keep Up with Sustainable Food Trends on Twitter

This post is part of a new series that highlights ways to keep up with impact-related issues through social media. 

As the Co-Founder & Chief Impact Officer at Revolution Foods, Kirsten Saenz Tobey is a major player in the world of sustainable food. She drives the vision and the product experience for the company, developing innovative solutions to give more people access to healthy food and education. It's a challenging job, but Kirsten knows how to tackle it. In the company’s early days, she and five other people did everything from cooking the food to driving the truck that delivered it. Now a $100 million business, Revolution Foods provides jobs to 1,500 largely inner-city employees and delivers food to both schools and stores. Over 75 percent of their meals reach kids who are in free or reduced-price meal programs.

We asked Kirsten to share how she uses Twitter to stay on top of what’s happening in the quickly changing world of sustainable food, and we discovered that she uses Twitter as her main source of daily news on all fronts. "It’s so easy to curate my own focused news feed with everything from global events to local happenings," she says. These are her top food-related accounts to follow, with notes about how each pick made her list. 

  1. NPR Food @nprfood – Great resource for news about studies on health, food, and nutrition.
  2. Good Food Team NRDC @nrdcfood – For the latest on global food system issues. 
  3. Mark Bittman @bittman – This chef and New York Times writer covers a variety of food topics.
  4. Food Tank @food_tank – Stories and trends, all about the global food system.
  5. Michael Pollan @michaelpollan – This author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and Cooked is a leading voice for a healthier, more sustainable food system.
  6. The Food Biz School @foodbizschool – A new business school focused on food entrepreneurship, they tweet about innovations in food.
  7. Anna Lappe @annalappe and her mom Frances More Lappe @fmlappe – Anna is the founder of Food Mythbusters, and Frances Moore is the author of Diet for a Small Planet. I heard Frances Moore Lappe speak when I was 13 years old, and it inspired me to dedicate my life to building a better food system in the U.S.
  8. Civil Eats @CivilEats – This James Beard Foundation Publication of the Year is all about food politics.
  9. Marion Nestle @marionnestle – A well-known author who now writes at Foodpolitics.com, Dr. Nestle is also a professor for the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and the Sociology Department at New York University.
  10. Michele Simon @MicheleRSimon — This author, speaker, and consultant on the politics of food and alcohol is also the creator of the website Eat Drink Politics.

And, of course, you'll want to follow Kirsten, too. 

More about Kirsten 

Kirsten began her career teaching and leading education programs in the U.S. and Latin America. She is an Ashoka Fellow, Aspen Institute Environmental Fellow, member of the Culinary Institute of America's Sustainable Business Leadership Council and past mentor for the Women's Initiative Fellowship Program. She founded Revolution Foods in 2006 with Kristin Groos Richmond, a former classmate at Berkeley's Haas School of Business. Kirsten continues to drive the vision and product experience for the company, driving mission impact, nutrition advocacy, and food integrity, among other key aspects of the business.

With co-founder Kristin Groos Richmond, Kirsten is one of Time Magazine's Education Activists of 2011 and Fortune's 40 under 40, ones to watch. In 2010, NewSchools Venture Fund named Kirsten and Kristin Entrepreneurs of the Year. Kirsten holds an AB from Brown University and an MBA from UC Berkeley. She lives in Berkeley with her husband and three daughters.

Revolution Foods Co-Founder Kirsten Saenz Tobey shares her top picks for keeping up with food issues on social media.

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No, Really: How Do I Find My Passion?

We hear from many of you who want to know: With so many options, how do I choose the right career path for me? How do I find meaningful work that makes the most of my talents and leaves me feeling fulfilled? How do I find my passion? We’ve pulled together a few of our favorite resources to help you explore those questions, and maybe even find some answers.

Articles 

Fast Exercises to Find Your Purpose and Passion for Work 
This great article from Fast Company features 14 short exercises you can do, including asking a question inspired by an Indian guru.

Five Steps to Finding Your Passion
This process outlined in Psychology Today is from Susan Biali, author of Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You.

How to Find Your Passion in Five Creativity Exercises
Entrepreneur magazine outlines five ways to find your passion, including making a list of people who are where you want to be and taking a break from business thinking.

Quizzes 

Get Your Personality Type
Quistic offers a free version of the Myers-Briggs personality test. Your results will include lots of helpful articles to read about what makes you tick and what direction you might take, as well as some courses you might enjoy.

Play Games to Learn More
On the Pymetrics site, instead of answering questions about your psychological profile, you play games. The company then uses neuroscience research so you can discover your strengths and explore careers based on those talents. We haven’t tried it yet, but we like the innovative approach.

Follow Oprah's Lead
This quiz featured on Oprah.com comes at the issue from the angle of “Who am I meant to be?” and identifies your “striving style.” Most importantly, Oprah thinks you should do it. (If you want to go with Oprah but you're already quizzed out, you could read
 4 Steps to Find Your Life's Path by regular Oprah contributor Martha Beck.)

Or you could keep things simple and take the BuzzFeed careers quiz.

One more thing 

It’s also worth saying that sometimes you just need a job, and finding your passion can seem like a luxury. This New York Times article by Colson Whitehead about the phenomenon of “You Do You” is worth a read, as is this Idealist.org interview with Lodro Rinzler about “pursing meaningful work when you need to work.”

Good luck -- let us know what happens!

6 Steps for Planning a Diverse Conference

Planning a diverse conference isn't easy. But it's not that hard, either.

As Net Impact’s Conference Director for the last three years, I’ve talked to a lot of experts, watched my share of YouTube videos, and invited nearly 2,000 talented and dedicated people to speak to our attendees. I’ve also witnessed a lot of events that fall short of inspirational when it comes to speaker diversity.

Net Impact is dedicated to giving young people the tools to solve our world’s toughest challenges. We know that a more diverse pool of people will arrive at more innovativesmarter, and better solutions. Our conference, which features 300+ speakers each year, is one place where we bring our commitment to diversity and equity to life. We make an effort to feature speakers that represent diversity in sector, age, political affiliation – and, of course, race and gender.

Net Impact began tracking speaker demographics five years ago. Since then, we’ve increased racial diversity in our speaker roster by 85% and now regularly reach or exceed gender parity. It’s not easy – but it’s not that hard, either – and our conference has improved as a result.

Here’s how you can approach speaker diversity at your next big event:

1. Set goals and hold yourself accountable

Before you’ve sent a single invitation, set specific representation goals for women, people of color, or whatever is a priority for your organization. Take a look at your roster from the previous year and commit to improving on it.

Figure out how you will track your progress. We ask speakers to give us some (optional) demographic information when they register. And we review our stats on gender and racial diversity each month as we’re planning the conference to see if we need to refocus our efforts.

2. Look for experts, not speakers

Women and people of color are literally everywhere. Even the most homogeneous-looking industries have qualified leaders that span gender, race, background, and experience. You’re not going to overcome gender and racial divides overnight, but you can take big steps in the right direction at your event.

Start by identifying experts in the subject matter you're presenting, rather than established "speakers."  A few years ago, we were working with an external partner to develop a session. When he suggested four male speakers, we asked if he could recommend some women to round out the discussion. His response was, “I can’t think of any women right now who I’ve seen speak on this topic.” We asked him to forget about speakers and brainstorm his contacts in the field, and he did. He came back with a long list of qualified women and people of color. It’s easy to get stuck on people who are on the conference circuit, rather than think broadly about a body of experts. Don’t.

3. Keep your entire program in view

While rallying against all male panels is a noble effort, I’m far more concerned with balance across our entire program. We put together around 100 sessions each year. Despite our best efforts, usually one or two are comprised entirely of male speakers. But there are also several sessions featuring women exclusively. Certain fields of work lean heavily male or female. It’s OK if your sessions reflect that, as long as you’re not excluding anyone critical to the conversation, and you’re keeping a bird’s-eye view on the program as a whole.

4. Ensure diversity by design

There’s nothing more boring than a panel discussion where everyone agrees, so seek out diverse points of view from the outset. Start with a well-defined topic, then identify the specific perspectives you’d like to see: that might include representatives from multiple sectors, distinct career functions, or opposing sides of a debate.

After you identify the ideal perspectives for a dynamic session, you can start seeking out the right people to represent them. Look beyond the most-quoted experts or most frequent conference speakers. Digging deeper within a field will yield new voices that will add to a compelling discussion.

5. Be transparent

The Net Impact network is vast, and each year we draw about 40% of our programming from our members. Beyond standard requests for a pithy title and description in our call for sessions, we ask how the speakers will contribute to a diverse learning environment. Asking this question underlines our commitment and yields pitches with an eye toward diversity of all kinds.

6. Keep moving forward

I’m proud of the changes we’ve made to the Net Impact Conference program, and that our speaker roster is now a more accurate reflection of our diverse network of change agents. But I know we can do better – we should continue increasing the number of people of color on the stage and in the audience at our event. And while I’ve focused on gender and racial diversity, we should also take bolder steps to welcome others to the dais, including those from the disability and LGBT communities.

We believe these shifts are important, and we hope these tips are useful to others who share our commitment.

About Jessica

Jessica is moving on from Net Impact this summer to start working on programming and partnerships for the Skoll World Forum. She still plans to attend the 2015 Net Impact Conference in Seattle this November, where she’ll finally be able to see the program through the eyes of an attendee. You can also find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Fact or Fallacy: Every CSR Pro Needs an MBA

This post is part of our ongoing impact career advice column. In this edition, longtime corporate social responsibility (CSR) leader Marcus Chung fields a question from our network.

Advice for a successful CSR career path without an MBA

What career path advice would you give non-MBAs who want to enter the CSR field? What do they need to show and do in order to compensate for, or perhaps highlight, their non MBA background? Thank you. - Nathan

I think there is a fallacy that CSR professionals must have an MBA to succeed. Having both applied for jobs I didn’t get and hired people into CSR positions, I can tell you that an MBA is not always essential to landing a role in the CSR field.

It’s important to keep in mind that CSR roles come in all shapes and sizes. Often, the skills you gain in an MBA program are not the ones that will be immediately relevant for the role you’re applying for. There are communications positions, data/analytics jobs, and project management roles all within CSR departments. I encourage you to really focus on identifying the type of CSR role you are interested in, then making sure you can either highlight or develop the skills necessary to transition into that role.

In Paul’s last column, he gave some good advice about focusing on past leadership and results in order to position yourself for a career in impact investing. Similarly, take a tailored approach to your job application and highlight those skills, experiences, and accomplishments that translate into the role you’re exploring. What are the attributes and skills needed for success – and how does your past experience demonstrate your ability to be successful in the role?

That said, for longevity in a CSR career, some key abilities seem common across different companies and industries. These skills will probably help in most fields and, when I think about my own professional development, I find myself revisiting these competencies.

Top CSR skills

  • Communications – Whether you are leading a team that directly reports to you or managing a cross-functional group toward a common goal, it is vitally important to communicate well and communicate clearly. This is a skill whose importance is often underestimated, and I always look for good communicators when I hire for my team.
  • Influence – CSR professionals are constantly influencing colleagues in other functional areas to consider the impacts of their work. Oftentimes, we do not have decision-making authority in certain areas that impact our CSR strategies, so we must educate and influence others to make sound decisions on behalf of the company.
  • Macro Perspective – CSR professionals often are responsible for identifying future risks and opportunities for the company. It’s important to have an interest in macroeconomic topics like climate change, global poverty, and resource constraints. Being able to make connections between these large issues and your industry or company is a critical skill.

In my opinion, an MBA should not be an automatic qualifier for a CSR position, but it can help in terms of general management or leadership within the private sector. Keep in mind that many successful CSR practitioners never went to business school, and one of the most rewarding parts of working in this field is engaging in conversations with other passionate professionals who come from a wide range of diverse backgrounds and represent different perspectives.

About Marcus

Marcus Chung has held CSR and strategy roles at Gap, McKesson, and Talbots. He serves as Vice President, Social Responsibility & Vendor Compliance for specialty apparel retailer The Children's Place, leading a global team responsible for protecting garment workers' rights and minimizing environmental impact in the company's supply chain. Read more about him here.

This series is your chance to get answers from experienced impact-career pros. Ask for some advice, and your question may be featured in an upcoming column.

MBA CSR
Is grad school necessary if you're planning a career in corporate responsibility?

Four Ways to Plot an Impact Career Focused on Investing

This post is part of our ongoing impact career advice column. In this edition, impact investing expert R. Paul Herman fields a question from our network.

How to Work in Finance with No Finance Experience

What are a few specific options for a first post-MBA job in investment management for someone with no finance experience that will eventually lead to a career in socially responsibility or impact investing? -Sarah

First of all, taking initiative by researching and writing about social responsibility and impact investing will give you a head-start on other candidates by demonstrating that you know the landscape. While you're taking actions like those, you can pursue several paths within the investment industry:

1. Marketing and media

Building awareness, branding, and communicating clearly are necessary skills for financial firms seeking to distinguish their offerings. You could explore working for socially responsible mutual funds (such as Pax, Parnassus, Portfolio21, which merged with Trillium), for big financial brands expanding into impact investing (JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, UBS, US Trust/Bank of America, US Bank/Ascent), or for investment advisory firms that focus on impact (CapRock, Abacus, First Affirmative, and others). Longer lists of firms are at SocialFunds.com and USSIF.org.

2. Impact metrics research

Discovering and analyzing the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues of companies (as well as governments and nonprofits issuing bonds) can be a fit with your desire for transparency and performance in ecological, human rights, and equality issues. ESG data and ratings firms include MSCI, Sustainalytics, IW Financial, and HIP Investor. SASB.org is pushing for mandatory disclosure of important, material drivers of risk and opportunity by companies in their SEC disclosures.

3. Financial analyst

Yes, you could actually take the plunge and go deep into finance from the start. Some firms may be open to training you with no financial expertise if you demonstrate other skills. For example, some of the best computer scientists have degrees from the biology discipline. If you are open to studying finance, accounting, and statistics, and taking valuation and spreadsheet workshops, you could dive into the ocean of investing. But only if you are serious about learning fast – finance is a technical discipline that works best when focused on the future and addressing all of society’s issues.

4. Nonprofits

You can also bring impact investing and social finance to nonprofits by pushing for their financial portfolio to be invested in a manner consistent with their mission, by using the grant stream to loan or invest via program-related investing (PRIs), and by encouraging fee-for-service and other revenue-generating initiatives for the nonprofit itself, like Kiva.org accomplishes.

I wish you success in your journey to build a better world via impact investing. -Paul of HIP

About R. Paul Herman 

An internationally recognized expert in impact investing, Paul invented the “HIP = Human Impact + Profit” ratings system in 2004. HIP Ratings show that portfolios and companies can realize lower risk, enhanced returns, and profit potential -- and build a better world -- by focusing on the root-cause drivers of value creation. Paul’s financial expertise began with his Wharton School finance degree and corporate advising at McKinsey & Co. Paul is an adjunct professor teaching MBAs at Thammasat Business School in Bangkok, Thailand, and a visiting lecturer for MBAs, including the Presidio MBA Graduate School in San Francisco. Read more about him here.

This series is your chance to get answers from experienced impact-career pros. Ask for some advice, and your question may be featured in an upcoming column.

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