How to Get a Career in Social Impact

Social Impact – Many of us are drawn to working for organisations which make a positive difference in people’s lives. From charities to ‘purpose-for-profits’, we’re fortunate to live in a world where millions of these enterprises exist.

But if you’ve ever tried to land a job in a social impact organisation, you’ll quickly realise that it can often feel like you’re pushing at a closed door.

We took a look at some of the most common challenges aspiring socially-minded employees face, and what you can do to make sure you land the job.

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Probably the biggest hitter on our list. You find a job which seems perfect and then, glancing down at the requirements, realise that you’re expected to have already accrued many years’ experience in charity/NGO work. 

Getting experience without having a related job

Unfortunately, the social impact space tends to receive far more applications per job than almost any other sector. This means hiring managers can afford to be a lot more selective when inviting candidates for an interview, meaning that you’ll instantly be discounted if you don’t meet the minimum requirements.

How do you solve this? Adopt a supplier mindset and get experience by volunteering around your existing job.
All types of organisations are facing the most challenging period in a generation. That means there are more problems than ever that need solving. What problems might some of the organisations you’d like to work for be facing? Think about how you might be able to help and reach out and volunteer your time. It might mean a few later nights or weekends spent working, but if you
really want to get a career in this area, it’s worth the short term sacrifice to do some volunteering while still having the security of your existing job. This will help your chances in three ways:

  1. You’ll build the experience you need to secure a job with a social impact org.
  2. You’ll grow your network within social impact – something which may well lead to a paid job opportunity down the line.
  3. You’ll prove to organisations that you’re actually committed to social impact work, rather than just trying to get an impressive job title alongside a paycheck.

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When it comes to social impact roles, competition is fierce. So how do you stand out in a crowded market place?

It’s time to think outside the box

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to showing a potential employer that you’re right for the role. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes, going through countless cover letters and reading largely the same information over and over again. If you were doing this, what would stand out to you? What would make you think “I have to meet that person”.  The great thing about this is that you can be as creative as you like to demonstrate your skills.

Applying for content or comms roles? Why not create a short podcast series speaking to people who work in social impact organisations?
Strategic or innovation roles? Look for opportunities within the space and create a simple microsite to demonstrate them.

So, have a think. What have you done that nobody else has? And if not, what can you do? What’s going to ‘wow’ the person reading your letter? This is your ‘cherry on top’ of a great application, and it’s essential.

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Maybe you ended up getting that voluntary position and worked hard in it for months and months, building up fantastic experience. Then you might have crafted a perfect application for a job in social impact, pulling the most riveting personal or professional aspects of your personality out of the bag. But what if you still can’t get the job you want?

Defer your gratification: work your way up

If you’re dedicated to getting into social impact work, it’s not always possible to get in at the same level as you’re at in the private sector. The best thing to do if this is the case? Take a position with lower pay or status and work your way up.

Again, this probably isn’t an appealing prospect, especially when every fibre of your being knows you’d be brilliant in that £40,000 p/a position and that you’ve got all the skills and experience they need. By all means still apply for those positions, but if you find that you’re hitting a brick wall, target a job beneath your ability level. Just think – you’ll be one of, if not the, best candidate they receive, so you’re far more likely to land the role. Once there, you’ll prove yourself to the organisation by excelling in the role, putting you in the perfect position for promotions!

NB: Of course, taking a salary cut is something you need to take a bit of time considering before you jump right in. It’s no small decision. So make sure you scope out the impact this will have on your own finances first. What will be your ‘new normal’ income? A good idea is to build yourself ‘financial runway’ by, for example, planning to make the move in 6 months and building up some savings beforehand to help with the transition.

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We’ve talked about the fact that the social impact space is forever inundated with applicants, but this is not the only issue you’ll find when trying to get a job in this sector. Like many highly sought-after industries, it can suffer from being very ‘network-heavy’. The consequence? Those who are ‘in’ the network get the jobs. This is because:

  1. They’re first to find out about new opportunities, and;
  2. They’re already known by charity/NGO contacts and stakehodlers, so probably stand a better chance when applying to their jobs.

The way to solve this – and give yourself the best possible chance of a landing your first gig in social impact – is to become a part of these networks. This involves finding them. Are there any events you can book to attend (whether in person or remotely)? How about evening or weekend workshops? Or, if you’re interested in a specific aspect of social impact work, why not join a club or society based on it? The more you can integrate yourself into these circles, the more likely you’ll find new opportunities ahead of the competition.

So, next time you’re looking at social impact jobs, consider the tips above. We hope they can help you to find work that matters to you and the world.

A few extra bits:

  • Head here to find our Top 100 Progressive Companies of 2019.
  • Nominate a progressive company for the 2020 campaign here.
  • Explore a range of roles at socially impactful organisations on our job board.

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