3 tips for landing a job at a social enterprise


Photo credit: Sergey Nivens, Shutterstock

I wrote another piece for the Idealist blog, this time about how to land a job at a social enterprise. I tried to stay away from the typical “how-to-get-a-job” advice, and focus on the bigger picture of building a cross-sector career. You can check it out here.



Nonprofits, B corporations, government, and more!

lightblubsDepending on where you work, you may notice something interesting about the social sector these days: It isn’t full of just nonprofits anymore.

The social-good sector is expanding. In addition to nonprofits, many businesses, social enterprises, and government agencies are leveraging social innovation and cross-sector collaboration to tackle some of our most pressing problems.

For social change, this growth presents an opportunity to leverage the strengths of each sector. Nonprofits can serve populations others can’t and be more aware of community needs, where as businesses can quickly adapt to shifting demands. Government brings massive amounts of resources to any project and can help things scale. No single sector can accomplish sustainable change on its own and working together, organizations from all sectors can achieve way more than they could alone.

For job seekers, this growth presents an increase in opportunities to create change, but also a new set of questions and challenges. Here are some tips on how to navigate the new social-change landscape.

Go beyond passion

According to a Net Impact study (pdf), social impact is becoming a prime motivator for employees, particularly students about to enter the workforce, so odds are your competition will be just as passionate as you are. Having generic motivations for giving back will not get you far in an interview process. Instead, learn the specifics of the organization as an effective change agent, how it’s making an impact, and why. Focus on getting your hands dirty as often as you can through volunteering and internships at mission-driven organizations so you better understand how organizations are working in this new ecosystem. Think about what talents and skills you bring to help the organization move forward. Bringing this knowledge out in the interview process will put you far ahead of your competition.

Understand other sectors

While the reality is that the sectors have always worked together, in these times of scarcity, if you want to accomplish large-scale change you need to reach outside your organization to work with others. More and more, social-impact organizations need people who understand other sectors and leverage what is going on outside their organization to supplement internal programs and activities.

This doesn’t mean you need a career in banking before pursuing your social-impact career. Understanding the language of different sectors and paying attention what’s happening outside your own areas of interest can go a long way in connecting with others. To start, subscribe to some of the websites that talk about trends and opportunities in each sector. You can find a few by searching through categories on alltop.com and reading cross-sector websites like Stanford Social Innovation Review and Aspen Institute. When crafting your resume and cover letter for potential jobs, let your knowledge of the position shine by using the right language.

Be nice

Ok, so this is just good life advice. But it’s even more important when creating social impact today. Working well with others, both internally and externally, is a must in our more collaborative society. Organizations need connectors and facilitators, and doing this effectively can be more challenging than you think. Cultivating facilitation and networking skills will serve you well throughout your career, no matter where you end up.

The sooner we can embrace this shift toward working together, the sooner we can accomplish big things.

A version of this post appeared on Idealist Careers.

Photo credit: Peshkova, Shutterstock

Three Traits of Millennial-Run Organizations

ImageI have been fortunate to spend a lot of time with millennial entrepreneurs. I myself lead a millennial-run organization, UnSectored, a community platform for re-thinking social change. Through my experience, and by observing the great work of my peers, I’ve noticed something inherent to the millennial generation that hasn’t garnered much commentary: We build distinct types of organizations.

There are three criteria of millennial enterprises (both nonprofit and for-profit) as I see them:


The folks at Viacomm’s Scratch blog have defined sidepreneurship as the tendency to pursue activities (paid or not) outside of a full time job. They claim this is inherent to the millennial generation: Many Millennials look for fulfillment outside of their jobs, whether that’s art projects or a nonprofit consulting firm or DJing on the weekends.

I disagree with Viacomm’s inclusion of creative projects in this definition (pursuit of creativity in youth may be the only consistent trait across generations), and I wonder if “sidepreneurship” rates are any higher today than they were in the past. Regardless of its uniqueness to the children of the 80s and 90s, many of us are riding the sidepreneneurship wave. I have met countless entrepreneurs who are slowly growing businesses, nonprofits, or loosely formed community organizations in late night sessions, or through surreptitious email by surreptitious email in between meetings at work.

Even though it may not be unique, this “sidepreneurship” is one important characteristic of the millennial organization. But to me it’s the least important.

Open, Connected

Sidepreneurship creates the need for another characteristic of millennial-created organizations: Openness and connection.

If you are starting an enterprise in your free time, you can’t worry too much about control or responsibilities and you can’t waste time with in-person meetings. You just need to get things done. This need spawns organizations made up of people who communicate almost completely online through email or programs like Skype. I’ve met some people who manage staff they’ve never met because they are halfway across the world.

From this technological connectedness comes openness: Because millennial organizations are run through online channels, there tends to be less hierarchy. (It’s hard to exert control when your only tool is an emoticon or ALL CAPS.) And these enterprises tend to be cash-strapped and are willing to accept good ideas from wherever they come from, whether its from the founder or the new intern who is around for the summer just to run the Twitter feed.

This organizational trend is good for society for two reasons:

1. Traditional organizations could benefit from being run as an idea meritocracy. Openness to new ideas can help create innovation internally and help organizations adapt to new challenges—market or otherwise.

2. Being open and connected internally helps you be open and connected externally. As we are exploring over at UnSectored, the future of society will depend on collaboration between organizations. Organizations that tackle large problems can only be successful if they work with other organizations across sectors. It’s a lot easier to do this if you don’t have your own internal problematic silos and hierarchy issues.

Social Impact

It’s hard to ignore the current social consciousness trend—which is bleeding over from the Millennials to those more seasoned generations. You don’t have to work in the nonprofit sector or in a social enterprise to know that people are starting to care more and more about social impact. Edelman’s annual goodpurpose study found in 2012 than nearly 90% of consumers want businesses to place at least as equal focus on societal concerns as traditional business interests. Net Impact found that almost75% of students (Millennials) and 50% of employees (older folks, including some Millennials) want a job where they can make an impact.

Millennial-led organizations reflect this trend. Some businesses give profits away to charities as a part of their model; some develop products and services specifically for the underserved. Regardless of it’s a nonprofit or a for-profit, Millennial organizations have some component of social consciousness.

These three criteria—sidepreneurship, open and connected, social impact—define millennial-led organizations. It will be interesting to see if these characteristics continue, or that as we age, or our organizational structures age with us.

Generations are less distinct than people initially think they are. (It’s hard to watch Roger Daltrey sing “I hope I die before I get old” these days and not wonder if everyone just gets a little too worked up in their youth.) But Millennials have given us a new type of organizational structure that will drive innovation and help improve our communities. I hope to continue to research this topic, and that others begin to research it, se we can codify these criteria and produce data to back up the trends.

This post originally appeared on Achieve Consulting’s blog.

Photo credit: Ella Novak