Social Impact Jobs:‌
Where to Find (and How to Land) Your Better-for-the-World Career

by | Jun 2, 2020

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For previous generations, the definition of “dream job” looked a little different than it does for people today. While health care, pension plans, and a 401K are certainly sought-after job qualities for anyone, many people today are looking to create more meaning and positive impact from their jobs. After all, work takes up substantial portions of our lives!

This meaningfulness and impact can take different forms across job prospects. Some socially responsible companies have built their entire existence around positive impact and innovation, and others have created departments within their organizations for corporate social responsibility (CSR). Other professions, such as teachers, psychologists, and doctors, impact those they serve by the very nature of their work.

In this post, we will break down what exactly a social impact job is, where you can start your search, and what existing skills and experiences you can use to step into high-impact employment within this diverse and dynamic field. 

We hope this post will provide a game plan to get you through your search for a social impact job!

What is a Social Impact Job?

What is It?

Social impact jobs span almost every industry and sector of the economy. Simply put, they are jobs that allow for the employed to positively impact society, spur social change, or create transformative benefits for the community. And this is a notable aspect of social impact jobs today: they are defined by their opportunity for impact and not necessarily by a specific professional sector or expertise.

Where can You Find Them?

There are opportunities for impact abound, regardless of skill set, education level, or previous work experience. While nonprofit organizations, NGO’s, and philanthropic institutions might be the immediate image that comes to mind as a social impact job (and these are great options), the possibility of impact is much more diverse.

Work with purpose is available in the private sector through social enterprises (like B-Corporations), academic institutions, governmental agencies, and beyond. Depending on what area you want to impact, what skills you want to develop, and your preferred method of impact, job seekers can find a litany of possibilities outside of the “traditional” options to provide positive benefit.

 

Define Your Job Search Parameters

Taking a step by step approach to your search may help you avoid the typical job search panic. Simply because there is a lot of diversity in terms of impact job options, you want to first define what you’re looking for.

Before scouring LinkedIn, Google, or job boards, answer these questions about your current skills and resources to clearly define what filters you can start with, how you would like to serve,  what job functions are critical to you, and what impact positions are available to you:

  • What level of education do you already have (high school, bachelor’s, professional)?
  • What skills do you already have?
  • What positions have you held in the past?
  • What areas of impact are important to you?
  • What kind of hours are you looking for (full-time, part-time, consulting, freelance)?
  • What is your preferred work style (remote, in-office, a mix)?
  • What is your ideal organization or company size?
  • Do you have a specific pay range you are looking for?
  • Would you move for a job with social impact?

   Tip

With a million areas of impact, it can be easy to stick with broad categories like health, social justice, or the environment. Check out the UN Sustainable Development Goals to get more familiar with general areas of impact and specific subcategories within each!

Understanding how you can make an impact, what kind of impact you want to work toward, and where you want to make that impact will make looking for job opportunities in the impact space much easier. It will also make it much more likely that you land that dream job because of the solid foundation and foresight gained from asking these important questions.

Identify Your Truly Socially-Responsible Options

As society has evolved, companies have responded accordingly. Nowadays, you can find a place on almost any company’s website about what they are doing on a social responsibility level. While having companies acknowledge that this should be a focus of their business model, it can certainly be misleading if you are looking for an impact job. How do you separate the real thing from the imposters? How can you be sure that your labor is directed towards positive benefit?

Look at External Sources

The first thing you can do is make sure you have a firm grasp of what being “socially responsible” means. You can start with our post on the topic! There, we lay out what it means, why it’s important, and we provide some examples of our favorite companies leading the way in the space.

A great way to not only understand what “socially responsible” means in the professional context but also identify distinctions and commonalities between the most legit of the bunch, is to get familiar with the space. If you want a head start, review our list of 50 social entrepreneurs across industry and sign up for our newsletter where we share the current happenings in the better-for-the-world space, both business and just life!

We also highly recommend listening in to our Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast to get to know the change-makers behind the impact. There, you can get an idea of the thought behind the mission and the tactics for change, and gain some insight into what that work environment may be like! Our guests come from every sector: products, services, nonprofits, finance…you name it, we got it!

If we don’t have what you need for your research, shoot us a message with who you’d like to hear from, and we’ll get to work!

Take a Look at the Business or Organization Itself

In addition to external research, check out the company you are considering working in. Peruse their blog, look at press releasings, and find their community affiliations. While anybody can talk a big game, if you do some initial digging, then you can see where their intentions truly lie.

Look at their mission statement and values page. Does their language, action, and business model align? Do your beliefs fit in with their practices? Is the social responsibility aspect of the organization a singular aspect in the company or a feature that runs through every vein of their business? If you’ve done the external research on social impact organizations beforehand, you should have an eye for spotting legitimacy and authenticity. We admit, it can still be a bit fuzzy!

  CONSIDER

Use a critical eye and consider: Is their business model one that makes achieving their impact goals most accessible? Does their impact reach beyond their primary product or service? If they make products, how transparent is their production process? If they provide services, to what end and to whom?

Also take a look into their marketing practices. How has the company decided to brand themselves? Do their image and marketing align with their stated mission and practices? Do they have a blog? What sort of content do they put out into the world? These simple steps provide a holistic view of the organization and how you could contribute.

You can also look for certifications and affiliations that ensure the company is held to the highest standard. B-Corps, registered nonprofits, charities, governmental agencies, and accredited academic institutions will all proudly showcase the impact they are making. By taking a little bit of extra time to look into the background of an organization, you give yourself a little peace of mind that they are doing business for the same reasons that you are laboring and give yourself an upper hand when you decide to take the leap and apply for an open position.  

Get to Know the Founders and Leaders

Another place to look is at the founders and executives of the company. If leadership does not have the same commitment to impact that you do, then chances are it’s not a good fit. What made them get into impact rather than traditional business practices? The why of the company has a direct effect on the impact and the longevity of that impact. The more information you have, the more you will be able to parse through corporate jargon to find those who are making a true impact and inspiring others to do the same!

Where to Find Job Listings

Now you know what you’re looking for in terms of your own positioning, and you feel comfortable feeling out companies as you come across them. Next is finding those open positions so you can put your hat in the ring.

Job Boards

There are quite a few places to find social impact job postings, and some are impact area-specific.

Nonprofit Jobs & Social Services

Environmental Jobs

Tech Jobs

International Development & CSR

General

   Tip

These are great places to spot job openings, but don’t stop there! Do some research about that company specifically, their team, their impact, and places they’ve promoted themselves (like newsletters or podcasts). This helps your application stand out by showing the reviewer that you are excited about the opportunity and prepared to join their team.

More Manual Searching

As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This may not be 100% accurate all the time, but there is some truth in it. One thing to note is that this isn’t limited to your existing intimate community. 

Yes, if you know somebody who is currently or has previously been in a social impact job, then utilize that resource! Ask them questions! How did they get into their job? Do they have any recommendations? Was it worth it? Whatever comes to mind. Chances are, they will be able to connect you with their employer or other connections they’ve made during their time working that could help you out on your job search.

You can also rely on the 6 degrees to Kevin Bacon approach. Have a friend of a friend in the nonprofit sector? Ask for the contact! Know somebody who used to work for an NGO who still has friends there? Pick their brain. Maybe a family friend helped found a social enterprise. Give them a call. 

And if that’s not where your current community is situated, looks like it’s time to expand your community. How exciting! Reach out to companies, executives, and current employees with the companies you’re admiring. Whether through an email, social media message, or contact form, depending on the size of the company, you can almost always reach somebody to answer your questions or provide helpful insight.

In the end, just remember that you do have some control. You can’t rely on a recruiter to find your resume on Indeed or Monster and expect for social impact jobs to fall at your feet. Take the initiative and make something happen!

The Bottom Line: Social Impact Jobs are Waiting for You

The scope of “social impact jobs” continues to expand, and today, they’re broader and more accessible than ever. More and more people seek deeper fulfillment from their work. And increasingly, people realize that we need a paradigm shift in our economy for a sustainable future. Companies slowly but surely are following suit. Opportunities continue to grow in this field and the career options are incredibly diverse. 

Fortunately, finding a social impact job may not be as challenging as we once thought it was. By rigorously and honestly auditing your own skills, passions, and values and finding organizations or movements that align, you can start your journey in the social impact field. 

Start the job search with some of the resources that we provided, but do not limit yourself to these listings. Traditional methods like Indeed, Handshake, and the old fashioned connection can be just as valuable, especially if you are looking to do something entry level.

Finally, don’t limit your thoughts on what a social impact job looks like! If your passion lies in communication and branding, then focus those talents towards a positive goal. Just because you aren’t on the frontlines or directly affecting society, does not mean that your future impact career won’t have a massive impact on the world.

Henry Burgess-Marshall

Henry Burgess-Marshall

Contributor

Henry is an entrepreneur based out of Seattle, WA. He is an avid reader, writer, and lover of nature. His passion for people and connection with others has led him to work with some incredible individuals and companies. He is always looking for the next exciting adventure, whether it be in his personal life or business pursuit. You can connect with Henry on LinkedIn and at his Company’s website here.

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