How to Change Careers to Social Impact: Step 5 – Choose the Type of Organization You Want to Support

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

All too often, we see people “running away from something, as opposed to running toward something”. We see people quit managers or companies they dislike, rather than pursuing something that will make them truly come alive. In large part, this is because it is HARD to know what type of organization will truly align with your purpose, strength, and autonomy drivers (as we highlighted in the earlier post, Using the Lean Startup Method to Find Your Dream Job). As we teach Fellows in the MovingWorlds Institute, even if it is challenging to find the right organization and job opportunity, it is possible! 

To set themselves up for success on this journey, we suggest that people get into a habit of documenting and validating the assumptions they have about the work they do, the people they work with, and the purpose of the organization they work for.

If you’ve been following along with our #SocialImpactCareerGuide series, you’ve already done the work to audit your strengths in step one, zero in on your purpose in step two, shortlist your causes in step three, and decide on your ideal workplace environment in step four. Now in step five, it’s time to document the assumptions you’ve developed about your needs in each of these areas so that you can find the type of organization that can meet them all. 

To help you do that, we’ve created a for-good career validation board template that will allow you to document your assumptions all in one place. 

To get started, fill out the left side of the board based on your purpose, strengths, causes, and autonomy preferences. Based on those answers, you can then fill out the right side of the board with the qualities you would need in an organization to match those preferences. As you work through the exercise, you may notice certain themes that hint at which organization, or specific team within an organization, that might be best for you. 

Finding the right team in the right organization

Do you know the number one reason people dislike their work? They end up working with a manager and/or team they don’t like. Even at organizations with amazing social missions, it’s easy to find people that dislike their jobs. 

So often, we see people get attracted by the name of an organization, the cause it works towards, or the benefits it provides, without looking closely enough to ensure that their own purpose, mastery, and autonomy needs will be met.

As one example, what type of work environment do you envision at a startup? How about in a governmental entity? We’re conditioned to believe that startups are exciting and innovative and that government work is bureaucratic and political. But in truth, there are teams within governments that are fast-moving and there are some startups that are slow-moving and hierarchical. 

This is why we use the idea of assumption testing. Once you can document the needs you have to succeed at work, then you can use those to screen organizations. But before screening individual organizations, here are our tips for using the career validation board to narrow your focus. 

A 3-Phased Approach to Test Your Career Assumptions:

Phase 1: Document assumptions

Use the validation board above to brainstorm the type of team you want to be working on. Is it big or small? Working directly with customers/beneficiaries or on internal issues? Working with many external clients, or just one? Flat or hierarchical? Chaotic and fast-moving or bureaucratic?

First, fill out the left side of the board to document all the assumptions you have about your own career preferences. Then, use those assumptions to brainstorm ideas on the right side of the board about the type of factors you want to see present in an organization where you could see yourself working. 

Phase 2: Identify possible organization types that align with your preferences

Using the list of ideas on the left and right side of your validation board, get creative and brainstorm all the different types of organizations where you could find potential opportunities that fit. If you need help getting started, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Can I find this at my current company?
  2. What type of cooperative might have these qualities? 
  3. What type of for-profit company might have these qualities? Product company? Services company? IT? Mobility? Infrastructure?
  4. What stage of startup would be best (idea stage, building stage, testing stage, scaling stage)?
  5. If this was in the public sector, what level would it be at (city, state, national, international)?
  6. What type of nonprofit might have an environment like this?
  7. Are there opportunities in the consulting profession?
  8. Is this team more likely to exist as part of a product, knowledge, data, technology, and/or professional services entity?
  9. Is it more likely to be user-facing or behind-the-scenes?

Phase 3: Start testing your assumptions

Starting with the industry/sector that you know the best, validate if these opportunities might exist for you. You can do this in a number of ways:

  1. Interview people working in the industry and/or organization to get a real idea of what it’s like to work there
  2. Read GlassDoor reviews for the industry and organization to identify common trends
  3. Ask to “job shadow” someone that works in the organization
  4. Ask for a networking virtual coffee/tea meeting with someone that left the industry or organization you are considering
  5. Read the job descriptions posted by this industry and/or organization to see if the qualities they are looking for match the ones you’re looking for
  6. Analyze the blogs and social media accounts of organizations and individuals that are seen as leaders in this industry or profession to see what they write about
  7. Use LinkedIn to analyze the career steps that people take in this sector

Once you have collected the data, compare it with your preferences to see if it inspires new ideas where you can search for job opportunities, and also see if it gives you insights that allow you to cross some ideas off your list.

Example of a Career Validation Board

Let’s work through an example together to make this more real. Here’s a sample career validation board, and below we’ll work through the three phased approach.

Phase 1: Document assumptions

Based on the responses in the example board above, this person would likely do well as part of a small team or as part of a relatively independent team within a larger organization. A flatter, less hierarchical structure would probably be the best fit based on this person’s needs related to autonomy and feedback.

Phase 2: Identify possible organization types that align with your preferences

  • Within a co-op, could join or lead the communications team to help tell the stories of the co-op’s participants
  • Within a for-profit, could join or lead the communications team within a larger organization focusing specifically on ESG and sustainability, or could join a social enterprise and manage communications to share impact with stakeholders
  • Could be a fit at a mid-stage startup, with enough definition of roles to be able to focus on strengths but no so much hierarchy/bureaucracy that there isn’t room for new ideas and experimentation 
  • Within the public sector, would likely find this at the local level where there’s more room for autonomy over specific activities as opposed to a national campaign
  • At a nonprofit, could probably find this kind of team in the communications or fundraising departments, interfacing directly with beneficiaries and sharing the nonprofits impact story to support fundraising efforts

Phase 3: Start testing your assumptions

As next steps, this person could research potential organizations in each of these categories, using a combination of online research, informational interviews, and networking. In the next step of this series, we’ll share more details about how to hone in on individual organizations and share templates you can use for further research and outreach. 

In Summary

By taking a hypothesis-driven approach to your career transition, you can ensure that you’re making a move that will actually lead to the satisfaction and fulfillment you’re seeking. Remember that at this stage, the most important thing is documenting your assumptions all in one place – in the following steps, you’ll continue to refer back to your career validation board to ensure you’re on the right track.