We talk a lot about social impact jobs here at MovingWorlds, but if you’ve ever found yourself wondering, “what exactly is a social impact job, anyway?” you’re not alone. Part of what makes the social impact space so exciting is how quickly it’s evolving and changing, but for job seekers, that also makes it confusing. Particularly if you’re new to the space, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the buzzwords: social enterprise, B Corporations, nonprofits, ESG, impact investing, corporate social responsibility, circular economy….the list goes on and on!
In this post, we’ll help you understand what a social impact job is, and how to uncover the right social impact job for you. Continue reading to learn helpful frameworks for exploring the career landscape, thinking through your options, and advancing your job search.
What is a social impact job?
“Social impact career” doesn’t automatically mean quitting your job to join a nonprofit. In fact, part of what we do in the MovingWorlds Institute is help professionals expand their future possibilities by realizing that social impact isn’t limited to a specific field or organization type; it’s a spectrum. While nonprofits are certainly on the social impact spectrum, the reality is that social impact can happen in every sector – including corporate and governmental.
A social impact job is one where you put your strengths to work in a way that is aligned with your purpose and contributes to achieving the SDGs. There are two main ways to do that: you can work on mitigating the negative impacts of an organization (“doing less harm”) or you can work on solving the problem directly (“doing more good.”)
For example, let’s say that you are most passionate about Goal #13: to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. You could do more good by joining a social enterprise like Seabin, whose products and education platform are directly fighting climate change. You could also do less harm by joining a large corporation like Amazon to reduce the amount of packaging material used and waste generated.
It’s not about whether one type of role is better than the other; the truth is that if we’re going to achieve the SDGs we need social impact professionals across all sectors, organizations, and functions.
Examples of Social Impact Jobs
The “Organization vs. Role” framework shared by the brilliant Katie Kross on the MovingWorlds webinar The Insider’s Guide to Sustainability Careers is a valuable tool to help you think through your options. The key point to understand is that you can make an impact in multiple ways: by doing traditional work in a sustainability-oriented organization, by doing sustainability work in a traditional organization, or by doing sustainability-oriented work in a sustainability-oriented organization – all of these will create a positive net impact.
The chart has two axes: organization, and role. Each is on a spectrum from ‘traditional’ to ‘sustainability-oriented’.
On the organization side, ‘traditional’ refers to companies where the product or service is not based on sustainability. Examples include large consumer goods companies, multinational corporations, banks, or consulting firms. ‘Sustainability-oriented,’ on the other hand, refers to organizations whose core service product or mission is sustainability oriented. Examples include social enterprises, benefit corporations, nonprofits, and certain government agencies.
On the role side, the same framing applies. A more ‘traditional’ role would include typical business functions, like data analysis, marketing, or business development. ‘Sustainability oriented’ roles on the other hand are fully centered on that aspect of the role.
As you can see, there are a multitude of social impact careers in each quadrant. In the next section, we’ll share more about how to narrow down which area (or areas) are right for you. Here are a few more examples, segmented by popular professions, to make this organization and role distinction more clear:
- Investing: Director of Sustainable Finance for a multinational bank, Investment Officer for an environmental trust, ESG Advisor for an accounting firm
- Marketing: Brand Manager for the sustainable portfolio of a major corporation, Content Developer for an ocean cleanup social enterprise, Marketing Director for a climate nonprofit
- Supply chain: Sustainability Manager, Supply Chain Innovation for a major retailer, Social Procurement Director for a major corporation, Supply Chain Consulting for a B-Corp
- Program management: Environmental Program Manager for a government agency, Sustainable Materials & Innovation Program Manager for a major retailer, Educational Program Manager for a climate justice nonprofit or social enterprise
Narrowing Your Options: Key Questions to Ask Yourself
The good thing about the organization vs. role matrix is that it can help you uncover options you hadn’t considered before. The bad thing is having to choose from so many options! As we mentioned earlier, there is no single right direction for your career – what matters is finding the right fit for your unique combination of strengths, purpose, and autonomy. Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors:
- Strengths: Where are you most likely to find a job where you can put your strengths and experience to work? In helping hundreds of professionals transition their careers for greater social impact, we’ve found that the most successful career changes happen from a foundation of self-understanding. Research has proven that we perform better when our individual strengths align with our job tasks, which also leads to feeling more fulfilled at work, too. You can learn what strengths are (and aren’t) along with an interactive template to help you uncover yours in Step 1 of our #SocialImpactCareerGuide.
- Purpose: What type of impact do you need to see to feel like you have purpose at work?. Taken together, your strengths and purpose form the foundation for the rest of your job search, acting as a compass to ensure you’re heading in the right direction to end up somewhere where you can truly thrive. Purpose matters because it’s a key component of meaning, which in turn drives satisfaction at work. You can learn more about each of the three dimensions of purpose, along with an interactive template to help you make your own purpose statement in Step 2 of our #SocialImpactCareerGuide.
- Autonomy: What type of organization and manager is most likely to honor your working style and preferences? It can be tempting to jump right into researching specific companies, but before you do, first develop a mental picture of the workplace environment that would be the best fit for your unique combination of strengths, purpose, and causes of interest. Your work environment is one of the biggest determinants of your ability to activate these satisfaction drivers, particularly when it comes to autonomy. We all have different preferred levels of autonomy, but generally having too much of it results in feeling overwhelmed, while not having enough of it results in feeling stifled. You can learn how much autonomy you personally need to be most successful with the autonomy audit exercise in Step 4 of our #SocialImpactCareerGuide.
Keep in mind that the combination of the above factors is dynamic rather than static, so it’s a good idea to validate your career hypotheses throughout your journey. You can find a career-validation board template and explainer here.
Where to Find Social Impact Jobs
There has never been more interest, and therefore more opportunities, in the growing social impact space. Corporations are making more bold climate commitments, demand for ESG investing has expanded dramatically, consumer goods companies and retailers are getting more serious about the circular economy, and the growth trajectories for renewable energy alternatives remains strong.
In addition to mainstream job boards like Monster and Indeed, there are tons of social impact specific job boards, including many for individual industries or sectors. You can Jump-start your search with this list of the 70 best social impact job boards here.
How to Be Discovered by Social Impact Recruiters
It’s a good idea to maintain an active presence on LinkedIn before, during, and after your job search – as a professional branding tool, networking tool, and source of information about the latest job opportunities from brands you follow. You can find tips for optimizing your LinkedIn profile for networking here, and a template here to take the guesswork out of asking for an introduction.
There are a lot of different kinds of social impact jobs out there – across industries, sectors, and specialties – and there is no single ‘right’ path. Try the tips above to start thinking through the many potential paths ahead of you, and for customized support transitioning to the right social impact job for you, apply to the MovingWorlds Institute.