While entrepreneurs drive social enterprise, there’s a flood of workers competing for impact jobs.
In an economy that taught many the folly of greed and the value of purposeful work, social entrepreneurs represent our higher aspirations—so it's no wonder that so many people want impact jobs. Yet competition, the relative nascence of the movement, and a tough economy has made finding employment at a social venture an even riskier bet than landing work in the general job market.
Sydney Malawer is among the workers vying for limited jobs in this emerging sector. After graduating from Cornell in 2008 with a design and environmental analysis degree, Malawer met with recruiters who visited campus, but she wasn’t impressed by the companies or the series of underwhelming desk jobs they offered. “I kind of want a job that I don’t have to rationalize why I’m there,” she says.
Kyle Westaway, founder of Westaway Law, a firm that counsels social entrepreneurs, has simple advice for people like Malawer looking for those jobs: “Create them.” Many have, but for Malawer, fresh out of college and with parents juggling their own economic struggles, starting a venture wasn’t an option. Most startups fail, often because business experience is just as important—if not more so—than a drive to make a difference.
Malawer taught English in Colombia for two years, then, upon returning to the U.S., took jobs as a Spanish tutor and English as a second language instructor to pay the bills while she sent out at least 100 resumes and cover letters. When she did start landing interviews for full-time gigs, her father advised her to take a “first come, first served” approach and grab the first job she was offered. But after years of searching for the right fit, she still dreads the corporate route. “I’m just terrified of becoming complacent,” she says.
Jessica Morse, community manager at ThinkImpact, a social impact immersion program, says that entrepreneurial spirit is vital whether or not you’re starting a new venture. “[F]or-profit and nonprofit sector leaders are looking for self-starters who can adapt quickly and adopt new technologies and techniques ahead of the curve,” Morse says.
For all the attention paid to startups, would-be impact workers can adapt the culture of their current place of employment or find other methods for growing the sector from within. If an entrepreneur creates a mechanism for change in the world, an intrapreneur tweaks or expands existing organizations to increase impact.
Rahul Raj is director of sustainability and merchandising innovation for Walmart.com. He started two years ago as a senior sustainability manager, focusing on growing new business models. His personal goal was not only to generate more revenue, but also shift business practices. Two weeks ago, Raj launched a new electronic trade-in program that allows customers to swap old devices at market value for Walmart gift cards. The majority of these items are refurbished and sold through partner CExchange.
For Raj, his job about diverting e-waste from landfills and “[extracting] more value from perfectly good items are already out there in circulation.” It’s good for Walmart’s bottom line because the gift cards give customers more buying power. The program has diverted an estimated tens of thousands of pounds of e-waste and will drive billions of dollars in value once it is fully realized.
“Focus on mutual self-interest,” Raj advices potential intrapreneurs. “So it’s not about exclusively the company’s agenda, nor is it exclusively about a social or environmental agenda, but it’s about the point of intersection. Where there’s a higher chance of stumbling is when you think that just because you believe in something that everyone else will as well.”
Entry- to mid-level applicants who want to move directly to the social enterprise sector turn to the old standbys NextBillion and Idealist. Commongood Careers, Net Impact and Echoing Green’s new Work on Purpose offer resources from recruitment to articles and advice. New to the online job search market is Give to Get Jobs, which launched in May 2011. Postings range from internships to full-time work, but more significant is a database of around 1,500 U.S.-based social enterprises. Many smaller ventures still only post openings on their own websites, and this helps narrow the search geographically.
But tossing your resume in with hundreds of other applicants’ is not nearly as effective as a well-timed nudge to the top of the stack from someone within your network. “The way people get jobs in this sector is they know people,” says Westaway, the social enterprise attorney. “You have to already be deeply connected in this sector and understand what’s going on there … before you have a hope of getting that email in your inbox.”
Malawer shifted to that route. She started consulting on the side for startup GoldieBlox after hearing the founder Debbie Glasband speak at StartingBloc’s Institute for Social Innovation. She marched up to Glasband and asked how she could help, Malawer says, then “shamelessly followed up and followed through, and it actually paid off.” At StartingBloc, she also met the founders of ReWork, a business that connects professionals to impact sector companies and has given her the greatest number of opportunities to date.
Making it into ReWork’s pool isn’t easy. Though the recruiter only officially launched in February (after a year of piloting) there are already more than 1,000 applicants, which will be whittled down to several hundred. It takes three to four weeks just to land in the pool. There’s a resume and personal narrative check, writing sample, video interview, a 10-hour trial project in a core skill. “That lets us be very confident that when we are in conversations with clients, we can actually vouch for people,” ReWork co-founder Nathaniel Koloc says.
The match process also benefits social enterprises, which only pay ReWork when a hire is made. More importantly, in a sector made up of many small companies, a glut of resumes isn’t helpful. “Idealist creates a lot of noise for those companies; they might put a post up and get 200 resumes from a whole spectrum of people,” Koloc says.
Often, small companies simply don't have the resources for an extensive hiring process. Yet almost 60 percent of ReWork’s pool is currently employed—many at big companies like Google or Cisco. “Even though top talent is interested in working for them, they just don’t know how to find each other,” Koloc says.
ReWork vets companies so its applicants know the potential impact of their work, whether mentorship is part of management style, and that the business is stable. Applicants need to demonstrate a passion for something somewhere in their background, Koloc says, but companies also want people with hard skills, like experience running a supply chain or managing financials at a similarly-sized business.
Regardless of whether candidates use a service like ReWork or their own searches, there’s no promise of a short timeline to finding the perfect impact job. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint… don’t get discouraged if it’s several weeks or a couple months go by, and you haven’t found something yet, because it will happen,” says Koloc.
Thanks to her persistence and the networks she developed, Malawer finally broke through. Last week, she was offered a position at the Unreasonable Institute, the impact accelerator from which ReWork and its recruitment model emerged.
It’s been a long slog, but for Malawer, the process has taught a difficult but valuable life lesson: It’s all about holding out for what you want. She echoes ReWork’s motto, as much a mantra for herself as other job seekers: “Don’t settle.”
Each Thursday, Sarah Stankorb examines the way social enterprise is changing business and creating positive impact.
Photo courtesy of StartingBloc