Key Ideas from “4 Steps to Choosing a Good Career (Part 1)” Post (Dec 28, 2011):
- To be able to choose a “do good” career that will suit us as different individuals, there is now more than ever a multitude of career options in areas including social entrepreneurship, impact investing and CSR or sustainability. At the same time, confusion for graduating students and mid-career professionals has equally grown since little has been done to explain how to choose between various options.
- I proposed a 4-step process that is meant to help both students and professionals navigate their decision-making for the right “social impact” job. The first step, which I dubbed “scale of impact”, is to decide how much impact really you want to have, whatever the change it is you hope to make. Knowing this extent of your vision will be helpful in narrowing down the type of organization you will consider joining (or launching), i.e., some organizations will be more likely to reach your personal impact ambitions than others.
- However, that is only half of the work. In this post, I cover the second step, which deals with really trying to understand to what degree or “how” you need to feel the impact you will be making on a day-to-day basis to be happy.
Step 2: Feeling of Impact
- This may sound squishy to you, but I am dead serious about this second step in the process. What I would like you to do is to analyze your feelings here and be very cognizant to what extent you personally wish to experience that “goodness” you will presumably create in the world. Again, the spectrum goes anywhere from “feeding the starving children” to “delivering the food that will be distributed to the villages” to “writing strategy and policy that determines which villages get what, when, where and how” to “identify opportunities and write checks that will make selected programs possible.” There are clearly jobs along this entire value chain for various people. But which one would YOU feel most happy doing?
- Obviously, I have not worked every single “do-good” job and cannot speak from pure knowledge – and neither have you or your career counselor (if you are lucky enough to even have one for social sector jobs). What we then have to do, alternatively, is to get used to detecting “patterns” in job descriptions in order to infer how it would feel like to “have impact” through those positions.
- In my view, there are overall two types of “do-good” jobs. Although it is possible that both types are suitable for the same person over time, I believe most people will gravitate towards one or the other sooner or later, not least by virtue of their personalities.
- Type 1: those that do, build and create something.
- Type 2: those who analyze, advise, support and enable Type 1 folks to do something (ideally better than they could by themselves).
- Without getting into an exhaustive list of jobs that could be described as either (or both) type, I would instead like to think about to what extent people “feel the impact” of their organizations depending on the type of their role. I will keep it simple and claim that people in Type 1 positions generally feel closer to the impact they are creating than those in Type 2 positions. Note that this does not mean the former care more than the latter about impact, but that they just naturally provide more opportunity to be closer to the action. For example, take a microfinance organization. If I want to see the customers in the field using my loans and check in on their progress, I become a loan officer. If I want to manage loan officers, the products the organization sells and whom we should market them to, I become a branch manager. If I want to manage multiple development associates, I become director of development, and so on.
- On the other hand, Type 2 jobs exist outside of the microfinance organization. These include for example donors and investors, rating agencies, financial intermediaries, network associations and of course consultants. People in these jobs, on a day-to-day basis, may feel more of what I would call intellectually rather than emotionally engaged in social impact. By “intellectual” engagement I mean that they may support a social cause as a matter of principle, i.e., something that appeals to their personal sensibilities and ideals they hold to be just and true. For this they do not have to experience impact “emotionally”, that which is directly observable and processed “by gut.” Hence, they take sufficient satisfaction in their jobs by having impact indirectly through interaction with the organizations that produce the actual social or environmental outcomes.
- Thus, it is one thing to ride on motorcycles through the heat to visit the women’s lending circles in their villages, trying to sell them do-good products. It is another to comfortably sit in an office (perhaps thousands of miles away) behind a computer analyzing lending circle membership numbers in a spreadsheet – and then imagine how or assume that the organization you are looking at is having social impact outside that spreadsheet.
- To be clear, I am not suggesting that one type of job is particularly more important or better than the other. I only wish to highlight that in this so-called “social sector,” different people have different needs or preferences in the way they experience impact. It is when we forget or fail to realize our own personal preferences that we might choose jobs that do not fit our needs, which results in frustration.
- Hence, if you subscribe to a “screw it, let’s do it” attitude and like to be hands-on, chances are you shouldn’t pursue, say, a “business development” job that deals with writing grant proposals and other ways of asking people for money all day long instead of being out there with your customers, focusing on designing products they would appreciate, or manage your firm’s operations and marketing directly – Type 1 jobs.
- On the other hand, if you prefer taking a step back, analyze and critique things, write plans, frameworks and reports, or if you prize efficiency and clean logic to get the most bang for your effort buck, or if you like to provide the “method for the madness,” you may be happier in a Type 2 job. That is what consultants, investment managers, or corporate social responsibility/sustainability officers do. Without numbers to back me up, let me contend here that Type 2 jobs can be particularly attractive for people who are more risk averse, enjoy more the comforts of office work, and still like to make a more steady and higher income than their Type 1 counterparts.
- In summary, “do-good” jobs may entail more sacrifices than traditional jobs either in the form of lower compensation, challenging geographic locations, less public recognition or fewer available resources and harder work overall. Because you are presumably willing to make those sacrifices (if you believe you are making sacrifices) to make a positive social impact where others won’t, you must analyze your feelings and personality to find the right position that will fit the way you like to experience or “consume” that impact.
- Next, in part 3 of this series, I will turn to the difficult issue of how to think about prioritizing between “scale of impact” and “feeling of impact.”