Recently, I asked a Senior Program Officer at an impact investing firm what they were looking for in their next strategic hire. He considered for a moment and then said that his team wasn’t actively hiring for full-time roles. Instead, they were hiring contract professionals with skills that his existing team didn’t have for specific projects.
As an example, he shared that a few months ago his team brought on a contract marketing professional. She had no experience in impact investing but did have extensive experience at a marketing agency where she worked on hundreds of client projects. Sure, she needed to get up to speed on the sector, but she was used to developing marketing solutions for new and complex problems. She required no hand holding and little support as she learned what she needed to know and then executed on the project.
According to the Senor Program Officer, this is exactly what the team needed. Besides the cost savings, this marketing professional had great functional skills and the ability to apply those skills to the specific requirements of the project.
What might stand out to you in this story is the decision to hire contract rather than full-time. But, what stands out to me is the decision to hire for adaptive functional skills rather than a clear passion for in the space.
I’ve discussed whether young professionals should prioritize strong functional skills or causes they’re passionate about on Mission Driven Millennial before. It’s a debate that I struggle with in my own life.
While the perspective of one hiring manager doesn’t settle the debate one way or another, he does expose a hidden gem about what hiring managers are looking for in any new hire. Prior experience in any field or function is ultimately worth very little if a new hire can’t apply it to the unique context of a new problem.
For young professionals interested in social enterprise careers, it’s critical to understand the objective and transferable value of your current skills and experiences. It's also important to hone an ability to analyze new problems, see potential opportunities, and connect those opportunities to the skills and experiences you already have.
This mindset shift from “what you can do” to “what you can do for the hiring manager” can be a clear differentiator for you in the hiring process regardless of whether you have sector experience or strong skills.
Maybe you’re not actively searching for a new role right now. But if you’re like me, bigger and better things are always on the horizon. Understanding how your work applies to new challenges is a crucial part of getting there.