Breaking In: How Social Enterprise Professionals Rate Their Jobs

Mitch took a moment to consider the last question in our discussion.

Over two separate conversations we talked about his experience landing his role as an associate consultant at The Bridgespan Group, the specifics of that role and lessons learned along the way. Now I asked him to sum it all up.

On a scale from one to ten, one being “absolutely not” and ten being “With all his heart”, how would he rate the social enterprise space for friends and family just starting their careers?

“The honest answer is it depends. It completely depends.” He answered.

Mitch was uncomfortable giving his “net promoter score” for social enterprise careers because he sees the decision as different for everyone.

He believes you should go into the social sector for the same reason anyone should go into any sector - because you find the work exciting, meaningful and fulfilling. Otherwise you’ll just burn out.

He thought back to our first conversation when I asked him about why he was initially excited by social enterprise. At the time he described it as a moral obligation. He called himself out for that. It wasn’t a good reason to be in the space. The truth is that he really enjoys his work and takes a lot of energy from it. That’s why he’s in social enterprise.

For Mitch, the bottom line is that the social sector is definitely right for some people and definitely not right for others.

This last question was a lot of fun for me to ask because, almost without exception, everyone qualified their responses.

For some, beginning your career in social enterprise is a “ten” is for the right person. You have to be passionate. You have to do a lot of self-reflection and understand what you’re getting into. You have to value the mission and impact over money, work-life balance and conventional success. Otherwise this space is just more work, less money, more stress and it's not worth it.

For others, beginning your career in social enterprise is a “ten” for the right organization. Not all social enterprises are created equal. The culture has to be empowering and aligned with your values. The operations and structure have to promote professional development and growth. Otherwise the greatest mission in the world won’t keep people energized and committed to the work.

Both of these qualifications are important for a young professional considering a career in social enterprise. My discussions also highlighted how rewarding the work is when you find the right fit, and how important it is to get talented young professionals into the space.

In fact, a third qualification that emerged is just loving the work you do, regardless of mission or organization. The few who expressed this were almost embarrassed to say that mission is not what is most important to them anymore. It’s certainly a plus, but their excitement really comes from the work they’re doing.

In a narrative largely dominated by commitment to mission and passion for change, I think this love of the work is such an underrepresented and important aspect to succeeding in social enterprise. We may say that we’ll do whatever it takes to create positive social change, but the truth is that’s not sustainable.

It’s hard to know what work really lights us up and even harder to find that work in an empowering, mission driven organization. But as one professional put it, we have the advantage of youth on our side. Now is the time to experiment and find what resonates with us while slowly honing in on the right fit.

I believe social enterprise is an amazing environment to experiment with mission, culture and function. Despite all of the qualifications, the average rating of social enterprise careers from those who were willing to give me a number (two professionals declined) was 8.8. It sounds like they agree.

This is the seventh and final post in a blog series called Breaking In which explores how young professionals are breaking into social enterprise. Get all of the insights from the series and more by signing up for the Mission Driven Monthly Newsletter.