Switching In: Skills and Experiences that Stand Out in Social Enterprise

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Social enterprises are battling a talent gap. All over the world, these organizations struggle to find the talent they need to achieve their social and economic objectives. Experienced professionals with in-demand skills are highly sought after in the social enterprise space.

But what are the skills and experiences that social enterprises are looking for? This is the question I wanted to answer by analyzing the professionals who have gone through the Impact Business Leaders (IBL) program.

As I mentioned in my last post on the right mindset for social enterprise, the data is not perfect. IBL transitions professionals into social enterprise careers, but over the last two years they have slowly transitioned away from entry level professionals in developed regions of the world toward mid-level professionals in developing regions of the world.

The insights I gathered are by no means conclusive, but do provide an interesting glimpse into what skills and experiences are most sought after by social enterprises.

SKILLS

Analysis: The three most prevalent skill sets among IBL participants are general operations, financial management/analysis, and general research and analysis. Of these three skills, the only one that clearly differentiated successful placements from unsuccessful placements is financial management/analysis.

Strong competencies in finance such as budgeting, modeling and investment management are applicable to a variety of investment and operations role. Understanding finances also conveys a level of business competence that is harder to quantify among other skills. Not surprisingly, this advantage is especially relevant in investment positions. 75% of IBLs placements in impact investing already had strong finance skills.

Other skills that differentiate successful from unsuccessful placements in IBL are deal sourcing/due diligence, engineering, and team management. IBL has successfully placed every participant with deal sourcing/due diligence skills and engineering skills. Both are highly sought after in growing industries such as impact investing and renewable energy, and both are less common skill sets because they require a great deal of technical training. Team management skills are valuable in any organization and are also less common because there’s no substitute for real experience when it comes to leading people.

Takeaway: The ability to demonstrate financial, technical and team management skills makes career switchers more competitive in the social enterprise job market. While IBL has successfully placed professionals with a wide variety of skills, the ones above seem to be in the greatest demand.

Career switchers should consider how their current skills translate into these areas. They can also search for opportunities to develop a working understanding of these skills. Being able to demonstrate competence in one these in-demand skills will set career switchers apart from other impressive applicants.

TYPE OF EXPERIENCE

Analysis: While certain skills make IBL participants more desirable, there was not a specific past experience that differentiated successful placements from unsuccessful placements. IBL has successfully placed professionals from both the for-profit and non-profit sector, and with many types of past experiences (entrepreneurship, MBA, international).

Takeaway: Career switchers don’t have to come from a specific sector to successfully switch into social enterprise. Even participants with prior social enterprise experience are not statistically more likely to land a role in social enterprise through the IBL program. More important for career switchers are having in-demand skills and the mindset for a career in social enterprise.

AMOUNT OF EXPERIENCE

Analysis: Certain experiences do not differentiate successful placements, but amount of experience does. IBL is most successful placing participants between 5 and 10 years of experience. These participants have a strong base of skills that are attractive to social enterprises, and are primarily looking for exciting work with greater responsibility. This makes them ideal for small, growing social enterprises.

IBL has also been pretty successful placing participants with less experience, as long as they are willing to consider temporary or part-time positions in social enterprises. Because IBL is focused on placing participants in full-time careers, it has moved away from this demographic.

Participants with more than 10 years of experience are the hardest group to place for IBL. These professionals generally have a narrow scope of opportunities they are willing to consider because they have greater responsibilities outside of work.

With this insight it is important to consider that all IBL participants who have this level of experience and have not been placed are still in an on-going placement process. It may be the case that the placement period is simply longer for these professionals. Over time they may be placed at the same rate as IBL’s younger participants.

Takeaway: If a career switcher has five to ten years of experience, now is the time to switch into a full-time role in social enterprise. At this level of professional experience, a full-time role with social enterprise aligns the aspirations of career switchers with the expectations of small, growing social enterprises. These professionals have the ability to make an immediate impact on the organization while taking on increased responsibility.

A career switcher with less experience needs to be open to part-time or temporary positions that will help them build experience. Unfortunately these are often not sustainable long-term positions, so a good alternative for these professionals is to stay in their current roles a little longer, and take on part-time projects in social enterprise. These projects will help build social enterprise specific experiences and networks that will be invaluable in an eventual career switch.

If a career switcher has more than ten years of experience, it’s important to be patient. The space does need the considerable talents of an experienced professional and the right role will emerge if they are able to wait for it. In the meantime, more experienced career switchers can build social enterprise specific experience and networks as advisers or board members of social enterprises. By getting involved in the space, opportunities will open up.

As I mentioned before, IBL’s dataset represents just a glimpse into what skills and experiences are successful in social enterprise. Placements are decided over a myriad of unique factors for each position. What these takeaways can do is steer career switchers in the right direction as they prepare to make the jump into a social enterprise career.

What skills and experiences do you think are most valuable to the social enterprise space?

This is the second post in a blog series called Switching In which explores how experienced professionals are switching into social enterprise. Get all of the insights from the series and more by signing up for the Mission Driven Monthly Newsletter.