Switching In: The Right Mindset for Landing a Role in Social Enterprise


Some professionals are ready to make the switch into a social enterprise career. Even before you discuss their skills and experiences, you can tell they have the right mindset.

At Impact Business Leaders (IBL), I get to work with these professionals every day. Sometimes this mindset comes out in their application, but it certainly shows up in our interviews. Beyond being passionate about creating a better world (i.e. the universal prerequisite), these professionals are open to a variety of opportunities, ready for a challenge and eager to learn.

IBL has worked with 94 professionals looking to switch into social enterprise careers. The application and interview data collected on these professionals provides powerful insight on what makes a professional ready to make this transition.

It’s important to note that over the last two years IBL has moved away from entry level professionals in the developed world and toward mid-level professionals in the developing world. This skews any hard conclusions since the career equation for a graduate in Amsterdam is very different from a manager in Accra.

But even with stark differences in experience level and region, common themes are beginning to emerge on the right mindset needed to switch into social enterprise.

Open to a Variety of Opportunities

IBL's successful placements so far are willing to consider roles in social enterprise that are outside of their initial preferences. In the IBL application, each candidate explains their interest in either an operations or investing role. While initial interests are evenly distributed between the two, over 30% of successful placements end up taking a different type of role than they originally intended.

This isn’t just a matter of being open to a greater number of opportunities (although that certainly helps). Often times there are opportunities in social enterprise that professionals outside of the space didn’t know existed. Part of IBL’s value is in exposing professionals to new opportunities that often change their perspective on what they want their next career move to be.

It’s important to note that most of the professionals who took roles that differ from their initial preference wanted to get into the investing side. Over 50% of participants who were originally interested in impact investing ended up taking an operations role instead. Impact investing is a great space for business professionals looking to create a better world, but the hard truth is that it’s a small space with limited hiring needs. When the right investing opportunity isn’t available, IBL’s successful placements pursue equally satisfying roles on the operations side.

I expected that entry level professionals from the early days of IBL would account for most of the professionals who changed their initial preferences. But I found that a larger percentage of IBL’s experienced professionals took roles outside their initial preferences than entry level professionals. This data point suggests to me that being open to different opportunities as a career switcher is a universal advantage in pursuing a career in social enterprise.

Ready for a Challenge

Something in the applicant data that surprised me was how many times the sentiment of “the more challenging, the better” explicitly came up iamong IBL’s successful placements. 20% of them expressed this explicitly, and another 57% expressed interest in working for early stage, entrepreneurial ventures or building a skillset where they had little experience.

As an emerging sector of mostly small, growing ventures, there’s a lot of work to be done in social enterprise. This is not the space to clock hours and collect a paycheck. The social enterprise space is looking for passionate, committed professionals who see the value of their work extending beyond themselves.

I could spend an entire blog series discussing the pros and cons of this kind of culture, but the fact of the matter is that this is the prevalent culture in social enterprise. Professionals who have a “ready to be challenged” mindset stand out to employers.

Eager to Learn

Similarly, IBL’s successful placements wanted to learn and grow in a new space. They did not come to social enterprise thinking they had all of the answers. Almost every successful placement mentioned gaining or advancing their skills and experiences in social enterprise.

This does not mean that successful placements did not take on management level roles. In fact, many of them did. But their mindset was that they had a lot to learn going in and took advantage of job interviews to begin that process.

On the surface, many of these professionals seem to make lateral career transitions - not moving up in their career with their new role. It’s not uncommon to see a former project manager take a program associate role in a social enterprise. But, the same title or even a lower title can mean something very different depending on the organization. Small social enterprises give each role considerably more responsibility than larger corporate organizations.

IBL’s successful placements don’t get hung up on the title. They see an opportunity to grow by taking on more responsibility. Plus once they prove themselves, many social enterprise professionals are quickly promoted and take on even more responsibility in management level roles at these fast growing organizations.

The right mindset can make all the difference when switching careers into social enterprise. It’s also the easiest short-term adjustment you can make to become a more attractive candidate. Pursue opportunities you hadn’t initially considered, and prioritize how you will thrive from the challenge and learning of a new role. When expressed effectively, these small changes have led to fantastic results for IBL’s career switching professionals.

In my next post I'll dive into the specific skills and experiences that are common among IBL's successful placements. But for now, what other mindsets have you found to be effective in pursuing a new career?

This is the first 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.