Navigating a career transition: how to leverage corporate experience in the purpose-driven sector

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Part 1: Identifying your transferable skills

If you haven’t already, read our blog piece about moving from corporate to social impact for an overview of the steps you can take to embark on a career transition. The below article goes into more depth about the specific hard and soft skills you may have gained in the corporate sector that can be leveraged in any industry.

The idea of changing industries completely can be daunting, from retraining and researching to connecting with new networks. But while there is certainly unlearning and relearning involved in transferring from the corporate to the purpose-driven sector, a great deal can be brought with you, including skills that you might not even realise are relevant and universal.

First, find your why

When you start to consider making a move, don’t underestimate the importance of simply asking yourself why.

Uncovering your purpose begins with understanding your own values and passions. Reflect on your personal and professional journey. Ask yourself what drives you, what brings you a sense of fulfilment, and what impact you wish to create in the world. Consider the issues, causes, or challenges that resonate deeply with you. Are you passionate about supporting communities, environmental sustainability, social justice, education, or healthcare? Here are some prompts that might help you further interrogate why you want to transition to the impact sector:

  • What are the values that guide my decisions and actions?
  • What aspects of my current role bring me the most fulfilment and align with my values?
  • What experiences or achievements have given me the greatest sense of purpose and satisfaction?
  • What are the non-monetary rewards that matter most to me in my career?


Appraising your skill set


Project Management

Corporate professionals often have extensive experience in managing complex projects, setting goals, and ensuring timely completion. In the social sector, these skills can be applied to coordinate initiatives, implement programs, and drive social change. Leverage your project management skills to streamline processes, create effective timelines, and monitor progress towards social impact goals. Consider these questions when conducting further research:

  • What are the key differences between project management in the corporate and impact sectors, and how can I integrate them? Think about the nuances of project management in the impact sector, such as collaborative decision-making, measuring social impact, and managing community engagement.
  • How will my existing stakeholder management skills have to adapt when working with different stakeholders and communities? Consider how you can leverage your interpersonal skills to collaborate effectively with stakeholders from various backgrounds, including service users, local communities, and non-profit organisations.


Portfolio management

Your corporate background can be an asset in evaluating the financial viability and scalability of impact projects. Apply your experience in financial analysis, risk assessment, and strategic planning to assess potential investments or grants. Some skills to adapt from corporate to social investing include:

  • Effective communication. You’ll need to communicate the social and environmental impact of your investments or grants to stakeholders, investors, and service users.
  • Emphasising long-term value. Impact finance often focuses on long-term value creation. Be patient and understand that social and environmental impact might take time to materialise fully. Avoid prioritising short-term gains over sustainable impact.
  • Conducting rigorous due diligence. You’ll need to incorporate a comprehensive due diligence process that evaluates both financial viability and impact potential. Assess the social and environmental risks and opportunities associated with each investment or grant opportunity.

Some questions to ask yourself while transitioning:

  • Do I understand the necessary impact metrics? In impact finance, traditional financial metrics are not enough; you need to understand and integrate impact metrics. Familiarise yourself with frameworks like the Impact Management Project (IMP) and the United Nations’ SDGs to measure and assess the social and environmental impact of investments and grants. Implement robust monitoring and evaluation processes to track the impact of investments and grants over time. Use the data collected to make informed decisions, optimise portfolios, and demonstrate the social and environmental outcomes achieved.
  • Am I prepared to align investments with values? As you manage portfolios or make investment decisions, ensure that they align with the social and environmental values of your organisation or the impact finance firm. Be clear about your impact objectives and the types of projects or ventures you want to support.
  • How can I build diversified impact portfolios? Diversification is essential in impact investing. Create portfolios that encompass a range of sectors and geographies to maximise positive outcomes and manage risk effectively.


Strategic Planning

Strategic thinking is valuable in any sector. Apply your expertise in strategic planning to the social sector by identifying long-term goals, formulating actionable strategies, and evaluating the impact of initiatives. Leverage your ability to think critically, analyse data, and make informed decisions to create sustainable social solutions. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are there existing best practices in the impact sector? Research successful strategic planning practices in the impact-driven space. Learn from case studies and success stories to apply relevant best practices to your own initiatives.
  • What impact metrics are relevant and meaningful? Evaluate the key performance indicators (KPIs) commonly used in the impact sector. Familiarise yourself with metrics that measure social and environmental outcomes to align your strategic planning with impact-driven goals.


Financial Acumen

Financial management skills acquired in the corporate sector can be leveraged to drive financial sustainability and accountability in the social sector. Apply your knowledge of budgeting, forecasting, and financial analysis to ensure efficient resource allocation, manage donor funding, support social investment processes and develop financial sustainability strategies for social impact organisations.

  • What are the key differences in financial models and reporting in the impact sector? You might want to familiarise yourself with the financial models and reporting practices specific to the impact sector. Understand the nuances of funding sources, organisational structure, donor or investor requirements, and social impact metrics.
  • Are there specific risks and compliance considerations in the impact sector I need to know about? Identify potential financial risks and compliance challenges unique to the social sector. Develop strategies to mitigate risks while maintaining financial transparency and accountability.
  • What financial tools and software are commonly used in the impact sector? What financial tools and software are commonly used in the impact sector for budgeting, financial analysis, and impact measurement? Consider acquiring new skills as needed.


Leadership and Team Management

Effective leadership is essential in the social sector. Draw upon your experience in leading teams, motivating individuals, and fostering collaboration to drive social change. Leverage your leadership skills to build diverse and inclusive teams, inspire others, and empower stakeholders to work towards a shared vision. Here are some prompts:

  • What leadership styles and approaches are most effective in the impact sector? Explore different leadership styles and approaches that align with the values and culture of the impact sector. Consider the importance of participative and stewardship leadership in driving social change.
  • How can I inspire and align teams around the organisation’s social mission? Determine how to inspire and align teams around the organisation’s social mission and impact goals. Communicate the larger purpose to foster a sense of shared purpose and commitment.
  • How can I build and nurture diverse and inclusive teams? Lived experience is essential in the impact sector. Assess how to build and nurture diverse and inclusive teams that represent a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. Emphasise the importance of diversity and inclusion in achieving social impact. Reflect on ethical considerations unique to the impact sector, such as addressing power imbalances, ethical fundraising, and responsible data management.


Communication and Stakeholder Engagement

Strong communication skills are vital for creating impact in the social sector. Use your expertise in clear and persuasive communication to engage diverse stakeholders, convey the mission and impact of your organisation, and mobilise support. Leverage your networking abilities to build relationships, foster partnerships, and advocate for social change.

  • Who are the key stakeholders in the impact sector, and how do their needs differ? Identify the key stakeholders in the impact sector, such as beneficiaries, donors, investors, volunteers, government agencies, and community members. Understand their unique needs and perspectives to tailor your communication approach.
  • Am I equipped to navigate sensitive or controversial topics with diplomacy? Assess your ability to handle sensitive or controversial topics with diplomacy and tact. Recognise the importance of ethical communication in the impact sector. Reflect on your cultural competency and ability to engage with diverse communities respectfully. Be open to learning about different cultures and perspectives.


Problem Solving and Analytical Thinking

Problem-solving skills honed in the corporate sector can be applied to address complex social challenges. Leverage your analytical thinking to understand root causes, design evidence-based interventions, and measure the effectiveness of social programs. Apply your problem-solving skills to develop innovative solutions that drive positive change.

  • How can I apply data analysis to understand root causes and identify patterns? Explore how you can apply data analysis to understand the root causes of social issues and identify patterns that inform evidence-based interventions. You may need to advocate for evidence-based solutions and data-driven decision-making within the impact sector to ensure the most effective use of resources.
  • How can I adapt my problem-solving techniques to address the complexity of social issues? Consider how you can adapt your problem-solving techniques to address the complexity of social issues, which may require innovative and multi-faceted approaches.
  • How can I leverage design thinking or human-centred design principles for social solutions? Explore how you can leverage design thinking or human-centred design principles to develop solutions that prioritise the needs and experiences of service users. Consider the ethical implications of problem-solving in the impact sector and ensure that solutions prioritise the well-being of affected communities.


Adaptability and Resilience

The corporate sector often requires adaptability and resilience in the face of changing environments. Leverage these qualities in the social sector, where you may encounter diverse and evolving challenges. Adapt to new contexts, embrace a growth mindset, and remain resilient in the pursuit of social impact.

  • Am I prepared to embrace ambiguity and navigate uncertain social environments? Assess your readiness to embrace ambiguity and navigate uncertain social environments, as the impact sector may present unique and evolving challenges.
  • Do I have a growth mindset that allows me to continuously learn and develop? Evaluate your growth mindset, emphasising a willingness to continuously learn and develop new skills to thrive in the impact sector.
  • Am I prepared to collaborate and learn from grassroots organisations and community members? Assess your readiness to collaborate and learn from grassroots organisations and community members, valuing their expertise and insights.
  • What strategies can I use to manage and navigate stressful situations in high-impact environments? Identify strategies to manage and navigate stressful situations in high-impact environments, ensuring your resilience remains strong.

These are just a few skills you might have that you can leverage in the social sector. If you want to dig a little deeper and tailor some more research to your needs, use the framework we’ve created below (with examples).

Note what you consider your most valuable skills, and when you’re ready to start networking with others who work in the impact sector, ask them how they apply these skills to their roles. Having some more context around how your strongest talents can be utilised will equip you with the confidence and knowledge to transition sectors.

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Date: 16 August 2023 | Posted In: Helpful Guides | Posted by: Careers4change


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