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These insights were taken from “Making the Switch,” a series designed to help Booth MBAs leverage their degrees for new careers in social impact. The series featured Anny Chou, '17, principal of executive search at Koya Leadership Partners; Donna Snider, ’02, managing director of the Kresge Foundation; and Susan Kane, '91, chief program officer at Blessings in a Backpack. The series was hosted by Booth’s Career Services and the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, the school’s destination for people tackling complex social and environmental problems.
- Know your story, and tell it with passion. Tell your story in a compelling way that fits with both the narrative of the nonprofit organization, as well as your personal and professional narrative. Being able to communicate the mission and cultural fit is key. You need to be able to explain the “who” – who you are as a person and your values – and the “why” – why your specific transferable skills and passion will be invaluable to the organization.
- Do your research. Identify the causes you’re passionate about. Join the email list of an organization with which you identify. Go to one of the nonprofit’s events before you even say, “I want to join your organization.” Do your homework upfront to understand the organization and who they serve. Saying you want to give back to the world is essential, but insufficient. Instead, spend a lot of time preparing to explain why you want to build a career at a specific nonprofit.
- Prepare for a change in culture and language. Booth alumni are often trained to look at return on investments and data-backed insights. Nonprofits may talk about unpacking social issues, reframing questions, and getting into the minds of their constituents. Nonprofits value critical thinking skills and having an MBA doesn’t automatically make you an expert at understanding how a specific organization works. Listening well on the job will empower your fellow staff and prove you’re an advocate for the work the organization does, even if you have to make unpopular decisions down the road.
- Understand the expectations. The biggest question for somebody coming into the social sector from a large corporate environment is, “Can you work in an environment where you have to be very hands on?” Resources are always constrained at a nonprofit. You get to be strategic, but sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and create the spreadsheet, etc. Because there will always be more work to do, you need to temper your expectations and take time to celebrate successes, big and small.
- Network, network, network. Networking takes time, but it’s important because you never know when an opportunity is going to pop up. Remember the old adage: it’s less about what you know and more about who you know. Consider volunteering, doing pro bono consulting projects or joining a nonprofit board of directors. Meet as many people outside your circle of friends as possible, share experiences with new people, and be inquisitive.
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