Sometimes career changes are driven by external factors: a cross-country move to an area with few jobs in your field or a need for more flexibility. But other times, they’re driven from within–from feeling stuck, from a desire to contribute your time and your skills to something that matters.
A noble goal doesn’t make taking a leap any less scary. But one thing that can ease some anxiety is being prepared and setting yourself up for success in securing more meaningful work. Through our MovingWorlds Institute Career Change for Social Good Fellowship, we have found the following three steps to be essential in navigating a successful transition:
Step 1: Orient Your Career
As Dan Pink shares in his bestselling book Drive: The things that make you feel alive at work are not what you might think. The money you make and the people you benefit won’t give you as much fulfillment as how you do the work, who you do it with, and the things you learn along the way. Here’s a great video summary of it.
In other words, when you think about your career direction, don’t ask yourself what causes you want to work on. Rather, ask yourself:
- What type of work will give me a deep feeling of purpose?
- What type of work will help me feel useful and build on my strengths?
- What type of setting and culture will let me choose the time, technique, and people I work with in a way that best resonates with me?
Certainly, these aren’t easy questions to answer on the fly, so we recommend you self-reflect on the highs and lows of your career to date. When in your career were you most energized? For each time, think about the work you were doing, the skills you were using, the things you were learning, and where and how you were doing the work. Now think about the lows in your career and ask yourself the same questions: What work were you doing and how were you doing it? Once you write these out, look for themes across your highs and lows, it should tell you where to look for your next challenge.
Step 2: Build Your Skills and Profile
When companies hire people, they take on a lot of risk, so they do everything they can to mitigate that risk. First and foremost, they want to hire people who have a proven record of delivering results related to the demands of the job, the sector, and the workplace. This is why startups are often slow to hire people from big corporations, and vice versa. It’s also why many nonprofit organizations are wary about hiring people from the for-profit sector.
A hiring manager at a global development organization once told me this: “Everybody likes the idea of working in global development, but I can’t tell you how many people we’ve hired who have resigned three months later because they didn’t like travel or couldn’t cope with the emotional struggles of the job.”
Here are a few things you can do to prove that you’re ready to transition to a nonprofit or social impact-related role:
- Demonstrate you can deliver results in a similar setting. Pro bono volunteering is one of the best ways to build relevant experience in a new sector. By working on projects that build on your skills and stretch you to grow, you can evidence that you know what it takes to make things happen. And as an added bonus, it will show your commitment to public interest work.
- Learn more about the sector by going to networking events, sitting on a board, and/or engaging in sector-specific professional development courses.
- Consider job-shadowing to spend time in the workplaces and impact-spaces of the environment you want to work in.
As you can see, there’s no substitute for hands-on experience. That’s what separates those “interested” in the role from those who can do the work.
Step 3: Adapt your professional story and résumé
Telling your story to an audience you are still figuring out can be hard. It’s also de-motivating to have to keep rewriting your résumé and cover letter. Our advice: Don’t go it alone.
- Look online for guides and suggestions based on the industry you are applying to.
- Use your network and ask your first- and second-degree connections for insights and advice.
- Ask a trusted friend or mentor to listen to you practice telling your professional story. Ask for feedback on whether you draw clear connections between past/current experiences and your desired field of work.
You’ll also need to update your résumé, LinkedIn profile, and interview speaking points in such a way that your audience can see the value you’ll bring to their organization.
All told, change is scary, but invaluable. There are few things you can do that will have a bigger impact on the world than aligning your career in a way that contributes to the greater good. And there’s no time like the present to get started.
Mark Horoszowski is the CEO and cofounder of MovingWorlds, a social enterprise that operates leadership development, career growth, and social impact programs for individuals as well as global corporations.