Guest Articles

November 23

Kimberly Hendler

NexThought Monday: Want to Work at a Social Enterprise? Stand out with these skills

Social enterprise is a booming field. And as more professionals around the world realize that it is possible to bring their business skills to bear in for-profit companies determined to make a positive impact, the job market is getting increasingly competitive and employers can afford to be more selective.

So what do you need to stand out as a job applicant to social enterprises? In our experience here at Impact Business Leaders, where we’ve helped more than 70 professionals find new roles in social enterprises, there are a few key skill sets that have set our most successful participants apart. Most of these individuals have secured middle and senior management roles in predominately young social enterprises – i.e. those showing growth just beyond the start-up phase.


Financial Management

Start-up and early-stage companies, which pretty much dominate the social enterprise sector – especially in emerging markets – have pressing liquidity concerns until financial sustainability is achieved. This means that everyone in a start-up needs to be focused on cash flow and managing precious financial resources. This is especially important for companies serving bottom of the pyramid customers, as these firms typically need to keep costs very low in order to maintain product affordability.

What this means for you: The greater your skills in financial management, the better your chances of a successful career transition into a start-up social enterprise. Regardless of your functional role (e.g. human resources, technology, marketing, business development, etc.), you will need to demonstrate that you can effectively budget and track finances.


Financial Analysis

In addition to managing finances, whether working for a social enterprise or an impact investor, you need to be able to analyze the effectiveness of current activities and create future projections – for both financial sustainability and social and/or environmental impact. And often, at a start-up company deploying a new business model, it is crucial that you can experiment and learn from the results.

What this means for you: Gaining and sharpening financial analysis skills is key for most roles in the sector. For example, when you are entering a new market, you need to be able to analyze the success of marketing efforts and adjust your strategy. Or you may realize that financing a purchase is a challenge for your customers and need to develop profitable strategies to help them afford your product. Last but certainly not least, financial analysis skills, specifically due diligence and deal sourcing, are especially important to impact investors. Seventy-five percent of IBL’s placements in impact investing already had strong finance skills.


Team Management and Leadership

As is the case in many sectors, strong management and leadership skills are highly valued by employers. This is also true in our experience in the social enterprise space, especially as companies grow beyond their founding team and need to bring on leaders to help expand the company while managing change and growth.

What this means for you: Demonstrated success managing teams will go far in your job hunt. Depending on the kinds of roles you are seeking, it may be that you should focus on showing how you have led across cultures, through change and/or in times of quick growth.


Where to go from here

While financial management, financial analysis and team management and leadership are certainly not the only skills prized by social entrepreneurs and impact investors, based on what we’ve seen at IBL, they are especially helpful for candidates to applying for a variety of roles in the start-up dominated social enterprise sector and to eventually secure a role that meets their goals.

To build these skills, seek opportunities in your current role, in project-based volunteering or consulting gigs, and through coursework where you are encouraged to practice what you are learning. When applying for roles and in interviews, highlight examples where you have demonstrated success in these areas. You may also consider initially taking a more junior role in a social enterprise or impact investor that will give you exposure to a new skill set that will help you build your career in the long run.

While most start-ups are hiring people who can “wear many hats” and contribute generalist skills to evolving business models, there are often some highly technical skills that are needed. If this isn’t a fit for you, then you also may want to seek roles in more mature companies that tend to hire for more specialized roles as they grow and differentiate their teams.

What has been your experience in transferring your past experience into social enterprises? Leave a comment to share your story.


Photo credit: Graham Lavender/Flickr.


Kimberly Hendler consults with Impact Business Leaders on recruitment and revenue generation.

Education, Social Enterprise
impact investing, skill development, social enterprise