Social enterprise is, has been, and will continue to be a hot topic in the social sector. There’s no real consensus over what exactly a “social enterprise” is, or where exactly they fit in to the social sector, but there’s lots of interest.
I have worked in, with and around many social enterprises and I’ve begun to crystalize a few things around what a social enterprise’s role is for creating social change. These ideas will develop over time, but because many are interested in working for social enterprises, I thought I would provide a few pieces of advice on how to land a job in one.
If you’ve seen one social enterprise, you’ve seen one social enterprise
Yes, it is cliché. But it is true. Social enterprises come in all shapes and sizes. Even within fields, organizations can tackle problems in different ways and have different vocabulary to talk about similar issues. Googling a social enterprise before a job interview will not give you what you need to impress your interviewers and secure a job.
To really know about the organization’s work, you have to not only research the problem they are trying to tackle, but also the landscape in which they work. Who are their competitors? How does this organization do things differently? Do they even have competitors, or do they focus on creating partnerships? Talking to other organizations working on the same problems can provide tremendous insight into the industry, even if they don’t know much about the organization you are interested in.
If you want to learn more about the social enterprise industry, check out the resources over at the Social Enterprise Alliance. Social Enterprise Buzz also provides great updates on developments in the sector.
Social enterprise means different things to different people
Saying “social enterprise” can elicit different images and ideas in different people. Some people think nonprofits can be social enterprises; some people think you need to be a for-profit business. To some, the important criterion for a social enterprise is its revenue source, for others it is its internal policies and procedures.
In a job interview, they probably won’t quiz you on the many meanings of social enterprise, but as an applicant, you have to figure out what social enterprise means to you. Determining what you value in a social enterprise—or any organization—will ensure that you find a good fit. Without a personal definition of social enterprise, you can’t find that value alignment that is essential in a job search.
Figuring out what social enterprise means to you will require a lot of reading, talking, and all-around soul searching. The Stanford Social Innovation Review (and its companion blog) has a lot of great articles and webinars that tackle the intricacies of social enterprise. UnSectored, a community platform I started for those interested in discussing cross-sector change, has hosted several blog series on the subject. The annual SOCAP conference also brings together some of the leading thinkers on the subject. And if you are looking for job-specific advice on social enterprise, look no further than Jonathan Lewis’ Café Impact.
No matter the size, you have to work outside your organization
Even if you work in the most well-respected, all-encompassing social enterprise out there, your organization will not be able to solve problems on its own. Just because a social enterprise has a revenue source, or operates with business principles, that doesn’t mean it won’t need to partner to accomplish its goals. The problems they try to tackle are too complex to go it alone.
What does this mean for you? You need to develop the interpersonal skills to build coalitions and work with others—especially if you are going to work for a small organization that requires you wear many hats. Showing a potential employer that you understand partnership building can give you an edge on your other competition.
Developing these skills is a career-long process, but it always helps to get out there and meet new people in different contexts. Your local Meetup most likely has tons of social sector-focused events (or you can start one!), and if there’s a Net Impact or Young Nonprofit Professionals chapter in your area, check those out. And if you’re in the DC-area, make sure you come to one of our UnSectored events!