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Lessons from the Be Social Change Virtual Career Summit

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Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

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In October of this year, Be Social Change, a New York City-based organization offering resources and programming for social-impact professionals, hosted their four-day Virtual Social Impact Career Summit.

Featuring a variety of voices from across sectors, CEO Marcos Salazar interviewed 44 professionals (including Alexis Perrotta, editor for Idealist Careers), on challenges and opportunities in the social-impact space.

Read on for some of my biggest takeaways from the summit.

Communication and connection

In his Facebook Live kick-off, Marcos introduced five overarching themes that would be revisited throughout the summit.

  1. When interacting with a potential employer, it’s not enough to be clear on your purpose: as a job seeker, you need to be clear on how your purpose aligns with an organization’s values.
  2. Skills are important, but more and more, organizations are hiring for cultural fit; they want to make sure they’re hiring people they like, trust, and want to work with.
  3. Your cover letter is read more carefully than you may realize: it’s being vetted for organizational fit and how well you’re able to communicate your story.
  4. The best long-term investment you can make for your career is building out your network and getting referrals. Tapping into your network will not only ensure your resume is seen, but also offers social proof that you’re liked and trusted.
  5. Storytelling is an essential skill, both when you’re searching for a job and when you’re part of an organization. It’s important to have a clear narrative so that you can connect with others.

The importance of self-awareness

In his interview, Aaron Hurst, Co-Founder and CEO of Imperative, discusses his organization’s hiring practice and noted that he wants to hire self-aware, honest, humble people. Though he’d love to offer guidance and support to anyone who feels lost, it’s “dangerous” for an employer to hire people who lack awareness of their passions, strengths, and areas for improvement.

Pro tip: Practice talking about your passions, strengths, and areas for improvement with someone you trust and who can offer constructive criticism on how to authentically pitch yourself in an interview.

Tenacity and passion

Katherine Lynch, Senior Manager at Kiva, talked about the importance of tenacity in your career. If you’re passionate about a particular organization or cause, keep at it. If you get rejected, don’t give up—your passion will help you find related opportunities that will bring you closer to your goals.

The role of storytelling

When you apply for a job or reach out to learn more about opportunities at a specific organization, be ready to tell a story. Vanessa Kirby, Talent Lead at, points out that it’s not enough to just say you’re interested—be specific. You should be able to not only talk about the job you want, but also what it is about this organization and its mission that excites you. How you communicate your passion will signal how you’ll fit into an organization’s culture.

To consider: What three specific things excite you about your current or desired employer?

Attention to detail and feedback

One of the most obvious but easy to overlook aspects of being either a successful job candidate or employee is attention to detail. Alexis Perrotta, editor for Idealist Careers, stated that when she scrutinizes a candidate’s application, she wants to see attention to detail. Typos and grammatical errors signal carelessness, even if they’re honest mistakes. Alexis also talks about feedback and how when you’re working for a publication or an organization, you have to be willing to accept constructive criticism and to learn how to improve so that you—and your team—can be successful.

The nonprofit standard

There’s a misconception that finding a job in the nonprofit world isn’t as difficult or “serious” as in the for-profit world. Sam Arpino, Talent & Culture Manager at DoSomething, refutes that. The standards for working at a nonprofit are incredibly high since they need the best mission-driven people they can find to be creative, strategic, and pro-active, oftentimes with less resources than their for-profit counterparts.

Contribution and collaboration

An interesting insight from Salazar’s conversation with Jordan Hunter, People & Culture Manager at charity: water, is the importance of social and emotional intelligence. Your skills are what will get your foot in the door, but thereafter, it’s up to you to prove that you’re a team player. You have to be a willing contributor, irrespective of who you’re collaborating with. That kind of attitude will help you have a valuable experience and figure out how best to serve the social impact space.

Pro tip: Keep close track of each of your contributions and their results. This will help you to recognize and hone in on your strengths as well as talk to your manager or interviewer about your successes when you’re seeking a promotion, raise, or new job.

Questions for clarity

Eli Malinsky, Associate Director of Business & Society at the Aspen Institute, spoke about his evolution as a manager and how he’s learning to balance “honesty, directness, and kindness” when overseeing his team. Just as you are growing into your role and figuring out how to do your best, your manager is too. When new challenges arise, the best thing you can do is work toward clarity—that means not just waiting for your manager to foster it, but also participating by asking questions that’ll help you and your entire team progress.

To consider: What’s preventing you from asking your manager and team clarifying questions about a project you’re currently working on? What would make you feel comfortable enough to speak up?

Representation of organizational values

The stress put on cultural and organizational fit is essential in the nonprofit world. Susie Harrison, Head of Strategic Relationships at Pencils of Promise, highlights that a nonprofit’s employees are also its ambassadors for donors and interested stakeholders. It’s important that when employees interact with people outside the organization, they represent their organization as likable, trustworthy, and impactful.

The trajectory of your career

With the exponential rise in interest and opportunities in the social-impact space over the last decade, Danielle Carruthers, Content Animator at +Acumen, notes that there are myriad ways for you to create or find your niche and make your mark. The trajectory of your career is dependent on your passion, skills, openness, and entrepreneurial mindset. If you can nurture those, you will find the right job and career path for you.

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Nisha Kumar Kulkarni profile image

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.

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