Each year we come across students and alumni who are considering changing not just their job or employer, but the broader sector they have been working in (often with a desire to use their skills in a less commercial, profit-driven environment). For many of you, the decision to come to the LSE to study for a master’s degree can be part of that process, for others it’s an idea that emerges sometime after your studies are completed and following a number of years in the workplace.
Motivations can be varied – a desire to take on different challenges, a life event that has given a new focus or new set of priorities, dissatisfaction with something in the current role and environment, or just a realisation that there’s another world of exciting opportunities elsewhere which hadn’t been considered before.
Making the move panel
Our recent panel and networking evening gave us the opportunity to hear from a group of professionals with personal experience of switching (sometimes more than once) between corporate roles and the not-for-profit sector. While their stories were quite individual, it was clear to see that there were common themes in their experience in that they have:
- been willing to take risks
- each achieved their goals by being very proactive in looking for and seizing opportunities
- a good understanding of the value of their individual skills and experience to the new role and organisation
On the other hand, all is not glorious on the ‘other side’ – there are be frustrations to face, and it can often be worth considering alternative ways of fulfilling your ambitions or dreams to help. Each of our panellists gave a quick overview of their experiences, and then took questions from the floor.
If you missed the evening, you can watch our recording (highlights of the advice are below).
Examples of making the move
Bernadine Fernz – Policy and Research Adviser, Engineers Against
Poverty (previously Barrister/Deloitte)
Bernadine’s initial career path was one chosen to align with family expectations, but she quickly became disillusioned and embarked on a journey of self-discovery through working for an off-shore law firm, consulting on infrastructure projects with Deloitte and Touche, and a master’s at LSE, before joining Engineers against Poverty where she focuses on climate change work. Dealing with family shock and a 50% pay cut proved not inconsiderable feats, but she’s happy to encourage anyone thinking of making the move to go for it, stressing that it’s the best thing she has done and has brought considerable fulfilment. Don’t worry if it takes you a long time to work out what you want to do – it’s ok to be in your 30’s and still not know she advises. Just take the time to think about your strengths, listen to yourself, work out potential roles and organisations, and call people up and ask to speak to them. From there, you can come up with your strategy.
Amy Parker – Chief Executive, AfriKids (previously Deutsche Bank)
Amy’s transfer from Australia to the UK proved a challenge as her Australian qualifications were not recognised and so she worked initially as a temp before joining Deutsche Bank as a PA in 2004. A proactive attitude saw her asking to take on more responsibility and she eventually became involved in the bank’s CSR department, helping to choose the charities the bank works with. While running the employee giving programme she came in contact with many more charities, one of whom was Afrikids, whose ethos and approach she loved. So she got in touch and offered her services, starting as a fundraiser and then taking over as Chief Executive. Her advice is to get involved where you can and ask for secondments within your organisation to help establish your interest in the sector and build connections. For Amy the change of sector has not reduced her workload or working hours, but passion for her cause makes it worth it.
Jill Bausch – SRI Executive (previously Futures Group)
After several years as Head of PR in North America for Hyatt hotels, Jill realised that despite the great job title and money, she was no longer happy and fulfilled by what she was doing. A chance meeting where she picked up a magazine told her that the ODA (now DFID) was looking for business people to teach business skills to people running development programmes. Despite having no qualification for the job she contacted the person hiring to make a speculative application and did what she recommends to all who see something they want – she refused to take no for an answer. Persistence, empathy, and being determined while remaining elegant are vital characteristics. In this way, she has continued to move between different sectors including academia and executive search and considers that at any point the key things are being true to your personal motivation and finding the right organisation.
Tom Rippin – CEO, OnPurpose (previously McKinsey)
Tom started his career in research, assuming that a life in academia lay ahead. Realising he preferred teaching to research and that his great interest lay in international development work, he felt it would be important to acquire some private sector experience, so joined McKinsey where he remained for five years. A short stint at Comic Relief and a period running Bono’s Red European team underlined the value of bringing a commercial approach to social problems (though he considers that this might reflect effective brainwashing from his time at McKinsey!) Having had the idea of starting up OnPurpose (a programme for social enterprise leaders), the timing felt right and he set up the first programme in 2010. Tom stresses the difficulty in deciding exactly what to do, and how easy it is to remain stuck while you try to identify your ‘passion’. Sometimes it’s actually important just to get started: don’t focus on what you want to do for the next 40 years. Instead he advises that it’s best to narrow things down, think about the type of organisation you want to work for (big company, small charity), take small steps and talk about what you’re interested in as the more you can say, the more you can be helped.
Also, it’s good to make use of your peers, but it can be unhelpful to benchmark yourself against those in other sectors who might be earning much more than you so keep in touch with the ‘right’ people. Remember that 80% of jobs are not advertised, so networking is incredibly important and in the social enterprise space you need to meet people, especially if you’re changing careers. Volunteer, get known, and invite people for a coffee, offer them cake, ask for advice – but do make sure you know what you are asking them and precisely what you need help with.
Jennifer Geary – COO, Save the Children (previously Barclays)
Jennifer qualified as a chartered accountant in Dublin, working in New York before returning to London in 2002 and joining Barclays, where she spent five years in investment banking and five years in wealth management. Post Libor and the PPI scandal, she joined Barclays’ Citizenship Leadership Council which reviewed the public and social persona of the bank at that time. Thinking of taking on a non-executive directorship, initially to complement her day job, she discussed with colleagues her interest in working with an organisation focused on women and children and learned that Save the Children were looking for a COO to cover a maternity absence. She realised that this was something she just had to make happen, and after working hard to persuade Barclays, eventually took over the role permanently. Jennifer stresses how important it is to ask and suggests that when you open yourself up to the universe, things happen. Taking a CSR role within your current organisation can be a great bridge, so explore the possibility of rotations or short-term transfers. At least 60% of her previous experience proved immediately applicable to Save the Children, and it was reassuring to know that she could be useful from day one. Timing and luck are important, but it’s up to you to make it happen she advises.
The first not-for-profit role
The panel was asked: What surprised you when you took your first not for profit role?
Jill: You think you will have a greater sense of doing good and giving back, but in the public sector this is not always easy, so you don’t always get that feeling of doing good.
Jennifer: Save the Children is a very ambitious place and people work very hard. Be confident in yourself, and don’t be afraid to learn. There’s a lot of opportunity to apply the concepts and project management techniques from business. In this organisation, every sentence finishes with ‘so that we can deliver more for children’. It can take time to realise that this link is always present.
Amy: I was shocked by how emotional it is – there are much bigger extremes in working with charity than in other roles. The ups and downs are more dramatic.
Bernardine: Things do work differently. If you are used to certain efficiencies, they might not be present, so you need to remember not to get too frustrated when it works differently. For example, it can take a lot of time for promised aid or donor funding to come through, so work is slowed down. This can be frustrating if you want to get things done on the ground. It’s less streamlined than one might hope.
General downsides according to the panel:
- lack of efficiency
- lack of resources – no IT person!
- financial differences
- the frequent thought of ‘Would I have been better staying where I was and donating rather than trying to add value in organisation by working in it?’ It’s not always a straightforward answer so think seriously about the possibility of donating some money and/or sitting on a board, rather than making the career change.
- connection to cause and people who are decent, talented, diverse
- not wondering what you ought to be doing because you’re doing it – eg. being part of the social sector or your own organisation
- being able to see the things in over lots of countries that people never get to see
- you know it was the right thing to do and you have an impact working with something you love and are still learning; it’s exciting and you are contributing
- fulfilment – it’s very emotionally rewarding doing good work – wouldn’t change it for the world
If you’re thinking about changing direction in your career, there are lots of opportunities to move if you’re flexible and curious. Look carefully at the options, consider what skills you can transfer into the new organisation, be flexible and exploit the opportunities you unearth. We’re open all year – book a one-to-one appointment if you’d like some career support.