While boundaries between sectors are becoming more blurred and moving between sectors increasingly common, making the move from the corporate to not-for-profit sector certainly throws up some of its own challenges. Here we share the wisdom of some panellists from a recent LSE Careers event discussing these career transitions to give you an insight into how to manage the process and some of the pitfalls to avoid.

Question: What do you need to consider when making the move from the corporate to not-for-profit sector?

Helen McGardle, Managing Director – Global Search, SRI Executive Search

NFP is no different to private sector, it is still called ‘work’, and has the same ups and downs as elsewhere. Your aim has to be that on as many days as possible you say ‘I love this, and I actually get paid for it too’ and on the other days when the proverbial hits the fan that you say ‘Thankfully I am paid to do this…’ I advise every candidate to be ‘selfish’, as in the announcement on planes ‘put on your own mask first’! Be totally aware of what you can deliver, where you may need support etc., then chose a role that best fits ‘You’. Do not think that taking a role that serves others will ‘right’ the wrongs’ in your own life, ‘right’ your own ‘wrongs’, then you are whole and complete to do a great job on your own behalf and that of others.

Garcia Williamson, from RBS to Cancer Research

If work defines you as a person and is key to your personal identity and feeling of self-worth, consider the following before making a move to the NFP sector. What you will miss about your current role and organisation, both positive and negative? Why are you drawn to a specific NFP/charity? If you don’t really identify with the purpose, you may find it hard to accept a potential reduction in remuneration, status, progression opportunities and investment in your development. What will you be able to contribute based on your transferable knowledge, skills and experience that could really benefit the charity?

Think about whether now is the right time for you. Are you prepared to make the move, take a risk and learn from the experience if things don’t work out as you had planned? How can you ensure that you do not burn your bridges? You may want to move back to the corporate world at some point, so maintain your contacts and your commercial awareness.

Question: What are the main differences between the corporate and not-for-profit sector?

Alberto Lidji, Global CEO of the Novak Djokovic Foundation

The line between the private sector and non-profit world is quite blurred these days and foundations are embracing much more robust and creative impact measurement strategies than ever before. Therefore, the analytical skills we developed as students here at LSE, and which many of us have employed extensively in the world of private enterprise, are certainly very much in demand across the third sector, both in the UK and globally. I would highly encourage anyone considering making the move from the private world into the non-profit space to take the plunge and give it a go – it’s a transition that is much easier to pull off now than in previous years and which would provide foundations and charities with invaluable human capital at a time when it’s needed most. There are no shortage of worthwhile causes out there and the Sustainable Development Goals provide a useful compass for anyone wishing to make the world a better place. Once you make the move you might never look back!

Kerry-Jane Lowery, Humanitarian Anthropologist

Know exactly why you want to work in the NFP sector and be careful not to romanticise it. Many people do and end up disillusioned, disappointed and despondent. The dreaded 3 Ds!! People aren’t nicer because they work in this sector, they’re not kinder or better, the sector doesn’t treat its workers better simply because it’s not-for-profit, and it’s not an escape to a kinder and better world, it’s just another sector. Of course there are some extraordinary people and some projects are fabulous, but these exist elsewhere too. You won’t have a feel good feeling every day and you won’t have a sense of purpose every step of the way either, so please don’t enter this sector with stars in your eyes hoping for a better world, you’ll only be disappointed. Obviously, it can at times be all that you hope for, but more often than not it won’t be and if you’re realistic about your expectations your transition will be all the more successful and fulfilling.

Aliyah Kurji, from Accenture to OnPurpose

Making the transition from private sector consulting to the social impact sector is not easy. Finding a job in the social impact sector can be a confusing and frustrating journey because there’s no set path. However, navigating the ambiguity is part of the challenge and creates an opportunity to add depth to your knowledge about the sector.

Question: What practical careers advice would you give? 

Helen McGardle, Managing Director – Global Search, SRI Executive Search

I am most struck by the fact that people’s focus is often on what they are ‘missing’, how they can make themselves more attractive, etc. They should be focusing on telling how good they are in their roles, and then using their motivation to deliver their part for a NFP; this will put them top of the list for employers. There are one or two minor tweaks that most need to put this together as a compelling narrative both for the CV, and in how they would deliver at interview.

Garcia Williamson, from RBS to Cancer Research

You need to think how can you demonstrate your interest in the sector to a potential employer? eg. volunteering or fundraising. Look for opportunities to help ‘bridge the gap’, for example expressing an interest in a non-executive role for a small charity. Networking with alums who have gone into the sector is also essential. Writing a blog or publishing a piece of thought leadership can also help to get yourself noticed. Finally creating a project team from like-minded individuals or through your course and offering to carry out some research or a piece of work for a charity will also give you valuable experience.

Kirsten Lee Robinson, from Portland Communications to The World Wide Web Foundation

Consider a small to mid-sized non-profit to start out. There’s more opportunity to define your role, more direct access to senior management who can mentor you throughout your career, and more free territory for you to expand your responsibilities and range of relevant experience more quickly. Look for consulting or professional services jobs where your clients will be non-profits. These could be communications agencies, accountancy firms, management consultancies, etc. Having a few non-profit clients on your CV really helps show relevance and gives you good stories to tell in interviews that employers can easily relate to.

Alison Moyle, from Cleary Gottlieb to the Georgian Group

Speak to people working in the specific field you’re interested in. You could ask if you can take them for a coffee to learn more about what they do and their personal experiences of the sector. People are usually very happy to encourage and support those just starting out or transitioning into a new career. You are not fishing for a job offer (and shouldn’t!) but it’s a good way to learn more and could end up be helpful in the future.

You can listen/watch to the full panel below:

Aliyah Kurji has also written a blog 8 ways to kick start your social impact career. If you need any support with your career plans and applications, book an appointment with us on CareerHub.

Good luck!

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