Myth-busting: For Leadership Skills, Only Business Experience Will Do
Net Impact CEO Liz Maw tackles the most common myths associated with impact careers
You’ve heard these myths before: you’ve gotta go into the business world if you want real leadership skills. Corporate jobs, though, are totally evil. But nonprofit work doesn’t pay anything. Over the coming weeks, Net Impact CEO Liz Maw unpacks five myths that are holding back our society’s ability to solve its most difficult problems. Because these myths aren’t just misguided, they stand in the way of good people doing good work – work that could change the world.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a student about his job search and he said something that stopped me in my tracks. He told me that he was only looking at private sector jobs because he heard that was where he should go to develop his skills before considering a nonprofit option. Noooo….not that myth again!
Why close a door before you know what’s behind it?
This particular myth drives me crazy because it closes people off to opportunities that could be the right one for them. Yes, many private sector companies invest in fancy leadership development programs and in-depth training opportunities for their young employees. Yes, these training opportunities are awesome, I’m sure. But are they really superior to the skill-building opportunities you would get if you choose the right nonprofit organization?
What matters just as much, if not more, than big professional development budgets is what you learn by doing on the job. Research from The Management Center and the Bridgespan Group shows that 70% of job skills are acquired through on-the-job doing, not from any formal training. And nonprofits can be hot-beds of doing! As resource-constrained organizations, they are always looking for smart people to pitch in, think out of the box, and solve problems, no matter what the experience level. We have recent grads working at Net Impact, for example, who are already heavily involved in program strategy, data analytics, and content creation – all projects that at bigger companies would probably be staffed with teams of more senior veterans.
What to really pay attention to during the job search
Of course, not all nonprofit jobs are created equal (just like not all corporate jobs are created equal). In looking for the right skill-building job, make sure to:
- Know your future colleagues
Take a good look at the backgrounds and qualifications of the people you’ll be working with. Do they have varied experiences and degrees that speak to your own interests or values? These are the kind of folks who can help you develop new skills through your daily work and interactions.
- Are junior staff empowered?
Ask questions about who gets to lead new ideas or initiatives. Are junior people given the chance to lead new projects, or provide ideas and insights into ongoing ones? Are they included in brainstorms with company leadership, exposing them to senior thinking, and vice versa?
- Will the job evolve and change?
Look for organizations that have a history of growth, evolution, and innovation. Dynamic organizations offer dynamic opportunities for their people.
So if you think the nonprofit sector might be the right place for you, don’t overlook it because you think your skills will get dusty while you’re there. If you do your job hunting right, you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn and achieve while making a difference on issues you care about.