There is no denying that impact finance is one of the most sought after spaces in finance right now, but what does it take to land your dream job in the sector? The two of us have worn many hats in the impact finance space over the past decade: impact investor, academic, author, advisor, and founders of an impact finance careers platform. Throughout this time, we’ve helped thousands of individuals successfully transition into the impact finance industry. While the transition certainly isn’t easy, we have identified some top tips that we used and our clients used to land their dream job in the impact finance space.
1. Understand your WHY
The most important part of your career transition is YOU, your unique reason for joining the sector, and what you want to get out of it. Many times when we engage with talent, they have a hard time articulating their WHY. Yes, the impact finance sector is dynamic, exciting, and has the ability to provide a sense of accomplishment, but all of that means nothing if you don’t understand why you want to make this transition and what a successful transition could look like. Getting crystal clear on your definition of impact, how you want to contribute to the sector, and how you want to work on a daily basis can help you cut through the 2,000+ impact finance organizations to find the best fit for YOU.
2. Explore the entire employment landscape
Most candidates start their job search by looking only at impact investing funds. While a good start, this is actually a very small part of the Impact Finance landscape. In addition to many different types of impact funds (debt, mezzanine, corporate venturing and more), there are a wide range of employers in Impact Finance, including academic institutions, accelerators, advisory firms, consultancies, corporates, development finance institutions, foundations, family offices, governments, incubators, institutional asset managers, law firms, networks, non-bank financial institutions, nonprofits, and wealth managers. Take time to explore the entire employment landscape. Marrying this with your WHY and a personal impact thesis will ensure that you make the transition into an impact focused organization that is aligned with your career expectations.
3. Map the type of roles you are looking for
Within the impact finance sector there are capital allocating positions that generally require financial experience as well as non-capital allocating positions that require a variety of skills like sector expertise, regional expertise, impact measurement, policy knowledge, writing and research skills and more. To identify the characteristics of roles and organizations that will be a fit for you, review as many job descriptions as possible (check out the jobs in ImpactAlpha’s newsletter, as well as Impact Finance Pro, GIIN, ANDE, NextBillion, Devex). It is easier to design a dream job profile for yourself once you’ve seen quite a few.
4. Bridge to where you want to go
We have yet to find someone who has had a perfectly linear career progression into the impact finance space. The ability to embrace ambiguity and complexity is a key part of succeeding within the sector. If the roles you are interested in require a different set of skills to what you possess, you’ll need to find ways to bridge into your ideal career. If you have a background in education and are wanting to work as an associate at an impact investing fund, you may want to look for an organization that requires an education specialist – for instance at a social enterprise currently raising capital or at an impact finance advisory firm or even at an education impact investing fund working on due diligence and post-investment support. Look at your transition as a series of steps, as opposed to one giant leap. The key is to leverage what you have to get into the room and then develop the additional skills you need to get to your ideal role.
Most of the candidates that we see successfully transition into impact finance spent a considerable amount of time building a network within the sector and in adjacent sectors of interest. However, people quite often want to network their way to the top, meaning the most senior person in the organization. The reality is that these individuals are not only strapped for time, but they get the most requests to meet. Instead, we highly recommend networking laterally and even potentially with those who are junior to you. Analysts and associate-level professionals within organizations typically are very enthusiastic about sharing their experience and have a good command of the inner workings of the organization and role. They are sometimes also responsible for doing HR screening and could be the first to see your resume! You’ll want to establish a networking strategy and track your progress. It’s much easier to keep track of who you connected with, why, the outcome, and any follow up items if you have it well documented. A simple excel sheet can keep you on track.
6. Become fluent in impact
Prospective employers (and anyone you are networking with) will be looking for you to understand the landscape, trends, terminology, and current issues within impact finance. You’ll need to put the time in by reading newsletters like ImpactAlpha and industry reports like the GIIN’s annual survey as well as specialized reports in the sectors or asset classes you are interested in.
Social media can be a great way to connect with the thought leaders in the larger impact finance space as well as the specific areas you are interested in. Twitter can be particularly useful to engage directly with thought leaders and stay up to date on current conversations. Here are lists of Impact Finance Leaders, Impact Finance Companies and Impact Finance Academics to get you started. You’ll also want to attend webinars and other online events like conferences and roundtables. Be sure to use the chat effectively to introduce yourself to others and add value to conversations.
Finally, there are courses on impact finance in every length and format. There are free online MOOCs like Innovative Finance & Impact Investing, paid online courses like Duke’s Smart Impact Capital and their Impact Measurement Course and our Impact Finance Pro Pathfinder Program, short executive education courses from some of the best universities in the world, and workshops and trainings hosted by Convergence, the GIIN and more.
7. Think hard before you decide to go for an advanced degree
In addition to the courses above, there are MBA, Executive MBA and masters’ degrees that have a focus or at least courses in impact investing. But, before investing heavily in an advanced degree such as an MBA or masters degree, be very clear about your WHY and your skills gap. We like to call this the tri-pod method where you do a self assessment across three core areas that we typically see valued in this sector which include quantitative skillset, regional expertise, and sectoral expertise. Sometimes an advanced degree is not what will help you strengthen your tri-pod. Having clarity before investing heavily in advanced degrees can save you a lot of time (and money!)
8. Do your research
This one sounds basic but you’d be surprised at how little research most people do as they are preparing to transition. Make sure you do a deep dive into any firms you are interested in working for, research the types of products they have, what projects or investments they’ve supported and their impact thesis. Look up what they have written and what has been written about them. It’s always disappointing to interview a great candidate but then they fail to name one investment the organization has made or have a viewpoint on the organization’s most recent activities. Show off what you know and bring it into conversations (when appropriate).
9. Prep smart, especially for the interview process
The interview process for impact finance is starting to resemble that of the consulting sector more and more. We are seeing multiple rounds of interviews, case cracking exercises, financial modeling assignments, and investment memo drafting in the interview process. Preparation for these types of interviews is key. You should be prepared to answer behavioral questions, impact theory questions, impact finance or finance questions, and strategic thinking questions. In order to prepare for case interviews or modeling exercises, you can check out Prep Lounge or Wall Street Prep. In our Pathfinder Program we have a dedicated module specifically for the impact finance interview process which includes question banks and videos from professionals on the interview process.
10. Create a career transition plan and don’t be afraid to ask for help
When you set off on a journey, most of the time you’ll use a GPS. When you cook a dish for the first time, you’ll use a recipe. Transitioning your career is no different. Before you apply for any position, take time to design a career transition plan. In addition to your impact focused CV and cover letter, your plan should include many of the topics we’ve touched on above: a personal impact thesis, your tri-pod, dream job characteristics, a short list of organizations, and a networking strategy. Your career transition plan will keep you on track and help you save time.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help during the process. There are coaches, like ours at Impact Finance Pro who can assist you in designing a career transition plan and there are also recruiters in the space that can support as well. With a big decision like this, oftentimes it’s a good idea to have people on your side.
Ashley Lewis and Aunnie Patton Power are founders of Impact Finance Pro, the first platform dedicated to educating, mentoring, and placing talent into impact finance roles globally.