EVENTS & INSIGHTS / INSIGHT

Here’s how a master’s degree and strategic volunteering can help move your impact career forward

by Shannon Houde

This post is part of Net Impact’s ongoing impact career advice column. In this edition, Shannon Houde tackles a question from their network about whether or not to pursue a master’s degree.

Going back to school…

I am a 31 year-old woman who has been involved in mission-driven work since earning my BA in economics several years ago. With your diverse background, I was hoping you could provide any insight on the pivotal skills and areas of learning that can take an impact career to the next level. I’m considering graduate school, but waiver between an MBA, an MS in big data, a degree in international development or economic development, or maybe even trying to build knowledge through my work. What’s the best strategy to build the kind of hybrid knowledge base that this sector demands? –CHERYL

The question of whether or not to go back to school is an important one. On the one hand, master’s degrees are expensive, intense, and time consuming, and not guaranteed to get you a job. Not only that, but practical, tangible work experience is worth its weight in gold in the sustainability space. That being said, graduate school is an excellent place to gain professional connections and expand your network, focus on subject-specific knowledge, and add additional credentials to your CV that will help you stand out in a competitive jobs market. If you are seriously considering the international development field, I should also note that I’ve been told a masters degree is becoming increasingly necessary to advance in the sector.

DON'T MISS OUT
ON MORE FREE TIPS

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign up

If you decide to go back to school, it’s up to you to make the most of it and squeeze out every last drop of opportunity before you start school and to make sure you have realistic expectations of what your program will do for you. Map out why you chose a specific program, the tangible takeaways you want to leave with, and your plan for achieving those goals.

Then, during your studies, focus your coursework on real projects with real companies so you build relevant competencies and expand your network. Give yourself a head start by kicking off your personal branding and job search six to nine months before graduation. There is a “hidden jobs market” where 55 percent of roles are landed through word of mouth referrals or internal leads, so getting the word out about what you are looking to do next is a crucial first step.

Finally, after graduation make the most of your alumni network by getting active on social media. Connect with alumni, your old friends, people who have worked with you ten years ago … everyone … and stay updated on and involved with your university, giving back when you can.

Good luck!

Gaining experience through strategic volunteering…

I am currently pursuing my Executive Masters in Public Administration with a focus on environmental and wildlife conservation policy. I also hold a BA in psychology from Niagara University and a JD from Hofstra School of Law. I’m very interested in wildlife conservation policy and zoo administration and was wondering what things I should be doing now to position myself as an excellent candidate for those positions. I volunteer at the local zoo here and have reached out to my alumni network working in environmental/conservation industry. I am limited in my ability to intern as I work full-time to pay for school, but is there anything else I can be doing to gain experience? –GRETCHEN

It’s great that you have been able to set aside time in your packed schedule for some volunteering. However, since you have limited opportunities to gain experience from while in school, the next step is to get strategic about your volunteer work to ensure that you not only giving back to a cause that is important to you, but also boost your professional credentials at the same time.

There are three ways I encourage my clients to do this in volunteer work:

  • First, make sure your role uses your core skills and helps develop new, transferrable ones. Find ways to do work and take on projects that link directly to a stronger resume.
  • Second, look for ways you can quantify or measure your tangible impacts to the organization. For example, “helped fundraise $Y for wildlife conservation by reaching out to Z people through social media.”
  • Third, connect to everyone you are working with, both professionals and other volunteers, on LinkedIn and other social media to deepen and diversify your network of contacts. Make sure the volunteer role you have taken on offers you access to stakeholders in the sector in which you ultimately want to work. It sounds like you are on the right track so far, but the conservation industry is still a broad field. So as you narrow your interests, make sure to check back in with yourself and the personal story you are telling to the jobs market.

Now you’ve got to do your homework – find your niche and reach out to your networks. Still have questions? Try a 30-minute CV critique to discuss your positioning, challenges, and career in more detail. Contact us for more details.

This post was originally published on Net Impact.

Photo by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, via Flickr

comments

You may also like...

recruiting
What the Growing Corporate Sustainability Movement Means for Recruiting Top Talent

It wasn’t that long ago that corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability teams were shoved in back offices, miles from the core operations of a business. Even worse, responsibility for corporate sustainability would sometimes be awkwardly shoved onto an existing role with little care or attention from senior leadership. Now, the picture looks very different. A perfect storm of climate change, COVID, and conscious consumerism has forced all businesses across every sector to reevaluate their actions on social and environmental issues. One survey of

By Shannon Houde
The Big Picture: Sustainable Food And Career Choices

My Big Picture articles focus on making sensible choices in the resource-constrained Anthropocene world in which we live. Some of these articles deal with wonkier topics related to economics and resource usage; some (like the one you are reading now) concern topics related to managing our lives on a day-to-day basis in the Age of Climate Change. Executive Summary The Netflix documentary Seaspiracy offers a sobering look into the fishing industry and echoes many warnings found in the Dasgupta Report. This documentary and

By Shannon Houde
How to Find Your Dream Impact-focused Job

This is an edited extract from Good Work by Shannon Houde. Do you want an impact-focused job role? DON’T MISS OUTON MORE FREE TIPS Sign Up For Our Newsletter Sign up The range of opportunities in the impact space is quite diverse, and it helps to consider what sort of organization and role would be the best fit for you. Note that government is quite different from NGOs, which in turn are different from social enterprises and sustainable businesses. In the

By Shannon Houde
Book Launch! Good Work: How to Build a Career that makes a Difference in the World

Joel Makower interviews Good Work author, Shannon Houde, about the evolving impact economy and how to shape a career that makes a difference. DON’T MISS OUTON MORE FREE TIPS Sign Up For Our Newsletter Sign up

By Shannon Houde

NEED SOME SUPPORT?

Book a 30-minute trial session with Shannon

BOOK A TRIAL