Moving between impact sectors? Here’s how to translate your skills.

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.

I’ve been looking to break into the corporate responsibility (CR) space for some time now. Although my current position as a media planner doesn’t give me direct experience in the sector, there are aspects of both my job and outside pro bono experience that I believe give me translatable skills for a position in CR. How do I convey this properly in cover letters/phone interviews so that I’m given a fair chance? I’ve been working hard to network and boost my resume, but is there anything else I could be doing to increase my chances of landing my dream job? – OLYVIA

Good news! As sustainability becomes more and more embedded into core business, the competencies required to achieve success have shifted to more commercially based skills, making it easier to break in if you can prove your transferable skill set. Hiring managers want to know that you understand the business first and foremost – that you have commercial, collaboration, and innovation skills. Having worked with more than 3,000 sustainability practitioners over the past 10 years, here are the top five competencies I see as crucial in evaluating CR and sustainability talent:


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Top 5 corporate responsibility skills: 

  1. Bravery and resilience
  2. Ability to balance global and local perspectives
  3. Innovative and systems thinking
  4. Influencing and negotiating
  5. Engaging others to join the journey on their terms

So the next question is, how do you tell your career story to translate your skills and experience to be relevant to CR? In other words, how do you map your skills to the market or a specific job description? For many of my clients, next to networking, this is the most dreaded aspect of the job search. That being said, I can tell you that employers love it, and that’s why you’ll be glad you did it. Articulating, positioning, and translating your skills for a role or a sector is arguably the most important task you’ll undertake as a sustainability jobseeker. You have to do the work for the reader and tell them what you want them to know, not tell them everything and hope they can find the relevant threads.

Here’s a simple approach to get you started.

Step 1: What are your top 3 skills?

This is the most challenging part for all my clients. It seems straightforward, but it’s actually very tough. We all have a different audience to target, so clarify your pitch by thinking about the three most valuable skills you have to offer – just three! – and then writing them down. Once you’re happy with them, dig into the details. What do you really mean by “project manage”? What do you really mean by “communicate effectively”?

Step 2: What does the hiring manager actually want to know?

Put on an HR hat and understand that they want to know:

  • “What are your skills? What am I paying you to do? Can you do the job? Can you meet your Key Performance Indicators?”
  • “What are your values? Will you fit our culture and our team? What do you stand for?”
  • “What are your traits and characteristics? Do I want to work with you? Manage you? Go for a beer with you?”
  • “Which issues are you an expert in within the wider sustainability space?”

Focus on the skills point for today and cross-reference the questions above with the job description. What would you look for if you were hiring?

If you can answer that, you’re on your way to crafting an innovative and compelling career story with a dream job at the end of it!

This post was originally published on Net Impact.

Photo by Becky Stern, via Flickr


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