By Lee Wheeler-Berliner
So you have landed your dream job, what comes next? Regardless of what your long-term goals are, it is important to remember that you are always in the driver’s seat of your career. A strong professional development plan will utilize resources available from your current employer, and incorporate outside resources, as well.
While less defined than what you would experience with a large corporation, there are a few career paths within the social impact sector that you can follow. The most common route to the executive director/CEO role goes through the development department. You may start out as a development assistant, progress to grant writer or corporate sponsorship manager, then move into a major gifts role followed by director or vice president of development. Career paths exist within program and volunteer areas as well, where you may start as a coordinator, progress to manager, then to assistant director or director.
While each title and level will require specific skills, as you progress you must become adept at budgeting and financial management, supervising others, developing strategy, emotional intelligence, and often public speaking. Your current employer should want to invest in you and your growth by helping you acquire these skills. Don’t let a response of “we don’t have a budget for that” stand in your way. If your employer doesn’t bring this up, then ask them to support a 70-20-10 development model for you.
70 stands for the percentage of your professional development activities that should take place on the job. Identify a specific skill you want to master, and then work with your supervisor to find a project that requires you to learn that skill. This may mean one or two projects a year, at the most, and the investment will be of your supervisor’s time rather than money.
Remember that network of contacts you developed while looking for a job? It can now serve as your support and education team. 20 stands for the percentage of your professional development activities that come from advice and guidance from mentors. Identify a few people in your network who hold or have held the positions you want long-term and ask to meet regularly with them to discuss your career. “Regularly” in this context may mean two to three times a year, not every week. Let your employer know you have this relationship, and you will likely get the approval to meet during business hours.
Finally, the 10 stands for the percentage of your activities that should be formal learning, such as one-time workshops, webinars, or ongoing classes. These will cost money and require your time, yet they can go a long way towards achieving your (and your employer’s) goals when they connect to a work project you are undertaking. Collectively, the 70-20-10 model becomes a very cost-effective way to acquire solid professional growth and development.
You may reach a point in your career when you determine a master’s degree is necessary. This is most often the case when you want to specialize in a specific discipline with clients or progress to leadership roles in large organizations. There is not one “right” degree, with the most common held by impact professionals being a Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Nonprofit Management (MNM), Master of Public Administration (MPA), or Master of Social Work (MSW). Here in Denver, check out the Idealist grad school fair; research programs at Regis, DU, and CU Denver; and talk with your network to help determine the best degree for your goals.
A fulfilling career comes from being engaged with your work and having opportunities to advance. Take control of your professional development to accomplish both at the same time, and you’ll enjoy a lifetime of making a positive social impact.
Lee Wheeler-Berliner is the founder and principal of WB Consulting, a firm dedicated to enhancing the strategic impact of companies and helping others pursue social good. Learn more at wbconsultingcolorado.com. This post is the third in a three-part series on career planning that makes a difference. Catch up with part one here and part two here.