In Case You Missed It! Career Conversations: Social Impact Careers

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By Izzy Wowk, Steinhardt Higher Education and Student Affairs, Class of 2021

Greetings, my name is Izzy Wowk (she/her)! I am a graduate student in NYU Steinhardt’s Higher Education and Student Affairs Masters program and am currently interning with NYU Wasserman’s Undergraduate Team. One of my favorite things about working in higher education is the plethora of opportunities students like myself have to explore their academic, professional, and personal development. Despite all challenges the past year has created, the Wasserman Center has remained active and dedicated to students’ career development, particularly through coaching appointments and numerous events held throughout the academic year.

Last week on March 23rd, I participated in the Career Conversations: Social Impact Careers  event hosted by the Wasserman Center’s Undergraduate and Graduate teams. Moderated by Leslie Findling, Senior Assistant Director for Graduate Student Career Development, this session featured three panelists: 

All students regardless of academic program were invited to attend and discover how these individuals positively impact society, provide opportunities for communities to succeed, and assist younger generations in their professional development. Social impact careers are prevalent in almost every industry, allowing people to engage with public service in different realms of society. This panel allowed me to gain key insight on how current and aspiring social impact professionals can succeed. Check out a few of the tips below that I learned.

Tip 1: Be pragmatic and thoughtful in how you support others (and yourself) 

Finding a job and developing a career in social impact can be challenging. But this process is also an exciting time to determine exactly how you want to positively impact society and the communities around you. Joshua and Lisa capitalized on the importance of being realistic in helping students become social change agents. For Joshua, networking and partnering with companies such as JP Morgan, Blackstone, HBO, and YouTube allows The Diversity Org to teach students how to do things such as start their own businesses, obtain higher-income jobs, and gain access to success that more privileged groups of people already have access to. Lisa emphasized the importance of having jobs/careers that “sustain middle-class lifestyles” based on each individual’s financial needs and other life circumstances. While certain careers may not be as lucrative as others, they can be extremely rewarding when you have the right connections, support system, and means to pursue your goals.

Tip 2: Prioritize active listening and relationship-building

When asked about the most important skills they have utilized in their roles, or that are most important to the field that students could be cultivating careers in, all of our panelists capitalized on active listening and relationship-building. For current professionals, it is crucial to meet clients and students where they are at. It is important to not only form opinions based on one’s own experiences, but to also consider the interests and desires of budding professionals and other perspectives. When it comes to relationship-building, connections should be made with others at different levels of management. Joshua further details this process as “building vertical relationships”–networking with those who may not have the same school or organizational “status” as you, such as supervisors and upper-level administrators. While this can be a daunting task at times, it is often as simple as exploring your own interests/values, sending emails asking to connect, and looking people up online (i.e. LinkedIn, company websites). For more tips on skills that employers desire, such as networking, check out NYU Wasserman’s Violet Ready Skills.

Tip 3: Understand current challenges in building resilience

I think it is fair to say that we have all struggled over the past year due to COVID-19 for a multitude of reasons. Students in particular have been challenged academically, mentally, and emotionally in ways they (we) could not imagine. But Lisa, Bertha, and Joshua have stepped up to the plate in trying to figure out how to best support students and model their efforts so others feel more empowered to remain resilient. Overall, the panelists echoed previous comments about staying connected with others–professionals, classmates, friends and family–and having backup plans when initial plans take a turn in another direction. 

When asked what advice they have for students interested in social impact careers, this is what the three panelists had to say:

  • Lisa: Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can, even if they are outside of your comfort zone. We grow most when we have a growth mindset in unfamiliar situations.
  • Bertha: Find what you are passionate about and utilize your education and skills for such pursuits. You do not need to know everything, but you need to enjoy what you are doing and find the means to continue your passions–you will learn faster and feel more motivated.
  • Joshua: Keep looking for ways to grow with people. You cannot do things alone, no matter how much you think you can. There is confidence in being able to rely on others when things get rough.

Pursing a career in social impact is not always easy, as illustrated by Lisa, Bertha, and Joshua. Doing so requires an unwavering commitment to improving society for the benefit of different communities and there must be a holistic approach to helping people find their purpose and success in life. Whether you recently heard of “social impact careers” or are looking to ground yourself further in your own field, this event is a must. While a social impact career can exist within any industry or sector, we still encourage you to check out our Public Service & Government and Non-Profit & Counseling industry guides to learn more about these fields in particular.