Jenna used to work at a prestigious consulting firm that paid well and helped advance the skills she acquired in her recent MBA program. Her employer talked authentically about values and citizenship. She participated once a year in a company-sponsored volunteer day and spent a few hours a month on community outreach activities. But Jenna (a pseudonym, by the way) was miserable.
She slogged through her job for a little over a year, and then transitioned to a nonprofit focused on education for low-income youth. Today, Jenna bubbles with enthusiasm about her job: “since transitioning into education full-time, I am so much more fulfilled in my daily job. I wake up every day with a purpose to the hours I'm spending at work.”
Matthew Reviere works at Accenture. He loves his job and hopes to progress quickly. He balances his career and interest in the environment by volunteering to lead green efforts on his projects. “It gives me great satisfaction to feel like I am doing something to contribute not only to the environment,” says Matthew, “but to my workplace, my client and colleague relationships and, ultimately, the company’s bottom line.”
Both Matthew and Jenna have worked for companies with a solid commitment to impact and values. Matthew thrived. Jenna tried, but realized that she was doing the wrong type of work for her personal priorities.
Like Jenna and Matthew, people have different perceptions of how much they want to focus on social and environmental issues. In my experience speaking with hundreds of people looking for meaningful work, there are three types of MBAs and similar professionals when it comes to careers and impact:
Traditionalists. These folks are out to make a good living, do interesting work, and move up the ranks. Changing the world is significantly less important to them than being intellectually challenged by their job or having the potential for advancement. They might think it’s nice if their company offers volunteer opportunities, but they won’t raise their hand to participate all the time. It used to be this group made up the vast majority of MBA students. Today, it’s more like 50 percent, with significant differences depending on the school.
Conscious Capitalists. Like Matthew, these folks lean traditional, but they also want their work to align with their personal values. They want to know that their company is committed to creating shared value beyond its bottom line. They’re often quick to join social or environmental impact projects at work, and might even aspire to someday do more through philanthropy or nonprofit Board work. But for now, they’re happy where they are—as long as their employer provides them with an opportunity to make an impact through company-sponsored projects or green teams. About 30 percent of business students might be classified in this way.
Impact Careerists. Impact Careerists are gung ho about solving social and environmental problems as their full-time job. They want to spend the majority of their time thinking about how to make the world better, and they usually seek out dedicated corporate sustainability or citizenship positions, or focus on the nonprofit, government, or philanthropy fields. Roughly 20 percent of business students fall into this category.
All three categories are important to our society and economy, and all of us will thrive if we find the employer and position that fits our needs. So, where do you stand—which of these types do you most identify with? And are you at the right job to enable your most important values to come to life?
Liz Maw is the CEO of Net Impact, an international nonprofit of more than 30,000 changemakers who are using thier jobs to tackle the world’s toughest problems.