Support needed for students interested in social impact careers

The ASSU is teaming up with the Haas Center for Public Service and the Career Development Center (CDC) to improve the support for students looking for careers in the fields of public service and social impact.

“Most career paths are very well-defined, so if I say lawyer or banker…you know that you have to go to a certain school after college or you don’t, and you go to a certain recruiting mechanism that really holds your hand and takes you through the whole process,” said Elizabeth Woodson ’15, the ASSU’s social impact manager. “These pathways don’t necessarily exist for [social impact careers].”

A member of the ASSU executive cabinet, Woodson uses the term “social impact” to encompass both traditional public service work like non-profit jobs, but also social entrepreneurship, for-profit businesses and other work that has a positive impact on the world.

“It does get into a little gray area, which we want to embrace,” Woodson explained. “We’ll kind of have to invent it as we go along, but we want to be inclusive of many different models.”

 

Irregular cycles of recruitment

CDC Director Farouk Dey said that there is significant interest in social impact among students, but that searching for a career in social impact fields can often pose unique challenges. He pointed out that for companies that hire hundreds of graduates a year, the path to employment is clear. For public service organizations that hire only when they need an employee, the cycle of recruitment can be murkier.

According to Haas Center postgraduate public service program director Jim Murray, even though Stanford hosts approximately 15 different career fairs a year, for small organizations, sending a staff member to recruit can be a significant investment. For this reason, Murray said some of the most successful events are those that target specific populations, such as the Year of Service Fair, and attract students who are proactively interested in one-to-two year public service opportunities. Murray said that the fair received record attendance this year after the ASSU publicized it on their senior website.

 

Misconceptions about the field

Woodson said that her work at the Impact Career Initiatives at the Aspen Institute taught her that across the country, students battle misconceptions about the level of prestige and pay associated with working in non-profits.

In early October, Woodson hosted three lunch discussions about social impact careers that were attended by a total of more than 70 students. Woodson said these meetings reaffirmed that Stanford students feel many of the same pressures and frustrations.

 

Connecting students to resources

Nora Jendoubi ’14, who worked closely with Woodson, described herself as “a living example of someone who was really passionate about [social impact] and wanted to devote my life to it, but was failing to find the resources to connect me with that world.”

While the Haas Center and the CDC offer a multitude of opportunities, they can often be difficult for students to access when the resources are widely dispersed. Woodson and Jendoubi said that they are pushing for the CDC to include a social impact tab on its website as well as information about potential ways to have an impact within other fields.

“Part of the frustration is that students don’t know of all the different opportunities available,” Murray said. “We try to promote [them] on our website and through email but there’s so many different resources on campus.”

Last summer, the Haas Center upgraded its Fellowships, Internships and Service Programs database. The database, which can be accessed by anyone with an SUID, allows students to browse through over 500 opportunities and subscribe to receive updates from the ones that interest them.

According to Murray, not only will this database provide access to opportunities for students, but it will also allow the Haas Center to track which organizations are most appealing to students.

 

Finding solutions

As part of the overall organizational redesign, Dey said the CDC would be working with the Haas Center to emphasize engaging with non-profits and social impact organizations and encouraging them to recruit on campus.

Woodson said that she also wants to continue building connections among students interested in similar career paths.

“I hope that through…connecting people to what they’re interested, it will spread the conversation and get that going more,” Woodson said. “Going forward, [students] will hear stories of people who they respected going into McKinseys and finance, but they’ll also be able to hear success stories of peers who were able to find careers through Stanford CDC and Haas in social impact, and that will hopefully multiply as the years go on.”

Murray said that the most important idea was to focus on tangible solutions that match the needs and expectations of students, Stanford career staff and external organizations.

“There’s tremendous interest,” Dey said. “We need to be better about building connections and we need to be better at increasing the resources for students in those areas.”

Contact Jana Persky at jpersky ‘at’ stanford.edu.