Interview: Chantal Sheehan, President, iOnPoverty

An interview with Chantal Sheehan, President, iOnPoverty

How to find a job with social impact

What compelled you to start iOnPoverty?

I didn’t actually start it – Jonathan Lewis did. (But I’ve been around virtually since day 1.) I immediately could see the genius in it when Jonathan first told me about the idea. He was searching for a way to fill the knowledge gap that college students have about how to get a job in the social impact space. Concurrently, he (and many others) was increasingly concerned about the talent gap in the space. iOnPoverty is at the nexus of those two needs. I’m personally very passionate about empowering and engaging young people in social change, so I was instantly drawn to Jonathan’s vision.

How did you get your first gig in social enterprise/impact/nonprofit?

I had a round about journey to this work. I’ve been an avid volunteer and servant of social good since I was a child, but I always struggled to figure out how to work that into my professional life. I dabbled in the foreign service and in the for-profit world (both small businesses and large multinationals) but remained unconvinced that government or business would satiate my need to make a difference. After working for 7 years in purely for-profit environments I needed a change. So I enrolled in a graduate program which was meant to prepare me for international development work and social enterprise management. It was the best decision I’ve made for my career. That education filled my knowledge gaps but also provided me with incredible networking opportunities, opportunities which are still paying off today. It was a grad school colleague who connected me to my first nonprofit gig, and things just flowed from there.

How can iOnPoverty help a young person get a job – it doesnt have a job board?

For us, iOnPoverty is about the steps that come before and after the job board. Our videos are about helping young people with a passion for social change identify how they can plug in: what jobs could you have one day? What jobs should you look for right after school? What kinds of volunteer gigs are useful while you’re in school, and which ones aren’t? How should you go about distributing resumes, or making contacts, or finding mentors? What kind of work might you be asked to do early on? How can you align your values with your work? What are employers in social impact looking for in new hires? Our goal is to show young people that no matter what field you want to work in, each of the iOnPoverty Pathfinders had a winding journey to their current role. There is no formula. There are only choices. And our goal is to give young people all the information they need to make smart early career choices.

Out of all the interviews that you’ve done, what’s the been the best piece of advice that you’ve heard?

Ooo, that’s a toughy. You mean besides the Pathfinder who told me to ignore Jonathan?! Kidding! I think the best piece of advice is actually a common theme, mentioned by almost every single Pathfinder: learn to be a good communicator, how to be polite, and how build and maintain relationships.

Interpersonal skills are HUGE in this space. Learn how to have a convo with someone for an hour without checking your iPhone. Learn how to follow up and write thank you notes. Learn how to listen – really listen – and remember details about the people you meet. Learn how to appropriately mingle at a cocktail party or a business dinner. Your level of people savvy will influence every aspect of your career – success in this one simple area will quickly set you apart.

What would you personally advise young graduates seeking a job of impact?

Blech! I hate these kinds of questions! So much wisdom and good advice out there. Some things I wish someone had told me:

#1: Be prepared to work hard – really hard. And yes, it’s absolutely worth it. But don’t fool yourself: you’ve got to pour your heart, soul, and mind into this to be successful.

#2: Even if it’s not an impact job, take the first gig you’re offered out of school (as long as you won’t go crazy doing it). Any job. Take it. Learn from it. Build your skill set. Use it to frame your next steps and to get real-world experience.

#3: Don’t ever take a job or an internship which makes you feel devalued, or less of a person. Life is too short, and martyrdom isn’t worth it. This work is important – and you can’t do it well if you’re miserable.

How can businesses make it easier (more feasible) for students/graduates to locate these opportunities?

I always thought I’d like more businesses to hold open houses for new grads – especially social enterprises. It’d be a great way to create goodwill with a high-value market like the Millennials, and to do a little old fashioned marketing recon on what makes them tick. Social media, too, is underutilized as a job advertising resource. That’s really shocking to me – why wouldn’t you tweet and post on Facebook if you’re recruiting? The people who respond are socially savvy and obviously are following your work. Isn’t that just the sort of employee businesses are looking for these days? #justdontgetit

Editor’s Note:

Chantal Sheehan is the President & Executive Producer of iOnPoverty – an online video series for young professionals and students seeking careers in economic opportunity and justice work.

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2 Responses

  1. I think Chantal has provided some very useful home truths about working in the social development field. The main take away for me is the advice to pour your heart into but not to do a job that makes you miserable – I think this is crucial advice. Great interview!

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