PART I: Skill Development at Social Impact Organizations

Finance and consulting are often seen as the best industries for rapid skill development out of college. They heavily recruit on many campuses with the argument that 2-3 years at their firm will lead to tremendous skill development and exit opportunities to propel your career. This pitch has effectively siphoned off many of the most talented graduating seniors each year to spend their time creating complex models valuing a garbage truck manufacturer or cutting costs at a transportation company. 

I’ve worked at both a top strategy consulting firm and a small community-based nonprofit and my perspective is this: if you go work for one of these firms, you’ll get a more straightforward skill development pathway with formal trainings, clear roles, and structured coaching/mentoring. However, if you find the right team and organization, you can grow just as quickly AND pursue work you care about. This series of articles intends to (1) convince you that is true and (2) provide you with a roadmap to make this a reality. 

Skills to develop

At Second Day, we believe that it’s possible to dive into jobs that you believe in without having to sacrifice a successful career. We surveyed a group of former associates at top finance and consulting firms to understand what skills they developed during their two or three years working at their firms and how you could develop many of these skills at a social impact organization.


  1. Clear written communication. This includes everything from emails, to memos, to slides. More often than not, your writing is someone’s first impression and most people aren’t very good at it.

  2. Clear verbal communication. Telling a story or interviewing someone can feel like a basic competency that you already have. The truth is there is a fine art to knowing your audience, setting just the right amount of context, and asking the right question to generate answers that you are looking for.

  3. Quantitative analysis. If you hope to be in the top leadership of an organization one day, you are going to have to be comfortable with quantitative analysis. Whether it’s numbers on profitability, digital outreach, or program effectiveness, you’ll have to be able to analyze and digest large amounts of data. While you likely won’t be exposed to every type of analysis, you can create the baseline skills needed to thrive in any new situation.

  4. Strong working habits. No matter your professions, the keys to success often come down to habits. Investing in those habits (thinking ahead, never dropping the ball, working productively, prioritization) early in your career will pay off down the line.

  5. Managing up. This applies to everyone. It’s about setting reasonable expectations, getting essential input, and keeping the person most in control of your job experience happy. The goal of managing up is two-fold: instill confidence in your work to unlock new opportunities and keep your workload manageable so that you can pursue those opportunities without burning out.

  6. Managing direct reports. Being a good manager is hard. If done wrong, it can lead to a huge use of time, stress, and frustration. Becoming a good manager is one of the keys to advancing quickly and maintaining work-life balance.

  7. Process management. Process management involves putting all of these skills to work to accomplish a task or move the ball forward. Ultimately, it is your ability to activate key stakeholders and execute on tasks that will determine your success.

A framework for learning

The best in class framework for skill development is the Center for Creative Leadership’s 70/20/10 model. Essentially, the formula for developing skills involves 10% formal training/learning, 20% coaching/feedback, and 70% challenging assignments. Throughout this series, our goal is to provide you with as much of the 10% base as we can. We’ll provide you with resources and tips to supplement the formal training that your organization provides. Ultimately though, it’s up to you to own your professional development. Make development a priority with your boss, invest the time to improve your skills, and try to maintain some humility as you make waves in the social impact space!


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