Six months later

When I was in business school, private equity was all the rage. I’d never been an investment banker, and I didn’t even really understand what private equity was, but I did throw my hat into the ring for a few private equity jobs.

The notion of actually getting any of these jobs filled me with dread. I had no passion for that work, and I only managed to land interviews with lesser-known firms where the people I met seemed to truly dislike their jobs and the lives they’d signed up for for the next 5-10 years. I vividly remember the pit I’d get in my stomach waiting for these firms’ final decisions – fearing I might actually get one of the jobs I’d applied for.

When I did get a couple of those job offers, I remember discussing them with classmates who said I had no choice but to take them. Objectively I was not qualified, yet I’d managed to get my foot in the door. I should take the job to learn the ropes, as a stepping stone to the next one and the next one and… My friends essentially rolled their eyes at me for even considering turning the jobs down.

One person, not a classmate, shared a different perspective. He said, “six months from now, all of these people who are telling you what to do, all of these people whose approval feels really important right now, they’ll all be gone. Six months from now it will just be you sitting at that desk at whatever hour of the day. Not them, you. Think of how you’ll feel six months from now when you’re the one doing the job. That will tell you what you should do.”

This isn’t a post about following our passions. Even the chance to follow a true passion only comes up once in a while – most of the time we don’t know what our passions are or we don’t have the skills, the perspective or the wisdom to really make the dent we dream of making in the universe.

But we do, each and every day, and especially when we are at real junctures in our lives, have the opportunity to understand the choices we make. They are our choices, and the minute we own them is the minute we understand who it is who is walking our path.

It is only us.

How do I get a job in impact investing?

WSIC2013I had the chance to speak at the Wharton Social Impact Conference this past Friday.  It was fun, engaging, and energizing to see so many students so immersed in this space.  Indeed Wharton’s Social Venture Fund – I met the team while on campus -has 35 members (selected from more than 100) who give 5-10 hours a week to source, diligence and recommend potential impact investments across numerous sectors; and they have just raised enough funding to make early stage investments in a number of these companies for the next few years.  Great stuff.

Inevitably, one of the questions one gets asked in these sorts of settings – directly and indirectly – is: “how do I get a job in impact investing?”

I found myself answering the question two ways.

If the question meant, “if I want to be the person doing the impact investing (in the developing world?), how do I get that job?”  in which case the answer is pretty straightforward: build experience both in deploying capital directly in private transactions (e.g. in private equity or venture capital) and have direct operational experience in the geography where you’d like to deploy that capital – ideally working in the sector in which you’d like to invest.

And then try really hard to get picked for the job that you want.

The problem is, I think it’s way too early to be asking that question, because it fundamentally overestimates where we are in the evolution of this industry.  “Impact investing” is a nascent, messy, ill-defined space that’s somewhere near late toddlerhood.  We can barely agree on definitions of what is and is not an impact investment, and we’re a long way off from being properly organized as an industry.  For something so new, with so many talented people excited and looking to make an impact, the orientation cannot be around how to get picked for the tiny number of jobs that exist for the massive number of amazingly qualified applicants.  Instead, the opportunity is to create a job, a role, a set of experiences that will allow you, over time, to help us all shape and move and define this new space.

Ultimately, letting go of the notion of a job search broadens your opportunity set in two ways.  First, it forces you to recognize that the odds of getting picked for that 1 in 1,000 job you think you want are not good enough odds for someone as capable as you are.  And this is good news, because the moment you realize it is the moment you can take on the work of shifting your orientation from job-seeking to job-creating, which I’d rather you do sooner than later because it keeps you in the driver’s seat.

Second, once we recognize how early it is in the creation of this new ecosystem, we can begin to understand that people who will define this new space won’t just be investors, they will also be entrepreneurs and company-builders and thinkers and connectors and fundraisers.  They will be troublemakers in big institutions who can bend a big operation in a new direction, and free agents who are skilled at connecting ideas with people with money to make things happen.  Mostly, they will be the kind of people willing to do the hard work of creating something new.

This sector doesn’t need people who are looking for jobs – and it won’t for a while.  What it needs are people (like the folks I met at Wharton) who have a 10 year head start on those of us who are already in the industry, people who are willing to take the whole sector to another level and, I hope, to a better destination.

More shapers and visionaries and big thinkers, please.  We are still just at the beginning.

Apply by Monday – looking for two great people

I’m looking for two great people to join my team, most likely in New York.  Both roles have incredible potential for impact.

One person, for the more junior role, is a crackerjack writer, thinker, synthesizer.  He or she will have wondered if her writing and organizational skills could be coupled with her passion for international issues and global development.  And she’ll discover that the answer is “yes.”

The other person, for the more senior role, is a fearless fundraiser, defined as I and you see this role in its fullest way and with all the strategic potential that implies.  This person will externally represent and build cornerstone partnerships for Acumen Fund, so she must be a natural storyteller and builder who has the grace, presence and poise to be thrust into any meeting or relationship (individual, institutional, corporate, government, you name it) and leave the person on the other end thinking, “Wow!”

The links above have all the specific details.

If this job is for you, or if you know someone you think is perfect, let me know AND apply directly.  We have audacious goals, for this team and for Acumen Fund, and I know we’ll get there.  I can’t wait to find the two people who are going to help make this happen.

The deadline is next Monday.  Please spread the word.

Make Europe yours

I’m looking for a stellar self-starter who makes things happen to join my team.

Success means that a year from now, Acumen Fund will have a higher profile, deeper relationships, a stronger and more engaged community, and significantly more funds coming from Europe to support our work.

This is an opportunity to represent Acumen Fund across a major geography and be at the heart of the evolution of our sector – and if you’re really good, to help define how the sector evolves.

I don’t care if you’ve done not-for-profit fundraising before, but you must have sold things, created things, and gotten people to take action through your ability to build genuine relationships and your powers of persuasion.  You must have real working experience in the developing world – ideally India, Pakistan or sub-Saharan Africa.  You must have a demonstrated commitment to and understanding of our sector.

This is a unique opportunity for the right person.  All the details are here including the link to apply.

Applications close on February 6th.

Gumption and conviction

Some interview questions to get at the important stuff:

“What grounds you?”

“What are you best at?”

“Tell me about at time you changed someone’s mind.”

“At your core, what makes you tick?”

“What does generosity mean to you?”

Degrees and smarts are nice, but they’re almost easy to come by.   Being the kind of person who drives and leads (no matter what your job title) is much more compelling.

Commencement job blues

Graduation is in the air, and I can’t help but think about students finishing  their degrees and marching off to their new jobs.  It’s a stressful enough time, and I suspect that even though the economy is no longer in a free fall that jobs are still hard to come by.  Which makes it all the harder for students to stick it out for the jobs they really want instead of the jobs they can get.

It’s easy to pretend that the first job you take is just that, and that it’s not a first step down a path.  The truth is, it is a move in one direction.  It’s not an irrevocable one, but this step will make it easier to continue in one direction, harder to turn to another one.

While I was at business school, I had an offer for a job that was exactly the kind of job you go to business school to get: prestigious, it would get me a set of skills I thought I wanted, it paid well, the works.

The only thing was, I didn’t want the job.  The people weren’t right, the culture wasn’t right, my motivations for considering the job weren’t right.   Just thinking about accepting the job physically made my stomach tighten up.  But I knew it would be a stepping stone to other things.  And I knew my classmates would say I was crazy (or worse) for turning it down.

A close friend gave me some advice I’ll never forget.

She said, “A few months from now, it’s just going to be you showing up at that office.  None of your classmates, none of the people who are going to tell you you’re crazy for turning it down, no one but you is going to be there.  And then what?”

It’s true.  It’s you, it’s your job, it’s your path, it’s your life.

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“We need your help” (caveat emptor)

It’s so flattering to be called in to save the day.  This happened to me once – being hired to “take a team to a new level.” (not my words, the words of the person I went to work for).  I wish I’d asked a lot more times, “Why are things not yet at that level?  Is what I’m able to bring to this job going to change that? Will it be enough?” 

The job ended up being a failure for me and for the organization.  What was missing wasn’t something that I (or anyone from the outside) could bring in.  The problems were internal and cut to the core.

This experience taught me once and for all that a job title, its formal authority, the job description, salary, what I’m officially being asked to do…all of these masquerade as things that really matter.  Give me an “A” team that’s part of an “A” organization, and give me any set of goals that are important to the organization – that’s all I need to know.  All you need is the people and the runway to make great things happen – and the willingness to work damn hard to get there.

What about an “A” title, job description, title, rank, authority…but a B team in a B organization?  Man, I’d be skeptical and ask a lot of questions about what the organization is willing to change to support the change they say they’d like to make. This is why I’m skeptical of most job descriptions and am very careful when I hear from headhunters – the risk is that they (the headhunters, the job descriptions) convey lots of information that’s essentially unimportant.

It gratifies the ego to be told that you are going to come in and save the day.  It’s possible, but working alone against the current (and against culture and entrenched interests) is a big job with a long time horizon and an uncertain payoff. Great things happen if you can pull it off (for example, Steve Jobs) but it’s harder than it looks.

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