On being the engineer who prefers social sciences

Real talk. By all practical, statistical standards, I fall into the Tepper engineer demographic. From a personal standard, I can wholeheartedly tell you that, while I embrace my ultra process engineer tendencies and deep love of manufacturing, by no means am I the classic Tepper student looking to work in tech. I don’t own an Alexa (y’all, they’re so creepy) and I’m still rocking an iPod (figure out how to transfer my 100GB of music and playlists to Spotify and then we can talk).

In the time between applying and interviewing at Tepper, my post-MBA career goals evolved drastically. I thought I was going to graduate b-school and be the badass to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. Maybe I still will. Tepper is great for operations. Instead, starting b-school, my interest was elsewhere: “Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m interested in ethics & social responsibility.” Still a badass, though. Obviously.

Here are my do’s and don’t’s for recruiting into the mystical world that is social impact and corporate responsibility. And, frankly, any industry that requires a whole lot of coffee chats.

DO get scrappy & DON’T expect networking to be easy.

Networking is HUGE for all industries, but especially social impact. Think entrepreneurism meets i-banking, but most of the time people pay it forward and take your calls. Everything you do is grassroots. Get a good planner and start reaching out to alums who have been in leadership roles with Net Impact, TepperCares, or Pro-Bono Consulting. Reach out to classmates who have served on nonprofit boards you think are interesting or worked at for-profits that are doing cool stuff. As hard as the hustle is, every once in awhile you have a conversation with someone so deeply passionate about their work that you walk away inspired to keep going.

Recruiting for social impact, corporate responsibility, nonprofit, social enterprise… isn’t for the faint of heart. Sure, “nonprofits always need help,” but it’s an incredibly small network and the hiring managers for these jobs know a thing or two about authenticity and intentional presence (some of them even teach about it). Passion and interest is the name of the game. People can smell a faker; keep it real.

DON’T believe everything the “authorities” tell you.

Some really epically trash lines I heard this year: “No one has ever gotten an offer from a Net Impact conference.” “Companies don’t want to hear that you traveled the plains for eight months. Don’t mention it in your elevator pitch.” “Don’t work in nonprofit. There’s less to learn in a summer.”

  1. I never would’ve applied to my internship if it hadn’t been for the Net Impact conference and my networking there.
  2. It’s your elevator pitch. Tell it how it makes sense. I wasn’t always a social impact consultant–I was an overseas teacher before that and an engineer prior–but I’ve always been a professional problem solver passionate about leading organizations to work more cohesively and efficiently. Chronological order with job titles doesn’t always make the most sense.
  3. I worked at one of the biggest open pit mines in the world, which is basically the opposite of long-term environmental sustainability. That’s the part I didn’t need to mention in my elevator pitch.
  4. Let’s get something straight. I’m working for a for-profit, consulting firm this summer. Doing management consulting and impact data analytics. I’m learning LOTS. Yes, my client is a nonprofit. No, not all of the clients are nonprofits.

DO find a support system.

This whole b-school thing is HARD. You’re in a constant change state surrounded by high-caliber people who excel in their fields. It’s amazing and massively humbling. Hit up the Career Center for resume tuning and alum leads. Work with Accelerate Leadership Center to dial in STAR stories and put you in touch with your story of purpose. Then go to a gym class with classmates (spin class with Katie and Kelly was a riot), eat dinner with your partner, or hang out with your pet. There is no point in trying to be a martyr through this internship search. Find yourself some friends who recognize when you’re a frazzled mess and find ways to lift your spirits.

DON’T skip out on conferences.

Go to National Black. Just do it. Even if you don’t see the benefit. If anything, it’s a great bonding opportunity with your classmates. Nothing says homophily like a hotel room full of emotionally stressed MBA students.

Some other good ones to attend: Net Impact, AASHE, or BSR.

DO stay true to your growth mindset & DO cut yourself some slack.

You’re here because you’re looking to expand your horizons. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be giving up a comfortable career to re-live the poor student days/get your resume torn apart/be overloaded with work for crazy interesting courses. Apply to internships that genuinely interest you, interview like the badass and purpose-driven person you are, then accept the offer that gets you most jazzed to be alive every morning.

Also, sprinkle in the occasional stress application spree. Sometimes you just need to auto-apply to ten jobs in a day to feel like you tried. Remember to get sleep, proper 8HR/night sleep. Eat well. Drink water. Take vitamin D if you’re not seeing sunlight. You’ll be fine.


TL;DR. Plans change. Network hard. Pursue what inspires you. If you’re lucky (and diligent), you’ll land a sweet internship at a killer consulting firm where you have a guac-making challenge during orientation and bring positive change to a community.

Sarah Holmes | MBA 2019
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