Cropped shot of two businesswomen sitting on the stairs with a laptop
Clients choose consultants who they regard as credible, that is able to deliver a believable message © Getty

This week’s problem

I am interested in social entrepreneurship and consulting, and feel the ideal job for me is a blend of the two: consulting social ventures. However, as a business school student it is not a common route. How do I explore this niche direction? Male, 20s

Jonathan’s answer

An excellent way to explore something is to try doing it, whether it is event management, farming, or school teaching, because you start to work out if you are good at it, what it will take to excel, and whether you find it rewarding. Learning through doing also gives you an insight into the issues facing that particular industry. As a prospective consultant, you will need these insights to see where you could find your niche.

Consultancy is a popular career choice, especially in business schools, probably because it continues the short project, fast-paced and wide-ranging focus of the curriculum, as well as being well paid.

However, even with your desire to work in social ventures, as a consultant you won’t always have the choice. And the experience you acquire is always one step removed from actually working in the organisation.

Rather than trying immediately to consult to social enterprises, you would be more credible with future clients if you have worked in social enterprises. Apply your business school skills and experiences to starting up or working in a social enterprise; after all, these organisations are fundamentally businesses, albeit with a specific social purpose. As such, they face the same challenge as all organisations: developing strategies to manage people and money.

Your classroom learning and previous experience in marketing, organisation, finance, strategy, and operations will be highly valued in social enterprises, and at the same time, you will learn first-hand about that specific environment. With an eye on your future plans, you can also start to network with people who may become your future clients.

Think about why they might employ you as a consultant, and seek out relevant skills and experiences. Good reasons to use a consultant include delivering extra resources focused on a specific issue, providing comparative information, and helping with difficult decisions. Clients choose consultants who they regard as credible, that is able to deliver a believable message.

There are two key elements of credibility: trustworthiness and expertise. While the former is a somewhat subjective measure based on your reliability, friendliness and openness, the latter is more objective and will be enhanced by your work and experience in social enterprises.

Einstein wrote that “the only source of knowledge is experience”, so set out on your exploration as the first of many steps: build your expertise with hands on experience in a social enterprise, then you will have more choices, including consultancy, throughout your career.

FT readers respond

Startups do not have budgets for consulting, unless you’re talking about outsourced services like human resources or software development. Consulting is for complex organisations with complex Problems. MAGA

If you’re interested in testing the waters, set up a short email newsletter demonstrating your expertise in building and running social enterprises. Or write about those that you admire. Send it to all your professional contacts that show interest and offer consulting at the bottom. Probablynotideal

Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development and working life.

Do you have a question for Jonathan? Email him at dear.jonathan@ft.com.

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