A new study by nonprofit organization Net Impact, called Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012, reveals that the majority of students surveyed want an impact job once they enter the workforce. An impact job is one that has positive social benefits and can help make the world a better place for everyone. The survey polled 1,726 current university students who were preparing to enter the workforce as well as currently employed four-year college graduates from three different age groups: Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers.


Highlights from the report include:


  • 7 in 10 students say that “having a job where they can make an impact on causes and issues that are important to them” is very important in their job search
  • 31 percent of student surveyed said that having an impact job is essential
  • Students consider an impact job more important to their happiness than having children, a prestigious career, wealth or holding a community leadership role
  • 58 percent of students would take a 15 percent pay cut if they could work for a company that has values like their own
  • Women are more focused on impact jobs than men

While reading through the report, the differences between students and boomers really caught my eye. Last year only 43 percent of students voted while 77 percent of boomers voted. Boomers are also more likely to boycott a company based on their personal values, donate to causes they care about and volunteer outside of work when compared to the student population.


In my opinion, the idea of having an impact job sounds great to students but their actions don’t necessarily support that statement. I asked Liz Maw, CEO of Net Impact, about the difference between the percentage of students who want an impact job and the percentage of students who voted last year. Voting, in my opinion, can certainly make an impact on society.


Maw explains, “Our data shows that students care deeply about making a direct impact — impact that they can see and touch. The data shows an interest in direct work with socially responsible products and services and volunteerism, which students see as meaningful activities that align with their personal interests and goals. Voting, on the other hand, is more abstract for students as a way to make the difference, especially if candidates don’t speak directly to their personal values.”


I remember being a young college student and wanting to see a direct and even immediate impact on something and so I understand how voting is a bit abstract. However, I waited in line for hours on my university campus to vote in the 1992 presidential election, which was held one month after my 18th birthday.


Another figure that caught my eye was the fact that only 54 percent of students felt it was important for them to make a difference for others, quite a bit lower than the amount of students who felt it was important to have an impact job. For comparison, 67 percent of the boomer population responded to this statement in the affirmative.


Maw explains, “The other 46 percent (compared to the 54 percent) place more of an emphasis on being personally successful than making a difference to others. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to make a difference, just that they’d rather be personally successful. This doesn’t surprise us — in other research we have found that students want it all! They want a job that makes a difference AND a successful career, and they are not willing to give up the latter for the former. Luckily, they don’t have to — there are many ways to achieve professional success (getting paid decently, learning, growing, having interesting work to do) while making a difference!”


Now this is something that I completely understand — wanting it all. I want to take a minute to congratulate all of this year’s graduating college seniors and wish them luck as they enter the job market. I hope they find it all and help make the world a better place for generations to come.


For more results from Net Impact’s survey, download the executive summary: Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012 (PDF).

Survey: Majority of students want an 'impact job'
A Net Impact study reveals that students want a job that will help make the world a better place for everyone.