How I Found My Career in Social Impact: Q&A with Madeline (King) Hannigan, '17

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At Chicago Booth, a number of students each year show an interest in pursuing careers in social impact. As Booth’s hub for people tackling complex social and environmental problems, the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation is working to help these Booth students positively impact humanity and our planet. Together with Career Services, the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation helps students explore social sector careers.

The Rustandy Center reached out to Madeline (King) Hannigan, ’17, an investment associate at Charter School Growth Fund, to learn about her Booth experience and some of the programs and resources that helped her pursue a career in social impact.

You were involved in social impact at Booth starting on day one. What initially brought you to Booth?

MH: When I was looking at business schools in 2014, a visit to Booth sealed it as my top choice. I visited a negotiations class taught by clinical professor of managerial psychology Linda Ginzel, who happened to be covering salary negotiations that day. (Editor’s Note: Negotiations is a popular course at Booth that is taught by a number of faculty, including Professor Ginzel. Students can connect with Academic Services to learn more about specific courses). The timing couldn’t have been better, since I was in the middle of my year-end conversation with my manager. I left that day feeling like if I learned even a fraction of similar valuable lessons while at Booth, it would be worth it.

While I always knew I would gravitate toward the classes (I love being a student!), what really stood out to me during that visit was chatting with my fellow prospective students. When I expressed my career goals of working in social impact, fellow Boothies saw that as an asset and immediately wanted to know how they could provide introductions or encouragement. That’s not necessarily the reaction I got at every school I visited. Sometimes, the assumption was that I would change my mind, with the implication that a more traditional post-MBA path would be a “better” decision.

Madeline King ClassWhat was your strategy in choosing courses?

MH: I wanted to focus first on the business foundations and get exposure to functions I had learned about in passing in my career. I appreciated how quantitative Booth was and didn’t shy away from those classes—I knew those would help me build my credibility moving forward, especially since I was a liberal arts major in college.

In addition, the lab classes I took at Booth allowed me to keep social impact front and center. I took Urban Opportunities and Solutions, as well as the Social Impact Scaling Lab when they were brand new courses. Both classes gave me the opportunity to connect with my peers and to combine what I learned in more traditional classes with my strong focus on impact. I also recommend that people meet with the advisors in Academic Services, who can help students strategize about courses.

How did you identify the social issue you’re most passionate about working to solve?

MH: To provide a little background, I focused on K-12 education right out of college. My passion and commitment came from many experiences growing up in a school that allowed me to see what a difference community organizing, well-run nonprofits, and strong educational systems can make for everyone. With the transition into Booth, the real question for me was how do I stay in the K-12 space in a way that leverages both my past skills and experiences and my newly gained knowledge from the MBA?

When I was admitted to Booth in 2015, it wasn’t just my fellow soon-to-be students that helped me feel so welcome—the Rustandy Center came into play almost immediately. I received a very friendly call from a first-year student when I was admitted who listened to what I was interested in and immediately made a few introductions for me. A few emails later, I was speaking directly with Erica Phillips, senior associate director at the Rustandy Center. (Editor’s Note: To connect with a staff member at the Rustandy Center about social impact programs and events, email RustandyCenter@ChicagoBooth.edu). I was so surprised and happy that she was taking the time to help me envision what my time could look like at Booth, and she and the rest of the team continued to be among my most valuable resources and supports during my time at Booth.

How did you prioritize your involvement in student groups?

MH: Once at Booth, I joined the BoothEd and Net Impact student clubs and connected with my peers who were passionate about a wide range of social impact topics. Booth has a strong “pay it forward” culture, which means that second-year students are always willing to provide guidance and insights that help their peers dive deeper into things that interest them. It’s my favorite part of Booth, and something that I wanted to continue during my second year as a Career Advisor, a peer-to-peer career guidance program offered by Career Services. I provided support and resources to first-year students considering social impact internships, and I found this experience to be incredibly rewarding and also a source of encouragement and motivation for my own full-time job search. 

What other advice do you have for students who want to find a job in the social sector?

MH: The thing I always share with people, and that I very much had to learn as I went along, is that networking is everything in the social impact space. I realize that may sound cliché in the context of business school, but it’s really true in a different way for post-MBA jobs in fields like K-12 education that don’t hire tons of MBAs each year.

Networking allows you to do two things: first, figure out what’s out there and what you’re a good fit for; and second, form strong relationships with organizations you believe in so that when they’re ready to hire, you’re there.

The good news is that the “pay it forward” mentality extends to alumni in the broader Booth community. People are generous with their time and feedback, and the many people who connected with me helped me find my new role and function in K-12 education. Incoming students can leverage additional career resources and programming starting with reviewing summer prep materials from Career Services, which can help them plan their networking effectively.

How else did Booth help you achieve your career goals, both short and long term?

MH: I am tremendously grateful for my time at Booth and the many people who shared their knowledge with me and believed in my goals—because of those things, I reached my goal of transitioning into the investing side of social impact.

I now work at Charter School Growth Fund, a venture philanthropy fund that invests in K-12 education, specifically charter schools. In the long term, I feel like I’m set up for success to continue my career in the space because I have the Booth network and am learning constantly in my new job.

And, my time with Professor Ginzel came full circle—I took her class during my final quarter at Booth. I’m excited to be an alumna now, so I can continue to develop in my own career and be inspired by others who also choose to pursue social impact.

Madeline King HeadshotMadeline (King) Hannigan, ’17, is an investment associate at Charter School Growth Fund. While enrolled in Booth’s Full-Time MBA Program, Hannigan served as a Career Advisor for Booth’s Career Services. She’s also recipient of the Lauren and Keith Breslauer, ’88, Social Impact Scholarship and the Andrew M. Alper Honorary Scholarship.