“I was looking for a way back to something I believed in.”

From HR to Social Entrepreneur

Robbie Semple was on a promising career path in HR, but had always wanted to do something that made a positive impact in the world. Now he's now running his own social venture. Here's how he did it.

What work were you doing previously?

I was working in HR for Rolls-Royce. I had joined their graduate scheme and had moved through a few roles in learning and development, operations and business partnering.

What are you doing now?

I'm now running a new organisation called Worthwhile, that helps graduates make a start in the social impact sector. It's the sort of thing I wish had been around when I left University, and we think it has the potential to do serious good for both graduates and social impact organisations.

Why did you change?

I'd always been keen on working in something that I thought was positive for the world. I think we're facing huge challenges today, that aren't going to be overcome with the institutions and systems we built for yesterday's problems.

I was quite keen to work in international development after finishing University. I talked to a few people for advice and they all advised not to look for a graduate role; rather to go and get some experience in the private sector and come back. Their view was the personal and career development opportunities simply weren't there in the social sector. I (begrudgingly) took their advice, but was definitely looking for a way back to something I believed in.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

I had a really positive experience at Rolls-Royce. I said to myself starting out that I'd give it two or three years and look to move on after that. When three years were up, I knew it was getting toward a "now or never moment". I had a promising career panning out in front of me, and the longer I stayed, the harder I figured it would be to make the tranisition.

Are you happy with the change?


What do you miss and what don't you miss?

There are times I miss the structure, and certainty and clarity of corporate life, and certainly some good friends I made along the way. On the positive side, it feels like some sort of internal tension has been resolved; I have a lot more energy for work and take much greater enjoyment in what I do every day.

How did you go about making the shift?

I spent a year working through On Purpose, a leadership programme for young professionals looking to move into social enterprise. It was an amazing experience and introduction to the sector, and an option I'd recommend to anyone thinking about moving into this space. The programme involves two 6 month placements with different social enterprises in London, as well as comprehensive training, executive coaching and peer support.

How did you handle your finances to make the shift possible?

On Purpose pays a modest salary -- not at a level where you're going to get rich, but certainly enough to live in London. It was a great way to explore different options and ideas for the year in a financially sustainable way.

What help did you get? 

Over the course of the year I had incredible support. On Purpose has a huge network, so they were very helpful in getting to know the sector. Starting with a cohort of 13 other career changers was brilliant; there was always someone to talk through problmes, expectations and everything else

What have you learnt in the process?

The power of just jumping in. James Parr, who set up Imaginals, led a session for us on our first day with On Purpose. He described his own career transition, saying making the conscious decision to focus on the type of work he wanted to do, and worry less about structure and long term planning had opened up huge opportunities for him. It's advice that rings very true for me a year later.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

Not a lot… I'm not sure the last year could have gone much better.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Don't underestimate the importance of loving what you do for all the hours you spend in work. And don't be afraid to go sideways or backwards to find a better place. Move quickly, surround yourself with great people and enjoy wherever it takes you!

To find out more about On Purpose, visit: www.onpurpose.uk.com.

You can discover more about Robbie's organisation, Worthwhile, at: www.worthwhile.org.uk

What lessons could you take from Robbie's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below. 



Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.