Landing a CSR Job

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Posted by Elaine Appleton Grant on June 19, 2011
Landing a CSR Job

You've researched the field, fine-tuned your career goals, and found a job prospect that suits your skills and your commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Now it's time to hunker down and prepare yourself to be the best candidate you can be.

During any job hunt, you need to pay close attention to what your resume says about you and how you come across in your interview. This principal certainly holds true for jobs in CSR territory-but a few special considerations also come into play as hiring managers scope out your potential.

  • You need to show concrete evidence of your passion. Interviewing for a sustainability position? It's not nearly enough to go into a company and say you care about the environment, if the most you can claim is that you recycle your soda cans. Volunteering-in a way that shows real commitment and produces real accomplishments-goes a long way. Hiring managers tend to be skeptical about candidates who haven't joined a relevant cause or organization. "What I look for in a job candidate is a well-rounded skill set, balancing academics with relevant real-world job experience, plus outside activities and some sort of a social agenda," says Steve French, managing partner at the Natural Marketing Institute in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, a marketing consultancy specializing in the health and wellness marketplace.
  • A CSR-related internship will give you a definite boost in the job hunt. Hiring managers like to see you've taken this step to gain experience in the field. "I always look for internships," says Paula Ivey of The CSR Group. "It shows they've taken the initiative to get in there and really learn." An incidental benefit of internships: They provide an opportunity to test the waters at a potential fulltime employer.
  • If you're a mid-career job changer, highlight how your skills and experience can transfer into a new, CSR-focused position. The good news? A 2008 Ethical Performance salary survey of CSR professionals in Europe showed that more than half had changed careers to enter the field.
  • Depending upon the specialty you're choosing, if you're a career changer, you might want to consider getting an MBA or other advanced degree. Or you might want to attend an executive training program in sustainability or social responsibility.

Ace the Interview

When you go in for your interview, you need to be armed with comprehensive knowledge about the company and its relationship to the issues you care about. Then you need to be absolutely clear about the skills and experience you can bring to bear on those concerns.

For instance, your passion for the fight against global warming may lead you to seek a job in operations or manufacturing. You have to let the interviewer know how your knowledge of energy efficiency can help the company reduce its carbon emissions and save money. If human rights issues are your focus, show how you can help make the company supply chain more ethical. These kinds of specifics are important because you might be breaking new ground, meaning the company will be looking to you for entrepreneurial ideas and drive.

"Research every possible piece of information about what that firm as done, what its issues and challenges are," says Tuck School's Patricia Palmiotto. "Talk to everybody. Understand its culture, its opportunities, and be prepared to talk about anything and everything concerning the organization and what you might have to offer."

One final word of advice, basic but important: Be nice! It's an important consideration when interviewing for any job, but it's especially vital in socially responsible companies, which have an overt commitment to treating everyone fairly and compassionately. "Sometimes we see people not being very nice to the clerical staff," says Kathy Brooks, vice president of HR at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. "We think, 'If your mother didn't teach you how to behave, we can't either.'"

Interview Questions

When Patricia Palmiotto works with students on their CSR interviews, she advises to them that they're "charting new territory." Palmiotto suggests preparing answers to questions like these:

  • How do you balance potentially conflicting demands from employee groups and other stakeholders?
  • What is the role for this company in society?
  • When assessing a CSR initiative, how do you make decisions about costs versus benefits?
  • How can we articulate what we should do in the first year versus the next five years?

Do You Need an MBA?

There are so many different jobs in this sector that there's no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. But the complexity of CSR, particularly as its practice migrates from being an add-on department to being a core component of many companies' strategies, certainly suggests that an MBA can be helpful- especially for those aiming for management positions.

"People graduating now and in the next few years will have amazing opportunities, because there are so many more partnerships between nonprofits and for-profits and more ways in which the environmental impact of a company's activities are being measured and reduced," says Palmiotto. "An MBA and the skills that it brings can do so much in so many ways." That's also true in the nonprofit world, where entrepreneurial ventures and large traditional nonprofits-struggling already with a shortage of executive talent as baby boomers retire-are vying with the corporate world for MBA talent.

As companies become more invested in CSR, so do business schools. What follows is The Aspen Institute's 2008 list of the top ten U.S. schools for students interested in social responsibility.

1. Stanford University
2. University of Michigan
3. University of California, Berkeley
4. University of Notre Dame
5. Columbia University
6. Cornell University
7. Duquesne University
8. Yale University
9. New York University
10. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

To see the Aspen, Colorado-based institute's full top 100 list, visit  www.beyondgreypinstripes.org/rankings.

One other avenue for advanced degrees:  Explore new "green MBA" programs at schools such as Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Green Mountain College, Presidio School of Management, Marlboro College Graduate Center and Antioch University. These programs have been designed from the ground up for sustainability professionals.

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