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How Do I Get a Job in CSR?

February 23, 2015

I'm asked that question frequently. So much so that I once asked Ronna Brown who leads Philanthropy New York if she could put some resources on her website that I could direct inquiries to. She did, and you can access them here. There are also career centers and resources on the Council on Foundations and Boston Center for Corporate Citizenship websites, and the Council even provides access to career coaching.

As I wrote about in an earlier posting [September 16, 2013], the LBG Research Institute published a short report with the unfortunate title, "Advancing CSR Without a Corporate Responsibility Officer," that lists a number of skills and attributes that the contemporary corporate social responsibility professional needs to be successful in his or her position. It also provides some good advice for young people who want to enter the field, including:

  • Show that you are committed to social responsibility in your own life. You don't have to lead a movement, but in what way have you personally made a difference?
  • Get experience in the nonprofit world. It is critical to understand how nonprofits work. Paid work is great, but if you can't get it, volunteer. Then talk to the people working there about what it is like.
  • Stay abreast of current thinking in the CSR field. There are quite a few good blogs and papers out there as well as organizations putting out thoughtful research.
  • Network, network, network. Get out there and talk to the people doing the work today. If you make an impression, they will remember you when hiring or when a colleague is hiring.
  • Be persistent, but don't be a pain. Once you've connected with some CSR professionals, it's OK to stay in touch. Update them on your career periodically.

One of the other pieces of advice is:

  • Don't rely on classes and certificate programs to get your foot in the door. They are nice to have on your resume, but they aren't everything that you need to work in CSR.

While I agree that they aren't everything, I do believe these kinds of programs can be very useful as professional development and networking opportunities. For example, I'm the lead faculty member for the Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility, a certificate program sponsored by Johns Hopkins University and Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, and the feedback that we receive from participants is that concentrated training programs like this are helpful in advancing careers in the field.

Boston Center for Corporate Citizenship also sponsors excellent training and certificate programs designed to help people develop the skills and competencies necessary to be successful in the field. The Center has identified seven competencies that its staff members feel are useful:

  • Strategy. Ability to align corporate citizenship or community involvement with social and business priorities to deliver value to both the company and society.
  • Issues Management. Ability to identify and track emerging issues and to implement effective resolution strategies.
  • Relationship Building. Ability to build mutually beneficial, trust-based relationships with internal and external stakeholders.
  • Communications. Ability to communicate effectively both inside and outside the company.
  • Program Design and Execution. Ability to operationalize strategy through the development of executable initiatives.
  • Performance Management. Ability to establish and track performance targets and drive continuous improvement.
  • Change Management. Ability to mobilize and shape organization-wide action and involvement.

As many of these competencies state or imply, positions in corporate social responsibility are really about blending the external and internal environments in such a way that both benefit. My former boss at AT&T, Reynold Levy, used to talk about "marrying the business interests of the company with the needs of society" as being the raison d'etre of corporate philanthropy and corporate social responsibility.

I often tell people that I am looking for people who understand, appreciate and are committed to both the for-profit and the not-for-profit worlds since we are trying to help both the business and society in our positions. So, if an individual's interests are too far over on the profit-making side or too far over on the community's side, they may get frustrated at the lack of a "full court press" on one side or the other. I think that professionals who are comfortable operating in the middle do best in these positions.

If you have a question or comment, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and let's start a conversation there.

In two weeks: Why Nonprofit Leaders Should Care About Data Security Too


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