How Can I Transition into the Corporate Social Responsibility Field?

How Can I Transition into the Corporate Social Responsibility Field? was originally published on The Campus Career Coach.

Lea from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health asks:

“How do I get into the field of corporate social responsibility? I come from a socio-medical public health background. What kind of skills and training are considered assets? If I’m looking for jobs in that area, what kind of job titles and keywords should I be searching?”

Thanks for your question, Lea.  Your interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) is well timed as today’s consumers expect companies to not just be responsible corporate citizens and improve issues related to their operations, but also make a broader societal impact.

A 2017 Cone Communications study found that nearly nine out of ten individuals expect companies to address social and environmental issues, not just profit objectives.  Consumers consider a brand/company’s CSR initiatives almost as strongly as they consider price, quality, and convenience when it comes to purchasing decision.  CSR investment is important to a company’s financial health, so companies consider these initiatives and related investments carefully.

The focus companies have put on its CSR initiatives has become sharper, which has led to increased opportunities for professionals, like you, who are interested in this career path.

Detailed below are some specific suggestions you can implement in your plan to transition into the CSR field.

Develop a Better Understanding of CSR Activities

Most individuals think that a company’s sustainability initiatives to be the only part of CSR.  This is far from the reality as CSR encompasses a variety of activities including:

  1. Sustainability: Focus on environmental impact and issues, initiatives, and supporting strategies
  2. Monitoring & Evaluation: Measure of a company’s progress towards its CSR initiatives/goals
  3. Employee Engagement: Morale, activism, and participation of workforce
  4. Reporting: Document and analyze CSR performance metrics
  5. Community Investment: Focus on social purpose initiatives within local (or global) community
  6. Community Partnerships & Events: Partnerships with non-profits and associations to promote various causes and contributions within community
  7. Marketing, Communications, Public Relations: Share company’s efforts and successes of their CSR programming and initiatives

Craft Your Personal Brand

Make sure your online presence matches and communicates the values consistent with your high-interest companies.  Include Twitter in your campaign to connect with CSR leaders and use appropriate CSR hashtag (#CSR, #Sustainability, #ESG, #SRI, and others).  Consider blogging about your current community initiatives and understanding of CSR to create some additional visibility.

Build Your CSR Network

Networking is always the best job search method to land a job in any field.  Make sure all of your friends, family members, and connections know exactly the type of job that you are looking for and that you’d be grateful for any tips, leads, referrals, and introductions.  Additionally, utilize LinkedIn to grow virtual network and participate in CSR-related groups.  Attend CSR conferences and events to also build your network in this sector.

Inventory Your Skills

Employers want to know how you can produce results for them, and how your unique skill set will serve to benefit their initiatives.  Current CSR professionals have identified some key skill areas and competencies needed within CSR role.  This include having strong interpersonal skills/relationship building skills, solid communication skills, excellent business acumen, and demonstrating a systems thinking approach (ability to connect the dots).  Evaluate your existing skills in these areas, and take action to enhance or strengthen whenever you can.

Stay Up-To-Date with CSR Issues

Corporate social responsibility is ever changing, so make sure to stay current with the latest trends in the field.  Here are a few leading sites you should review regularly:  Corporate Knights, Stanford Social Innovation Review, CSRWire, Aspen Institute, Net Impact, and Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship.

Treat Your Job Search Like a Full-Time Job

One common mistake recent graduates make in their search relates to the amount of time and effort they invest into their job search efforts.  Most invest very little time into the search and assume that the successful outcome will come easily, even in spite of the competitive nature of the job market.  Here is statistic that might catch your attention:  1.9 million bachelor’s degrees are expected to be awarded during the 2017-2018 academic year.

These statistics aren’t meant to scare, but rather to motivate you to fuel your search with a great deal of effort.  Treat the search like a full-time job.  Invest 40+ hours a week into your campaign to land the right job.

If you find you are struggling to land a CSR opportunity, consider becoming “intrapreneurial” within your current organization and position.  Spearhead a volunteer program at your company and help plan a sustainability program for your company and/or bet your company B corp. certified.  This will help build your marketability base, so you are more valuable in the future.

Contact Your Career Center for Guidance

Colleges and universities offer career preparation services to students at no additional cost.  You leverage your career center as it is a valuable resource.  College career centers are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled, and credentialed professionals who can provide assistance in a variety of areas including resume review, interview skills training, job search strategy, and more.  Your university’s career center can likely provide some further insight into your question about getting your social responsibility career started.  Furthermore, your career center has a job site exclusively for current students and recent alumni featuring jobs and internships posted with the institution. Your university’s career services professionals will be able to provide excellent advice about your immediate question, but can offer so much more as an on-going resource. Initiate contact with this department to set up an appointment.

Putting It All Together

Transitioning from one field to another where you have no experience can be tough.  Start to build your CSR network, and launch CSR initiatives at your current employer.  Become a student of the field by keeping current with the trends.  Through this work, you’ll better understand the field, and find where your skills match up with existing opportunity. Lastly, work hard at your goal of breaking into this field. You’ve got this, Lea!

Good luck and best wishes!

Here’s to your success,

Bob Nealon