On the rare occasions that I have to tell people what I do (rare, because being an expat female in Saudi Arabia, people generally assume I don’t work), it is always tricky. I am still trying to figure out what’s worse; the confusion with “Customer Service Representative” or that barely concealed eye-roll. Despite the eye-rolls and the perplexed stares, I am very glad with my chosen vocation and firmly believe that anyone who has the passion or interest should consider the area. That said, starting a career in this area can be challenging given that most jobs are not advertised and often filled internally. It is even more challenging in those parts of the world where CSR is still a relatively uncharted field and companies are only slowly waking up to the significance of hiring specialized staff. Below are my top tips for jump-starting your CSR career:
Determine your Niche within the Niche:
When you decide to trade a generic management or consulting roles for a very specific and niche career line, the next step is to decide what your interest or focus area is within that niche. Are you a finance professional who firmly believes that socially responsible investments can give a better ROI than regular ones? Are you an HR convert who thinks that the root of good CSR is good HR practices or an engineer who believes that all business activities can be environmentally sustainable and is willing to come up with creative and workable solutions? CSR is no more a small discipline and the specialties are increasing every day, choose yours and then move on to step 2.
Polish your Skills:
This is a given in any career choice but even more so in this one because, unlike other professions, most experts in this field are not formally educated in CSR and some even started their career in a completely different line. So if you are not coming from a background in CSR, it is important that you read up as much as you can on key areas, trends and emerging issues. The Alltop CSR feed is a great place to start and so is this amazing list on Realized Worth and if you allow me some shameless self-promotion, I will also suggest that you get hold of the free CSR dictionary from the GBS website.
Spruce up Your Resume
Normally the resumes are a laundry list of everything a person ever learned, experienced, heard about or saw in sample resumes on monster.com. The trouble is these are far too generic for a CSR role and most people don’t realize that. For example, while “natural leader” is good, “compassionate team player” is better when it comes to CSR. Another tip for people revamping their resumes is to not only list the skills they are experts on but also the areas they have an interest in. This essentially means that even if you have never worked in a CSR role but have been reading up and preferably writing on the latest trends, you can have an equal or better chance of being selected than a person formally educated in CSR because you are more in touch with the rapidly changing body of CSR knowledge.
OK cliché alert for those opposed to clichés; when looking to make a career in the field of CSR and sustainability, try googling your name first. If the only results are from Facebook and your university graduate list, you need to fix this. Google is still one of the first places employers turn to when shortlisting candidates. A strong online and social media presence matters as much as a good resume but it is also very important how you position yourself on these platforms. As much as I am averse to the idea of judging a person’s influence or self-worth through a Klout score, one insight that it provides is worthy of some thought; it tells you which areas you are influential in. If CSR Sustainability is not on the list, you need to change that. You may also consider starting a small blog of your own (or microblog on Twitter) if you have a penchant for writing (if you don’t, work on it that since good writing is key to a successful career in CSR and sustainability). You can also start by contributing articles or small blog posts on various article databases. With a word limit of 500-600 words, it is not as difficult as it sounds.
Don’t wait to be picked. Make a list of companies in your area who are active in CSR and Sustainability and try to find out as much as you can about them. Trust me, CSR is one role where companies are almost always open to hire but hardly ever advertise for! Paradoxical, but true and you need to take advantage of that. Once a job is advertised, it is a level playing field and you may be competing against veterans but when you approach a company with an updated knowledge base and with a solid online presence, your chances of getting in are much higher. This post in Triple Pundit has some interesting pointers too:
“If you’re trying to make inroads in the field of corporate responsibility, target a company that has a commitment at the highest levels but also lots of unrealized potential. Consider taking a position outside the scope of CSR with the intention of distinguishing yourself through volunteer and leadership engagement. Cultivate professional relationships so that when a CSR position becomes available you have internal champions behind your candidacy”
Another great resource on the topic that I just came across is this post in Guardian that features Shannon Houde from Walk of Life Consulting, some great points here too.
Good luck with your career move and do leave a comment below to let us know about your experience or any further tips.