BCCCC Conference: How to Kickstart a CSR Career

By Glenn Gutterman

Where will tomorrow’s corporate responsibility leaders come from? That was the question before a breakout session panel Monday at the BCCCC Conference.

According to Maggie McArthur, deputy director of Net Impact, about 50 percent of CSR positions are filled internally while another 25 percent are filled quietly, via word of mouth or leveraging connections such as previous internships or consulting contracts. My own informal polling on the career trajectories of conference attendees confirms the prevalence of CSR practitioners transitioning from a prior role in their current company. It is stunning how many of the gathered CSR leaders here at the conference started out as engineers, operations analysts, communications managers, and sales representatives.

For instance, the luncheon keynote speaker, UPS chief financial officer Kurt Kuehn, began in brown as a UPS driver. His work in the field taught him that CSR adds value by enhancing efficiency and cutting costs, driving innovation and creating opportunities. Kuehn also pointed to his experience as a bean-counter as key to his dedication to UPS sustainability initiatives. He sees CSR as a way to mitigate risk and decrease volatility.

Like Kuehn, and Jennifer Brown, executive vice president of Communication Services with Fidelity, tomorrow’s CSR leaders would be well-served by taking on an operational role (or roles) within a company. Brown said that she coaches her team to not “tell anyone what great jobs we have or else they’ll want them.” Companies see the value in CSR staff that understand the business and have worked with a wide array of employees and stakeholders.

I spoke with CSR leaders who assumed their current role because they previously took initiative to set up their company’s green team, chair an employee giving campaign, pilot a volunteer project, or lead an internal affinity group to promote a diverse workplace.

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. Though this path may be less direct, it’s a strategy worth entertaining when most CSR jobs are never posted.

Don’t just sit back scouring job boards for the perfect CSR position. Understand that such opportunities often reward existing staff with a record of community engagement and dedication to corporate citizenship.

For more data on CSR jobs, read Eileen Weinreb’s March 2010 report and check back for more from BCCCC tomorrow.

Glenn Gutterman is a CSR and institutional development consultant who lives in Bogotá, Colombia. Glenn’s expertise spans employee volunteerism to sustainability reporting. He consults with businesses and organizations that value people, planet and profit, and seek competitive advantage through CSR.

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