Corporate citizenship and corporate social responsibility jobs are cool, right?
Lots of young people think so. They constantly ask for advice on how to get a "job like yours." But the answer is complicated because there is no set career path, special schooling or professional credential needed to work in corporate citizenship or CSR.
Where do CSR leaders come from? Everywhere, according to members of LBG Research Institute's Thought Leader Forum, a group of senior corporate citizenship executives who started in law, marketing, IT, nonprofit management, consulting and corporate communications. You can start anywhere, as long as you develop the skills and attributes needed to be successful in the field.
These special attributes can help you move to a leadership position in the field. Some come naturally to candidates, while others can be cultivated through on-the-job and personal experiences. The short list includes excellent communication skills, the ability to run a line of business and an understanding of the for-profit and nonprofit worlds. You also need to be skilled at the art of persuasion and possess one of the most intangible of attributes: executive presence. The Center for Talent Innovation has done a lot of research on what constitutes executive presence.
Everyone starts at the bottom. To break into the field, you need to position yourself as a top candidate for when an opportunity arises. Here is some advice from the Thought Leader Forum members for young people seeking jobs in corporate citizenship or corporate social responsibility:
Be prepared to show off your stellar communications skills
A well-written resume, confident speaking voice and well-chosen words will make an impression. If your writing skills need some work, take a business communications class. If your verbal skills need polish, join the debate club or Toastmasters.
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 you need to work in citizenship or CSR. Many of these programs are targeted more to training individuals already sitting in those jobs anyway.
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? Volunteer for an organization that means something to you. It doesn't matter if you are mentoring a child or walking shelter dogs. Just make it truly meaningful to you.
Don't think that you can come in and start giving away money
You will start at the bottom, and like every other field, the bottom means some boring grunt work. Creating spreadsheets of volunteer projects or choosing a T-shirt color aren't sexy, but are part of the package.
Network, network, network
Great CSR leaders can come from anywhere. Get out there and talk to the people doing the work today. Start with your alumni network. Most professionals are accustomed to having students and recent graduates contact them. Remember these individuals are very busy so be clear on what you want and why you have chosen to contact them. Ask for 15 minutes on the phone and at the end of the conversation, ask if there is anyone else they think you should speak with. Follow up with a thank-you note and ask for a LinkedIn connection. If you make an impression, they'll remember you when hiring or when a friend is hiring. Communication skills are essential -- show them off when you network.
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. Are you a recent MBA? Maybe they would appreciate some pro bono work in your expertise. If you're still in graduate or undergraduate business school, take advantage of any nonprofit management coursework.
Stay abreast of current thinking in the CSR field
There are quite a few good blogs to follow, as well as organizations putting out thoughtful research. Some of the most widely read blogs include CSRWire, Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and BSR. Read CSR reports for fun. You'll have plenty of conversation starters in your networking, as well as insightful questions at job interviews.
Be persistent but don't be a pain
Once you've connected with some CSR professionals, it's OK to stay in touch. Send an article you thought was interesting. Update them on where you are in your career. Don't just ask if there is an opening in the CSR department. If there is and you have impressed them, they'll be calling you.
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