How can I re-enter the CSR job market after a long leave?

How can I re-enter the CSR job market after a long leave?

[Editor's note: Dear Shannon is a career advice column for sustainability professionals and wanna-be professionals. If you have a question for Shannon, send it to her at [email protected]. Let us know your thoughts on the column in the comments section below.]

Dear Shannon,

I used to be a CSR Manager for a leading fast-moving consumer goods company. After having my second child, I decided to take five years off to stay at home with my boys. Now that they are school age I want to get back into the market but find that sustainability and CSR has moved on so much since I have been out, and that women needing flexible work schedules are not able to compete. How can I re-enter the sustainability market in a leadership role as a mother?

-- Anne, London

Hi Anne,

I applaud you for taking the time out of your career to be a committed mother. Many of my female clients struggle with balancing home and career and have found that flexibility in a competitive global economy is often hard to come by. Coming back to the corporate responsibility/sustainability (CR/S) market after five years out should not be a major hurdle for you, though, considering your previous experience. But you will need to be strategic in how you position yourself by studying how the agenda and its talent have changed over that time.

A new lens

At Acre, a sustainability recruitment agency, we see an average of 100 applicants per role we post. Now that executives can measure social and environmental outputs more accurately, commercially-minded leaders are able to understand the link to core business and value it. That means more well-qualified sustainability-related professionals are in the market than there were five years ago. When competition increases, so does your need to present a compelling story and tight marketing materials to any prospective employer.

We are seeing many roles in this area being placed with internal candidates. This shows us that, as CR/S gets more embedded into core business, hiring will continue to shift away from external technical CR/S expertise to valuing how new talent understands the sector. It's important for you to identify which sectors you know well and highlight these in your process.

The language of CR/S is constantly changing, too. Make sure you can navigate between creating shared value and sustainability versus sustainable business and corporate citizenship. Also, trendy terminology is always popping up, such as systems thinking, impact investing, B-Corps, social enterprise and so on, all of which was less mainstream when you left your previous job.

Role models

The next step in returning to the market and finding that dream job is to identify which roles you're interested in and the people in them that excite you. Who are the women in this field that you aspire to be like? Whose career life would you like to emulate?

There are many women with families and jobs in CSR, so make it your business to find out who they are and how they do it. The Internet is your oyster.

Start by picking a few dream companies, a few dream job titles and Google away. Once you have a list of your Top 10 or so women in this sector, reach out to them through email or LinkedIn. Try to understand their journey, their challenges and their insider perspective. Are they moms? How do they make it work? Hannah Jones, vice president of sustainable business and innovation at Nike, has two kids. Along with other women in sustainability, she is highlighted in this article from Guardian Sustainable Business and in the How She Leads series here at GreenBiz. Follow them on Twitter, connect with them and get the answers you need directly from the horse's mouth.


While you're busy finding out the secret to a decent work-life balance from the top women in the business, you'll simultaneously build up your professional network: an important step in your back-to-work strategy (and all from home, too).

As you'll quickly realize, social media has changed everything, especially the jobs market. Candidates now use LinkedIn to build networks and stalk their professional heroes, while recruiters easily can find top talent globally through key word searches. Twitter has given all of us our own voice for thought leadership and a platform to showcase a personal brand. Making use of these tools will be crucial to your overall jobseeker's strategy, so use them to build up a new database of connections.

Don't forget to reach out to your former colleagues, too. Many of them may have moved onward and upward, and some will have found themselves in the position you're in now. Their advice and support could be very useful.

The research is on your side

According to Acre's latest study, women accounted for half the sustainability professionals in the U.K. and abroad last year. While this enviable gender balance does not translate as successfully to senior level roles, more and more studies, such as the recent Haas School of Business report, are proving the case that "firms with a higher number of women on their boards are more proactively managing their ESG performance, and hence, improving the firm's social, environmental and governance impact(s)."

This piece of research showed that companies with more women on their board of directors were more likely to proactively invest in renewable energy, reduce the environmental impact of their packaging, measure and reduce carbon emissions of their products, etc.

Some businesses are also committing to making their boards more gender-balanced in order to better reflect the communities they serve, such as the Co-operative Group. The statistics are on your side, in this sense, and being aware of the development trends in board-level gender dynamics will help you to find your niche in a company with values that match your own.

Bring yourself back

You may be feeling a little rusty, but crack open the Borax and put a little elbow grease into that old CV. Celebrating your old accomplishments and skills will be key to re-building your confidence. A CV should be populated with impressive statements outlining accomplishments that prove impact, rather than listing responsibilities with boring overused verbs. Start with mapping your skills to a specific role or career path. Decide where you want to go first (role, industry, level, CR issues, etc.) and then develop a compelling story that is relevant and irresistible to a hiring manager.

For more detailed information on skills mapping than we have space for here, spend some time navigating the advice center on my website, More positive action and less anxious procrastination will help you to get back into the game. The rush you'll get from re-connecting with your old skills and experiences in the professional world will give you momentum, while the network you build up with your future peers in the industry will give you the evidence to choose the right direction for you.

I wish you the very best of luck getting back into the industry. It will be worth all of your effort, as there is still so much to do in this sector. And let me know if you need hands-on support with your CV, cover letter or LinkedIn profile in the meantime.

Pregnancy image by Emery Co Photo via Compfight cc.