Tips For A Career In Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Whether you are looking to start or switch your career into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) the fact is that it can be incredibly competitive (and daunting). How does one break into the limited number of CSR roles if you have limited experience?

Good news is, this is a growing area of priority for companies, and it is possible to pursue a fulfilling career path in CSR with hard work, patience and tenacity.

Here are some tips for a career in corporate social responsibility.

1. Understand the variety

CSR is an umbrella term that many companies use to describe a variety of activities. To some businesses, CSR can refer to their sustainability efforts (minimising their environmental footprint), their investment in community initiatives, their employee volunteerism, or the management of their corporate foundations. You could also be consulting or advising corporations on their CSR efforts.

Roles within Sustainability departments include:

Sustainability – Focus on environmental issues, initiatives and strategies.

Monitoring and evaluation – measure a company’s progress towards its goals.

Reporting – Analyse and document metrics.

Employee engagement – Activate the power of the workplace.

Community investment – Focus on social purpose initiatives within the community.

Partnership and events – Work with non-profits or associations to promote a cause or give back to the community

Marketing, communications or public relations – Communicate the impact of a company’s programmes.

2. Focus on your skill set

Companies want to know what you can do for them, and how your unique skill set will be beneficial for the company. In CSR it’s about knowing how to communicate well and turn insights and research into compelling cases in presentations, writings and conversations. There always needs to be a business case for why things should be done, with small CSR budgets, it is important that you can be resourceful and connect the dots.

Key skills and competencies as identified by CSR professionals

  • Interpersonal – CSR leads are required to work across departments and are responsible for communicating and collaborating with others. CSR is not always in an established department, so you need to rely on your relationships to get things done. You have to be a visible leader and able to rally the troops.
  • Communication – Knowing how to communicate well, both verbally and in writing is a critical must-have skill for a career in corporate social responsibility. You are responsible for communicating everything from the business case to your impact and need to be able to tailor the message to different audiences and stakeholders.
  • Systems thinking and connecting the dots – CSR is cross-sectoral and often requires partnerships with other organisations. Being able to see the big picture and explain how your organisation fits into the greater cause will be important.
  • Business acumen – Strategic thinking, sustainability, research, analytics, and marketing are some of the most common skill sets looked for in a CSR role (dependant on the company).

3. Familiarize yourself with the language of CSR

If you’re looking to get a job in CSR it’s important you’re able to speak the language or sustainability. If you want to walk the walk, you need to talk the talk. Here’s a beginner’s guide on some common terms you may hear frequently in a CSR-based work environment.

Corporate social responsibility

(CSR) CSR is an umbrella term that many companies use to describe a variety of activities. To some businesses, CSR can refer to their sustainability efforts (minimising their environmental footprint), their investment in community events, their employee volunteerism or the management of their corporate foundation.

Chequebook philanthropy

First phase of CSR, where corporations make donations to non-profits and causes with no strings attached.

Community relations

Managing the relationships between a corporation and its non-profit partners and beneficiaries.

Community investment

Focus on investing in social purpose initiatives within the community.

Corporate citizenship

Another term to describe a corporation’s corporate social responsibility efforts. Corporate Foundations are private foundations funded by a for-profit company. Foundations often form part of the corporate environment but have a budget and mission that is separate from other departments. Examples of corporate foundations include: Maybank Group’s Maybank Foundation, Khazanah National’s Yayasan Hasanah and Sime Darby Berhad’s Yayasan Sime Darby

Employee engagement

Activating the power of the workforce to get involved in sustainability or citizenship efforts.

Environment, social and governance (ESG) compliance

ESG refers to the three primary factors that companies often use to measure the sustainability and impact of a potential investment. ESG has become an important methodology for companies and investors.

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI Reporting)

GRI is the leading sustainability reporting organisation.

Social Responsibility Investing (SRI)

The strategy of investing to receive a social and financial return.

4. Build your personal brand

Let your online presence speak louder than words on your resumé by showing, not just telling future employers what your expertise is in. Ensure your LinkedIn profile is up to date, and share your thoughts and knowledge. A well-crafted online presence can go a long way in differentiating you from your competition. Who knows—your future boss could be your latest Twitter follower or blog reader.

p/s: Don’t wait until your job searching phase to do this!

5. Network and leverage on opportunities 

Don’t spend all your time perfecting your resumé and responding to job ads. Attend conferences and events to build your network and expand your connections in the sector. A large number of jobs are filled through connections and referrals, as people like to hire those they already know or have heard of.

6. Talk to people, real people

Talking to people who have the type of job you want or working for organizations you are interested in is one of the best ways to learn more about potential job opportunities. Before you start leveraging your network (or your contacts’ network) to set up informational interviews, take the time to ask yourself what you want. If you start meeting with people before you are ready, you risk making a poor first impression.

7. Embrace twitter

Never has access to top industry experts been so available as many CSR leaders have Twitter accounts. Follow these key hashtags: #CSR, #susty #ESG, #SRI, #CSRchat (a twitter chat about CSR), #sustainability.

8. Be resourceful

Go above and beyond to learn about the industry you are interested in. Investigate the company you are targeting, uncover details and work hard to set yourself apart. Demonstrate that you took the time to get to know the topic you are heading into.

9. Get INTRApreneurial

Not everyone can find their CSR job right away, but there are ways to make any job more meaningful. Bring forward your favourite cause/charity, spearhead a volunteer program, help plan a sustainability program for your company or get your company B Corp certified.

And finally, Read more.

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