Guest post by Simon Propper, Managing Director, Context

I’ll never make a life-coach. My career has evolved by empirical experiment, twists and turns prompted by sometimes random experience – on one occasion an Andrex ad changed my life. And yet, I can’t imagine doing anything else, except perhaps one day building wooden boats in a shed by the sea.

I’m lucky, I found my vocation. But CR is becoming much more mainstream and now appeals to a wider group as a potential career. I receive emailed CV/resumes every day and aim to reply to all of them – I did say ‘aim’ – one of CR reporting’s most useful qualifications. Feel free to chase me.

Opportunities are expanding in major companies, business organizations, NGOs and think tanks, socially responsible investors, academia, regulators and political parties and consultancies (us).

But does CR offer the many interested graduates and mid-life changers prospects of a fulfilling and rewarding career? Here’s a test of your aptitude for the majority of CR positions available today…

1) Do you seek to make a rapid impact on society and the environment?
2) Do you want to be rewarded on a par with other professionals such as lawyers, accountants or marketing executives?
3) Would you expect to interact face to face with CEOs and senior politicians?
4) Do you relish managing a large budget for consulting and agency support?
5) Would you like a glamorous work environment?
6) Would you like to be able to talk about your work at dinner parties

OK enough – you got it already. Most CR jobs are still a ‘No’ to the above. And yet there is something hugely rewarding about chipping away, year in year out, making the arguments and constructing the business cases for better environmental and social performance. Once in a while quite significant breakthroughs are achieved, and if we look back over five years or so with any of our clients, we can all be proud of how far we have come. At least we don’t have to come home and say ‘hey honey (male or female honey) guess what, we put two points on the market share of [insert brand of room deodorizer] in Lichtenstein in May’.

Here are my tips for spotting the better corporate positions (I won’t attempt all the categories here):

1) Look for a short reporting line to the CEO.
2) Check the CEO’s speeches – any on sustainability?
3) Where does the potential position fit in? Be wary of positions in regions other than where the HQ is located because they often have insufficient influence.
4) Is there a contradiction between the core business and sustainability? Check the annual review as well as the CR report.
5) Are there significant sustainability issues? This is the opposite of the previous point. Problems too big or too small can be equally disempowering.
6) Who does the CR team report to and what is the senior decision making body? Look for clarity, seniority and engagement of the powerful operating functions of the company.

Even if this list is imperfect, just asking these questions at interview will single you out as the smartest candidate on the block. It may also precipitate deep career depression in your potential new boss if he or she is laboring eight rungs from the CEO in a different time zone and reporting to the head of janitorial supplies.

It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when progress is glacial or even backsliding. At Context we have a secret blackboard on the private side of the kitchen wall. Here, in addition to caricatures of Peter Knight and I, is a list of our clients’ achievements and milestones. Steps, not all memorable in themselves, that collectively amount to a body of evidence that a career in CR is worthwhile and rewarding.

So if you are considering a getting into CR ,or corporate sustainability as we now call it, I encourage you to persevere. It’s a broad and challenging field that will motivate and interest for many many years. One word of caution – if you are seeking a husband, it’s not the right place. 70% of CR professionals are women. On second thoughts, I may have just righted that imbalance.

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© 2009, Simon_Propper. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Simon_Propper (1 Articles)

Simon Propper, Managing Director, Context, founded the company with Peter Knight in 1997, following five years with leading environmental consultancy Enviros. After graduating in chemical engineering he spent ten years in consumer protection roles at the UK Advertising Standards Authority and its equivalent in television regulation. Simon heads Context's London office that serves our longstanding European clients such as BT, GSK, Roche, Syngenta, Tesco, Unilever, and WPP. He has been instrumental in developing Context's services in strategy, marketing communication, reporting, stakeholder engagement and employee communications. Recently he has worked closely with HP, Motorola, Tesco, Vodafone and WPP. He is particularly interested in two areas which can help clients respond to rising consumer engagement in sustainability: climate strategies and marketing communications. He speaks regularly at conferences and client seminars and is an experienced facilitator of conference panels and management meetings.