csr jobsWhile companies are increasingly partnering with business schools to create CSR projects for MBA students seeking to get real-world education and training to prepare them for the workforce, many find no opportunity to continue this work once they finish business school.  Even though there has been a steady increase over time in VP and Director-level CSR jobs, that is not the case for social responsibility MBA grads. If you want to work in CSR, get functional experience first.

by Ashley Jablow. Follow her on Twitter @ashleyjablow.  Read her blog, The Changebase.

With just over two months left until I graduate from business school, I’ve started to reflect on what I’ve accomplished over the last two years.

Without a doubt, the most fulfilling experiences of my MBA program have been the chances I’ve had to engage in real-world consulting projects for corporate and nonprofit clients.

In the last four semesters, I’ve worked on some pretty terrific marketing and corporate social responsibility projects – including brand audits, marketing research plans, stakeholder communications strategies, and social media tactics.

But perhaps my most satisfying consulting project was a sustainability reporting and stakeholder engagement plan for Praxair, a $9B Fortune 300 industrial gas manufacturer in Danbury, CT. I’ve talked about this project in past posts, and I was thrilled to see that Boston University recently issued a press release about this engagement (including a quote from yours truly!).

These consulting projects have been the most rewarding part of my MBA, but they’ve also been the most challenging and time-consuming. In the end, though, I’ve signed up for all of them without hesitation – in large part because I (and many of my fellow MBA classmates) believed they’d serve as proof of our experience to potential employers come recruiting season.

Interestingly, recently The Wall Street Journal published an article about companies partnering with business schools to create these sorts of CSR projects for students. The article starts out positively, saying urgent “social concerns” are leading more and more companies to partner with business schools to provide real-world education and training to students (aka: potential employees).

Unfortunately the story takes on a different tone just a few sentences later:

The effort [to create real-world CSR consulting projects] is being met with both gratitude and skepticism from business schools, which say that despite the emphasis on integrating these hot-button topics into the curriculum, it’s business as usual at recruiting time. Few hiring managers, they say, ask students about corporate-responsibility training or indicate it’s a priority.

That’s right – according to the article, these CSR projects may be happening more frequently on business school campuses, but that doesn’t mean they’re turning into more CSR jobs for MBA graduates after school.

The article drills home the point even further, saying that engaging students in these kinds of projects “doesn’t translate into hiring socially responsible M.B.As, an issue that “points to a disconnect on part of the companies: There’s enthusiasm in the classroom for imparting corporate responsibility and sustainability concepts, but hiring managers attending campus recruiting sessions say it’s rarely something they quiz candidates about.”

In the end it seems that MBA grads looking for CSR jobs can easily find themselves between that proverbial rock and a hard place – on the one hand, they’re receiving extraordinary real-world training for future sustainability positions; yet on the other, there’s often no opportunity to continue this work once they finish business school.

Another related and interesting study that just came out also reinforced this point:

Ellen Weinreb from Sustainability Recruiting analyzed six years of CSR job postings and drew conclusions about the availability of jobs and overall trends in CSR recruiting. Her findings point to an interesting conclusion for recent MBA grads wanting to get into CSR (which, by the way, is the same conclusion drawn by the Wall Street Journal article):

If you want to work in CSR, get functional experience first.

Ellen’s study shows an increase over time in VP and Director-level CSR jobs – which is great news for people already working in CSR but not so great for MBA grads just trying to jump in.

Since those high-level CSR jobs are most likely out of reach for newly-minted MBAs, Ellen suggests job seekers embed themselves in a corporate function (marketing, finance, strategy etc), learn the business, and then transition internally to a CSR role.

When you think about it, this advice makes sense; after all, to be effective in sustainability, you’ve got to first understand the business you’re in.

For my part, it turns out that I’ve actually heard this advice many, many times – and given the frequency with which it’s said, I’ve taken it seriously to heart.

Still, this puts me – and many other soon-to-be MBA grads – in a bit of an awkward position going forward.

My goal is to work in a CSR role within a big consumer brand, so I’ve stacked my resume with CSR-related projects and classes to show future employers that I know what I’m talking about.

But if in the end it turns out that these kinds of activities don’t necessarily translate into a job-seeker’s “competitive advantage,” did I waste my time on these projects when I should have been doing something else? Obviously that’s being overly dramatic, but the issue certainly gives me pause.

In the end, the best advice I can give to CSR job-seekers is sort of a hybrid model:

Learn the business through functional experience, but bring sustainability to work every day.

Yes, getting that marketing, or finance, or supply chain experience under your belt will be crucially important – not only to build credibility and a reputation for yourself, but also as a way to help you think about sustainability and CSR opportunities from within.

But just because you’re working in a non-CSR function doesn’t mean that you should chuck your CSR know-how and skills out the window. On the contrary, your understanding and flexibility in CSR can only help you do your functional job better.

We can still hope that one day CSR will be such a corporate priority that all companies will recruit for these positions. In the meantime, my advice is to earn your stripes at a company you respect and admire, make your interest and intentions in sustainability clear, and with time transition into the CSR job you want.

As the old saying goes, “Your patience will be rewarded”.


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© 2010, Ashley Parsons Jablow. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Ashley Parsons Jablow (1 Articles)

Ashley Jablow is a recent MBA graduate with extensive experience in communications, social media, marketing, and strategy for corporate social responsibility and philanthropy programs. As an MBA at Boston University Graduate School of Management, Ashley consulted with corporate, agency and social enterprise clients on topics such as sustainability strategy and reporting, stakeholder engagement and communications, and brand management and social media. In 2009 Ashley worked as a corporate philanthropy intern at Ocean Spray Cranberries, where she created and implemented an internal communications and employee engagement plan to build the business case for corporate giving. Prior to business school, Ashley worked in nonprofit fundraising in the San Francisco Bay Area. As creator of The Changebase, Ashley regularly writes about trends, issues and best practices in CSR and social change. Her writing has been featured by 3BL Media, the Vault CSR Blog, the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, and Ceres. Ashley is currently conducting her own CSR job search and was recently profiled in the CNBC Executive Careers article: “Most Unusual Job Search Tactics.” Ashley can be reached via Twitter or her blog.

  • Jonathan Lake

    Perhaps there is a disconnect between those in hiring positions and the “green” graduates.

    The hiring managers may not be asking questions related to CSR because they have little or no true understanding of the field. Many of the existing managers who graduated from business schools years ago may not have had the same exposure or commitment to CSR as this up and coming generation.

    As we all know, change is slow. Give it time and perhaps when today’s new graduates are in positions of hiring they will hire those with CSR education and/or experience.

    Jonathan Lake