Job Hunting in CSR, Part 3: After All Is Said and Done, Where Are The Jobs?
This is the final excerpt from a series of interviews I conducted with four MBA candidates (see footnote for biographical information) who graduated—or expect to soon—with a focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR). In this portion, the graduates discuss their internship experiences and the dilemmas of conducting a job search in corporate responsibility.
Finding an Internship in CSR
For Ashley Jablow, the traditional MBA summer internship search was only the beginning of a long road ahead. "I had a lot of trouble looking for an internship because I wanted to get a CSR internship, but didn't have any relevant experience. I didn't get any bites when I was applying for jobs that said 'CSR intern' in the title," she said. Eventually, she settled for building on her fundraising experience by working in corporate communications with a large consumer goods agricultural co-op that considers community a part of its DNA.
Geetanjali Singh, on the other hand, wanted to do an internship with a nonprofit to complement her corporate experience. Her internship search also had a unique catch: She wanted to do an internship in India. And it worked out: she spent her summer in India interning with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). For Singh, working for an organization with UNDP's global scale resulted in some key realizations:
"What it taught me first and foremost was how unsuitable I was for the nonprofit world. Even though UNDP is a global nonprofit, the mentality, the attitude and the way work is conducted is very different from a corporate setting. This was when I decided to connect my passion for working with grassroots and inclination toward a corporate setting by focusing on CSR."
Finding a job in CSR
And finally, we got to the elephant in the room: where are the jobs? Whit Tice is the only one of the four who is currently employed. But even that development is recent: at the time of our chat earlier this year, Tice was still looking for work, and had been in the job market for over a year, using freelance consulting work to tide him over. At the time, he confessed that if it came to a choice between need and ideal, then employment was far more important than finding the right fit. He also admitted that many of the advertised job titles smacked of little more than green washing.
"While there's the challenge of 'I need to find a job' there's also the added challenge of finding the perfect fit of a job. Add the current economic climate and you get companies that have pushed their CSR and sustainability efforts much lower on the priority list, with almost no job openings in the field. Thus, on several different fronts, that ideal job is hard to find." Tice now works with Logic 20/20 as a change management senior consultant (see footnote).
For Jablow and Singh, graduation merriment is still in the air and their job searches are in their infancy. Singh also realizes that she is stuck amidst a key disconnect in the job market: While some companies are reactively ramping up their CSR initiatives, they are tending to hire externally only for senior level positions. The mid- and entry-level positions in these new CSR-focused teams, however, are being filled internally. This has created a framework that is restricting business school graduates who may be equipped with a deeper understanding of the issues than the internal employee base, but lack the "industry experience" to apply for the few available senior-level jobs.
"If you look on Simply Hired, Indeed or any other job site, anybody who is recruiting for CSR is only just catching on to the trend. So they’re recruiting directors and vice presidents and promoting others from corporate communications, public relations, and HR internally into CSR," observed Singh. For recent graduates like she and Jablow, this instantly reduces the value of their qualifications as a bridge to new industries.
As they're both finding out, getting hired into a different role that builds on their traditional experience might be the only way forward, as long as the company has a strong focus on corporate responsibility. For Jablow, who is very active in social media and regularly blogs on CSR on The Changebase, this is déjà vu. "I did numerous informational interviews over the last couple of years with CSR leaders at different companies, and their advice was always to go get functional business experience. Go work in marketing, finance, or strategy, and from there, after two or five or 10 years, create internal change and move into a CSR role internally within the company," she said. Today, she continues to run into the same advice.
Larry Furman, who is set to graduate as a founding member of Marlboro's MBA program this December, has a different mindset about the job market's offerings in CSR. "I don't know if it's tougher to find a job in corporate responsibility—it might be easier—I expect the companies that are built around CSR are healthier than their competitors and have more opportunities. Besides, I only want to work at a place in which I will thrive, so even if it’s tougher, why find a job only to work toward finding another one?"
Advice for fellow graduates and job seekers?
If there is one thing all of the interviewees agreed on, it's the importance of networking and personal branding. Jablow and Tice have maintained regularly updated blogs for more than a year, where they discuss their professional and educational experiences, always connecting change management with their respective audiences and focus.
As Tice put it, "You may not be able to get a sustainable consultant job, but it may become a facet of your job once you do some other great work. It’s just like any strategy: don’t give up and find a way to be sustainable yourself. Pull upon all of your resources and capabilities to make it happen and it will be that much more likely to happen. It may not be the right time—this year, this month—but it will be at some point in time."
And finally the blog that motivated this series: Does CSR Matter in Your Job Search?
Ashley Jablow graduated from Boston University's School of Management with an MBA in CSR Marketing, Communications and Strategy in May, 2010. She is actively engaged in discussing CSR through Twitter and her blog, The Changebase. Currently, she is looking for a fulltime job in corporate responsibility in the San Francisco area.
Geetanjali 'Geet' Singh graduated in June 2010 from University of California-Irvine's Paul Merage School of Business with a concentration on CSR, general management and strategy. Formerly from Mumbai, India, Singh is currently looking for a corporate responsibility job in Orange County, California and hopes that Silicon Valley will wake up to the business value in CSR. Connect with her on Twitter.
Whit Tice graduated with an MBA from Case Western's Weatherhead School of Management in 2008 and decided to back it up with a Master's in Positive Organizational Development and Change, also from Case Western, which he completed in 2009. Whit is currently with consulting firm Logic 20/20, where he is a Change Management Senior Consultant, and continues to discuss systems thinking and organizational development through his blog, The Organizational Strategist.
Larry Furman is a Sustainability Consultant and currently pursuing an MBA in managing for sustainability from Marlboro College. He is a member of the program's first graduating class and is looking forward to combining his experience in IT with his passion for sustainable energy and green solutions.
Aman Singh is the CSR Editor at Vault.com, where she focuses on how corporate diversity practices and sustainability translate into recruitment and strategic development. Her blog, In Good Company, discusses on many of these issues.