Fact or Fallacy: Every CSR Pro Needs an MBA

By: Marcus Chung | July 16, 2015

MBA CSR
Is grad school necessary if you're planning a career in corporate responsibility?

This post is part of our ongoing impact career advice column. In this edition, longtime corporate social responsibility (CSR) leader Marcus Chung fields a question from our network.

Advice for a successful CSR career path without an MBA

What career path advice would you give non-MBAs who want to enter the CSR field? What do they need to show and do in order to compensate for, or perhaps highlight, their non MBA background? Thank you. - Nathan

I think there is a fallacy that CSR professionals must have an MBA to succeed. Having both applied for jobs I didn’t get and hired people into CSR positions, I can tell you that an MBA is not always essential to landing a role in the CSR field.

It’s important to keep in mind that CSR roles come in all shapes and sizes. Often, the skills you gain in an MBA program are not the ones that will be immediately relevant for the role you’re applying for. There are communications positions, data/analytics jobs, and project management roles all within CSR departments. I encourage you to really focus on identifying the type of CSR role you are interested in, then making sure you can either highlight or develop the skills necessary to transition into that role.

In Paul’s last column, he gave some good advice about focusing on past leadership and results in order to position yourself for a career in impact investing. Similarly, take a tailored approach to your job application and highlight those skills, experiences, and accomplishments that translate into the role you’re exploring. What are the attributes and skills needed for success – and how does your past experience demonstrate your ability to be successful in the role?

That said, for longevity in a CSR career, some key abilities seem common across different companies and industries. These skills will probably help in most fields and, when I think about my own professional development, I find myself revisiting these competencies.

Top CSR skills

  • Communications – Whether you are leading a team that directly reports to you or managing a cross-functional group toward a common goal, it is vitally important to communicate well and communicate clearly. This is a skill whose importance is often underestimated, and I always look for good communicators when I hire for my team.
  • Influence – CSR professionals are constantly influencing colleagues in other functional areas to consider the impacts of their work. Oftentimes, we do not have decision-making authority in certain areas that impact our CSR strategies, so we must educate and influence others to make sound decisions on behalf of the company.
  • Macro Perspective – CSR professionals often are responsible for identifying future risks and opportunities for the company. It’s important to have an interest in macroeconomic topics like climate change, global poverty, and resource constraints. Being able to make connections between these large issues and your industry or company is a critical skill.

In my opinion, an MBA should not be an automatic qualifier for a CSR position, but it can help in terms of general management or leadership within the private sector. Keep in mind that many successful CSR practitioners never went to business school, and one of the most rewarding parts of working in this field is engaging in conversations with other passionate professionals who come from a wide range of diverse backgrounds and represent different perspectives.

About Marcus

Marcus Chung has held CSR and strategy roles at Gap, McKesson, and Talbots. He serves as Vice President, Social Responsibility & Vendor Compliance for specialty apparel retailer The Children's Place, leading a global team responsible for protecting garment workers' rights and minimizing environmental impact in the company's supply chain. Read more about him here.

This series is your chance to get answers from experienced impact-career pros. Ask for some advice, and your question may be featured in an upcoming column.

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