Four Tips for Starting a Career in CSR
This blog post was originally published on May 6, 2015.
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 getting started in a career of corporate social responsibility
I'm graduating from Columbia this May and interested in entering the field of CSR. I've been unable to find many entry level CSR positions and was hoping to get some advice as to how one can enter the field. Thank you! -ALLIE
One of the things I enjoy best about working in the field of CSR is that I encounter people with a wide diversity of backgrounds and expertise. Some come from a traditional business background, some are attorneys by training, and others come from the NGO or international development world. This variety in backgrounds and interests makes for some very interesting discussions and leads to innovative partnerships and projects, but it can make it difficult for those trying to identify a “CSR career path.”
I get to speak with many people who are interested in starting a career in CSR. Whether they’re starting fresh in their professional lives or trying to transition from a different discipline, I often share some fundamental pieces of advice:
- Do your homework – “CSR” is a broad term and can mean very different things from one company to the next. You should learn as much as you can about different companies, industries, and practitioners’ day-to-day work. This will help you focus on the types of roles you will truly be interested in and those where you can contribute to the company’s goals.
- Network – When I was transitioning into a CSR career, I spent the second year of my MBA program doing as many informational interviews as I could. I leveraged the Net Impact network and learned about opportunities through my own curiosity and eagerness to learn more.
- Look for non-traditional opportunities – When I joined Gap Inc. in my first CSR role, I took an internship even though I was looking for a full-time role. What was designed as a three-month opportunity turned into a four-year stint.
- Pitch – If you identify a body of work that can help a company advance its CSR goals, don’t be afraid to propose a project or a role that you are uniquely qualified for. Let a company’s CSR manager know how you can help him/her be successful and develop a project to work on.
Although it may seem frustrating to be searching for a role in a field with few opportunities, don’t lose hope! When I look at the private sector today, there are so many more CSR roles than when I first started in this field. CSR is an area in which companies continue to invest, so more and more opportunities present themselves every day.
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 one of our three experts for advice, and your question may be featured in an upcoming column.