A Recruiter's Perspective: 5 Tips for Breaking into CSR & Social Enterprise

by Aman Singh Das | May 31, 2011

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As the fields of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social enterprise become increasingly popular, especially among traditionally atypical groups like MBAs and law students, what does that mean for jobseekers?

It means getting a job with a conscience is harder and more competitive, and yet a promising sign that more people believe in doing well while doing good.

At I-DEV International, we get hundreds of applicants for summer and full-time positions from individuals interested to pursue a career in social enterprise, international development and CSR. Our mantra: Building Market-Based Sustainable Development.

Our senior team consists of former bankers and consultants who transitioned to international economic development and developing country SME business creation. As such, we look to hire those who can bridge the worlds of international nonprofits/social enterprise and traditional business, and effectively support clients in top-notch strategic planning and analysis as well as in-field management training and project management.

Needless to say, I do a lot of interviewing.

So here are a few critical points for aspiring professionals to consider before the ever-important job interview:

1. Do your homework

I have interviewed so many people who don't know what they want to do other than it must be socially-oriented.

That is not an issue—most people spend their entire lives searching for that dream job. While it can be a challenge, conducting proper research on which job entail what responsibilities can help make the entire process a lot smoother.

This is your life. Invest in yourself, your happiness and your future by researching every potential job position and organization that appeal to you or an issue for that matter. Whether it is water or Latin America, impact investing or hunger, do your secondary research first.

For example, if you want to work in CSR, start with a Google search on socially-active brands, CSR reports, relevant conferences, webinars and blogs. And know that the space is tricky with relevant positions falling across a diverse spectrum of departments.

Besides, every company is slightly different.

Companies like Pepsi and Coca Cola will have positions across R&D and nutrition whereas other CPGs like Unilever will defer to brand managers, and sometimes, a corporate foundation.

If social enterprise is your interest, check out conferences like Social Venture Network and SoCap International. Regardless of industry, social media tools like Twitter can be surprisingly helpful in quickly getting you up-to-speed on sector trends, players, and articles/events.

2. Learn the lingo.

I met with a woman recently who wanted to transition from international development and government sector to CSR. When I started reviewing her resume, I was overwhelmed by foreign policy terms that would confuse most corporate professionals.

Yes, it's a natural mistake. But it is extremely important to avoid this faux pas on your resume, especially since larger corporations have automated HR sorting processes based on relevant key terms.

For example, when people ask me "What is BoP," it instantly sends a red flag that shouts "I can't do basic research, and am not really interested in working for you."

I-DEV's website uses this term repeatedly, and you should too if you want get a job with I-DEV.

Simply put: Before you interview with a company, read through the website, marketing materials, blogs, and tweets.Yes, the tweets too. Then, internalize key terms used.

3. Work in traditional business first

In this economy coupled with the growing demand for socially-conscious jobs, the social sector has become extremely competitive with high barriers to entry.

What can help you stand out: If you have experience in traditional business (consulting, banking, business development, marketing, etc.). Having this experience will particularly appeal to corporate social responsibility divisions, social venture capital funds, and development banks.

Here's the thing: While the thought of joining mainstream corporate America might make you cringe, consider the long-term benefits. I-DEV will not hire anyone with less than two years of fulltime business experience. And this is a trend that is quickly spreading across firms, regardless of size, type of job vacancy, or industry.

4. Learn to case and model

In business school, aspiring consultants practice "casing" or analysis of sample business cases to strengthen critical strategic thinking and mental organization skills.

But whether you are in business school, I highly recommend you do the same. It will make you a much greater asset to your employer and help you to stand out.

Financial modeling is another valuable skill that far too few individuals in the social space possess. This will also come in handy if you ever take on a role in building a business plan or project launch (social or otherwise); or if and when you take on a senior general management position.

5. Network

This is the best primary research you can do, and it might even land you a job. Network to learn (not to get hired) and gain in-depth information on how other companies really work. Go to conferences and talk to everyone you can.

Attend alumni events, panels, and sector networking events related to your core professional interests.

Take advantage of volunteer opportunities and short-term consulting projects to build networks, and ramp up your resume to fill gaps in relevant professional experience you might have. If you want to work internationally, you better have at least three months of relevant non-U.S. experience on your resume.

A final word of caution: While the socially-conscious world is growing increasingly competitive, it is also rapidly maturing. The advantage: The field is so new that there aren’t too many rules to remember, which means there is always the opportunity for a company to create a new position for you when one doesn't exist.

And smaller companies—and some multinationals—do this more frequently than you might suspect, so don't give up easily and get creative.

--By Patricia Chin-Sweeney

Patricia Chin-Sweeney is the New York Director of I-DEV International, a management strategy & innovation firm focused on base of the pyramid development and CSR opportunities. Patricia oversees I-DEV's Insight services, which includes market and social trends analysis and industry research. Prior to I-DEV, Patricia worked in investment banking, management consulting and corporate social responsibility at the Environmental Financial Consulting Group (EFCG), a specialty advisory firm to the infrastructure and environmental consulting sector.

More:
Job Hunting in CSR? Focus on Getting the Interview First
Careers in CSR:Powered by Passion, Made Possible by Education
Does an MBA in CSR Hurt Your Employability?

Filed Under: CSR

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