How to Build a Career in CSR

by Aman Singh Das | October 26, 2010

  • My Vault

As the job market continues to struggle, finding the ideal fit in a job continues to remain a long shot for most jobseekers. And the difficulty rises dramatically when it’s a nascent field like CSR, where the first step often is convincing the company of the business case of what you do. How do you explain to a recruiter that in depth knowledge in sustainability is crucial to the company's business model? And that your specialization in CSR will help enhance the company's bottom line while injecting the culture with good corporate citizenship?

Channeling Passion into a Career

Then there are success stories like William Paddock. All he knew when graduating from the University of Alabama in 2005 with a bachelor's in environmental science was that he wanted businesses to become more environmentally friendly. But he had no idea on how to leverage his passion toward a lucrative career.

After several stints across corporate America—including a job with M&M Mars as a CSR Manager—he realized that he wasn't successfully presenting the business case for sustainability. The reason: it's "the economic side that […] makes the case for why businesses must become more responsible citizens." By not presenting it effectively, Paddock "wasn't speaking the language of business."

MBA: Learning the Language of the Business

Following that realization, his next step was to short-list a business school that would instill business skills while strengthening his knowledge on sustainability. He settled on Lipscomb University’s Institute for Sustainable Practice in Tennessee "because of the way its core content integrated with sustainability."

Paddock used his years at Lipscomb to not only hone his managerial skills but also as practice ground in "discussing and laying out the business case for CSR and sustainability." "It gave me the necessary experiences that are not as easy to come by in everyday work," he said. But that wasn’t all.

Sustainability Consulting

When his freelance consulting services grew from one client to two, he founded WAP Sustainability while still at Lipscomb. "I had one client initially, which turned into two, then four. When I graduated, WAP had four clients. Next I brought on a partner and today we have a little over dozen clients."

While Paddock's plan was always to get an MBA and then return to corporate America, "a little success and good luck has allowed me the opportunity to work on amazing projects with fantastic clients." For that reason, he remains at the helm of WAP today, which was recently awarded 2010's Future 50 award from the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, an award that recognizes the region's 50 fastest growing companies.

CSR and the Job Hunt

Paddock's success isn't typical for job seekers in the CSR field. Regular readers will recall a recent series on CSR and the job hunt, featuring Boston University graduate Ashley Jablow and University of California-Irvine graduate Geet Singh. Jablow continues to look for a job, almost six months since graduation, with that "best fit offer" continuing to elude her search.

For Paddock, it was partly good timing. While sustainability consulting has been a growing field for a few years, it is only recently that the profession has exploded across the country. And Paddock was well positioned to benefit. As are many graduates like Jablow who are relying on freelance consulting services as a short term solution. These gigs, one project at a time, not only allow them to use their specialized degrees toward building a client base, it also gives them much-needed experience to land that eventual corporate job.

Advice for Jobseekers

As far as advice for jobseekers goes, Paddock offered succinct pointers: "Figure out what it is you want to do and do everything you possibly can to go out and learn about that field. Sustainability used to be a fairly small tight knit community but that circle has grown so big that that small community has created sub-communities today. You need to be able to figure out if you're a green building person, an energy efficiency person, or a sustainability reporting person. Specific roles are emerging every day; find a place to start and develop yourself further as a sustainability professional."

Read the complete interview with William Paddock at Vault's Corporate Social Responsibility Career Advice section.

Filed Under: CSR

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