Digging Wells and 7 Other Strategies: My Advice on the CSR MBA Job Search [Part Two of Two]

Last week, in the first of a two-part series, I made four suggestions for aspiring CSR/sustainability professionals. Here’s part two, with strategies #5-8:

 

5. Quantify Your Impact

Yes, I’m talking to you. Do you think that just because you didn’t hold a job in a sales team, you don’t need to speak about your experience in quantitative terms? Think again.

Did you implement a new technology solution in your department? If so, how many staff-hours per year did it save? When did you reach payback?

Were you a consultant? Were your recommendations implemented? If so, how much money did they save?

Do you want to work in a marketing or communications role? If so, start a blog, become active on Twitter, and then track your stats. You might never have led a marketing campaign in a corporate setting, but you are your own CMO. Highlight your page views, subscribers, and followers on your resume.

 

6. Get Experience

It’s not enough to be passionate about corporate sustainability. You need to be experienced. If you’re looking to work in sustainability at a Fortune 100 company and don’t have experience at a large company or in the sustainability field, you’re at a disadvantage. The good news is that there are ways to get the experience you’re lacking, even while you’re in school. Pursue research on sustainability topics that are important to your target companies and become a subject matter expert. Pitch companies on a CSR internship for course credit during the academic year.

Not sure how to get started? Always ask: “what challenges do you face in the next six months?” during your informational interviews. Then suggest a research project to help address one of those challenges.

 

7. Be Diligent

This cuts two ways. First, if you’re interested in a mostly off-campus job search with companies that don’t recruit at your school, don’t get too swept up in the frenzy of traditional consulting/banking/marketing/general management recruiting.  Your classmates in these fields will likely be interviewing and getting job offers before you. Get over it.

 

Second, don’t let yourself off the hook by thinking that your off-campus search means you don’t need to start your job search until the spring.  You should spend just as much time each week on your career search as your classmates do, even though your first few months will be mostly about networking rather than applying. Start your career search now and be persistent. You won’t have pre-set on-campus recruiting timelines to keep you on track, so you need to create your own urgency.

 

8. Say No To An Offer You Can Refuse

The economic outlook is uncertain. Student loans are looming. When you get your first job offer, you’ll be relieved. But relieved isn’t good enough. If you’re not also excited, then don’t say yes. Your first job out of business school should be a launching pad. Even if it’s not exactly your dream job, it needs to at the very least take you closer to where you want to be. If it’s not doing that, hold out. Your personal risk tolerance will hinge on a number of factors – your financial situation, your family obligations, how long you have until (or since) graduation, etc. But if you’re not thrilled about your offer and if you can afford to, say no.

 

This is what worked for me. What worked for you? What would you do differently (or again)?

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Digging Wells and 7 Other Strategies: My Advice on the CSR MBA Job Search [Part One of Two]

Over the summer, I left my first post-MBA corporate citizenship job, moved to the Pacific Northwest, and started a new CSR job. After a bit of a blogging hiatus, I’m officially back in action! The Net Impact and BSR conferences are just around the corner in late October and early November, so I’m kicking off the Seattle-based chapter of Sustainable Value with my tips for a successful CSR job search.

As a relatively recent (2010) MBA grad and a current corporate sustainability professional, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the CSR job search. Since graduation, I’ve spoken with a number of current MBA students seeking career advice. With the fall conference season heating up and the internship and full-time recruiting processes well underway at most business schools, this seems like an opportune time to share a few tips more broadly.

Here’s what worked for me and what I learned along the way…

1. Take a Shot Across the Bow

Apply to 10 or 15 CSR job openings and see what the response is. Did you get a few interview invitations? If so, no need to continue reading. As Dory says, “just keep swimming.” But if not, read on…

2. Dig a Well Before You’re Thirsty

Start building your network of CSR colleagues months before it’s time to apply for a job.  Make a list of 20-40 companies you’re excited about. Rather than tracking job openings at these companies, track people you want to meet.  Set up one to two informational interviews per week.  Try to connect with at least two people in each company – remember that people do leave their jobs (even CSR professionals!), so it’s best to have more than one point of contact at each company. Keep in touch with the people you meet. Build authentic relationships. Add value and build your reputation as a resource by sending a link to an article or an upcoming webinar that you think would be of interest.

Go where the CSR professionals are.  Online and in person, be there. Attend your local Net Impact professional chapter events. Participate in the biweekly #CSRChat on Twitter, hosted by @susanmcp1. Attend the BSR conference, despite (or because of) the price tag – you’ll be one of the only graduate students there.

And it probably goes without saying, but you should go big or go home. If you’re not going to network right, don’t do it at all. When you’re at a networking event, have substantive conversations with people you don’t know, rather than only gravitating to familiar faces.  Make good use of the online Crowdvine social networking sites for the Net Impact and BSR conferences. The professionals who go to these conferences and who bother signing up for social networking are more likely to respond to interested students than those who don’t choose to put themselves (and their contact info) out there.

At the end of the day, the networking will be worth it. Really. If you do a good job with informational interviews, the conversations you have will make you better prepared for your “real” interviews later on, and the people you meet will become your professional colleagues going forward.

3. Speak Their Language

Browse the profiles of CSR professionals on LinkedIn. Browse sustainability job descriptions posted by sites like BSR, Net Impact, and  CSR recruiting gurus Ellen Weinreb and Katie Kross. Learn the language that professionals use to describe themselves and that companies use to describe what they want, and make sure that language is reflected in your LinkedIn profile and your resume.

4. Distinguish Yourself

Be above average.  CSR jobs are highly competitive, so it’s important to set yourself apart. Every bullet on your resume should show that you’re exceptional. What superlatives apply to you? When were you the most or best or greatest?

In my next post, I’ll highlight strategies 5 through 8. Stay tuned!

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Olivia Bouler, 11 Years Old and Willing to Help

 

Olivia Bouler drew this. It’s a watercolor of a Brown Pelican, and it’s hanging next to my desk at work. I don’t know Olivia – we’ve never met, spoken, or emailed – but she won me over. Olivia is 11 years old. She enjoys birdwatching, playing the saxophone, and messing with her brother. In many ways, she’s just what you would expect of a 5th grader. She has mapped out the next 11 years of her life with impressive precision. She’ll go to Cornell to study ornithology, because they have the best program in the country. After graduation, she’ll become an ornithologist (clearly). Okay, so she’s a 5th grader with a bit more focus than the rest of us. She also has a book deal, 28k+ fans on Facebook, and a growing list of awards from Audubon and other NGOs. And with that, she rises above the pack.

When the Gulf Coast oil spill hit, Olivia was devastated to think of the birds that would suffer as a result. So she reached out to the Audubon Society and offered to lend her artistic talent (“I’m a decent drawer,” she wrote) to the cause, signing off as “Olivia, 11 years old and willing to help.” Olivia sold her paintings and prints through local art galleries and her AOL artist’s page and raised awareness via her Facebook fan page, where she goes by Liv and closes her posts “over n out.” She sent originals to the first 500 donors to Audubon and sent prints to subsequent donors when demand outpaced supply.

Olivia has raised over $175k to date. I hope my alumni associations don’t get wind of her fundraising skills, but more importantly, I hope her activism inspires others to do the same. You don’t have to be any older, richer, or wiser than you already are. All you need is an idea, an address, and a sample of your work.

What are you decent at? Are you willing to help?

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Google.org: A Case of Too Little, Rather Than Too Much Pride

The New York Times published a piece today on Google.org’s struggle to transform philanthropy. At best it’s tough love. Five years after the launch of DotOrg (as Google.org is commonly called), and the expansive aspirations of its first leader, the Times argues that “the hyperbole looks more like hubris.” The story is of course retrospective, an assessment of past performance, so its criticism is not especially constructive. It will generate good debate about new models of philanthropy and internal Google politics, but I think we could have a more productive conversation. What if we were to focus instead on what Google.org might look like in the future?

The Times quotes Stanford professor Joshua Cohen, who suggests that from the beginning, DotOrg was plagued by two competing visions – that it “would completely reinvent philanthropy and, in doing so, reinvent the world” or “that DotOrg could make some headway, maybe a little, maybe a lot, in addressing… really big problems by doing what Google as a company is really good at doing, which is to say, aggregating information.” By either of those measures, DotOrg has failed (or as my sixth grade art teacher would say: it has not yet learned how). But if DotOrg has struggled, I think it’s not because they haven’t measured up, so much as that we don’t have the right yardstick.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with several members of the DotOrg team, and I agree that pride is the problem. But the problem is not too much pride. It’s too little. Their crew is actually quite humble and quick to acknowledge that they’re just getting started. The course isn’t fully set, so although I’m surprised to hear myself say this, let’s cut Google a little slack.

In my experience, the best corporate social responsibility and philanthropy programs are those that leverage what a company does best. Where Google.org could improve is in identifying its strengths. In the spirit of the Heath brothers’ Switch framework for change, we just might find that highlighting the bright spots brings about more lasting positive impact than the best articulated critique ever could.

As Dr. Cohen suggests, the DotOrg team has already latched onto the idea of using Google’s ability to aggregate information to improve the philanthropic toolkit. Flu Trends, PowerMeter, and Earth Engine are all good applications of Google technology to social and environmental problems. But for DotOrg to really succeed, it ought to take advantage of all the things that Google and DotOrg do best. The list should include technology. But Google excels at more than just engineering, and if DotOrg stopped there, it would indeed fall short. So what’s missing?

  • Google is great at scaling. With a history of successful acquisition integrations, Google knows how to identify winning approaches and magnify their impact.  What if Google.org worked on applying that technique to non-profits by discovering, incubating, and growing the best ones?
  • Google knows how to create a strong culture and attract top talent. What if Google.org consulted non-profits on how to create and maintain a motivated workforce?
  • Google is a learning company. Its engineers know that you hardly ever get the solution on your first try. You’ll discover bugs, fix them, and release version 2.0. Perhaps the software development team can work with the Google.org team to lay out a create-test-refine cycle that would work for philanthropy.

These are just a few examples to illustrate the point. I think we could build on this pretty easily.

If Google.org is ever going to eclipse Google in terms of overall world impact, as its founders hoped it would, it will need to identify more of the company’s organizational strengths and expand its definition of innovation. Too often we assume that innovation has to be as big as reinventing philanthropy. Reinvention is certainly one type of innovation, but it’s not the only one. Scaling up already successful ventures, identifying new distribution channels, and enabling non-profits to better attract and retain top talent also count. The DotOrg team might be taking Page’s idea of “ambitiously applying innovation” a bit too literally. Google.org can be innovative with respect to its approach as well as its methods, and if we could remove the constraint that comes with expectations of game-changing algorithms, we just might have a winner.

Given the scale of the world’s problems, we need big organizations like Google.org, the Gates Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, and other new philanthropists to succeed. It’s important to talk about what’s not working, and it would be naïve to pretend we’ve got it all figured out. But let’s be sure that we also talk about what is working and what could be working. As Larry and Sergey said in their 2004 Founders’ Letter, “we have always been good at using our resources creatively… we now have more to offer, but the underlying principle is the same: Never stop looking for ways to do the best with what you have.”

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Chapter One

First, a word about sustainability. For a field that’s arguably less than 30 years old, there’s no shortage of terminology to describe the work that we do. Sustainability. Corporate Social Responsibility. Citizenship. As the field develops and CSR teams go through re-orgs, we might rechristen our titles, but I still don’t think we’ve landed. If you come up with a better name, I’m all ears! I don’t plan to devote much time to the semantics, but I’ll offer a brief view of how I think about this space, so that my frame of reference is clear. I define sustainability as business for good. And when I say for good, I mean it in the Target “here for good” sense. That is, business for the good of the community and also business for the long haul.  I’ll use the terms sustainability, CSR, and corporate citizenship interchangeably, but you know what I mean.

Sustainability has progressed from first generation environmental health and safety, compliance-focused risk mitigation activities. We’re now in the second generation, with opportunity-focused reputation enhancements featuring cause marketing initiatives like Product (RED), stand-alone CSR reports, and early stage employee engagement (think local “green teams” to promote recycling). Now it’s time to usher in the next generation.

What will Sustainability 3G look like? I think it will be marked by a shift to integrated financial and citizenship reporting, sharper metrics that define outcomes (rather than just outputs), and a transition from ownership-dominant business models to access-dominant models (more on that in a later post). And when will we see it?

We’re already starting to. The recession is helping to separate the wheat from the chaff, and I think the sustainability programs that emerge either whole or larger than before will be the ones that have succeeded in making the business case for their existence, in connecting values to value. As it should be.

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Foreword

According to Arie de Geus, “the ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.” Arie led scenario planning at Shell Oil, which made him famous in both organizational learning circles and business school team rooms. His take on long-term economic viability is that companies should be managed to be more than just economic growth engines. Successful companies need to adapt to changing business environments, and human talent is critical to developing their ability to do so.

What does it take to become a learning company? How do we evolve? How do we make our companies long-lived and our strategies sustainable? I’m looking forward to using this space to explore the connections between learning, competitive advantage, and growth. I hope you join the conversation.

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