Looking to work in CSR or Sustainability? Here are my 3 insights

Over the years, many have approached me on LinkedIn to ask for advice about making a career switch or launch into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability. Typically, there are two main types of roles; technical roles that require specialized training and certification, and those that focus on program management and community engagement – which is largely the roles offered in emerging markets such as the Arabian Gulf (where I am based).

Here are 3 insights I have given to almost everyone I met requesting for advice – specifically to those who are not looking for technical roles.

Finding your ‘Why?’

The first question I ask everyone after they share their story is: Why are you considering a career path towards CSR and sustainability?

The usual answer is that they are unhappy with their current role and they are searching for more meaning in their career. My advice to most is to identify specifically why they are so unhappy with their current role in the first place before exploring new industries. Sometimes, it may be because of the workplace environment or there is an incompatibility with the team and/or company culture. It is generally a good idea to do self-assessments on a regular basis as to what makes you happy and what doesn’t.

Other questions I ask are: What drives you? Is it helping people on a daily basis? What have you done in the past (volunteering, professionally, philanthropically)?

Often there is a misconception of what it takes to be a good person. Many unconsciously believe that ultimately to give back is to fully commit their life into a cause. Many say they will commit to giving back once they retire. This is a fallacy. There are many ways to contribute positively to the world that don’t require a career switch. This positive contribution can be found in all industries and jobs. All it takes is a little intention and awareness of the opportunities to give to bring more purpose to your career. It does not mean you have to leave your current career path and move to nonprofit and/or corporate responsibility to find your ‘Why?’.

More often than not, people have not fully explored what working in sustainability and corporate responsibility roles really entails. Which leads me to my next insight.

Discover if working in CSR is really for you

I’ve often come across people who request to intern or work with my team while at Emirates NBD and found that it was not for them. The amount of work, dedication, commitment, and attention to detail is not everyone’s cup of tea.

It is really easy to look at CSR and sustainability and visualize that this industry will provide more meaning to one’s life; however, this is not everyone’s purpose. Every industry has opportunities for people to find their purpose and contribute to the world. Start by searching theories like ‘Creating Shared Value’ and ‘Effective Altruism’ or even better, take a free course at Coursera.

Many who approach me have not done the desk research as to what kind of work people do in the CSR and sustainability industry. Many only see the results of fun programs, events, and activities with beneficiaries like the people with disabilities, animals or the elderly without much thought of the work and strategy that goes behind it.

I always recommend reading a few sustainability reports of companies in regions you are seeking employment and envision the work that goes behind what is being reported. Look for the CSR, Financial Reports, or Investor Relations sections of company websites to find their sustainability reports. Another source I like to look at is Arab Sustainability and the Global Reporting Initiative to search for reports. If you can’t envision it, craft questions you could ask sustainability professionals.

The most important skills are transferable from other industries

Many students and job seekers believe that having a CSR or sustainability degree is enough to look for a job in the industry. Knowing the theories of CSR can be easily learned through online courses from anyone who would like to make the switch. What I have found most important is having competency in program management, problem solving and the ability to deliver which are by far the most important skills to have. Persistence, empathy, agility and resilience are key!

Those who can visualize stakeholder journeys are those who are able to identify potential problems and preempt solutions (human-centered design thinking is one method). One trait I always look for in new teammates are those who have the ability to be persistent in following up with others. I was once called QUFU (Queen of Follow Up). QUFUs and KUFUs (Kings) will always be on track with whatever plan they develop. This may seem unrelated to CSR and sustainability; however good habits and mindsets formed prior are much more important to social good than theory-based knowledge.

Happy searching!

Comment below to tell me how this has helped you or if you are in the industry yourself, let me know your thoughts and insights!