What ESG & CSR Job-Seekers Need To Know In 2021

05 September 2021 by Grace Coleman
blog author

Original article published on Linkedin, By Caroline Ouwerkerk and Jessica Marati Radparva

You’re not imagining things if you’ve noticed an uptick in ESG and CSR job postings recently. We’ve certainly caught on while curating roles for our bi-weekly Impact Jobs Curation, shared in Reconsidered’s Impact Jobs Hub and in our popular newsletter

In the words of a recent GreenBiz article: “It's a good time to be an ESG professional. A very, very good time.” 

We recently gathered a few friends of Reconsidered for a Community Conversation to swap insights on the state of the job market in 2021 and what job-seekers should keep in mind as they search for their next role. The virtual event was moderated by Reconsidered founder Jessica Marati Radparvar and included: 

  • Deborah Dols, Principal Consultant, Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility (Americas) at Acre, one of the largest sustainability recruiting firms in the world

  • Heather Mak, Co-Founder of Diversity in Sustainability, a globally focused nonprofit working to equip current and future BIPOC sustainability leaders with the skills, networks and resources to accelerate the transition to a sustainable and just future 

  • Caroline Ouwerkerk, a social impact career coach (and Reconsidered’s Jobs and Community Manager) 


So what’s behind this surge? Here are some of the drivers that came up:

  • The events of 2020 — particularly the COVID-19 pandemic, racial and social justice movements and climate-related crises — sparked a global reckoning. Businesses are expected to play a significant role in the change that needs to happen. Lip service is not enough. 

  • These shifting stakeholder expectations are driving the need for strategic senior leaders to build out robust ESG programs, as well as specialists to coordinate impact measurement and reporting efforts.

  • Governments are (finally) stepping up with more social and environmental regulations on businesses, increasing the need for staff who can manage compliance.

  • Consumers and employees are continuing to demand that their companies and favorite brands do better, creating the need for multi-disciplinary program managers and creatives to coordinate engagement, launch campaigns and bring impact stories to life (without greenwashing).

Although jobs are growing overall, Dols noted that growth seems to be especially high in the finance and real estate sectors. There’s also a crunch in middle management – since growth has been so rapid, there is a shortage of staff who have come up through the pipeline, especially since many of these roles require a blend of ESG experience, sector experience and people management skills. And since many companies are leaning on external consultancies and service providers to guide them, there’s a lot of demand in that space as well. (Side note: Reconsidered’s consulting arm is always on the look-out for talented freelancers to collaborate with; those interested can introduce themselves here!)

If you’re considering a new role, here are some tips suggested by our guests to help you stand out as you navigate the ESG and CSR job market in 2021:

Ditch the “Spaghetti Method”.

With the abundance of roles available now, it may be tempting to follow the “Spaghetti Method” – that impulse to throw a bunch of applications at employers and wait to see what sticks. It feels like you’re making progress as you get your name out (and perhaps even get interviews). But in reality, you run the risk of spinning your wheels and losing momentum as you wait for the first hiring manager to “like you back.”  

Taking some time upfront to get clarity on what it is you really want to do will set you up for success. Where are you best positioned to make change? Consider what work you actually like doing, not just what you’re good at. What will give you the energy to thrive in the “contact sport” that is CSR? 

In our experience, working with a coach or a peer accountability group is a great way to get clarity and focus. A few we can recommend: 

Move beyond buzzwords.

Companies are looking for people who not only understand the science of sustainability but who can also tell a story and craft a narrative that engages the imagination and drives the business forward. Top candidates move beyond the sustainability buzzwords and are real, honest and authentic about who they are, what they have accomplished in the past and what value they would add to the organization. 

This is especially true for career-switchers, where the link between past experience and the job description may be less clear. Your resume, cover letter and interviews are an open platform for shaping the narrative you want to get across; use them! 

After all, one of the most important skills you’ll need as a CSR change agent, especially at the senior levels, is the ability to “sell” sustainability to the organization. Being able to “sell”yourself during the application process can be a pretty strong indicator of success. 

People skills matter.

Alongside the growing demand for technical expertise, people skills matter too. As departments grow, there is greater demand for leaders who are skilled at managing bigger teams and navigating complex change efforts with a variety of internal and external stakeholders. 

In the GreenBiz article “Inside the War for ESG Talent”, Richard Mattison, chief product officer for ESG at S&P Global noted: "We've traveled a journey from mid-ranking individuals who can coordinate data to someone who can lead a whole team and who needs to be sophisticated enough to be able to deal with multiple different types of stakeholders and really understand the world of business, the world of strategy, the world of finance and the world of regulation. And those people are rare." 

Experienced leaders can stand out in the job search by highlighting their management expertise and building out a few strong examples from their work history that demonstrate their stakeholder engagement abilities (the STAR interview method provides a nice framework for this).   

You don’t need a master’s.

At least, not necessarily. If you’re making a career shift, you might feel like you need to head back to school, but our panelists say that’s not always the case. Try exploring other formats, such as continuing education certificate programs and short courses on specific skills (like systems change or ESG reporting frameworks). These options are often much more affordable and shorter than a traditional full-time master’s program, and they can be just as effective in equipping you with the skills you need to be competitive in this job market. 

Here are some of suggestions from our panelists:

We also appreciated this article from career coach Trish Kenlon: “Which of These 25+ Sustainability Certifications is Right For You?”

Manage your expectations.

You may have heard whispers of friends landing plum CSR jobs and netting 40% raises in the process, but our panelists report that this is not the norm. The biggest salary gains are associated with demonstrated ESG leadership and very specific technical and scientific skill sets (including data analysis and modeling). While salaries for CSR are becoming increasingly competitive, you may be disappointed if you go in expecting giant increases. Resources like the 2020 Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Salary Survey from Acre, Carnstone and Flag and the State of the Profession report from GreenBiz and Weinreb Group can give you more insights for the negotiation stage. 

Don’t forget to manage your expectations when it comes to the hiring process as well. With so many people moving on to different roles, things can move quite a bit more slowly than you may have experienced previously. Staffing shifts may also lead companies to re-evaluate priorities, so don’t be surprised if things feel more in flux than usual. 

Start where you are.

One key piece of advice echoed by the members of our panel: you don’t need to wait for permission to make a difference. You don’t necessarily have to switch companies in order to do the work that matters to you – especially if you’re looking to pivot into sustainability and CSR work. You may find it’s easier to compete for a CSR role internally since you already know your company well and (hopefully) have a demonstrated track record of driving change at your organization. 

Even without moving to a new role, consider ways you might volunteer for projects that allow you the opportunity to grow your CSR and sustainability skills. Perhaps you could join your company’s “Green Team” or volunteer to serve on (or start!) an internal committee focused on ESG issues. And don’t forget about that development budget, which can be used to fund the types of certificate programs and courses that can help you land your next gig. 

Currently looking for your next role and don’t have the opportunity to practice your skills in a work setting? Consider volunteering with (or even joining the board of!) a nonprofit organization you admire. And don’t underestimate the power of a side project – starting a podcast, an email newsletter or a sustainability-focused Instagram account is inexpensive (or free!) and is a great way to hone the skills that will set you apart. 

Here are some resources that may help if you’re getting started: 

There’s space for you at the table.

The job search process is rarely fun, and it’s easy to feel frustrated or lost in the shuffle. But solving the huge, messy, urgent issues threatening our planet will require all of us to do what we can, where we are. As you go through your search, remember that the world needs you and your special gifts – there’s space for all of us at the table. Focus on finding and leveraging your unique approach and perspective and you’ll go far. You’ve got this!

By Caroline Ouwerkerk and Jessica Marati Radparvar. Photo by Elifin Realty on Unsplash.