Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Posts Tagged ‘CSR

Accenture to Spend $100 Million on Skills Training

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Is $100 million the new threshold for signaling you’re serious about making a difference? Recently, it was Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg pledging that amount to the Newark school district. Now we learn that consulting giant Accenture will be spending 100 (very) big ones over the next three years on its Skills to Succeed program.

The goal of Accenture’s program seems pretty straightforward: the company wants to equip 250,000 people around the world with the “skills that enable them to participate in and contribute to the economy and society.” And to do it by 2015

A few examples of the type of work the Skills to Succeed program does—and will continue to do in order to meet its targets:

  • Building the skills of young entrepreneurs in Africa
  • Offering free skills training for the unemployed in Brazil
  • Training disadvantage young people in business process outsourcing and technology skills in India
  • Helping underprivileged students in the Philippines and Cambodia to develop IT skills
  • Training migrant groups in specialized technology skills in Spain
  • Helping disadvantaged young people to become entrepreneurs in the U.K.
  • Teaching business preparedness skills to students in community colleges and providing IT training for disadvantaged youth in the U.S.

In each of the endeavors, the company is working with partner organizations—some local and some international.

Now all we need are some jobs for that quarter-million people to fill!

Did Goldman Break Its Diversity Policy?

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For the 11th straight year, industry insiders named Goldman Sachs the most prestigious bank in North America in Vault’s latest ranking. In hindsight then, all the public mudslinging of recent years has done little to upset the bank whether it’s in attracting the biggest deals or the best talent. And according to our survey, bankers continue to want Goldman on their resume.

Ironically, a day after the rankings debuted, the bank’s prestige is under attack by three former female employees who charge, according to The Wall Street Journal, that “The investment bank practices a system in which women are paid less, promoted less and ‘systematically circumvented and excluded.'”

Jobs, Careers and Reviews at Goldman SachsWhat’s astounding about the allegation is the repeated emphasis on intent, i.e., that the bank has a system that almost formulaically excludes women from getting promoted and compensated on par with their male counterparts. While the bank has called the suit without merit, stating that, “People are critical to our business, and we make extraordinary efforts to recruit, develop and retain outstanding women professionals,” it seems it is yet again in the red with the public.

Comments from our Banking 50 survey—culled from responses submitted by over 1,300 banking professionals earlier this year—provide further perspective:

“Supportive and respectful management”

“They could do a better job of promotion as well as placement into areas that are a good fit and utilize skill sets…”

“Having come up through the ranks, from a junior trader to now an experienced one in fixed income products, I must say that I’ve been very pleased with the level of training, support and guidance that I’ve received over the years from the firm…”

“I’m a firm believer in the culture at Goldman Sachs. The firm is team-focused, emphasizing integrity and personal development within the industry.”

“I think we do a good job at getting women and diversity candidates in the door, but for real success we need to work on better retention.”

And, finally a snippet of their Diversity Mission Statement from Vault’s Annual Diversity Survey:

“The firm’s commitment to diversity is evident at the most senior levels and is driven down through the firm by way of our seventh business principle: “We offer our people the opportunity to move ahead more rapidly than is possible at most other places. Advancement depends on merit and we have yet to find the limits to the responsibility our best people are able to assume. For us to be successful, our men and women must reflect the diversity of the communities and cultures in which we operate. That means we must attract, retain and motivate people from many backgrounds and perspectives. Being diverse is not optional; it is what we must be.”

So where does this leave the banking king: A chauvinistic boys club, truly diverse with a few unintentional victims, or the victim of a ploy to take advantage of its current poor reputation? Weigh in by leaving a comment, emailing In Good Company or connecting on Twitter @VaultCSR.

More reading: The complete WSJ report.

What other banks made the Top 10 most prestigious banks in North America this year?

What’s Keeping You From Getting Hired?

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If there was one thing that stood out from Vault’s recent Job Hunting in CSR series, it was the disconnect between candidates and employers. A recent survey by Towers Watson further indicates that this disconnect might be much more widespread because of a difference in priorities for employers and employees.

Job Skills

A survey released by TalentDrive, the team behind online resume aggregation search engine TalentFilter, now adds yet another layer to the troubling scenario. The report suggests a widening gap between current employers’ expectations and job seekers’ actual skill sets.

In a month-long survey, 79,000 job seekers (86 percent actively seeking employment) were asked to assess their personal skill set and attitude toward the current job market. Additionally, 20,000 hiring managers from Fortune 1000 companies were asked if they had noticed a change in the quality of candidates since the recession’s start.

The results of the survey are unnerving:

Almost three-quarters of the job seekers surveyed were pessimistic about their career search: that’s the number of respondents who indicated that they possessed the required skill set for positions, but were not getting hired. Little wonder, then, that 37 percent of respondents expressed no hope that things would improve.

However, 42 percent of the employers surveyed indicated that the recession had not only increased the quantity of candidates, but that they were finding more qualified candidates than in years past.

So where is the disconnect? When candidates believe they possess the required skill sets, why are they not getting hired? Take into account that 67 percent of those surveyed reported having between one and five interviews per month since the beginning of their job search, and that 75 percent of those had not received a single job offer.

Specialization or general business skills?

Since your company started hiring, how many interviewed candidates on average would you consider

Could the disconnect come down to a question of specialized vs. general business skills? According to the report, 71% percent of HR representatives reported that more than half of their open positions were specialized.

Comparatively, 61% of the job seekers’ group considered themselves to be “professionals with broad skill sets.”

Interestingly, my interviews with MBA graduates Ashley Jablow and Geet Singh reveal a flipside to the specialization picture. Having focused on CSR and sustainability at business school, both Jablow and Singh confessed that their job hunts weren’t exactly working out to be walks in the park. However, in their case, partial blame goes to a lack of demand for CSR work. For the respondents of the TalentDrive survey, specialized skills leaned toward more traditional fields like IT and technology.

Job Search Destinations

What source has recently delivered/uncovered the most quality candidates?

If there is one area where the TalentDrive survey shows job seekers and employers in agreement, it is where they are finding each other. The winner: Social Media.

An overwhelming 74% of job seekers said the most beneficial job search method was posting a resume on job boards followed by 27% picking social media, for the first time surpassing traditional methods like classified ads, professional recruiters and networking events.

Agreement was mutual with 27% of employers saying the highest response for most effective search method was social networks, followed by resume sourcing technologies.

Other highlights:

For the types of positions your company fills, what skills/activities make an applicant stand out?

Differs for each position: 55%
Longevity with past employers: 21%
Certification: 16%
Advanced degrees/MBA: 5%
Extracurricular work/Volunteer work: 3%

What category would the majority of your open positions fall under?

Mid level/management positions: 67%
Entry level: 16%
Director/Executive positions: 14%

Since beginning your active job search, how many interviews have resulted in an offer?

No offers: 75%
Less than half: 21%
More than half: 3%
All interviews resulted in an offer: 1%

Given the current job market, how willing are you to transfer fields or change your skill set to adapt to a new work environment or industry?

Not willing or interested: 11%
Somewhat willing, depending on the opportunity: 44%
Very willing: 45%

Does your experience relate to these results? Do you have a story to add to these numbers? Leave a comment, email us In Good Company or connect on Twitter @VaultCSR!

Do Unlimited Vacation Days Mean Happier Employees?

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Do you like the sound of unlimited vacation days? For Social Strata, a small social media company in Seattle, Wash., this is standard company policy as of 2010. No strings attached. For the first time this year, 1% of companies are reporting a shift to an unlimited paid vacation policy while achieving high rates of productivity, retention and employee collaboration.

In an interview with NPR, cofounder Rosemary O’Neill, said, “When I said, ‘Unlimited paid leave, no strings attached,’ there was a moment of, ‘Are you punking us? Is this a joke?’ “And contrary to doubts, this change hasn’t led to mass vacationing at Social Strata. In fact, O’Neill reports that compared to last year, there was no real upswing in the number of days off requested among her staff.

Netflix has been exemplified for years for its unlimited time off policy, a strategic decision for the movie subscription service, which recently got much heat for its competitive workplace policy that rewards high achievers and fires the adequate. Its PTO policy aligns with Netflix’s unique work culture, where your commitment to high performance and over achiever status dictates your stay and progress. As VP for Corporate Communications Steve Swasey puts it, “We have engineers who work pretty much around the clock because that’s the way they work. And then they take two months to go visit family in India. We have people who never take a vacation for three years and then take a 90-day trip someplace. But they’ve earned it.”

Paid time  off policies at leading companies reflect a gradual shift toward risking unlimited  paid vacation days in the hope of increasing productivity and employee  engagement.

WorldatWork, a human resources group, released a report earlier this year that certifies that this trend is on the rise. The survey that polled 1,222 people—a majority being benefits specialists—highlights that while large organizations still prefer to go with the traditional paid time off structure (separate categories for Personal, Sick and Vacation), medium-size and small businesses are shifting to either a lump sum (referred to as the bank-type system) structure or an unlimited vacation days policy (see graph to the left).

Several studies have shown that flexible work schedules keep employees happier, more productive and highly engaged. But there remains a force of thought that doubts the unlimited nature of an unlimited vacation days’ policy: I.e., is it subterfuge for higher performance and due diligence?

Having worked for a company that followed a traditional, categorized paid time off structure ensured that I took time off at the cost of shorter vacations. However, at another previous employer that followed the bank-type system, extended vacations were great but taking an unscheduled day off due to sickness, etc., always accompanied guilt and worry. Unlimited days, then, seem to perfectly bridge the two systems allowing for guilt-free sick days and restful vacations.

In the end, an informed professional’s career path depends as much on our ability to take time off as on productivity and adeptness. And employers who value personnel must ensure a 360-degree valuation of their human capital, especially in a world where thanks to social media, 24/7 connectivity demands that professional and personal become easily malleable.

See the complete results: Survey of WorldatWork Members, May 2010

Hear from Rosemary and Ted O’Neill on Social Strata’s unlimited paid vacation policy.

What’s your take on it? As an employer, would you risk possible misuse of unlimited days off in favor of increased productivity? How does your company regulate vacation days? Leave a comment, email In Good Company or connect with me on Twitter @VaultCSR.

–Posted by Aman Singh, In Good Company

Should You Bring ‘This’ Up During a Job Interview?

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In 2007, when the financial industry was at the brink of collapse, one executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) saw opportunity. Shannon Schuyler, then a member of PwC’s recruitment team, wrote a white paper for company leadership emphasizing that the firm needed someone to reorganize and refine their community initiatives, and give their corporate responsibility a face.

Three months later the job was hers. How did she re-strategize the firm’s hiring policies and recruitment outreach to encompass PwC’s commitment to corporate responsibility?

  1. For one, having a background in experienced hiring and on campus recruitment helped. She has seen first-hand the gradual evolution of the hiring landscape, where candidate priorities shifted from the best-paid job offer to work/life balance, and today, to a company’s commitment to responsible corporate citizenship. Her experience assured peers that directives coming from the new Corporate Responsibility Leader would be balanced and realistic.
  2. Secondly, the message from campuses was loud and clear. According to Schuyler, candidates are increasingly asking what the firm is doing to give back to the community, who they donate to, what they do toward the environment, etc. “They want to know how they can get engaged when they start. They want to know what our strategies are,” she said.
  3. Finally, she noted, markedly changing business strategies and decision making processes can be a double-edged sword. As her team continues to work on ensuring that new hires are aware and receptive of the company’s commitment from day one, she is also responsible for inculcating a deeper cultural change among current employees. And that is where her real battle lies.

Her observations mirror findings of Vault’s recently concluded Job Hunting in CSR series, where four MBA candidates discussed business school, their career transitions and job hunting, all connected with a commitment to CSR and change management.

For now, Schuyler is focusing on the “life cycle of a student.” Her team is busy redefining the firm’s hiring strategy by shifting their focus from best practices to candidates’ personal journey. “Increasingly, we ask, what are the opportunities? What could we continue to build on as a continuum? Would that really change what their education experience is, and ultimately, their success? It’s not just how you do the equations, but how you’re taking that and making it part of their life.”

–Posted by Aman Singh, Vault’s CSR Editor

Zappos: Rewriting the Book on Corporate Transparency

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Does your company have an HR handbook? Chances are, you’re thinking yes, of course. What about a culture book for employees? Zappos does.

The company, which started by selling shoes a decade ago, is today an Amazon subsidiary and has expanded to a multitude of merchandising. It is also probably one of very few companies to grow its brand around an idea of transparency, ethics and collaborative culture. For Tony Hsieh, cofounder and current CEO of Zappos, this was intentional from Day 1. In his recently released book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose—which I will be reviewing in the coming days on Vault’s CSR Blog: In Good Company—Hsieh devotes a whole chapter to the Zappos Culture Book.

In short, the book contains employee interpretations of what their company’s culture is all about and how it is different to other companies. And this is no mere PR exercise, designed to make the company look good: all of the entries received were inserted with minimal editing, even when they were anonymously submitted. Of course, Hsieh took a risk; no company is perfect and since culture is perceptional, the initiative could have resulted in a mudslinging session directed at Zappos management.

But it didn’t. While the majority of the entries were positive, not every employee was thrilled with the company’s culture—and that was reflected in the book. Hsieh, as promised, inserted both the criticism and the positive feedback when creating Zappos’ first Culture Book. His aim: To show existing and new employees what working there is all about, including the good, the bad and the ugly. In fact, much to his delight, the book has been downloaded by people who don’t even work at Zappos.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh blogs regularly as well as staying engaged with customers and employees via Twitter

The company produces a new Culture Book every year. For Hsieh it epitomizes the evolution of the company’s brand over its short existence. “We wanted to be as transparent as possible, so we decided that none of the entries would be censored or edited, except for typos. Every edition of our culture book includes both the good and the bad so that people reading the book can get a real sense of what our culture is like. With each edition, it would also be a way of documenting how our culture was evolving over time.”

The idea of a culture book isn’t unique; it is Zappos’ treatment of transparency and accountability as a priority that makes this worth noting. Most companies conduct some form of employee survey to gauge problem points and get feedback on what’s working. However, publishing it without censorship in a publicly available document is what makes Hsieh’s approach sustainable. Even if it isn’t popular in every C-suite.

As a manager, how open are you to engaging your team in positive criticism? With new generations stepping into the workforce every year, ideas are bound to constantly evolve, but are management styles redefining and realigning accordingly? Whether you call it corporate responsibility, sustainability, or something else entirely, it doesn’t need highly designed websites and ad campaigns to work. It can start small: like spearheading a collaborative and transparent workplace culture. But it has to start from the top.

Hsieh puts it succinctly, “Even today, our belief is that our Brand, our Culture, and our Pipeline are the only competitive advantages that we will have in the long run. Everything else can and will eventually be copied.”

Join the discussion by leaving a comment, emailing Vault or connecting with us @VaultCSR.

Driven by Innovation: Corporate Culture & Responsibility

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Joel Makower at the 2010 World Innovation Forum

Photo courtesy: PhotographybyDov.com

What themes do you expect to emerge when you gather a bunch of leading businesspeople and experts on innovation and organizational change, and have them present their thoughts in a two-day conference in New York City?

Bonus point if you guessed innovation as a theme, but only because I haven’t yet revealed the name of the conference: The World Innovation Forum. As such, presenters were long on how cultures of innovation can be fostered and nurtured within companies, and very specific in underlining the point that companies that fail to innovate today will fail to thrive in coming years.

Up until the second day of the conference, most of the talk around innovation concerned the how of the subject. If the why was mentioned at all, it was usually couched in terms of general benefit: it’s good for your company’s bottom line; it’s good for your career; it’ll help you keep up with—or stay ahead of—your competitors.

Towards the middle of the second and final day, however, the tone shifted markedly, with three consecutive speakers laying out one of the biggest challenges requiring innovation today, and making it strikingly clear what was at stake. The challenge: sustainability and corporate responsibility. Tackling it were green expert Joel Makower, Seventh Generation founder and CEO Jeffrey Hollender, and Xerox CEO Ursula Burns.

The middle speaker of the three, it was Makower who really summed up the position we’re at in terms of the progression the green concept has made in the corporate world. Companies are at the stage where green practices are creating value for them, he said, having passed through two prior phases: the phase of “first do no harm,” where companies simply sought to not cause problems; and the phase of “doing well by doing good,” where corporate responsibility was seen as something nice to attain, but more of a luxury than a means of generating revenue.

Despite speaking before Makower, Ursula Burns proved his key point by demonstrating that Xerox is creating value from green. Her definition of innovating towards a sustainable future is to “take something that’s needed […] and innovate it to use less than in the past.” While that may seem like a strange message from the leader of a company that essentially thrives on consumables—and particularly on usage of paper—Burns stressed that companies cannot afford to ignore what the marketplace is demanding. Accordingly, the company has developed a paper that erases itself so it can be reused, and has invested heavily in solid ink technology, which Xerox’s website claims produces 90 percent less waste than a typical color laser product.

Jeffrey Hollender’s presentation also centered on the idea of reducing waste—a concept that is at the heart of his company and his recent book, The Responsibility Revolution. Expressing his frustration at not being able to reduce Seventh Generation’s footprint more than he has—while better than many, he said the company “is not what I would call good”—he came back to the idea that culture sets the tone for what companies can achieve. Pointing to the recent travails of Goldman Sachs and BP, he suggested that those companies’ problems are at heart to do with culture: “sustainability and green is about company culture,” he said, with a crucial component of that culture being a willingness by executives to listen to their employees and consumers—something that he felt was likely lacking in the cultures at Goldman and BP.

All told, while each of the three speakers covered slightly different ground, the common message in what they had to say suggests that the future of business could be one in which the most successful companies are the ones that manage to create products that fulfil the needs of a changing, more eco-conscious marketplace.

Or, as Hollender suggested “we won’t have businesses that begin to meet the challenges of the society that we live in” until sustainability and CSR is embedded at the heart of corporate strategy, and drives all of the decision making.

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