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Posts Tagged ‘Sustainability

MBA Specialization vs. General Business Skills: Should You Specialize in Sustainability?

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Recently, Vault’s own Aman Singh asked a really interesting question: “does CSR require generic business skills or an MBA in sustainability?” In other words, is it worth specializing in sustainability as an MBA or are you more likely to get a job in CSR if you really have those managerial skills down pat? Her answer revolved around another question (and so the endless questions begin!), “Well, what do you mean by ‘require’?”

Should you get an MBA in sustainability in business school?

The oddity [in the data] is that sustainability solutions like energy efficiency, LEED and HVAC require specialized knowledge and highly technical skill sets. Executives, however, seem to be placing a premium on more generic business skills such as increased knowledge and awareness of sustainability efforts, the ability to think systemically, the ability to understand complex legislation around sustainability, and financial analytic skills.

Basically, even though you need a very specific skill set in order to do good CSR work, companies esteem generic business skills instead. This contradiction led me to a whole slew of questions, with which I promptly started pestered my colleagues.

First, I went to Aman herself, to figure out what this means for MBA students who hope to find jobs in CSR. She explained it to me from the company’s perspective:

The reality of the current market is that an MBA is good for generic management skills, not specialization, when it comes to sustainability and CSR…. Companies say they don’t necessarily need someone who has done two years in-depth study on CSR guidelines and regulations. They have more value for someone who has managerial skills–someone who can lead departments and work sustainability into their role as an accountant, an analyst, etc. And unfortunately this is where the paradox remains: They like sustainability on the graduates’ resume, but they don’t want it to be the main focus. Even employers who started out looking for candidates with sustainability concentrations aren’t really looking for that as much. They want to talk about it and ensure corporate responsibility, but they don’t expect this dialogue from job candidates.

So, what if you still want to specialize in sustainability? How can you avoid getting pigeon-holed and weakening your job prospects?

Well, I think it depends on how you brand yourself. You can have the specialization, but you can also make sure your resume talks about more generic management skills and say, consulting or financing skills, depending on where you want to go with your MBA. The graduates I spoke to really emphasize all their CSR work on their resumes–they have a blog where they talk about CSR; they’re active on Twitter; they’re volunteering and doing some nonprofit work as well; their internship was focused on sustainability–so in the end, their resume is really a full page of sustainability credentials. And if the company does not want you to focus on that, it could work against you.

Last, but not least, I was curious about her predictions of the future. Do you think, I asked, that as the market rebounds, more of those pure CSR jobs will start to emerge, or do you think that people are going to get accustomed to this integration of CSR with other general business skills?

I think it’s going to be the latter. They’re going to say, “Come in as an analyst and do your job responsibly and remain ethical within the company’s values.” A lot of companies don’t even have CSR-focused departments; they understand that corporate responsibility is a cultural thing and not just the responsibility of one department, but they’re not quite sure how to make that happen.

Craft your resume around your MBA specialization to get the most 

job offersThen, I started in on Carolyn C. Wise, to get a better idea of whether or not it was worthwhile to specialize at all.

When it comes to specializing, it’s very much about what you’re going to do with it afterwards. You hire someone with an MBA rather than someone who got, for instance, an MA in Environmental Studies because you want those general management skills. You want someone who has taken finance classes, who is going to be really good as a manager, an accountant, a brand manager. But if you want them in a sustainability role or to create a sustainability strategic plan, you’ll want the sustainability skills as well.

The other thing I always say when it comes to MBA specializations is that you don’t want to close yourself off. One of the fears is that if you specialize in sports management or marketing or any of the other specialties offered by your business school, that you won’t be able to get other jobs. If you’re totally set on one type of job, then absolutely specialize–particularly if you worked in that industry before. For instance, if you worked in the business development department for an NBA team and your plan is to return to that team after you complete your MBA, then specializing in sports management makes a lot of sense for you. But if you are a career-changer, and you don’t know precisely where you want to go, specializations can sometimes hurt rather than help.

As it turns out, the institution from which you receive your MBA makes also makes a huge difference when it comes time to decide whether or not you want to specialize.

Job prospects and employment opportunities after your MBA very much depend on prestige. If you go to Harvard Business School, you have much more flexibility in the area in which you focus most of your electives. This applies for Columbia, Booth, Wharton, Tuck, Hass, all the top schools. If you’re going to a smaller or less prestigious or regional MBA program, then what electives you take, what grades you get, and how applicable the skills you learned in a specialization are will have much more impact after you graduate.

And finally, a bit of advice:

If you’re considering specializing and you’re a first-year student, you should definitely check out the professional and student clubs associated with that specialization. Talk to those MBA students, particularly the second-years, about what they studied, how they’re applying it, what jobs they’re looking at, and what the recruiting process is like for them. You should check out all the professional clubs of all of the specializations that you’re considering, because that will really give you a sense of what it means to specialize in that arena, and what the experience is going to be like when you’re looking for a job.

–Written by Madison Priest, Admit One</em

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

Driven by Innovation: Corporate Culture & Responsibility

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Joel Makower at the 2010 World Innovation Forum

Photo courtesy:

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.

Event Alert: Accredited Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner Workshop

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Next month, the Center for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE) will complete five years of conducting sustainability seminars and certifying CSR practitioners. The two-day seminar historically have always been filled with useful workshops, individual presentations from practitioners, many debates and rich discussions surrounding the aspects of corporate responsibility and sustainability.

Last year, I attended one of CSE’s workshops and came back certified as a CSR practitioner as well as armed with much-needed clarified information on the issue. This workshop, which is conducted by CSE and approved by international think tank, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), attracts executives every year from a range of industries. For example, my session last year had a diverse group including representatives from consulting firms, consumer products manufacturers, lawyers, policy regulators, professors, scientists as well as HR specialists and a pilot from an international airline.

If you are seeking a broad overview of CSR this workshop is highly recommended. Besides theoretical concepts and key guidelines, the forum gives you an opportunity to network with other CSR-minded professionals across industries. This networking and sharing of ideas and more so, learning from what they are doing in this growing field, can prove immensely helpful in carving your career in CSR and green issues.

What is even better is that this year for the first time, in collaboration with Vault and In Good Company, CSE is offering an exclusive discount to our readers. Just make sure to mention “VAULT” during the registration process and you will be able to shave 25% off the fee!

For complete details, including registration process as well as first-person perspectives from last year’s workshop, visit Vault’s CSR Blog: In Good Company.

CSR Job Posting: Knowledge Manager with Edelman

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For those who read MBA graduate Ashley Jablow’s appeal earlier this week, where she discussed her skills and her job search for a company that focuses on corporate responsibility, this is point on. Edelman, the global public relations company is looking for a candidate who will work on CSR, branding and business strategy.

The job posting is below:

Description: Corporate and brand citizenship research associate: this person will have a passion for and experience with: social issues, branding, business strategy, consumer behavior, qualitative and quantitative research. S/he must be self-starter and able to work effectively with a variety of multiple assignments. S/he must have demonstrated research skills, solid knowledge of MS Office Suite (especially PPT) and superior verbal and written communication skills. The ability to quickly assess a topic related to social issues, find, review and aggregate pertinent information and create compelling written analysis in a variety of formats,is a core responsibility of the position.

Qualifications: This individual will be a critical part of the Edelman Citizenship team, working closely with firm leadership to develop future oriented points of view and processes/products and services related to the intersection of citizenship, corporate reputation, issues management, and CSR. The ideal candidate has an advanced degree in business/experience in cause branding/ corporate citizenship consulting. Exceptional written skills required. Experience working with NGOs and public private partnerships also important.

Work attributes include: self starter, curiosity, broad consumer of information from multiple sources around the globe, superior writer, ability to create powerful PP presentations and other communications and facility to analyze and develop diverse information into strong added value for the team, firm and field.

Responsibilities: The Research Associate is responsible for implementing and monitoring research projects for the practice area and within a specific set of accounts primarily under the direction of Kristian Darigan Merenda, SVP, and Carol Cone, EVP in specialty areas focused on brand and corporate citizenship. The position will be supplemented by interns, and account executives from client engagement teams. Responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

Research and Development:

  • Using Edelman paid subscription resources and publicly available data, regularly perform secondary research, track trends and compile briefs focused on topics including, but not limited to: green marketing, cause related marketing, social marketing, cause branding, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, fund raising, and nonprofit marketing, etc.
  • Help supply content for an internal, global knowledge management system to support Edelman’s work in the brand and corporate citizenship arena.
  • Participate in the development, analysis and execution of Good Purpose and other pioneering research/ thought leadership strategies.

Marketing Communications:

  • Develop insights to share externally via, social networking sites, blog content, and white papers.
  • Develop cutting edge presentations, in conjunction with managers for: Internal training, Client education, New business, and Speeches.

To read the complete the job listing for “PR: Corporate Citizenship – Knowledge Manager” as well as to apply, visit Edelman’s Careers page.

Got some tips for candidates looking for jobs that include an expected corporate responsibility? Or want to share your job search experience? Contribute to the discussion! Write in by leaving a comment, emailing In Good Company or connecting with me on Twitter @VaultCSR.

Health Care Bill: Vault’s experts discuss its career and education impact

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How’s the new health care bill going to affect the job market and your career? Vault’s career, education, and industry experts weigh in on what the modern student and professional should keep in mind.

Phil Stott, Producer, web content
Aman Singh, CSR Editor
Carolyn Wise, Senior Education Editor
Naomi Newman, Global Consulting Editor
Margaret Davidson, Manager of Editorial Research
Derek Loosvelt, Global Finance Editor
Linda Petock, Senior Producer, web content

Linda: Welcome to Vault’s first “In the News” roundtable discussion. I thought we’d start this series off with what everyone’s been talking about all week–the historic health care bill.

Phil: I think one of the biggest changes afoot in the bill is the end of people feeling like they’re tied to their jobs because of healthcare. Having grown up in a country with socialized healthcare, I’ve seen first-hand both sides of the coin, and it’s always struck me as somewhat strange that the quality of one’s healthcare should depend on the lottery of where you manage to land a job.

Of course, that isn’t going to end completely—employers will still be able to compete on healthcare plans—but my feeling is that having a “safety net”, as the President put it, will encourage more mobility in the job market. That, to my mind, means we’re going to see employers having to work harder to maintain loyalty among employees. It also means we’re likely to see more people taking chances in their careers, and a potential rise in entrepreneurial activity. Whether it also means—as I’ve seen some commentary in the blogosphere suggest—that some will just drop out of working altogether is another question.

Aman: The health care bill is meant to make it easier for everyone to have coverage, regardless of choice of job/industry. For those few who have the entrepreneurial streak but are buried under loan debt or simply cannot risk it because of family responsibilities or other reasons, this is another win for their freedom of choice. In terms of corporate social responsibility, a once-risky career choice will become more tempting and dare I say, common. This bill means people who want to make a difference and cannot with their current employers can now take the risk of actually thinking outside the box (or the system, in this case) without giving up basic rights like medical coverage.

The field of CSR as a career choice is so nascent right now that this bill serves as more encouragement. From my conversations with students and professionals, there are many individuals out there you would like to graduate with an MBA in Sustainable Business and professionals who are getting certified and trained for CSR work, but are not able to step out of the system and practice. This bill, for them, will make the road ahead easier, whether that means self-employment or working with small businesses to lead change in the marketplace. One step and one company at a time.

Carolyn: Speaking of students, the new health care reform bill is good news for current college students too. Most colleges offer health care plans for current students while they’re on campus, which include treatment in the campus infirmary if you’ve caught pink eye or strep throat, as well as physical health and well-being doctors and counselors. But once they graduate (and, sometimes, during the summer), many young adults find themselves uninsured due to unemployment or under-employment. Many internship programs, for example, do not offer health benefits under the employer’s plan; and entry-level salaries are sometimes so low that opting into an employer’s health care plan means significantly lowering one’s quality of life. I myself was an intern after graduation and found myself (briefly) uninsured.

Everyone talks about how the new health care reform bill will give U.S. citizens the “flexibility of choice,” and for students and recent grads that couldn’t be more true. Under the new health care reform bill, recent graduates will be eligible to remain a “dependent” under their parents’ insurance plan until they’re 26. This extended coverage will take some of the stress off of finding one’s bearing in the professional sphere, and allow recent grads to take jobs that offer more long-term benefits (e.g., job opportunities, networking, etc.), rather than ones that pay best and offer the most comprehensive benefits plan but may not be on the desired career path.

This increased job flexibility at graduation will also enable students to consider more diverse options when they leave campus—travelling, perhaps, or simply taking time for themselves to help transition from student to professional. Postgraduate internships will also certainly continue their upward trajectory. Last year, 55 percent of career centers at colleges and universities across the country told Vault that they’ve seen an increase in the number of seniors choosing internships over full-time employment after graduation. With the safety net of continued health care coverage, these grads will be able to pursue the internships and opportunities best suited to launch their careers.

Naomi: In the short term, I think the primary impact of the health care bill will be on HR consulting firms, who will be busy at work helping their clients understand the full implications of the new legislation on their health benefits packages. They will need to reconsider their offerings and make sure they are complying with all new requirements. And since the plan is so far-reaching, this will keep HR consultants busy for at least the next few years.

Linda: Do you think then that the field of HR consulting will grow? Does that mean more hirings in the consulting field overall?

Margaret: I don’t know about HR consulting, but it could potentially lead to an increase in hiring at firms that have a large public sector presence – or at least a shift in terms of where the opportunities can be found. Any time legislation dictates an expansion of some sector of the government, government consulting firms adjust their business development strategies to go where the money is. Similar to the way these companies focused on pitching to defense agencies when we got involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, I suspect that they will target agencies that are impacted by this bill. Thus, I predict that there will be a greater number of opportunities to consult civil agencies.

Naomi: Also look for health care and strategy consulting firms to get in on the action. They will look at all angles of the issue, from helping insurers and pharmaceutical companies to cut costs, to finding better ways of providing care to a much larger market, and improving long- and short-term outcomes. As more of the risk now shifts to consumers, finding innovative solutions for health care plan delivery and incentives will be of critical importance, especially as large employers do their utmost to reign in costs. More technically, pharmaceutical companies are now undertaking comparative effectiveness research to develop evidence of their products compared to others. Health care consultants are likely to weigh in on this process, as well.

Most see such possible solutions as taking three or four years to be conceived and put into effect, which means that the job market for consultants is sure to grow over the next few years. And due to stagnation in the market over 2008-2009, consulting firms are now really starting to bolster their numbers.

Derek: I think the largest effect on the financial industry, from a careers perspective, will be an indirect one. With most of the difficult work involved in reforming the U.S. health care system behind them, Democrats can now focus on financial regulatory reform, which slid to the back burner but is now shaping up to be the major rallying point come mid-term elections this fall. Coincidentally, Election Day occurs during the height of top banking employers’ recruiting season. This means that some of these employers (those who’ve been and will continue to receive boatloads of hate mail and bad press) will likely be spending serious amounts of time, energy and money attempting to dispel rumors and artificially sweeten the not-so-sweet past when they descend upon undergraduate and MBA institutions after Labor Day.

And while banks’ PR outfits and insiders work overtime, would-be finance employees from some of the top schools across the country (aka candidates for some of the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the land) will be faced with some difficult questions, including this one: Should I go into banking at all? With public perception of the banking industry at a low, if not all-time low, and the heat about to be turned up on banks for their recent indiscretions, it’s likely that this year choices between, say, Goldman and McKinsey, Morgan Stanley and BCG, and J.P. Morgan and Bain might be easier and come out differently than they had been in the past.

Linda:  Thanks everyone!  As Derek mentioned, the financial regulatory reform is coming up and we’ll cover that in a future “In the News” discussion.  Please feel free to continue the debate and leave your comments below.

Previous coverage: Four Hiring Boosts from the Health Care Bill

Written by Linda Petock

March 26, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Will an MBA in Sustainable Business Get You Hired?

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Recruiting season will soon be upon us and so will everyone’s predictions, both calculated and speculative. And in the center of the mayhem will be freshly-minted MBAs. As they approach the last months of their semesters, news has been constantly pouring in about new CSR and sustainability courses being added both as electives and as mandatory classes.

Last week, this gradually burgeoning group added another member: MIT Sloan’s School of Management announced a Certificate of Sustainable Business for their MBA students. It doesn’t take too many guesses to realize that more and more business schools are adding these responsible modules as a response to demand from students and some demand from the business community. However, here is the million-dollar question: Are these new specializations facing equal face time at the time of recruitment? Or are the employers demanding CSR knowledge from their new hires?

graduation ceremony

The WSJ addresses this emerging conundrum today in an aptly titled article: “Sustainability is a Growing Theme.” Growing indeed, but only as a “theme” or the idea of doing good. Because when these students face recruiters, there aren’t many takers. As the article points out, “The effort is being met with both gratitude and skepticism from business schools, which say that despite the emphasis on integrating these hot-button topics into the curriculum, it’s business as usual at recruiting time. Few hiring managers, they say, ask students about corporate-responsibility training or indicate it’s a priority.

What companies are choosing to do instead, is train current employees in environmental footprint and sustainability. This relatively low cost, in-house training, however, is leading to paying mere lip service to sustainability and not addressing it as an essential part of their long term strategy and making it definable in business terms. The companies that have successfully launched sustainability initiatives are the handful that have seen the direct impact on their bottom line and brand awareness like Dow Chemicals and Pepsi.

So, why the demand but not the final appreciation for the new courses? The Journal article quotes Intel’s director of social responsibility strategy and communication, Suzanne Fallender, who is a frequent speaker at business schools, saying that the skills aren’t needed to be hired into a post-M.B.A. job. “”I think we are far off from seeing it [as part of] the job requirements.” And here lies the disconnect. Enthusiasm in the classroom and student demand when not translated into welcoming reception from the recruiters will eventually die down. By sending mixed messages, companies are not only hurting their brand perception but ignoring a key population of environmentally-conscious workers acutely aware of the need for accountability and transparency, and who will increasingly fill the gaps as more boomers retire.

–Posted by Aman Singh, In Good Company

Written by Linda Petock

March 4, 2010 at 3:36 pm