The ESG Initiative at the Wharton School
Careers in ESG: Insights from MBA Career Management
Jennifer Savoie, senior associate director in Wharton MBA Career Management, gives advice and insights into how job seekers can build meaningful, dynamic careers across ESG topics and industries.
What kind of careers are there in ESG?
ESG careers have often been focused on measuring and reporting on environmental, social, and governance-related data – particularly in the world of finance. Today, ESG careers can also include a focus on strategizing, operating, and implementing solutions related to these areas. ESG careers are quite varied and qualified applicants can find ESG roles in many sectors – such as wealth management and investment funds, consulting, corporations (across many industry verticals), startups, and the public sector as well. However, sometimes ESG will be one aspect of a job rather than the entire focus of a job. That’s an important truth for anyone interested in a career in ESG to keep in mind.
Let’s dig into some areas where ESG careers can be pursued, whether as an entire role or an aspect of a role:
- Investing & Finance: Financial institutions are increasingly integrating ESG and/or impact investment strategies into their businesses and across all asset classes. Some roles are broadly ESG-focused, while others investigate specific investment opportunities such as climate tech, renewable energy, EdTech, sustainable agriculture, financial inclusion, etc. Quite often these opportunities require prior finance or investing experience, but some are open to those with deep knowledge in a specific focus area.
- Corporations: ESG is increasingly important to corporations across industry verticals, and relevant roles go beyond traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR). Today, companies are building sustainable and ethical supply chains, developing products for underserved communities, working to minimize overall environmental harm, and incorporating inclusive hiring strategies, just to name a few areas of growth. Top candidates need to bring both role-relevant skills and a deep appreciation of the core business no matter the specific role.
- Consulting: From large management consulting firms to small boutique firms, we are seeing increasing opportunities to advise both private sector and public sector clients on many issues related to ESG – from climate change and sustainability practices to different aspects of human welfare, corporate governing structures, and other related strategies. When hiring, all firms look for common strengths like intellectual horsepower, analytical competency, problem solving capacity, creative thinking, and a client-focused mindset.
- Startups/Social Enterprises: Some of our students are finding ESG-related roles by joining early-stage companies that are focused on one particular aspect of ESG. This could be climate tech startups, whether they are focused on battery storage or carbon sequestration or something else; or it could be tech startups looking to close the learning gap in K-12 education. Such businesses are formed to address a social need or improve human or environmental conditions using private sector models.
- Government/Public Sector: Another avenue for careers in ESG can be national, state, or local agencies that handle issues concerning public welfare. Each year we have a small but focused group of MBAs who are eager to bring their business acumen to the public sector to help solve problems impacting communities both large and small, particularly where public-private partnerships are creating dynamic solutions.
- Nonprofit Organizations/NGOs: Be it community development, child development, education, environment, health care, hunger alleviation, international development, philanthropy, or poverty reduction, a long-standing path to careers in these areas has always been working in nonprofit organizations that are doing the fundamental work to bring about positive change. A small number of our graduating students seek roles in this arena, but this is more commonly a goal of our alumni to transition into the nonprofit space several years after graduating.
Where have students worked in ESG after graduating from Wharton?
Wharton students work in ESG careers across diverse sectors and roles. Some examples of organizations include:
- Arborview Capital
- Blue Meridian Partners
- Form Energy
- Generate Capital
- IFC – International Finance Corporation
- J.P. Morgan
- Tesla Motors
- The Bridgespan Group
- U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee
What kind of skills are organizations looking for?
With ESG existing across all the aforementioned sectors, it’s hard to outline a single perfect candidate for all opportunities; however, common skills that we see required for many roles are sophisticated analytical competency and experience with complex problem solving. This makes sense, as many of these roles require in-depth data analysis. They also demand the capacity to appreciate and incorporate multi-faceted inputs, impacts, and outcomes, as well as an understanding of the fundamental and complex impacts of risk.
For some roles, at least a baseline understanding of the science or technology that underscores the specific ESG area may be required. For example, certifications may be required for roles related to sustainability that might entail product lifecycle analysis, emissions inventory, renewable energy project finance, sustainability accounting standards (SASB), or LEED certification, to name a few.
What advice do you have for students seeking careers in ESG?
My initial advice always encourages students to conduct proper self-assessment and exploration to discover what issues really matter to them, what sector (or sectors) they most want to work in, and what kind of work they hope to do on a daily basis. This exploration is important for every job search, but with ESG is vital. That’s because ESG is not an industry but rather a focus area or function that may exist within industries. Environmental, Social, and Governance issues are broad concepts that touch on different sectors and jobs to varying degrees. Individual students need to understand which of the three areas they hope to touch on in their careers. This self-assessment and market exploration is imperative to help students decide on the sector(s) they are targeting, what kind of problems or issues they want to tackle, and the function or role that best fits their goals. Once they have that understanding, they can then explore their target industries and focus areas, uncover and build a list of relevant employers, and figure out any gaps they might need to fill to ultimately “go to market” and pursue the best roles for them.
Additional advice is always to be proactive – to get out there and talk with lots of people who work in their area of interest. They can learn from others’ stories, gain valuable career insights, seek their advice, and build relationships that may help them in their job search journey and beyond.
What resources are available at Wharton for students interested in ESG?
Students can build skills, deepen their understanding of key topics, and expand their networks through the hub of fellowships, competitions, events, research, clubs, on campus organizations, and more.
The Environmental, Social and Governance Initiative at the Wharton School unites the School’s trail-blazing ESG teaching, research, and industry engagement initiatives. Students can explore over 30 ESG courses and even assemble them into a major or concentration in ESG for Business; Social and Governance Factors for Business; and Business, Environment, Energy, and Sustainability (BEES). The ESG Initiative also offers a diverse slate of experiential learning programs and events that provide students with real-world experience across consulting, portfolio construction, impact and ESG investing, and more.
The newly launched Wharton MBA Impact Communities also unite MBA students around the key topics of social equity and the environment and act as an aggregator and connector on these topics.
What resources are available for students through MBA career management?
MBA Career Management works with students to support their job search through a plethora of resources including online platforms and in-person engagements. We offer in-depth learning platforms that provide data, advice, trends, tips to deepen understanding of how specific industries recruit MBA talent, and so much more. Beyond online sources, we also offer in-person engagements such as workshops and presentations that help students delve deeper. And through individualized advising, they receive personalized feedback on their job search journey – from self-assessment, to resumes, to applications, to interview prep, to offer management, and more. That in-person engagement comes from our team of Career Advisors and our group of specially trained 2nd year students who serve as Career Fellows. Career Management offers this suite of resources to all MBA students – both Full-Time and Executive – as well as our entire alumni base when they are conducting career transitions after graduation.
ESG Initiative Student Offerings
We offer a robust set of transformational student programs, resources, and curricular offerings to match your interests in ESG and business. Our semester and year-long experiential learning programs equip students with hands-on experience in consulting, portfolio construction, impact and ESG investing, and more. Students can also explore over 30 ESG courses and assemble them into a major or concentration. For students who wish for a less intensive time commitment, we offer additional opportunities to participate and learn.