5 Strategies to Finding a Sustainability Job

We all seek the holy grail of a position that matches our convictions, needs, and competencies. People who want to make a difference sometimes ask me for advice on how to find a job in the “sustainability sector.” The bad news is that there is no such sector, any more than there is a “quality sector.” The good news is that there are roles in organizations that include varying degrees of responsibility for sustainability: in the organization, with its suppliers, and/or helping its clients become more sustainable enterprises.  Here are five strategies to help find one of those great jobs.

1. Decide where you would be most energized • Sector: Public sector? Private sector? Not-for-profit sector? Academia? Consulting?
• Organization Size: Large? Small? Solo?
• Sustainability Focus: Environmental? Social?
• Industry Sector: Which industry sector attracts you?
• Location: Which city or country attracts you?
• Financial Security Needs: How important are salary and benefits?Use your excitement level as a barometer for each choice. Does the possibility excite you? Why? Why not? To help confirm your options, consider volunteering or doing a small contract at a potential organization of interest. It will give you first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to work there; it shows tangible evidence of your interest; it gives you a chance to acquire new experience and skills; and it adds new contacts to your professional network.

2. Work your existing networkAs Richard Bolles explains in What Color is Your Parachute?, 80% of jobs are found through existing professional acquaintances, friends, and family. These known folks usually provide the most fruitful leads. Bolles advises job-seekers to devote most of their search-time to tapping into—or rebuilding—their existing networks, and to developing new contacts. People are the ones who provide a real-time pipeline of information about where the jobs are—ideally before they are posted. Alumni and professional associations are strong resources, as are social media, such as LinkedIn.

You might also check GoodWork Canada’s Green Job site or Eco Canada’s Eco Job Board for Canadian job listings in this area. Green jobs in the U.S. are listed on the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) site; on the GreenBiz jobs site; and the greenjobs.com site. Or, you can consider creating your own green job with guidance from Good Work Canada.

Profession and Purpose: A Resource Guide for MBA Careers in Sustainability (Greenleaf, 2009) by Katie Ross has guidance on key job-search resources, as well as tips for MBAs and others interested in sustainability careers. As the cover-jacket states, Ross’ book, “provides ideas for researching companies, making the most of your networking, identifying job and internship openings, and preparing for interviews.”

If your qualifications warrant a senior role in a large company, you might consider using an executive recruiting agency.

3. Shop your non-sustainability skills, match your valuesThere are not many “sustainability” jobs out there yet. However, there are a growing number of organizations that espouse sustainability and which are undertaking exciting initiatives for environmental and social responsibility. If you opt for the corporate sector, seek organizations whose values match yours. Sell them on your transferable and technical skills, and your experience. That is, use the Trojan Horse approach: enter the company gates by starting in a “normal” job. Then, assess how you can legitimately support sustainability initiatives from that position, or from a subsequent position within the company that you later discover is a better fit.

4. Talk their languageThis is a pet theme of mine. As you apply to various organizations, re-tune your CV and your interview vocabulary so that it relates to their context, values, and challenges. Sell them on how you can add value to their current priorities—always being careful to avoid “sustainability-speak” if the interviewer is not comfortable with that lens on the company’s business concerns.

5. Embrace a Non-Linear Career PathIn the past, our paths towards careers were much more linear. We graduated from school, college, or university; we got an entry level position in a company; and in cases like mine, we slowly climbed through the ranks in that company. Today, in a job market that is constantly shifting and presenting new types of jobs we need to embrace a non-linear career path. That means being open to taking a mechanical engineering job designing a well in a foreign country, then coming back and using that experience to get a job in another corporation designing their broader sustainability plans. (Thanks to Dev Aujla who alerted me in this strategy in the guide on how to navigate a non-linear career path, a free e-book called How to Make Money and Change the World written by the organization Dream Now.)

I expect that these strategies reinforce your instincts and experience when finding a good job. Just because sustainability is a good thing, that doesn’t mean that organizations are waiting with open arms for you to help them become more responsible enterprises. It takes real effort and patience to find a good fit, and it may require a few interim positions to get there, but it is worth it.

Bob

Please feel free to add your comments and questions using the Comment link below.

20 replies
  1. Kerry Milford
    Kerry Milford says:

    Bob:

    A very timely blog that will provide some direction for those that graduated from the Green Business Management certification course at Algonquin College.
    In speaking with my colleagues, the numbers that have found work within the field has bees dismally low, perhaps 2 out of 28. The tips that you provided can only help.
    Personally I created own consulting company and just joined MHPM Project Management Inc. in a consulting capacity. I am reviewing past and present LEED projects commissioned to MHPM and looking at client expectation vs client reality, post completion.
    Its interesting work, it opens my eyes to the growing market share and it allows me an opportunity to contribute and learn.
    I just wanted to thank you for the blog post and I’m passing it on to the graduated class.

    Regards,

    Kerry Milford

  2. Connor
    Connor says:

    Great post, Bob! I have been figuring some of these things out over the last few months with my job search as a “green” MBA student, but this fleshes out some of the things I was finding, puts them into words and provides a lot of good resources. Thanks!

  3. Bob Willard
    Bob Willard says:

    I’m glad the ideas were helpful, Connor. I expect they reinforce your instincts and experience, but sometimes just that is useful. If you were a Net Impact member during your MBA studies, sometimes their post-grad Professionals networks can be helpful, as well.
    Best wishes.
    Bob

  4. Bob Willard
    Bob Willard says:

    Kerry, thanks for sharing your experience after the Green Business Management course. Coincidentally, I just had a phone call with someone in which that course came up as an example of one that combines leadership, sustainability, and business education. I enjoyed doing the guest lecture in your program at Algonquin College in Ottawa and did another this spring for the same course at Seneca College in Toronto. It is an excellent course. The trick is to find work that aligns with your expertise and values after graduation. It sounds like you are well on your way.

    Best wishes.
    Bob

  5. Sophie Agbonkhese
    Sophie Agbonkhese says:

    MBA and other Masters-level career development offices can help by creating a green resume book. This is a collection of resumes from students who are seeking sustainability or green-tech related jobs. The resume book is then given to companies at career fairs, and posted on the program’s website. This is also a great way to help companies find employees who have the values they are looking for.

  6. Bob Willard
    Bob Willard says:

    Good idea, Sophie. Students need to be comfortable with having a portfolio of resumes geared to different audiences. Your idea would give students practice in writing resumes that highlight the business relevance of their sustainability abilities.

    Bob

  7. GoEco Certified
    GoEco Certified says:

    Great Article, Also a Certificate program can really help! We operate 2 training classes at GoEco Certified that we have seen really help students. Finding the job can most of the time be the most difficult part, keeping in mind the basics can really help! I could not agree more with #2, also Bolles’ book is a must!

  8. Bob Willard
    Bob Willard says:

    Thanks for your reinforcing comments, and for your good efforts to help people in their quest for the holy grail a good job that fits their competencies and passions. Bob

  9. Hiral Mehta
    Hiral Mehta says:

    Thank you Bob, for putting everything together a Sustainability job seeker can ask for!! Its an excellent guideline, should be covered in many green course outline itself!!

    Regards,

    Hiral

  10. Bob Willard
    Bob Willard says:

    Thanks for your kind feedback. This blog has turned out to be my most popular one. I guess I underestimated how many people share the quest for “the holy grail of a position that matches our convictions, needs, and competencies.” If you find yourself in that group, you are in good company, and I wish you well.
    Bob

  11. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Bob,

    Thank you so much for the wonderful article!

    My mentor from the Connecting Environmental Professionals Program directed me to it and I plan to use it to narrow in my focus a bit and figure out what job and in what sector I want to work. I am on contract in the environmental non-profit sector until the end of September and start my MA Environmental Education & Communication via Royal Roads in June. I am hoping to make a move into a new job come fall so this will be extremely useful in my pursuit!

    Thanks again,

    Caitlin

  12. Bob Willard
    Bob Willard says:

    Thanks for your feedback, Caitlin. Despite the date on that blog, it seems that its advice is still relevant today. All the best for your quest. Bob

  13. Ben Wood
    Ben Wood says:

    Hi Bob,

    Great article, and I’m glad that that careers in sustainability are becoming more attainable for current students. I notice that you mentioned a great range of areas to look for jobs in sustainability online but haven’t mentioned acre resources. I have used them numerous times to source experienced candidates and potential students looking for careers in the industry may benefit from their careers advice area when looking to apply for sustainability jobs. May be worth giving them a mention? Their website is: acre.com

    Thanks,

    Ben

  14. Bob Willard
    Bob Willard says:

    Thanks for the alert, Ben. Acre.com looks like a great site, and includes opening around the world. I’ll add it to my list of such sites. Thanks. Bob

  15. Amanda Boyette
    Amanda Boyette says:

    Thank you so much for this article Bob! I am in the process of writing up a “how to” for graduating MBA students interested in Sustainability and the amount of information is overwhelming, as is the task to pare it down to where it is useful. This has helped me narrow my focus quite a bit. “What Color is Your Parachute” is on my list of books to read for this task. Thank you again!
    All the best,
    Manda Boyette

  16. Bob Willard
    Bob Willard says:

    Thanks for your feedback, Amanda. That blog is still my most popular one, so I expect your effort will be well read by your target audience. Best wishes. Bob

  17. Monique MIlls
    Monique MIlls says:

    I know this article is several years old but it is still very relevant! I am so glad I came across it! While I’m in the process of completing my MBA I am quite often asked what I want to do with it afterwards. It’s been very hard to articulate exactly, but my explanation always includes blending my engineering, project management, and real estate background to further sustainability initiatives in the business world. I’m eager to make a major impact and contribution to the world while improving the lives of others. Your article brings perspective to how that can be accomplished. Thanks so much!

  18. Bob Willard
    Bob Willard says:

    Thanks for your feedback, Monique. That blog is proving to be more timeless than I expected. Best wishes. Bob

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