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.
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