On the hunt: Starting a career in sustainability

27th January 2022


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Author

IEMA

Maddy Diment offers advice to young professionals who are looking for work within the sustainability industry

There is no better time to start a career in sustainability. Last year, the UK government promised to invest £12bn to support up to 250,000 ‘green jobs’ as part of its ‘ten point plan for a green industrial revolution’. While the term ‘green jobs’ continues to evade a standardised definition, it is safe to assume it involves work that preserves or restores environmental quality. These are jobs with meaning and purpose – and for Generation Z and Millennials, they are highly aspirational.

How can I start?

You can find a sustainability-related job in just about every industry and sector, so it is important to figure out what your top priorities are. Consider the following:

  1. What issues do you care most about? What do you find yourself reading about in your spare time?
  2. What companies are focusing on and/or leading the way on this issue?
  3. Would you like to work in the public, private or third sector?
  4. How do you want to work? Fully remote, flexibly, or in an office every day? Customer-facing, behind a computer screen or ‘out in the field’?
  5. What skills do you have and what skills would you like to develop?
  6. Where do you want to live?

As you answer these questions, remember that all jobs will come with a compromise – there is no such thing as a perfect job, especially early on in your career. Consider what you are willing to be flexible on.

Preparing for applications

All great things begin with a spreadsheet – or at least, that’s the modus operandi of consultants like me. In all seriousness, I would strongly recommend creating a job search spreadsheet (Table 1). This should include aspirational organisations, hiring manager contact details, job advertisement links, where you found the job advert, positions applied for, deadlines to apply by, your dates of submission, and so on. Even if an organisation you are interested in is not currently hiring, jot down their information and contact potential hiring managers. After all: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

One of the best things you can do while preparing for job applications – aside from tailoring your CV and cover letter exactly to the job description – is to keep up to date with the latest news and trends within your sector or industry of choice. It will be a welcome break from the monotony of job searching, if nothing else.

Before submitting any job applications, take time to update your LinkedIn profile. Treat it as your online CV and a window into your professional brand.

LinkedIn to-do list:

  • Take note of the commonly recurring ‘Desirable Skills’ within job descriptions and consider adding them to your LinkedIn profile if you have them.
  • Ask for ‘Recommendations’ from former colleagues or managers that will help evidence these skills directly.
  • Write posts detailing your latest insights and experiences, and be sure to tag and credit those who have helped you along the way.
  • Connect with people who already work in the organisation, industry or sector of interest on LinkedIn and ask for a short ‘informational interview’.

Finding opportunities

Typing ‘sustainability jobs’ into Google will yield thousands of results, so you need to be strategic in finding relevant opportunities that suit your needs. The following websites have a great selection of opportunities, as well as useful filtering tools:

  • IEMA Jobs
  • B Work
  • For Purpose Jobs
  • Environment Job
  • Sustainability Job
  • Well To Do Careers
  • 80,000 Hours
  • LinkedIn

It is worth noting that companies that are centred around sustainability may not have the word ‘sustainability’ in the job title. That’s why it is important to work out if the job title/function or organisation is more important to you. For example, would you prefer to work as a consultant in a sustainability consultancy firm, or as a sustainability consultant in a generalist consultancy firm?

In addition to doing an active job hunt, I would strongly encourage you to sign up to recruitment agencies such as Acre, Allen & York, and Evergreen. These agencies exist to help you find a job – so accept, and request, all the help you can get. When speaking with these recruitment agencies, try and keep an open mind: you are early in your career, and it is okay to sample a range of jobs before landing something more permanent.

Upskilling

Rejection is an inevitable part of the job application process. Most of the time, it’s not personal – it’s about the known and unknown priorities of the organisation. Regardless of the stage at which you were rejected, it’s a good idea to ask the recruiter for feedback. They may signal areas in which you can improve, in order to have greater success next time. Doing a masters is one route to acquire these skills, though it can be a heavy investment in terms of time and money, so you need to be sure it is right for you.

Alternatively, you could look at websites such as FutureLearn, Coursera, Udemy and edX, which offer free or heavily discounted self-paced online courses from top institutions.

You’ve secured the job – what now?

No matter which organisation you work for, you can be a part – or indeed, a leader – of the sustainability movement. Try and leverage your perspective as a young person in the office by proposing suggestions for ‘greening’ the office, and seek a mentor who can help you enhance your professional development.

How can senior sustainability professionals help?

If you are reading this and are not in the early stages of your career, consider whether you could be a mentor to young professionals. If you feel unable to help directly, perhaps you can offer contacts within your network who are better positioned to advise. The sustainability industry is a community, and your support matters.

Homework

What can I do right now?

  • Subscribe to sustainability newsletters to help you keep up to date with news and trends
  • Book an appointment with your university careers service to talk through your options and strategy. Ask them what kind of work alumni with your degree have gone on to do, and see if they can connect you with a potential mentor
  • Join IEMA Futures – IEMA’s network of students and early-career professionals who are passionate about environment and sustainability. Email [email protected]

What can I do this weekend?

  • Listen to a podcast about sustainability within the area you are interested in. My top recommendations are Mothers of Invention, Sustainability Defined and Outrage & Optimism
  • Develop your job search spreadsheet and create draft emails for arranging ‘informational interviews’ with hiring managers or current employees at your listed organisations
  • Spruce up your LinkedIn profile, filling in all possible information fields. Connect with the sustainability professionals that you admire and ask questions about their work/industry.

What can I do in the next three to six months?

  • Complete an online course in a skills area in which you could improve, such as data analysis, communication, languages, or technical sustainability knowledge
  • Attend a webinar on a sustainability issue and be proactive about sharing your take-homes with your network. For example, you could write a post on LinkedIn, submit an article for an online magazine or journal, and follow or connect with the speakers.


Maddy Diment, GradIEMA

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