By Trish Kenlon, originally posted on Sustainable Career Pathways
By now you’ve probably noticed that there aren’t too many jobs out there with the words “entry level” and “sustainability” in the title, huh? Don’t get too mad at COVID, it’s not the pandemic’s fault (although it certainly isn’t helping). The truth is, there never have been that many entry level sustainability positions out there.
That’s most likely because a lot of titled sustainability roles tend to start around the mid-career level and require things like:
And those are the kinds of things that are typically best learned through real-life work experience (or as my old mentor called it “time in the saddle.”) Some of today’s better undergraduate programs are getting closer with offerings like experiential learning and consulting practicums, but it’s just really hard to learn things like how to navigate internal corporate politics or how to get something big through the budget cycle as a student.
So, what’s a recent or soon-to-be college grad with a passion for sustainability to do? Try this four-step plan for finding entry level jobs and experiences that get you started on a sustainability career, even if the actual word isn’t in the title:
The diversity of roles that fall under the sustainability umbrella is pretty incredible. That’s good in that there are endless possibilities for how you can bring your unique talents to the space. That’s bad because it can make pinpointing how you fit in really daunting. The most important task you have right now is to do some serious research, networking, and soul searching to figure out roughly what you want to be doing in about 3-5 years.
Why is that so important? Because you’ve got to use that vision to help you figure out what entry-level jobs and experiences to target that will help you build skills that will get you to that dream job in a few years. Start by narrowing down your dream job by sector, industry or level, functional role or team, and the sustainability issues or tools you’d like to focus on. Something as simple as just writing down your best guess for these four categories can really help you focus. Here are some examples:
So, how do you figure out what you want to do? Hopefully your undergrad degree gave you a hint, but if not, here are some great places to start your research:
You may not have been paying too much attention to your online presence up until now. If you haven’t already, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and includes a professional looking headshot. This is the kind of thing your career services team at school should be able to help with, but if not, there are tons of great resources for how to do create a killer profile from LinkedIn and other career influencers on social media.
But what about your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok content? These days employers are checking you out wherever they can in order to get a complete picture of you. Go through your posts and profiles and make sure they all follow the 3M rule, which means you should make sure you’d be comfortable having anything you’ve posted read by your Mother, your Manager, or the Media.
Even if you’re applying to a company that has the same political views as you do, no one wants to hire a troll. It’s fine to express your political views online, but make sure you’re presenting your arguments respectfully and maybe not writing in all caps all the time? I’ve definitely had conversations with recruiters where they’ve said they really liked a candidate, and actually agreed with the things they were posting, but just weren’t comfortable with the extreme tone and aggression they saw. Don’t be that guy.
I’ve written and presented extensively about networking (some examples are here, here, and here) so I won’t go into much detail in this article, but the fact of the matter is, you need to network. It’s the only way you’ll be able to connect with real people who can share real world examples with you and help you figure out if that dream job is a realistic fit.
A great place to start if you’re new to networking is to join your school’s undergraduate chapter of Net Impact. Get as involved as you can and be sure to attend their annual conference as well as any local events. You might even keep an eye on your area graduate or professional chapters to see if they have any events undergraduates could participate in.
Networking is also an essential skill for anyone in sustainability as it’s both a big part of how we get work done, and how many of us found our jobs, so get started!
Regardless of what career you’re targeting, you’ve got to get started building some work experience. So, how do you decide what entry level jobs to pursue?
Want to work in impact investing? Look for entry level finance jobs that build general investment analysis or advisory skills. Want to do sustainability consulting? Look for entry level analyst roles. Want to work in sustainable fashion? Look for an entry level job in the corporate office of a retailer to start learning the industry. You get the idea, just find something and take that first step!
Still not sure? Then look for a job that will help you build any of the skills in the core sustainability skillset:
Once you start building skills on the job, you can look for ways to bring the sustainability lens to your role by reaching out to (or starting!) the green team or corporate sustainability group; or you can develop real world sustainability experience through volunteering, advocacy, or even your own side hustle after work.
If it makes sense for your goals you can also consider getting a professional certification or two, but be sure you need that certification BEFORE signing up and paying for it (this is a great question to ask during all those informational interviews you’ll be doing!)
All that said, when there ARE entry level career-starting sustainability related positions, fellowships, or internships, where are they? (Editor's Note: Apart from here on Reconsidered Jobs, of course!)
But what about corporate sustainability? That’s a bit trickier. Large traditional corporations are more likely to have internships in sustainability than entry level positions although you do see the occasional entry level analyst position. Sometimes corporate internships can turn into full time positions though, so don’t ignore internships even if you’ve already graduated.
If you know what industry you want to work in, you might try to find an entry level position in whatever function your degree qualifies you for at a corporate office in the industry and just start building that industry expertise. Almost every industry has a trade association with a working group focused on sustainability or a nonprofit dedicated to sustainability in the industry. See if you can start joining those meetings or listening to those webinars and get started learning about sustainability in your industry and bring what you learn to your team.
And if you’ve got some time on your hands over winter break, take a look at my previous article on sustainability training you can do from home, and keep an eye out for the 2020 training update article coming in December.
I hope I’ve given you a few new resources and some good ideas on what direction to take your job search. Feel free to sign up for our newsletter or connect with me on LinkedIn for more tips! As always, whenever you want to connect to someone on LinkedIn, remember to include a personalized note; even something as simple as “I read your undergraduate article and would love to connect!” significantly increases your chances of your request being accepted. Good luck with your search!
Sustainable Career Pathways is an invaluable resource for professionals and students interested in starting or advancing their careers in sustainability. The site features inspiring, engaging interviews with sustainability practitioners who share their stories of what they really do on the job and how they got there. There's also an incredible collection of curated resources to keep you up-to-date with podcasts you’ll love, networks you’ll be excited to join, dozens of targeted job boards, and conferences you won’t want to miss.
You can view this article on the SCP site here.