Environmental careers have made a substantial shift in the last decade; moving from the fringe and into the mainstream.
The days of stereo-typing environmentalists as dread-wearing, patchouli oil dipped tree-huggers are over. These days, your career environmentalist is just as likely to be wearing a suit in a board room.
This is an important shift, because we need to have people who are concerned and dedicated to our environment in all streams of life, and perhaps in particular, the corporate board room.
For me, I think this shift has coincided with a fundamental shift in the understanding of what our environment means. The environment, at one time, was more synonymous with wild places or natural spaces.
However, I think we’ve clued in now that our environment is everywhere, including where we live, even if where we live is in the middle of a concrete jungle. Global warming, in particular, has brought home how our actions in these places affect our environment.
This new view on the environment means that all business, even ones that aren’t trying to save rain forests or our global oceans, need to be concerned about the environment, and therefore employ people in this sector within their own businesses.
This is good news if you’re interested in an environmental career as it means that there is a great deal of diversity out there within the sector. So, if you know you want to be working toward a better environment, here are 5 tips to help you along your way:
1 – Know where you want to be…or at least where you don’t. Having a goal is essential, even if the goal posts move or even change fields on you! As we progress through our careers, we generally gain a better understanding of where we want our career to go, largely because, through experience, we know more about where we don’t want it to go. However, even if you’re fresh out of school, with very little experience, you can start to visualize what your ideal career would look like. Be specific about it and be realistic about it; saying you want to earn six figures while you have mornings off to surf is great, but perhaps a little unrealistic. Besides, Yvon Chouinard already has that job!
When I started out, I knew I wanted a job that was helping the planet, but I also knew that I wanted my job to have a component of outdoor/field work and I didn’t want to have to wear a skirt suit every day. I knew money wasn’t as important to me as job satisfaction. So far, so good; I’ve slogged up thousands of remote streams doing research to protect salmon on the west coast of Canada, today I wore flannel pajamas to work (in my home office), I’m neither rich nor poor and I’ve always had deeply satisfying work. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea…but, I guess the important thing is to have a good understanding of what you do and do not want to do.
Another example of this is getting to grips with whether you would compromise the job to work for the right company or compromise the company to get the right job. Which is more important to you – heading up the environment division for a huge mining company (trying to make change from the inside) or doing mind numbing data entry for an amazing company that you believe in? It’s not that one is right and the other is wrong, it’s just something to think about as you start your job search.
2 – Get as much work experience as you can. If you’re headed to school, look for education programs that include work experience – many do these days. If you can afford the time, look for volunteer and internship opportunities as these sorts of experiences can either lead to employment opportunities or at least set you apart from other applicants.
If you’re already working and are looking to do a bit of a career shift, consider greening up your current position. Depending on your place of work, you could coordinate some projects that improve the environment of your work place, or improve sustainability of the business. A good employer might also be willing to work with you to help alter your job description to include green responsibilities.
3 – Make your education count. If you’re concerned that it is the education section of your resume that’s holding you back from getting that environmental career you’ve always wanted, start looking into some of the courses offered by universities and colleges. Many offer online courses, or continuing education programs that are meant for working people. There are countless certificate, diploma and degree programs in environment and sustainability themes offered by academic institutions around the country. Make sure it’s a reputable course, however, as you don’t want to be paying for some online course that’s rubbish. Also, consider tip#2 as some of these courses include a work experience component!
When you’re including your education on your resume (particularly if your work experience is a bit sparse), then be sure to point to relevant course modules and skills that are useful in the job you’re applying for. Skills like fieldwork, research, data analysis, and GIS experience are often very useful for environmental careers.
4 – Be sure to talk up those non-environmental skills. There’s no doubt that it’s a tough market out there and there are lots of very qualified people looking for jobs. So you need to be the one that has what they want and many employers these days are looking for well-rounded people who have some communications skills and business savvy. So, when you are discussing your relevant experience, draw upon real examples to illustrate your ability to communicate effectively, work as a team player or be self-motivated, or your ability to project manage or handle budgets and fundraise.
5 – Look in the right places. Here are five fantastic websites that post environmental jobs from all around the US and the world. These are a good place to start when searching out your environmental career:
- Conservation Job Board
- Care2 Job Center
- Environmental Career Center
- Sustainable Business.com
Here’s a little video from US News and World Report, providing some highlights from an environmental careers conference. It’s encouraging as it does show that there are lots of great opportunities out there to work and help the environment. Good luck!