Tricks of the Trade for Landing Green Jobs

Tricks of the Trade for Landing Green Jobs

Green Jobs are the hot topic these days -- with the economy in full meltdown and the environment looking much the same way, more and more people are looking for new jobs that benefit the planet.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of resources for job-seekers. Some, like GreenBiz.com's own job board, are relatively new, but others have been around before green jobs took hold in the public imagination.

Peter Beadle

Peter Beadle

Sarah Fister Gale spoke with Peter Beadle, the founder of GreenJobs.com -- one of the oldest sites dedicated to jobs in green companies -- about tips and tricks for people on the green job hunt.

Sarah Fister Gale: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. I thought maybe we could start by having you introduce yourself and then I want to talk to you both about what Green Jobs is and then about the kind of professional jobs that you are seeing on the market right now and how our readers can position themselves for those jobs. So if you wouldn’t mind, let’s just start by introducing yourself.

Peter Beadle: Okay. Well, my name is Peter Beadle. I’ve been in the energy business for over 35 years. Twelve of those have been in solar and renewable, the last 12, of course.

I started Green Jobs about five years ago because I saw a growing need to pull people into the renewable energy industries. The industries were growing, especially wind and solar were growing at such a rate that they couldn’t possibly fuel their growth from inside.

SFG: We obviously see a lot of talk and media about green collar and opportunities for people to become installers of solar panels and some more of the construction side, but what about the professional jobs? Are you seeing growth in the area of vice-president roles or management positions that have green titles?

PB: Well, I’d start "professional" a lot lower than that because most renewable energy companies are pretty high tech. That’s not true of all of them, of course, but because some of them are simply sales activities.

Sales and installation and you can’t call those high tech, but the technology -- the ones that actually provide technology are certainly high tech, they require R&D as well as engineering.

And so, you know, that’s the first entry point for technology graduates, whether that is scientists or engineers is into R&D or manufacturing.

SFG: That’s a good point. So if I’m in college and if you’ve got people starting out or for students pursuing a degree, how do they position themselves to be attractive to this community so that they can get these jobs?

PB: Well, if you’re starting out nowadays you’ve got it easy because almost every college that you look at, and you just gotta look at the websites, has some form of renewable energy coursework.

And, you know, and you can take your pick. And so you can come out of college now with a degree that equips you for solar photovoltaics and nothing else if you want.

Or a general renewable energy degree. I mean the Europeans do what they call renewable energy masters. It’s run by the European Union, that consortium of something like eight universities contribute to it, take part in it.

And there are a variety of courses in the U.S. as well that the big universities right down to the local community colleges.

SFG: So what are the -- what kinds of courses are parts of these that you can actually specialize in renewable energy?

PB: I’ve said about the masters in renewable energy in Europe which is a European -- called the European Masters. Some several of the individual universities that don’t participate in that program also offer bachelors course degrees in renewable energy. There’s some in engineering, some in just the science background, and the same is true in the U.S. Stanford has a big program. I think they give bachelor’s degrees, and masters, similarly for California, University of California.

So you can pick an engineering degree now specializing in energy production through renewables.

SFG: Okay. What if you haven’t had that forethought? What if you ...

PB: Okay. Well, if you haven’t had that forethought, it’s actually harder I think for technical people to make it into the industry than it is for say salespeople.

Because once they started working really their credibility is based on 1) their degree and 2) their experience.

And if that doesn’t relate to renewable energy or the industry that they’re actually looking at within the renewable energy spectrum, then they’re at a disadvantage. They have to demonstrate that they can try and sell that expertise somehow. And if they are in something that’s related like Silicon Valley, a lot of people in Silicon Valley are into thin films and semiconductors. Well, PV is just a big semiconductor. And so a lot of those people can successful transfer their knowledge base if you like into renewable, especially into solar.

SFG: Let’s say you have a degree and some job experience outside of the green energy field, but you want to get into that. Maybe you have worked in a related technology or maybe you’re more in a management position. Are there things that you can do to make yourself more attractive to hiring these positions?

PB: Okay. I think -- well, my observation is and it’s based on kind of, you know, one company named the Green Jobs looking outwards at what’s happening. So it’s bound to be spotty and it can’t be comprehensive. But what I seem to see is it’s easier at the beginning, as I said. The problem at the beginning is actually finding out about the opportunities.

Because with entry-level positions, very often the company is not willing to pay relocation expenses. So they don’t advertise widely because they don’t want people applying from the east coast when they’re based on the west coast, if you understand what I’m saying.

And so I continually get questions from people in that position trying to -- you know, graduating or about to graduate and wanting to get into renewables, but frustrated because they don’t see the jobs advertised. And all I can say is look locally, and look on Craigslist because my guess is that’s where the ads are, or the local newspaper. They certainly need those people and they are hiring those people. They’re just not using Green Jobs, which is global vehicles to do it.

You know, why would you want to get 100 engineers from an Indian university applying to you in the midwest? And that’s what would happen, you know, if you put them –

SFG: That would be a good point.

PB: On something like Green Jobs. You can’t control who reads the web.

SFG: Right. So you think that those companies are advertising more locally?

PB: I think they are. I mean and, you know, without doing a poll of the companies, I can’t prove that, and I haven’t done that poll, but that’s what I believe.

You know, and you really start from the premise that renewable energy companies just like any other companies. You know, it has all the same kinds of people, same kind of posts, from CEO down to janitor, and it has to fill those posts the best way he can. You know, so the low level and the entry level, they’ll do that as locally as possible. If they see your level and the vice-president level, it’s just probably the next easiest way to break in because those guys are all highly experienced. Normally their expertise is directly applicable to the industry they’re looking at or directly tranferrable. In other words, it’s related.

And the higher you go, the less important it seems to be. You know, so if you’re a CEO, a record of -- a successful record of high tech stock ops may be more important than exactly what the stock ops were as long as they’re technology based.

You know, similarly, for CFO, experience of startups, of rasing capable venture capital and that kind of stuff, it’s putting more of the stuff than the actual kind of company that you were involved with.

So the top and the bottom have it easier than the guys in the middle, if you like.

SFG: Okay, okay. Well, what if you are someone in the middle, right? Do you -- if you’re 40 years old and you’ve been in middle management your whole life, do you just make that –

PB: Okay. Well, you look to -- first of all, my advice to people when they call and they’re calling in increasing numbers. It kind of gets to the point where we can’t even answer them, but fortunately with an email at least you can put them on a wait list.

One, decide where you want to go, because solar is not like wind and it’s not like -- that’s not like biofuels or biomass, etcetera. They’re different industries.

You know, they may be able to call themselves renewable, but they’re still very different industries. So make up your mind. You have to focus because developing a campaign for one industry won’t necessarily help you in the next other industry.

So if you’re going for solar, say, then find out about the industry. The more you can talk the language, know what all the acronyms stand for, and how it is produced and how its cost is justified in what the payback is, the more you can talk the language of the company. And even if you haven’t got the experience, they recognize your knowledge base and you stand more chance of getting an entry. The higher up the tree you go from the bottom all the way through, not just at the top end, the more important networking is.

The best example I can give is say an executive from an existing solar company, he leaves it. But the solar company is not that big, so most solar companies know about the executives in other companies.

And if one becomes available or even a sales manager or salesman, one becomes available, they know. They have an opinion of him because they’ve seen him in shows and they’ve seen his work and they just either want him or they don’t. If he’s any good, he’s marketable.

He’ll be snapped up quickly. And it’s the same for people who are trying to get a promotion in this industry. If they know your face and know your name and recognize you from the past, you’ve got a lot more chance than somebody who they've never heard of.

SFG: How do you –

PB: You may have exactly the same credentials. How do you do that?

SFG: Yeah, if you’re not going –

PB: It depends where you are. If you say you’re up where we are in the Bay Area, Northern California. My advice is join the Northern California Solar Energy Association, so that’s a chapter of the American Solar Energy Association. But it’s much lower key. It’s much cheaper to join.

SFG: Than the national?

PB: Than the national one. It meets more regularly and it’s much more informal. When I say low key, I mean informal. And so, you know, it don’t cost you that much. It’ll cost you time, but you get to meet people who actually are in the industry, you know, the members that most of them at least are already in the industry.

They’re working in it at all levels. And you’ve got a chance to volunteer there. You’ve got chances to find out what’s going on and who’s important and who’s not important, what opportunities are for training, you know, and lots of different things. There are some guys here who run training on how to run a solar sales operation, how to justify the cost of solar, all that kind of stuff.

And so that’s not degree courses. That’s on the job training, vocational training.

SFG: Right, right, and good -- again, good networking. Should you go looking for a job when you’re at these events or should you –

PB: It doesn’t hurt, but I think -- and, you know, you could be lucky that occasionally have job fairs and jobs advertised at them and if you attend even -- like there’s a solar power conference every year, which is the biggest in the U.S. It varies from -- it’s been in the west coast most recently, but it has been on the east coast as well. I think last one was at San Diego last year, last fall.

But they often have jobs advertised as well and so you know when they get a chance to go around and visit all the booths and talk to all the companies and the people running those companies, but yet just to see what jobs they’ve got advertised.

You know, so and the more they see you, the more you give them your card and shake their hand, and the nice thing about -- I mean the solar power conference is kind of not the best forum -- at least I don’t think it is because there are just so many people there.

And the sales guys are focused on selling their wares, not listening to what you’re trying to sell yourself. But they -- the local association has all kinds of things, you know, from -- and it’s much less formal, much less traded, so less opportunity to network, but much better opportunity for good networking. So a mix of the two I think is what you want to do.

The people that you meet at the local association, you may meet at solar power and reinforce it. They see your interest and your determination at all levels. And so the same goes for any other industry. You find out how you can build that network without being in it because we all have these kind of associations one way or another. Some have them locally like we do in California and some of them you may have to travel a little bit, but it makes it more difficult, but it’s not impossible. And that’s certainly how I would start if I were trying to do it.

SFG: What about the companies that are not directly a part of the solar energy industry, but maybe have someone inhouse who’s responsible for bringing solar to their facilities? Say it’s a manufacturing company that wants to increase its green status?

PB: Well, they have two ways of doing it and I tend to only see the ones who do it the second way. One is they can promote from within. So they’ll find somebody within with the right kind of skill set and they can appoint him to do that kind of job or they recruit from outside. If they recruit from outside, then they tend to go, I believe, for people who are already experts.

Because that’s what they want. They've probably got a generalist inside. They want an expert for the particular application and so that doesn’t really help people trying to break into the industry, I don’t think.

SFG: Okay, okay. So any last advice to our readers who maybe want to move themselves into a greener position, a greener company, but perhaps don’t have quite the criteria or the credentials that a graduate from a solar energy degree might have?

PB: Well, it’s kind of -- that’s a catch all. I go back to say focus on something specific, on a specific industry. Find out as much about it as you can and you can do that without going back to college. Find out what the opportunities are for training. Identify where you best fit because a solar company, as I said, employs the same kind of people that you get in any other company.

So accountants are employed there and you don’t need specific skills to be an accountant, but what you probably want to do is identify the companies in your area, so just do your research, you know, Google.

SFG: That’s a good point. You don’t have to be a scientist to work at one of these companies.

PB: Absolutely not. I mean one of the jobs that we've got advertised is clerical, an administrative assistant. They need all of the same people. They just won’t relocate all of them and so you’ve gotta find the ones that are local.

SFG: All right. Well, this has been very helpful, Peter, and I appreciate your time today.

PB: Thanks.