3 secrets for scoring an entry-level sustainability job
Adding value, being strategic and starting early can put you ahead of the pack.
Over the past few years, I have traveled the United States speaking to and coaching thousands of college students about sustainable business and the role the next generation has in creating the future we all desire. Aiming to educate, inspire and empower, I provide budding agents of change with insights that help them marry their strengths and passion to embark on fulfilling purpose-driven careers.
Across my engagements, I am constantly brought back to a challenge that exists for today’s environmental studies student who wants to break into the corporate sustainability space. At various universities I have visited, I have heard a resounding concern from students that the sustainable business field is oversaturated, presenting a unique predicament for these young jobseekers. There also exists a widening knowledge gap between campus-based sustainability experiences and entry-level positions caused by the growing demands and expectations for companies to address the more technical, highly specialized facets of sustainable business.
Several students have expressed frustration as they so deeply desire to bring their creativity to this space and help lead the charge but quickly find that the pathways are slim and undefined.
1. Add value
This may seem obvious, right? Once I send the recruiter my resume, she or he immediately understands the value I can add. Well, not exactly. Over several years of reviewing resumes, cover letters and preparing students for interviews, I have heard students begin their personal pitch by explaining how passionate they are about sustainability or how much getting the job will help them advance their young career.
Yes, both of these are good things to share at some point, but not quite the first thing the employer wants to hear. Yes, a good company should care about your growth and development. But companies do not hire students just to provide them with stellar work experiences. It’s a two-way street. Companies hire to meet needs and ultimately advance the bottom line. Therefore, be sure to parse out clear, relevant examples from your college experience of teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, creativity, etc. Then, demonstrate that these abilities are transferrable and leverageable to plug into meeting the company’s specific need. It’s all about what you can do for them.
2. Be strategic
As GreenBiz’s State of the Sustainability Profession reports, the era of the siloed sustainability team is passing, giving rise to the embedded sustainability task force. What does this mean? Companies are looking for professionals who understand, embrace and are adept in sustainable business, but also capable of contributing to a core business function (marketing, communications, finance, supply chain, sales, etc.). Deploying sustainability champions into diverse business functions streamlines the achievement of real, transformational impact. Instead of one small team constantly fighting to convince the rest of the business of the value of sustainability, it exists as a priority across all functions.
In order to differentiate yourself in this new age, consider internships, externships, special projects and volunteer opportunities that provide valuable experience outside of the sustainability space. If you are enrolled in a degree plan that offers free electives, use this to quickly test-drive other interests and identify where a natural fit exists. Finally, you can get ahead of the curve by using summer and holiday breaks to study for industry certifications and gain credentials that may grab the attention of recruiters.
3. Build early
What did it take for you to get accepted into the college or university of your dreams? For most of us, it began the first day of high school. From that point on, every grade, standardized test, volunteer opportunity, extracurricular activity, etc. mattered. All of these things amounted to the final product that you presented to your list of prospective schools during your senior year. The same applies to landing a good job in general, but especially your first job after college. There’s work to be done from the moment you step onto campus that will reward you when you are looking to close the deal before graduation.
Throughout your collegiate career, build relationships with professors and advisers who can provide you with advice, industry connections and a listening ear as you process your interests. Attend career fairs and company mixers to network and engage with professionals. Make sure not to show up empty-handed. It’s never too early to order a pack of business cards or print off a few resumes, distinguishing you from your peers. Also, leverage your campus career center, which can help with drafting a strong resume and cover letter and providing interview practice. Investing time into your professional development from your first to last year of college can set you up for senior year success.
I am encouraged by the growing number of brilliant, energized students who desire to positively impact the world by pursuing a career in sustainable business. Despite the challenges that exist for student jobseekers, they remain determined and driven. By incorporating the guidance shared in this article, I believe that students will understand how to present stronger value propositions to recruiters, present themselves as multidimensional applicants and leverage their entire collegiate experience to grow professionally.
If you are a professional or student, I would love to discuss this topic further. I am passionate about helping people unlock their strengths and passion to creatively address the world’s biggest challenges.