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What it takes to pop the ESG job bubble

Headlines abound around the growth of ESG jobs. Why does it seem so hard to get one?

Bubble floating

Image via Shutterstock/Paul Rushton

Dave Stangis, chief sustainability officer at private equity giant Apollo, a year ago told me he was asked by job seekers daily: "How can I break into ESG?"

It’s a question I’ve been getting a lot this past month. If you’re early in your career, it may be a question you’re asking too. 

While "ESG jobs" exist within many sectors and industries, finance-sector ESG employees have seen their base salaries grow by roughly 38 percent more than their non-ESG role counterparts, despite a chapter of intense political pushback. 

The initial battles of the ESG talent war have mostly settled. So in this "near-perfect" job market, what should you think about as an ESG job seeker in the finance sector?

Forget the golden ticket

The upshot from my conversation last year with Apollo’s Stangis was that there was, unfortunately, no golden ticket for entry. A year on, that ticket is yet to be printed. 

Diana Retana, a recruiter who works with clients across the investment space to identify ESG talent, told me companies looking to fill ESG roles are still very often "describing either the person who just left the role or a unicorn." Unfortunately, no ESG credential, coursework or certification can infuse a job seeker with institutional knowledge or metamorphose them into a unicorn.

Paradoxically, an ESG job might not be the right role to seek if you’re looking for an ESG job.

I asked Shrinal Sheth, one of this year’s GreenBiz 30 Under 30 honorees who works in ESG advisory at Deutsche Bank, about the path she took to her current role and advice she’d give others hoping to follow it. 

"I personally recommend that people at least do a year or two in a ‘non-green job,’ so to speak," Sheth said. "I think [ESG] jobs will become more and more specialized — or become echo chambers, we’ll see — but I recommend people have at least one additional skill set built on operational experience." 

It’s about operational expertise and connections

Daniel Hill, founder of #OpenDoorClimate, a community of climate professionals making themselves available for chats with career seekers, told me the most sought-after hard skills for ESG roles in finance and investment firms are a firm knowledge of ESG reporting and disclosure frameworks and the ability to interpret and use the data the frameworks garner. 

That observation speaks again to the value of prior operational experience. The ability to gather, track, make sense of and communicate the results of data is a skill the ESG job seeker needs to bring with them from "non-green job" experience.

If you’ve got operational experience under your belt but are finding the professional sustainability job bubble hard to pop, what to do? 

As Hill told me, "Community is the best resource to have when you’re trying to navigate a new space but lack a network." And there are growing networks of support via communities, such as Work on Climate and Terra.do, that offer instant sustainability-focused networks for job seekers through events, job boards and more.

A quick conversation over coffee — even a virtual one — can go a longer way than you might think. Where to start? Dig in to the directory of climate professionals #OpenDoorClimate curates who are willing and ready to chat.  

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