The 7 don'ts of getting your next sustainability job

The 7 don'ts of getting your next sustainability job

Not a week goes by without my getting asked, “How do I get a job in sustainability?” Much of that interest comes from my role at GreenBiz. But it also comes from my presentations to networking groups made up of people in transition (the executive euphemism for being unemployed). As with many sustainability questions, the answer to the job seeker is: “It depends.”

The current state of the economy certainly doesn’t make finding any next job easier, much less a green job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate is 8.3 percent, down from a high of 10 percent in October 2009. Those in transition don’t worry as much about the national numbers, though, when their personal unemployment rate is 100 percent.

A Few Things to Do

So what’s a job seeker to do? First, go to sites like the GreenBiz Job Board to see what’s being listed. As you’ll see, not all the jobs are necessarily green jobs. But they are jobs at companies where green is deemed important. That’s one of the first pieces of advice I give job seekers. If you don’t have the right background, getting a job in the sustainability department at a company may be a challenge. But getting a job based on your expertise and experience at a green company may be a much easier path to your goal. Once you’re there, you can figure out how to get more involved in their green efforts.

Sending your resume in response to a job board listing shouldn’t be the end of pursuing that dream job. Several years ago I wrote a book about how to find a job through networking (still available on the Kindle). It’s important to provide the proper care and feeding to your extended network so that you can call on them when you need to.

A friend of mine recently told me about having applied for a job at a company where I know the CSO. I was scheduled to talk with this sustainability leader a few days later and when I did, I asked about whether my friend had made the cut. She replied that if I had only sent an email when my friend applied, she would have tried to help him past the first cut. But with more than 500 resumes to sort through, she confessed that the only ones that made the cut were based on recommendations. Had my friend called on me earlier, I might have been able to help out.

7 Things to NOT Do During an Interview

 As I was preparing to write this article, I asked members of our GreenBiz Executive Network to share their experiences in hiring for their teams. All of these examples are based on actual experiences, and our Network members wanted to stress that all the interviewees were very good people and great candidates. That said, these are instructive in terms of how things can go astray. We’ve tried to keep them in the voices of the interviewers who told us these stories.

1. Be mindful of what you bring. Don’t walk into the lobby of the corporate office with a competitor’s product in your hand. When I asked the interviewee why he did this, he was baffled.  He had not thought of how this would be perceived. Can you imagine interviewing for a Microsoft job and pulling out an Apple laptop in their lobby?

2. Be knowledgeable about the company’s products. Another consumer products executive asked an interviewee what her favorite product was. The candidate said she loved a product made by one of our competitors. 

3. Be bold and ambitious -- but don’t say you are just here for a year. Hiring executives know people move from company to company more often, but when one candidate was asked what she envisioned at the company five years down the road, she said she had no intention of staying beyond one year. 

4. Be ready. This sounds obvious, but one hiring executive was interviewing a candidate who was on time and so, while waiting in a conference room, made a call on her cell phone. When the interviewer entered at the assigned time, the interviewee asked her to come back in 5-10 minutes as she was finishing a phone call (and it wasn’t a life or death situation).

5. Be straightforward. One interviewer asked a candidate who had written a book, studied writing, and was an avid reader, who his favorite writer was today. He mentioned a New York Times columnist who no longer was writing that column as of six months earlier.

6. Be consumed by your passion. Hiring managers love to see the passion. Most interested in this field are very passionate. But what if you have conflicting passions? One company was highly interested in a candidate. She was asked if she would like to join the hiring executive for lunch, and she said she was a vegetarian. The job entailed a lot of supply chain work, with meat suppliers, working on such issues as animal welfare. She was asked if she had thought much about this. She called back the next day to withdraw from consideration.

7. Be black-and-white honest on your resume. One person’s resume mentioned writing a certain company’s CSR report -- all of it -- when in fact she contributed to bits of the report. She was forthright in the interview about this, but the fact that it was misrepresented/exaggerated on the resume was a signal the company could not ignore.

The Jobs Are Out There

Every year around this time, we survey the GreenBiz Intelligence Panel to benchmark the state of the profession (if you’re not a member, you can sign up here). While many of the questions deal with compensation, we also like to ask broader questions to understand how the profession is evolving.

One of the new questions we asked this year is whether those with full-time sustainability jobs were hired from the outside or promoted from within. While 45 percent were either promoted or moved laterally from within the company, 46 percent were hired from the outside.

That means that if you’re looking to get into the profession, there’s always opportunity. You may have to make your luck by expanding your network and targeting companies where you want to work even if there are no sustainability jobs currently open. But once you get your foot in the door, be mindful of what you’re doing there.

Photo of job interview courtesy of Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock.