Greater awareness of the climate crisis and a desire for positive societal change mean that more and more of us are becoming passionate about sustainability, but the idea of finding your first “green” job can be daunting if you lack experience or in-depth knowledge.
However, we’re seeing that the desire to work in sustainability is there. A recent poll run by Hays on LinkedIn showed that 81% of 25,825 respondents are interested in working in a role that focuses on combatting climate change. This follows another poll we ran in 2021, where 85% of over 18,000 people replied similarly.
Here’s the good news. For those interested, organisations are looking for recruits to focus on sustainability and create positive change, but there aren’t enough candidates to currently fill those roles. As a result, there are opportunities for people to enter the sector.
So how do you go about finding your first “green” job? Here are some tips.
Tips for finding your first green job
1) Choose your pathway
Sustainability isn’t just about recycling and planting trees. At a business level in particular, the positive impact is achieved through various means. You can contribute to sustainable development without being a specialist. Nowadays these individuals are a relatively small part of a much bigger universe.
Think about your passions and the topics that motivate you most (Energy efficiency? Carbon reduction? Sustainable procurement? Biodiversity management? Labor relations and human rights?) Consider the types of roles are you interested in (for example data analytics, strategy design, innovation or active implementation) by combining your strengths and interests.
2) Broaden your idea of what a green job entails
In my interview on the Hays Careers Advice Podcast, I explained that it’s possible to contribute to sustainable development without being a sustainability specialist. Most of sustainability work is in the wider green economy and wouldn’t necessarily be labelled as a “green” job. Find companies you are interested in and look at the roles available. For example, design teams looking at circularity of a product, builders retrofitting existing buildings, or procurement specialists developing responsible sourcing progammes.
3) Follow organisations that are working on sustainability
Research organisations to identify those that match your ambitions. Check their websites and searching for sustainability reports they’ve published. Compare them to their peers and, if you’re happy that they meet your requirements, follow the company’s social media channels for any job openings. I also suggest trying to identify their employees working on sustainability and following them on LinkedIn.
4) … but look out for greenwashing
While it’s great that more companies are taking sustainability and climate change seriously, there are also those willing to take shortcuts or exaggerate their efforts. Greenwashing is a practice that organisations use to make themselves seem more environmentally conscious than they actually are.
From an employee perspective, any organisation that is misleading the public is unlikely to match your ambitions or invest in supporting you. When browsing their websites, look for any vague language and buzzwords that don’t actually explain the actions being taken. Review industry benchmarks to understand their actual performance, such as the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark by the World Benchmarking Alliance.
5) Look for opportunities within your current organisation
Maybe you don’t need to look far for your first “green” job. Enquire about opportunities within your organisation. If Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) is already on the agenda, ask people in the team about any openings. Even if they aren’t hiring now, it’s worth making sure you’re made aware when the time comes. In the meantime, take any opportunities to get involved as part of your current role, and try to learn as much as possible.
6) Think about what skills you wish to develop
Don’t let a lack of relevant experience stop you from applying. When looking for a role in a new field, transferable skills are vital and it’s no different when searching for your first “green” job. Here are my tips for soft skills to work on – make sure you give evidence of these on your CV and in any interviews:
- Creative and/or analytical thinking
- Building relationships
- Curiosity / Problem-solving
- Risk management
As I discussed on the Hays Careers Advice Podcast, networking is possibly the number one tip for finding your first job in sustainability.
There are a number of ways you can do this, and a combination is best. Make enquiries with existing contacts (or at least get a referral to somebody else), attend events and look out for specialist courses. Alternatively find a person you admire in the sector and reach out to see if they’re open to having a call. LinkedIn is a good tool.
8) Regularly refresh your knowledge
Do your research. Sustainability is a fast-evolving area. Keep reading around the subject so that you’re able to discuss ideas with your contacts, as well as give yourself the best chance of success in a potential interview. Useful resources include the World Economic Forum Global Risks Report, as well as publications from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and Capitals Coalition. I’d also sign up to any newsletters from consultancies such as Deloitte, PWC and McKinsey.
Can’t find all the answers in these resources? Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network and ask questions.
9) Gain field experience
If it’s an option for you, find volunteering opportunities. Not only is it a chance to learn new skills and give you useful experience for future roles, but it’ll stand out on your CV in place of career experience and is another chance to grow your network. It will also help you to understand the context and what kind of change can happen.
10) Be patient
As with all searches, finding your first “green” job will take time. It’s easy to get disheartened. “No” doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to secure your green job. As more organisations wake up to the benefits of sustainability, opportunities will appear. Read as much as you can and ask questions. Don’t expect your first “green” job to be the perfect fit, but give it a go – you’ll gain invaluable experience, learn new skills and make more connections.
Fiona Place, Group Head of Sustainability, Hays
Fiona has over 14 years experience advising listed companies and private equity on ESG and sustainability. Topics of interest span net zero, responsible sourcing and human rights. Prior to joining Hays, Fiona worked at Elevate Global and before that Anthesis where she was responsible for growing a suite of sustainability due diligence services and working with companies across the goods and service sectors to deliver on their sustainability ambitions. She also has experience of working on behalf of NGOs on corporate social responsibility programs in Africa and Asia.