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8th November 2012

5 Tips to Break into a Sustainability Job with Minimal Experience

by Shannon Houde

Do you want to transition out of your old job and into the ‘Impact Sector’?

Translating skills and accomplishments for sustainability career-switchers takes up a big chunk of my day, and if you’re a sustainability or CSR jobseeker, it’s likely to be taking up a big chunk of yours too!

At the recent Net Impact Conference in Maryland, USA, I was discussing the best ways to strategise that switch with Ashley Jablow from Open IDEO, Allison Jones from Idealist.org and Jeanne Simon from Accenture Development Partnerships.

‘Breaking into the Impact Sector: Solving the Experience Catch-22’ was the theme of our hour-long panel which attracted a full room of attendees. The panelists’ gave some very candid advice – mostly based on their own experience as jobseekers – and you can either listen to the full panel as a podcast below or read on for a five pont run down of the key practical and creative job-seeking solutions raised.

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 1. Get online!

All of the panelists agreed that social media is an essential way to start a conversation with potential employers – particularly Twitter. Blogging can be great too, they said, but only if you’re consistent (in terms of time, tone and topic), and reaching out to other bloggers can help you build a readership. The other thing they agreed on, though, was that social media will only take you so far. It’s a great way to open the door, but once that’s done, get busy developing genuine personal relationships with prospective employers.

 

2. Start it up!

If you’re a student, start an external-facing project on campus to show how you can use your skills to engage with the community, manage projects, etc. If you want to get into consulting, consider using your existing skills to consult for non-profits or small businesses in your local community. If you’re interested in working internationally, get some short-term development experience. It’s all relevant.

 

3. Look to professionals as future peers

Identify some leaders who you’d like to work with and as them if they need any help. Identify your skills, your ambitions and your enthusiasm, figure out what they need, and see if you can match it up.

 

4. Network!

If you’re a jobseeker, the number one thing is to have confidence that you will get a job – this will help you approach your professional relationships like a professional, even though you’re not one yet. Once you’re in that headspace, you will be able to look at networking as a chance to nurture a new relationship and maybe even a friendship. But remember – networking doesn’t stop once you get the job. If you’re in a large firm, make sure to network with people in the teams you want to get onto: groups will talk internally and the people excited about these ideas will talk too. Get to know them! Finally, keep your network vibrant by celebrating other people’s successes. Be helpful and be useful.

 

5. Be patient

Don’t expect perfection on day one! Some people do luck out and land their perfect job immediately, but it doesn’t always happen. Instead, take control by keeping your eyes and ears open and exposing yourself to as many career paths as possible. Prioritise what’s important to you, define success for yourself, create your own career path, and whatever job you get, make sure that you can tell the story about how it has given you valuable skills that will bring you to the job you want next. But remember – this is just one stage in your career process! Once you’re in your first or second job, you’ll start asking yourself again, ‘What do I want to do?’ There is no right answer: one thing will lead you to the next and hopefully 30 years from now you’ll look back on your story and it’ll make sense.

 

Over the next month or so, I’ll be blogging more practical tips from the conference, so stay tuned! And if you can’t wait for that, then check out the keynote speakers and have a listen to the full audio podcast of this panel event below.

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8th November 2012

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