I was recently asked by a student what she needed to do to get a job in the environmental sector. This is a big question and largely depends on where you want to end up.
The traditional options
- Academia – gain higher qualifications and become a lecturer and/ or researcher.
- Civil service – roles are available within local authorities and government departments for practical hands on work, researchers and policy experts.
- Environmental charities/ social enterprises – there are multiple organisations working to protect, preserve and restore our natural environment who are looking for people for practical work, research, policy and campaigning.
- Ecological / Environmental Consultant – work with the corporate sector. Consultancies range from one person operations to massive global organisations.
Getting into any of these jobs is extremely competitive. In academia you have to get the best grades and compete for a small number of doctorates and post docs. With the civil service you need to start on the bottom rung and work your way up. It’s very difficult to get into middle management in the civil service without a civil service background. There is so much competition for charity jobs that you land up volunteering/ interning for a year or more before you manage to land your first paid job. In the corporate sector competition is fierce for consultancy jobs. Your best way into a consultancy is to build up experience on seasonal jobs. There’s usually more work to be done in summer than winter and many consultancies take on a few seasonal workers each year.
Be more employable
The jobs market has also changed a great deal. Everyone knows they no longer have a job for life. I knew that twenty years ago when I first joined the labour market. But that job insecurity continues to grow with lots of short term contracts of only a year or two. So people starting work today face a double whammy. It’s difficult to get a job in the field you love, and once you do it may well be on a short contract. It is vitally important therefore that you make yourself as employable and resilient as possible. Make yourself more employable by adding skills and not just those you have learned in your degree or diploma.
Be smart about the skills you develop
There are so many ways of gaining new skills that you have no excuse for not having more on your CV. There is a lot more to most jobs than being an expert in conservation. If you broaden what you do, you increase your chance of landing a job.
But to cover conservation skills first, there are a few things you should consider adding to your CV.
- Develop a specialism. If you know more than most people about a particular bug, or are a lichen expert you have a niche you can exploit. Go out and find a niche.
- Gain field skills. Academic qualifications tend to be long on theory and short on practice. Get outside and develop your field skills be that practical conservation like hedge laying, or surveying skills. You can gain most of these skills through short course from charities, local groups and professional bodies.
- Broaden your knowledge, the wider your knowledge within conservation the greater your chance of landing a job.
Value added skills
That’s the obvious learning. Here’s a list of additional skills that will increased your employability:
- Raising money, all organisations need more cash. If you know how to get in grants, can demonstrate skill in crowd funding or business development you have an instant edge.
- Events, most organisations run events of some kind from training to conferences to fundraisers and networking. Get out there and get organising.
- Marketing, raise the profile of your organisation through traditional and social media. You are a digital native and probably know more than older people about how to use social media effectively. They will gladly hand that responsibility over to you.
- Campaigning, most useful in charities, but campaigning skills are also great for getting what you want in innumerable other situations including lobbying your local authority or within the workplace.
- Policy, being able to work your way through the byzantine labyrinth of government policy and formulate policy of your own is especially useful in the civil service but also to campaigners.
- Economics, this will impact your sector more than you realise and most conservationists don’t like doing it. If you have a head for figures and understand what I mean with the phrase Natural Capital, then you’ve got an edge.
- IT and design skills, can you design a website, banner or pamphlet? It’s relatively easy to figure out yet most people shy away from it.
How to get them
Adding these skills to your portfolio is easier than you might think. There’s reams of information on-line and books on most of the topics. You can also skill share, find somebody who will teach you to do a website in exchange for you showing them how to dig a pond. Find a group who needs something done and volunteer to do it, from fundraising to event management, there’s no better way to learn than by doing.
Change your mindset about the job search
Make it a choice, think strategically about where you want to go and target skills acquisition and job applications to the places that are most likely to get you there.
Be clear about what you want from each job you apply to, make sure you will be gaining skills and relevant experience.
Be discerning and treat employers more like a client you are considering taking on. Remember you are weighing up the organisation as much as they are testing you at a job interview.
If the place feels wrong for you seriously ask yourself whether you should even take the job. If money is tight, take the job if it is offered, see whether you were mistaken in your interview and if you still find it’s a bad fit start job hunting immediately. As long as you don’t have a long list of jobs you have only stuck with for a short while then one quick jump on your CV isn’t going to be a problem.
An alternative option
If you do all of the above and you still get rejection after rejection;
If the thought of joining the traditional working world and having to suppress all your ideas, enthusiasm and energy because you’re too junior to be taken notice of depresses you;
You just want to get going and make a difference without having to jump through other people’s hoops to get there;
You should consider setting up for yourself. It’s easier than it has ever been to go it alone. Look out for my next blog to find out how.