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Entry-level jobs in sustainability: how to get hired for a job that doesn’t exist

Manon van Paaschen

Assuming you have already overcome the biggest hurdle in your twenties – deciding what to do with your life – you are now probably struggling to find an entry-level job, together with 40% of all other graduates  that are still job hunting six months after graduation. If you have discovered your passion lies in CSR, CR, corporate sustainability, business ethics, or any other term you prefer to use, the job search can be particularly challenging.

After endlessly checking dedicated sustainability career websites such as Acre, Allen & York, Guardian sustainability jobs, or environmentjob.co.uk, you realise none of the advertised (paid) positions ask for less than five years work experience. The truth is there are just not that many entry-level positions out there in the world of corporate sustainability. Most positions remain on the “hidden job market”, meaning they are never advertised and will be filled internally or through a company’s network. So in order to secure a CSR job, you need to become part of this network. Through sharing my personal experiences with others in a similar position, I discovered there are a few things that will definitely help you start your career in sustainability.

Firstly, work on your online presence. Today prospective employers will look you up before they invite you for an interview, so make sure they like what they find. Show you are passionate about CR and know what you are talking about by participating in online discussions on LinkedIn and Twitter. Sign up to CSR networks (such as CSR Chicks), write a blog, tweet about sustainability news, or attend webinars. You could also use social media to do a background check on people that have your dream job, and by doing so build a list of interesting organisations that hire at entry level. Make sure you receive RSS feeds and newsletters from these companies and follow them on social media, so you will be made aware of new vacancies as soon as they are released. Don’t be afraid to contact the people with jobs you are interested in, just asking for a chat over some coffee can get you invaluable personal careers’  advice – and is a great start to building your network.

Secondly, choose a focus area and consider different routes. Although it might seem too soon to specialise in a certain area of sustainability at entry-level, having a clear focus can help guide your job search, and future career. Corporate sustainability covers a very wide range of work, and most CSR jobs require specific knowledge and skills, so focussing on one or two areas of interest can make you a more attractive candidate. Whilst you are job searching, work actively to develop the specific skills and knowledge needed for these roles. Also, whether you decide to focus on environmental sustainability, community investment, the fashion industry, or sustainable sourcing, consider alternative routes to break into your desired sector. Apart from dedicated sustainability consultancies, there are many non-profits doing sustainability advocacy and research work, or non-CSR positions within companies that are considered to be sustainability pioneers. The most heard career advice for graduates aiming for a sustainability job is to get your foot in the door with a related job. Once you are in, you are part of the network and previously hidden jobs will suddenly become visible.

Thirdly, make sure you make the most out of internships. If well-structured and paid, internships can be a great way to build your network and gain valuable experience. However, the days when internships directly led to jobs are behind us. Some graduates complete a number of different internships but don’t get anywhere, not because they didn’t do a good job, but because they didn’t network enough. After making that tea, make sure your temporary colleagues sit down to have a cuppa with you and get to know you. These will be the people that will think of you when they hear of an entry-level position opening in their network, recommend you to a prospective employer, or invite you to networking events. Especially in organisations that see a lot of interns, it is vital to stand out and make yourself invaluable. Be pro-active, ask to be involved in projects that interest you and put you and your skills in front of others. Apart from getting known, be inquisitive and find out how your colleagues ended up in the jobs they did. Considering sustainability is a relatively young field, many of your senior managers will have started their careers in different disciplines. Sustainability professionals often come from unexpected backgrounds and can give you valuable insights into what path might be best for you.

Although landing an entry-level job in corporate sustainability isn’t easy, with the right approach and a lot of perseverance it can definitely be done. You will probably have to start at the absolute bottom, and even if it isn’t exactly what you dreamed of, it will give you access to the hidden job market.

 

Corporate Citizenship is one of the few companies to offer a graduate role in corporate sustainability. The Chime graduate scheme will open at the end of this year – find more information here.

Comments (5)

  1. Abhishek Verma says:

    Dear Manon,
    Its a great article, as it is so accurate. I can relate with a lot of parts of the article, and I definitely vouch the article with my own personal experience.

    Good one!

  2. Victor Serrano says:

    Dear Manon,

    I have just graduated from a MSc in CSR and I found your article very useful. It is very true that while other graduates may have it easier to get an entry level position, those with an academic backround in CSR have it a little more difficult and have to work much more in that thing called “networking”. I will take your advice on board. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Seba says:

    Dear Manon,

    I have just completed an MSc in sustainability and management of natural resources, and have found everywhere asks for multiple years of experience. I will take your advice on board and network.
    Thank you 🙂

  4. Ross Webb says:

    Great article with excellent insight. I found it very helpful to see your perspective from the inside. As a recent graduate in Environmental Sustainability + completing an internship, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to find entry level work in the sustainability field. Thanks for taking your time to write this.

  5. joanna says:

    Dear Manon and Dear All,
    Thank you for great article.

    I am actually very passionate about the subject of sustainability/environmental risk/law, and I was wondering whether you could advice me on any good and recognised courses on that subject, preferably online, or weekends/part time (in thr Netherlands) for english speakers.

    Thank you so much in advance:)

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