Each week, I spend hours talking to job seekers of all levels—from those just graduating from school to highly-experienced C-level executives. Many are contemplating a green career, either out of their passion for the environment or simply because other markets are tight and the green market shows promise. Often, what I hear is a fatigued and resigned voice on the other end of the phone saying, “I’d love to join a green company, but they all want you to already have vast experience in the green industry.”
When anyone, let alone a top-level, international, well-accomplished executive, says this to me in the midst of cataloging his or her milestone achievements—such as dramatically increasing revenue, efficiency, and organizational prestige; adeptly handling countless mergers and acquisitions; building exceptional cross-cultural and cross-functional teams; applying proven project management and Six Sigma skills; and achieving numerous patented inventions across regulatory environments—I am astonished. I am astonished as editor-in-chief of a green information portal, and I am astonished as a communications specialist who works closely with companies, schools, recruiters, and job seekers. I am also astonished just as a thinking person. There is an apparent and unfortunate mystique built around the green industry—and, frankly, around the job search industry itself—that is completely unwarranted.
For many functions, changing to a green career is no more
complex or mysterious than making any other career change. There are
fundamental, logical steps that go into the process that are applicable to any
shift in professional direction. Usually, making a career change involves
leveraging the skills you have gained and how you have applied them in other
arenas, identifying and articulating these transferable skills, and making a
coherent argument as to why these are transferable and applicable. This is not
mysterious; it just requires thought, logic, and some well-developed writing
and argumentation skills.
Green companies are still
companies. As far as I know, companies typically have at least some common
elements and functions. Commensurate with their size, most companies across
industries still need accountants, purchasers, managers, leaders, coordinators,
assistants, trainers, researchers, and so forth. Any company worth its salt
that is seeking, for example, an effective project manager is going to want you
to have a proven history as a project manager and is going to expect that you
have the ability to apply your project management skills to different types of
projects. You can be as green as you like, but if you do not possess the
required project management skills, you will most likely not get that particular
Fact 3 (related to Fact 2):
Companies like to hire people who are good at what they do.
If you are a top-notch accountant, you will likely be a top-notch accountant
whether you work for an oil company or an alternative energy company. You will
be equally valuable to—and equally qualified to work for—each company. Certainly,
there may be nuances and pockets of knowledge that will help you to perform
your job better in your new environment, but if you have a proven track record
in your field of expertise, most companies will assume you can learn the additional
nuances and pockets of knowledge in a reasonable amount of time and they will be
willing to provide the needed training. I seriously doubt that green companies
are so myopic in their vision that they will only hire those who are steeped in
knowledge of things ‘green,’ thereby overlooking their need for seasoned
experts in the different facets of effectively and competitively running a
Before sitting down to write this article, in fact, I conducted some research on green jobs currently available to see what the requirements were for different functions at different levels. Of course, I found that, for example, an aquamarine specialist should have an aquamarine biology or related degree and that a LEED specialist should be LEED accredited, but I also confirmed my hunch: that green companies and companies in the process of greening some or all of their operations want applicants to first and foremost be good in their specific field. Alongside that, they would like applicants to have a strong interest in and—sometimes—existing “knowledge of” environmental affairs and issues. For most entry-level positions, an expressed interest in or commitment to the environment was sufficient.
Fact 4 (related to Fact 3):
We live in a Jim Collins, et al, management theory era. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” and “Built to Last,” argues that the best companies hire competent, intelligent people and then find the right position (the ‘right seat on the bus’) for them, and are willing to make the expenditures to train them on details and specifics. I personally have experienced working in a $2 billion, stable, highly reputed company that routinely does just that. Given the number of Jim Collins’ books sold, read, and followed religiously by management consultants and companies alike, I imagine the company I worked for is not the only one that either already put this theory into practice or did so after reading his books and the books of others that echo this theory.
Hiring managers are thinking people in living, breathing,
unpredictable environments. They are not automatons or computers. This means
that when they are presented with a specific ‘package’ (the job applicant),
they will consider the pros and cons of each applicant’s assets and
deficits—none of which will match the stated job requirements exactly. This is true in any hiring situation, not just in
relation to green careers. The trick is simply to adequately summarize, market,
and portray your specific package in a way that presents the correct value
proposition to the employer you are approaching.
The growth of the green industry is currently exponential,
albeit slowed by the recession. The fact of the matter is that there are not
enough people already specifically trained in this industry to go around. Many
people will adapt their skills and expertise while on the job. If the green
industry is counting on a vast pool of green industry experts to make their
companies run efficiently and competitively, they have a few years to wait as
people re-school themselves. Most companies won’t be willing to wait that
long—and they don’t need to, given that right now there are plenty of highly
skilled, highly educated, and proven practitioners out there looking for work
that could help these companies succeed.
The job search industry is an industry. I know this, because I am in it. And, just as in any other industry, those selling services to job seekers are trying to get and keep a competitive advantage. They work hard to convince you that you need their services or product and, like others, they are jumping on the supposed green gravy train. It is to the benefit of companies serving job seekers if you believe there is a ‘secret formula’ or some highly specialized knowledge that you can’t even guess at necessary to switch to a green career. If they can convince you of that, you will hire them at top dollar prices to do what you supposedly could never accomplish on your own: find a green collar job.
Well, I have news for you—and I tell this freely to people
in my workshops everywhere: if you can think clearly, can write, have the time,
and walk through the necessary steps, you can get a job or make a career shift on
your own, or at least without my help. Yes, you can. I just offer to do it for
you to make your life a little easier and because I have done it numerous times
for others and am probably a little better and quicker at certain aspects of it.
However, I readily admit that any intelligent and resourceful person who puts
their mind to it can figure out how to switch to a green career. So, those
trying to sell you books and guides containing, for example, the ‘Top 6 Secrets
to Greening Your Career’ are, in my mind, selling you snake oil.
Shortly, I will write a follow-up article providing specifics for topics I have touched on here and providing some tips on how to transition into a green (or other) career. For now, however, I want to drive the following messages home: You are qualified. Many will find you qualified. The fact that you are good at what you do makes you qualified. You may have to expend some extra effort—just like anyone making a career shift or just starting out in their career—to further qualify yourself or to learn on the job, but there is no mystery, no mystique, no secret formula. Anyone who tries to sell you anything on the premise that there is, is either wrong or simply trying to profit off of you.Olila Documents & Communication Strategies is located south of Boston and provides, in addition to other writing, editing, and design services, job search coaching and career document development services for job seekers.