How to land a job protecting the planet: do the groundwork

With concerns about the climate crisis becoming more urgent, many are predicting major growth in jobs that involve protecting our environment. But with more graduates wanting those roles, it’s a really competitive sector.

In fact, a single job in sustainability can attract as many as 200 applications, according to Shannon Houde, a sustainability careers adviser. So you’ll need to stand out if you’re looking to turn your passion into a career.

Luckily, there are lots of steps you can take while studying to give you an advantage.

Think carefully about which roles you’re interested in, recommends Morag Walling, a careers consultant at King’s College London. “Thinking more broadly about possible sectors and directions for your interest will increase the uniqueness of your offer and increase the chance of success,” she advises.

Browse professional networking sites like LinkedIn to understand the organisations and what sort of opportunities they advertise. Identify someone with a role you’d love and look at the career path they took.

Next, use the abundance of opportunities you’ll have at university to create the sort of skills employers are looking for. When it comes to sustainability, these include problem-solving, critical thinking and emotional intelligence, so you can engage others in the topic, says Houde. She suggests taking on leadership roles in clubs or societies related to the environment and getting your ideas published via blogs, vlogs or social media to prove you can communicate effectively.

Get involved in a diverse set of extracurricular activities, adds Walling. Graduates are expected to exhibit skills and knowledge through their academic background, work experience, independent projects and volunteering. “[This is] to showcase not only understanding but real commitment,” she says.

Tailor these activities to the sustainability role you’re after too, says Daniel Lewis, an employability adviser at Northumbria University. “For example, if you want to work in the charitable/third sector, it might be best to explore volunteering opportunities with environmental charities. If you’re thinking more of sustainability consultancy or working within civil engineering, then summer internships and year long placements as part of your degree might be a better option.”

You could also consider signing up to a professional body focused on the environment, like the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. It offers free membership to students on approved courses and opportunities to develop skills and connect with the industry.

Contact your university to see if they can offer any extra help. “I’d definitely recommend contacting the careers service to speak about this in more detail and get support in developing a career plan,” says Lewis.

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