Getting Ahead of the Pack on Your Green Job Search

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Getting Ahead of the Pack on Your Green Job Search

Given that we're smack dab in the middle of graduation season, the time is right for an article providing career advice to freshly minted MBAs. As a head hunter specializing in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate sustainability executive searches, I'm here to offer you some insight on trends in the job marketplace, and what that means for you as you hit the bricks on the job front.

Trends in the Market

My company, Sustainability Recruiting, recently published our biennial CSR Jobs Report, which followed trends of corporate social responsibility job postings over six years. One of the key findings revealed an 80 percent increase in CSR job postings between 2006 and 2007 -- and then a precipitous 57 percent decline between 2008 and 2009. 

There are two divergent trends in the marketplace that explain this: The economy and the sustainability movement. As the figure below shows, the economic downturn in 2009 put a large percentage of sustainability efforts on hold. Countering this, the sustainability movement has gained momentum, particularly in 2010.

green jobs growth chart

We also found an increase in senior level CSR positions. Before 2006, the VP title did not exist in CSR job postings; by 2009 almost 20 percent of CSR posts were for VP-level positions.

Around the same time as our report, the Boston College Center on Corporate Citizenship published their excellent Leadership Competencies for Corporate Citizenship. This presents a competency model for CSR leadership positions. The framework suggests that being a change agent is a key competency for a CSR leadership position. CSR is a relatively new initiative within a traditional corporate structure. Therefore being able to affect change internally and externally is a key competency.

What Do These Trends Mean?

Sustainability jobs exist, but not in the corporate sector as you might initially assume. Positions within the sustainability department of a well known brand are far and few between.

Furthermore, the data shows that those positions that are posted are most likely not the right fit for a graduating MBA. They often require greater leadership experience (demonstrated by the rise in VP postings) than a graduating MBA likely has, or they require a sustainability specialization.

For example, Tiffany's currently needs an environmental manager, which requires minimum of 5 years experience in the practical implementation of energy and carbon conservation, emphasizing sustainable design.

As a recent graduate, what does this mean to you?

First, consider your next job as a stepping stone along your long term sustainability career, not your final destination. Ask yourself, "What job do I want to be doing two years from now? Ten years from now? What skills and experience do I need in order to get me there?"

Once you set your sights on a destination, then your options increase. Assume there are multiple paths that will get you where you want to go.

Now consider what functional expertise and competencies you have to bring to your next position.

So where exactly are the jobs?

The reality is that sustainability jobs have gone splat. In my experience the total number of sustainability jobs is on the rise, yet they are spread out all over the place and hard to find.

Five years ago, CSR was a lot more focused and easier to define. CSR was a bandwagon where one could easily hitch a ride. Back in the day, you could go to one source to find a job (BSR), you could go to a handful of companies to find robust CSR teams that were hiring, and you could identify a small handful of consulting firms who offered fully packaged service solutions to their clients.

The way to find a job today is by looking under stones and networking to identify those places that have not been inundated by other jobseekers. Sustainability encompasses governments, consumers, supply chains, and products. Here is where the opportunities exist today in 2010:

Vendors: Today the vendors in the CSR marketplace are numerous. A company can hire a firm to write their report, another to do the graphics, another for social marketing, another to involve the employees, another to engage the consumers, etc… and the list goes on. Opportunities exist in small start-ups that are claiming their little piece of the overall solution. My advice is for you to drill down deeper than sustainability in general and become an expert in one of these niche pieces.

Non-Corporate Sector: At the same time, there are more and more sustainability jobs not related to the corporate sector. The public sector involvement on a global level has impacted the job market (specifically around Copenhagen 15, China, India, Europe, United States and Canada).

Not-so-sustainable Corporate Job: Take a traditional job within a corporation leading with your functional expertise and then, by your own intrepreneurial ingenuity 1) demonstrate your commitment to sustainability, 2) take initiative to strengthen the companies sustainability efforts and 3) develop your skills as a change agent. Efforts are underway to make sustainability part of everyone's job description. Just being at the right company could put you in a sustainability profession.

Life Cycle Analysis: Just as Dustin Hoffman received one word of advice in the Graduate ("Plastics"), I have one acronym of advice for the graduating MBA: "LCA."

To find these types of postings and more check out my list of jobs boards (starting, of course, with the green jobs listings at GreenBiz.com) if you have not already done so. Make the best use of this resource as possible -- the process of hunting for a job can be as educational as your new job will be.

Ellen Weinreb is the CEO of Sustainability Recruiting, a search firm based in Berkeley focusing on sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate citizenship jobs. Follow her @sustainablejobs on Twitter and /SustainabilityRecruiting on Facebook.

Photo CC-licensed by Flickr user Werwin15.