Updated: Nov 19, 2020
Looking to get a job in sustainability but aren't sure where to start or what positions are out there? You'll want to bookmark this article now.
CEP Toronto recently hosted Claire Westgate, Placement & Employer Relations Manager, Master of Science in Sustainability Program, at the University of Toronto to discuss the types of jobs available in the sustainability industry, how to “market yourself” in a challenging economy, and her tips on setting yourself up for success.
Whether you’re a new grad or looking to make a switch into the sustainability industry, watch the video to hear Claire’s invaluable advice to land the career of your dreams.
Claire also generously answered as many of the audience questions that weren’t addressed in the live video as possible (scroll down past the video to see them).
Watch the How to Get a Job in Sustainability Webinar
Claire Westgate and Connecting Environmental Professionals Toronto discuss the types of jobs available in the sustainability industry and tips on how to stand out in today's competitive job market.
Additional Questions from the Audience
How do you suggest we carry out networking while in quarantine? Besides emailing people of interest, it seems like they might not be very inclined to answer a whole lot of emails or LinkedIn meeting requests.
LinkedIn and email requests are the way to go: just be clear and concise in what you are asking for. Not everyone will respond - but that's normal even in non-pandemic times. For LinkedIn, when you make either a connection request or send a message, be very direct about what the purpose of your ask is. For example: "Hi Claire, I just graduated from a sustainability program and am hoping to speak with you briefly about your career in sustainability, to acquire some advice and insight. Do you have twenty minutes for a call or zoom chat in the next few weeks? Thanks in advance, (you)". Or "Hi Claire, I am hoping to connect for some advice and insight into careers in sustainability; would you have a few minutes to chat by phone or zoom in the coming weeks? I'd be grateful for your advice." - something along those lines, so they understand the purpose of your outreach, and what's being asked of them.
Again, similar advice applies in non-COVID times! People generally like being asked for advice - and in my experience, sustainability professionals are generally quite keen to help the next generation of sustainability-minded folks to find their way.
I have quite a good network from my last job at MaRS. I feel a bit strange asking for people’s time right now. How do you approach asking for “coffee chats” at the moment? (This question is similar to the one above on networking)
Just be honest - "Hi (whomever), I hope you've been well since we last connected. This summer, due to the current landscape, I find myself with some time to really explore careers, and I've decided to embark on an informational interviewing/advice-acquiring project to help me learn more about careers in sustainability. Would you have a few minutes to chat and share some insight with me about (x, y, z)?"
If you frame it that way, it is clear what your purpose is, and people will appreciate that you are doing something valuable with this weird summer that we're all living in.
You mentioned taking online sustainability courses. Do you have specific recommendations?
Great question. Not really, to be honest. I do know, however, that some of the online free options include courses on sustainability; go onto Coursera, for instance, and look up sustainability. One that I have heard much about is Jeffrey Sach's course "The Age of Sustainable Development" - although I have not taken it myself. There are certainly others listed as well. This isn't the same weight as taking a full degree or diploma - but it will help you to become acquainted with key topics, and more importantly, terminology and lenses, that apply in sustainability areas.
You can also just look up books and articles - when you're doing informational interviews with people who work in the field, ask them for their recommendations on good reads. Lastly, when looking at different professionals on linked in, scroll to their education sections and see what and where they studied - often you'll see both formal and informal learning listed, which may give you some ideas.
How do you avoid overlapping too much between the cover letter & resume?
Think of it this way: your resume says what you did, and your cover letter articulates what the key points are, and why they matter specifically in the context of that job, and for that firm. The "so what", if you will.
The cover letter also lets you write about an experience not as a stand-alone (as it is on the resume), but in context. So your resume may have a section that talks about the policy paper you wrote on single-use plastics, for example, but the cover letter is where you explain how that experience will help you in the specific role that you're applying to.
The cover letter is not a regurgitation of your resume: it's a sample menu of what's applicable and [tells] the reader some interesting and applicable details that outline why they should see that experience as valuable for the role they're considering you for.
How can one stand out during the interview when you have little work experience?
Preparation! Preparation, authenticity, and fit.
If you don't have a ton of experience, you have to think about what skills/knowledge you have that is transferrable, and why. How have your academic experience, volunteer work, and extracurriculars prepared you for the role?
Use STAR stories [and] be really clear about why you're interested in the firm, and why you're interested in the role. Get specific: why them? What is it about their work that really aligns with your values? Exhibit the authenticity and enthusiasm that shows the firm how hard you'll work to learn, and contribute. Ask good questions at the end. Not questions about money, schedule, culture, or things you can find online - but really smart questions; something about a current project they're working on, or something you read in the news.