What I learned at the Environmental Careers Event

Getting into the environmental sector can seem like such a puzzle – what’s the difference between a sustainability consultant and an environmental consultant? How do I get an entry level ecologist role when they all ask for previous experience? Do I really need a masters? As a recent graduate interested in this sector I was feeling completely lost.

Fortunately the careers service is here to help, and on the 13th of March the service ran an Environmental Careers event with alumni at various stages of their career dropping in to answer questions on everything from further study to long-term career progression. Don’t worry if you missed it, though, I’ll be breaking down what I learned at the event.

A masters is helpful, but not essential

Previous figures suggest that ~65% of people working in the ‘Low carbon and environmental goods and services’ (LCEGS) industry have a master’s degree or higher, so if you’re interested in this sector it’s definitely worth considering further study. A masters is also a great way to segway into the sector from a less obviously-related degree.

However, several members of the panel didn’t actually have master’s degrees. A year in industry, volunteering and other work experience can also provide valuable skills for this sector.

Expand your search beyond large companies

When someone says ‘environmental consultancies’ it’s likely that you’ll think of the big ones: Atkins, Arup, Mott MacDonald, ERM and even maybe some of the medium-sized ones such as RSK, but across the EU over 90% of companies in the LCEGS sector are SMEs. It really is worth expanding your search within the environmental sector to companies of all sizes.

That being said, different sized companies come with a different atmosphere, and a similar sounding role is likely to look very different. Do you like lots of responsibility from day one, having lots of visibility and to be closer to the decision makers? Maybe a smaller company is where you would fit best. If you prefer structured training and working on big projects you may want to look at opportunities in larger companies.

Make speculative applications

Work experience opportunities in the environmental sector can be hard to come by, and it may seem like the smaller companies don’t have opportunities for internships or placements because they never seem to come up in the job search. However, it was made very clear by several members of the panel that opportunities are either not advertised widely or in some cases aren’t advertised at all. Instead, you need to make speculative applications.

Speculative applications can vary from contacting an employee on LinkedIn to ask about opportunities, to emailing a CV and cover letter to the hiring manager or even a phone call. They can feel a bit intimidating though, so if you’re unsure of speculative applications you can make an appointment with the Careers service to discuss different strategies.

Passion will take you a long way

Of course gaining experience and skills – be it through volunteering, internships or part-time work – is valuable, but every single member of the panel drove one point home more than any other: passion will take you a long way. It isn’t enough to have the qualifications and the experience, you need to show that you are driven to make a change within this area. Being passionate about your area of interest is key, and in order to get that first role you need to be able to portray this passion in your application and interviews. If you feel you need a bit of guidance with putting your passion across then please contact the Careers service to see how they can help.

So there you have it; my biggest take-aways from the Environmental Careers event. If you want to find out more about working in the environmental sector, have a look at the careers service website, the environmental sciences guide or visit the careers desk in the Atrium in University Place to find out how the careers service can help you.

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