28th February 2012

5 Tips for making a job change into Sustainability or CSR


In today’s economic climate, more and more job seekers and career changers (laid off investment bankers, lawyers, consumer marketers, etc.) are trying to steer their career to the fast-growing sustainability and green markets.  Although there are more jobs than ever, there is also more competition, even for candidates with sustainability experience. But what if you don’t have an obvious track record of relevant accomplishments and knowledge?  Not to worry.  If you do it right you too can break into this exciting field.

Here are some tips to make sure you do a career transition right, and realistically.

1. A job search can take up to 6 months, even if you AREN’T making a career change.

Career paths don’t change overnight, so it’s important to plan ahead, say organised and keep momentum.  Make sure you have a well-articulated vision of your ideal role and start by identifying your biggest challenges in making this career change.  Next you should create a detailed action plan that breaks down each week between now and 6 months from now. Then try to address one item per week for six weeks – Who will you call each week?  What research will you do?  Who will you call again to follow up?

2. You can change, just not everything at once, right now.

The most successful career changers focus on one thing at a time – role, sector, or type of company, but not all three! My client Nicole wanted to leave her job as a corporate lawyer to pursue a more fulfilling career with a non-profit. She had a lot of great skills, but with no non-profit experience it was important for her to aim for a role that would make sense with her background. So we designed a job-search strategy that kept her focus in the legal field – we translated her legal case skills into project management and her client skills into partnership management to appeal to the non-profit side.  She joined networks linked to the NGO sector to show her commitment and highlighted all the volunteering she ever did.  After a few months she got the job of community investment manager at a leading law firm!

3. Taking a step back in your career doesn’t help your chances.

Buying something on sale doesn’t mean it is a good value, and taking a step back in your career doesn’t open doors for you.  You need to aim for roles that are at your level and still would show career progression.  Otherwise, you look desperate and insecure.  Devaluing yourself in the market will set you back because you won’t get the calls for interviews and then you will wonder why they didn’t want someone with all of your education or experience (unrelated as it may be) for half the price.

Think about it this way: If you were the hiring manager, would you want to manage someone with an MBA and 7 years’ experience if you were just looking for a Bachelors and 3 years?  Probably not.  Why?  Because that overqualified candidate probably will get bored and leave, or will want to get promoted to their job.

4. If you cast your net too wide you’ll catch fewer fish.

Yes you need to keep your options open, but not at the cost of having a strategic and focused job role and sector target.  You need to decide exactly what you are selling and to whom. Narrowing down the types of roles is vital for telling a consistent “story” in your CV, LinkedIn profile, and networking.  If you are looking for too many types of things no one will know how to help you.  Find your clear focus of one type of role in one sector first and then spread the word concisely to all of your networks.

5. Calling your “friends” has never been so important.

You must get the word out.  I know you probably hate the word “networking”.  But just like dating you only need one fish to take the bait–or employer in this case.  Making a career change means you have to get more creative and be more determined about building your network.  You never know who may know someone else who may be hiring – it is about your web of connections.  Ask everyone you know if they have one, just one, other person they can put you in touch with. Go through your LinkedIn contacts and go to “See All Connections” to see who else you can link to at your dream organisations. Then connect with them and ask them for coffee.

About Shannon: Shannon Houde, MBA, has coached, hired and trained CR professionals for more than 10 years. She has worked with sustainability professionals at all levels – from recent graduates to senior management to help them drive their career forward. To find out more about her Career Coaching services, follow this link.

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