The Dangers of Haphazard Hiring in Building the Clean Economy

banner-green-labor-dayHiring PracticesBy Nick Ellis, Managing Partner of Bright Green Talent

If you’ve applied for a job—green or otherwise—in the past year, you’ve probably found that it’s often a messy, slow, unsatisfying process.

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, “current hiring practices are haphazard at best and ineffective at worst. And even when companies find the right people, they have difficulty retaining them.”

I run an environmentally-focused recruiting firm called Bright Green Talent in San Francisco, and have been working for the past few years to help environmentally-minded companies grow out their teams. I’ve seen first hand how something is hugely amiss in the hiring practices of most organizations—and yes, this includes green companies.

The Paradox of Green Jobs
To be fair, sustainability-minded companies (in clean tech, renewable energy, carbon finance, and beyond) are operating in relatively uncharted territories: in a time of recession and widespread unemployment, green jobs are touted as a cure-all, and the companies that create them are the knights in shining armor who will salvage our economy. Unsurprisingly, whenever these companies post a job, they are inundated with applications.

The companies receiving all this attention are often only a few years old, small companies (50 people or less), have taken hits with the economy, have unsure funding sources, and may not have had the chance to establish HR best practices in their firm before the economic storm hit. Thus, the expectations around green jobs as a panacea ends up falling as a heavy burden on companies who are struggling to even just keep up business with their current staff and resources and can’t live up to the hiring expectations of jobseekers and policymakers.

The Failing Dialogue with Jobseekers
Does the line: “Please submit a resume online and we’ll respond if you’re qualified” leave you feeling a bit empty inside? Join the club of millions nationwide who never even hear from employers once they express an interest in their firm—the failure to interact with these applicants is a huge wasted opportunity and can even go so far as to signal disrespect and disregard. A simple “we’ve closed the position and wanted to let you know” note goes a long way towards bringing people peace of mind for their efforts, and sends a signal from upper management that people matter.

The Lost Conversation—and the Gossip that Follows
Recession or not, someone who goes through eight rounds of interviews and then never hears from a company again will leave that process with a distinctly sour taste in their mouth—an opinion which they will certainly share with friends and colleagues. In a small, interconnected sector such as the green sector, these types of short-sighted decisions can hurt a company for the long-haul.

Other companies have decided to hire and then, after dragging hundreds of people through the application process for six months, decided it’s not a priority and close down the position. Decisions like this imply—wrongly or otherwise—that either the firm doesn’t know where it’s headed, or worse, is financially faltering. Taking the time before posting a position to consider whether this position is truly necessary and sustainable within the organization will prevent potential public vacillation.

Happily Hired?
And to those who do successfully run the hiring gauntlet, they often find themselves arriving bruised and battered with low offer letters, mixed signals about whether the firm truly wants them, and in many cases a sense that working with a green company isn’t all its cracked up to be. Hardly the impression that leaves future employees feeling confident about their decision.

What these young, green companies often fail to realize is that by treating job seekers poorly—inadvertently or otherwise—they damage their own reputation and brand with potential customers, limit their ability to hire in the future, and force their own employees to question their firm’s ethics and values.

Time to Grow
But however messy the past year has been in terms of hiring and growth, we’ll give these companies the benefit of the doubt. Most of them are founded on the belief that there is a better, cleaner, more sustainable way of doing business. The ugly economy has kept their hiring practices from keeping up with their missions and values, but as things settle out, we’ve seen a return to careful analysis of hiring needs and the processes that candidates are going through. People – as current and potential employees, consumers, and advocates – are coming back into the center of the picture as the force that will drive and grow the sustainable business movement.

These companies have grown out of the recognition of environmental failures – they’ve created value from the ashes before. Now, it’s time for them to do the same with valuing people and talent, and take the lead in creating growth and happy, healthy organizational cultures and practices. We invite you to share stories or helpful insight—thought leadership and an acknowledgment of past experiences are necessary to create best practices and ensure that we learn from the struggles that everyone’s been through in this recession.

Nick EliisNick Ellis is Managing Partner of Bright Green Talent and runs the U.S. side of the business. He holds degrees from both Stanford University (BA) and the London School of Economics (MSc). Before Bright Green Talent, Nick worked as an investment banker pioneering the use of clean renewable energy bonds to finance municipal renewable power projects. While at Stanford, Nick captained the men’s water polo team to two consecutive NCAA championships, receiving the “Block S” award as one of the university’s most outstanding male athletes.

Bright Green Talent is an environmentally-focused job placement firm based out of San Francisco.

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