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Behind the Scenes: Insights from an Impact Sector Recruiter

By 3p Contributor

By Shannon Houde

The political landscape spurs questions for people looking for their dream jobs in the impact sector. This moment presents unique challenges and opportunities for those interested in sustainability jobs, and an insider’s perspective on those challenges and opportunities can be invaluable.

We recently hosted our annual webinar for ICRS with additional insights from Hanan Hanna, an Acre recruiter, and were impressed by the spot-on questions we received from the audience.

"Are in-house sustainability roles on the rise, or are companies starting to embed sustainability into other existing roles?”

According to Greenbiz’s State of the Green Business Report and BSR’s State of Sustainable Business Survey, sustainability is now more integrated into our companies than ever before.

Though some jobs are absorbing new sustainability responsibilities, for the most part the number of unique sustainability jobs continues to climb. In the last four years, the number of those jobs has doubled, and the size of sustainability teams continues to grow.

Author and academic Katie Kross spoke about these trends in a recent GreenBiz interview: “Sustainability is becoming a more mature​ ​industry, so it makes sense we are not seeing​ ​the same ‘peak sustainability’ in the creation​ ​of new sustainability departments that we​ ​saw in 2008,” she said.

“Sustainability hiring today looks​ ​very robust. Those companies that may have added their​ ​first sustainability executive three years ago​ ​might now have openings for two to 10 more​ ​people on their team this year.”

“It feels like the language about the impact sector is always changing. What is the difference between a CSR and a corporate sustainability role?”

The title of a department or role entirely depends on the terminology being used by the sector and company. You will see postings for corporate social responsibility (CSR), corporate sustainability, sustainable business and corporate citizenship roles, most of which are in essence the same; the terminology is just different.

To stay on top of your target companies’ terminology, do your research and follow thought leaders in that space. There are lots of ways to talk about the impact sector, so make sure you are matching key words to the language of your target audience in your resume, CV and LinkedIn profiles.

“I want to get an impact-driven job, but I know I need to learn more first. Is it better to get a broad education on the impact sector or take a deep dive and focus specifically on one thing?”

In the impact sector, specialists thrive over generalists. It’s time to drill down and make choices rather than casting your net wide.

According to Acre, general technical and soft skills are important, but more focused education like supply chain knowledge is becoming critical in consumer markets, as is traceability. Knowledge on REACH and the Modern Slavery Act are also currently in high demand for contractor/interim roles. Pick your focus and dive deep to build an expertise in a niche.

“How do you think Brexit will affect the state of the sustainability market?”

I am by no means a politician, and I speak to this question through the lens of my own work and the news I read each day. The truth of the matter is that we really don’t know yet. There is potential for the U.K. government to maintain similar laws around human rights and the environment that we have had as members of the EU, but we won’t know the details of this until it happens. As we have already seen in the U.S., the biggest potential risks for the sustainability market are on our diverse work forces, our currency exchange rates and of course on our commitment to the COP 21 Paris Agreement.

So far, jobs in this sector do not seem to be negatively affected. Immediately following the Brexit vote, we did see hiring freezes come out of some of the bigger supply chain companies, which were soon lifted after the GBP currency stabilized. We haven’t seen any other hiring freezes to date, but that is also something we will have to wait and see.

It may take months or even years to see the long-term effects of Brexit and of the Donald Trump presidency. The best thing to do is to stay up to date on the news, especially following the key issues that you want to put your stake in the ground around.  What impact will you choose to have?

“The recent political changes have inspired me to make a move into a more impact-driven job, but I’m not sure where to start. It seems easier to land a role I am overqualified for, but is this the best way to get my foot in the door?”

There are many more entry-level and junior positions coming into the market than senior positions. Think of it like a pyramid, with fewer senior roles on the top than on the bottom. But you should be targeting jobs that match your qualifications and your level on that pyramid, or even above it so that you are growing and will be challenged.

Recruiters don’t like to see people undervalue themselves. If you do the legwork to translate your accomplishments and skill sets, you can prove that you have enough experience to hit the ground running in a bit of a stretch role.

That being said, if you feel like you need to acquire a bit more experience to help better market yourself for a higher-level sustainability job, you may need to take an interim or lateral step into a different position.  It’s okay to do something for a year or two that helps you to get closer to the position you really want, but you should always be growing.

If you try to take a step backward or offer to take a salary cut, you will quickly see you aren’t getting calls back for interviews and get easily demotivated wondering, “Why wouldn’t they want someone like me since I am such a good value?” This is because hiring managers don’t want to manage someone more senior than they are for fear of being overtaken, or that you would get bored and leave, or that if you are undervaluing yourself then what worth do you really have to them.

For more individualized insights and support, please take a look at my career coaching packages and blog tailored to guide you through the step-by-step process of finding your dream career and building a competitive personal brand in the impact sector.

Shannon Houde is founder of Walk of Life Consulting, the first international career coaching business focused solely on the environmental, sustainability and corporate responsibility fields.

Image credit: Unsplash via Pixabay

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