Job opportunities in the New Green Economy

July 1, 2009
Green Economy companies are looking for technologists with a personality and communication skills.

Through operating a successful executive search firm, my colleagues and I have learned a great deal about evaluating the fit between people and their companies. We specialize in renewable energy, environmental sustainability and energy efficiency. People refer to these areas as the New Green Economy, although we have considered them The Economy for over a decade.

Green companies include those that manufacture wind turbines, install solar panels, weatherize homes, remediate contaminated sites, manage water resources, and farm sustainably. But Green companies are not looking for people who are true believers. Most of them are searching for the same thing every other company wants to find; competence, experience, a positive attitude, and passion to get along with others and participate in a team.

However, such companies also know that when all other things are equal, the candidate with some additional passion, desire and motivation — like a connection between their work and the greening of America — will stick with the company longer, make sacrifices, and be more engaged to solve difficult business problems when times are tough.

This brings me to the most important concept in getting a job in the New Green Economy — be choosy. Really get to know those companies in your market or in the region where you want to live. You need to concentrate your efforts and focus your energies on companies that truly match your interests, aspirations, and lifestyle.

Investigating local companies is the simplest and most straightforward selection criteria you can use to focus your energies. Asking friends and neighbors or using social networking sites like LinkedIn, Plaxco, or Facebook, can give you some hints. You may also want to hit the local eating establishments across the street from the building during lunch time. Gathering information does not necessarily take a long time, but it does take some effort and ingenuity, so get creative.

So what types of people are New Green Economy companies looking for?

Engineering or technology — We simply have not graduated enough engineers and scientists over the past twenty years. With the economic slowdown and the growing standards of living in the third world, many of the international graduate-level engineers that we have educated here in the U.S. have headed home. If you are a technology graduate you need to polish your image and go look for a green job.

MBA's are still in high demand — As much as we want people to be technologically literate, we must have leaders who understand how to create better companies. This is especially true in an industry full of start-ups, technologists, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs. Highlight your management abilities and discuss your past successes in managing businesses. Keep in mind the acronym SAR — Situation, Action, and Result. State the situation, explain your actions, and describe the result.

Communication Skills — If you have a technical background and can communicate, you are in demand. Work on your communication skills. Years ago when I came out of college I embarrassed myself by using the word “proverbial” incorrectly. I vowed to myself that I would never use a word that I didn't understand at least one of its definitions. If you can, learn another language. The New Green Economy can be internationally focused, and it is a huge plus if you speak another language. Lifelong learning is crucial to most companies, and nothing says that you are a lifelong learner better than leaning another language.

Have a personality - Be inclusive, courteous, and polite. If you have any questions on this, read Marshall Goldsmith's book, What Got You Here Will Not Get You There. Not to buy into or perpetuate stereotypes, but sometimes we find that candidates with strong technical backgrounds can be off-putting, too serious, or too idealistic. It is better to be humble and admit you don't have all the answers and listen carefully to what others are saying. Try not to be “the keeper of the sacred truth.” Be sure you make at least one humorous self-effacing comment at each meeting.

Be flexible — Show a willingness to take a lower level position or relocate to join an outstanding New Green Economy company. Your willingness to relocate will say a lot about your passion and your commitment. Frankly, it may be just the change you need to jump start your career.

Take stock of what you bring to the table — Look at your research and the companies you have identified. What sort of roles do they have? How do these businesses make money? Where might the opportunities be? By simply imagining how you personally might affect an organization you will gain a leg up on your competition.

I once had a candidate virtually sell himself into a firm by prodigiously researching and learning about the company. The candidate's passion and knowledge for the opportunity brought the company around. By focusing on what the company is looking for you will emerge as a stronger candidate and will be more likely to be offered a position.

Don't rely on your résumé - Frankly, your résumé focuses on the wrong thing: you. What employers really care about is your ability to help their company succeed. You need to think like an employer if you want that great new job.

You are only relevant to the extent that you can help them succeed. Therefore, your résumé is only relevant to the extent that it helps to tell your story about how you are going to help the company succeed. In short it is a prop and you are the actor.

Only pieces of this prop are important to the interviewer. So when an interviewer tips his hand about what is important to him or her by asking you questions off your résumé, you should do the following. 1. Answer the question directly (less than 30 seconds). 2. Elaborate about the depth of your experience that best connects with what you think is most relevant to the interviewer (less than one minute). 3. Ask a simple follow up question about how this detail might be relevant to the interviewer or the position (less than 30 seconds). 4. Follow up with any relevant details based on the interviewer's response. If your interview becomes a dialogue you are probably doing well, so relax and enjoy the discussion.

Remember, you need to think like the employer. If the interviewer is smart, he or she will feed your ego, and see how self-absorbed you can be. So don't take the bait, keep your answers short and focused on the interests of the interviewer.

Finally, good luck and keep at it — Giving up is one sure fire way not to get a job in the New Green Economy. There are opportunities out there and you will find the one that fits you.


Christopher Swan is the CEO and cofounder of RSMR Global Resources, a strategic executive search firm in Chicago. RSMR Global Resources provides retained executive search services to clients involved in renewable energy, green build,environmental sustainability, and energy efficiency.

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