E. Bruce Harrison
Who would have thought, say five years ago, there would be a PR job in carbon capture advocacy?
What’s driving such an opportunity, posted by a Florida firm earlier this year?
The war on carbon and other greenhouse gases means greener career options. The already broad scope of green careers, which over the last 50 years has grown from outdoor conservation to corporate environmental management, is widening further to meet America’s intense new interest in climate change and energy efficiency. Government decisions, scientific consensus, NGO and business interests are combining to create jobs to address global warming, transportation, power generation and fuel alternatives, clean technology, safe food and water, deforestation and multiple other issues now deemed critical not only in the U.S. but worldwide. How do you find, qualify for, land and succeed in a green public relations job? Here’s what I’d tell a college student or recent graduate: Follow what you value. Green careers are in several sectors—government, business, NGO—and you need to honestly assess where your values lie. My view is you can be part of the answer—that is, you can contribute without holding back—in any area. Government can mean advocacy and enforcement, with legal, political and technical aspects, all of which require stakeholder engagement and communication. NGO work can be similar, pushing the government and compliance process. Business or agency communications can advance green products, processes and positions. Investor advocates, eco-bankers, carbon traders need PR counselors. So, know yourself, and look for a job where your core instincts light up. Capitalize on your talent. As with any career path, you’ll do best, have more fun, more energy and, depending on your choice, more security and money if you’re doing what turns you on. While career guides typically tell you to “capitalize on your passion,” I’d say capitalize on what you’re good at and like to do. What’s your talent? Are you a good writer, presenter, graphics person? Are you creative, studious, personable, meticulous, big-thinker, expansive or introspective? Are you good with numbers? Again, be honest with yourself and figure out your talent plus factor. Green jobs are just jobs related to green outcomes. Your personal, professional talent—that transportable thing that lets you succeed—will make you a winner in whatever green channel you choose. Bone up on greening. Don’t think you know it all, but don’t think you can’t learn through simple research. Talk to people, read books and articles, go online, plug into green networks. Google green advocacy, corporate greening, government greening, carbon offsets, carbon trading, green products. Interested in green business communication? Go to Amazon.com, punch in and browse my book for free. NGO tendency? See what’s happening at Natural Resources Defense Council, American Lung Association and, my favorite, Environmental Defense Fund, which leads in NGO-business collaboration. Like the idea of government communications? Google White House, Carol Browner , EPA, California Air Resources Board, your members of Congress. (Congress is accustomed to job seekers; some provide clues to jobs off the Hill. Good example: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ web page.) Financial bent? Look in on Chicago Climate Exchange, CERES and the links that Wikipedia suggests when you plug in. Obvious point: The more you know, sorting toward what turns you on and where you think you’d like to go, the better your chances for landing a job you’ll like. Reach out. You know by now that social networking provides job insights and inroads. The more your contacts with people with green jobs, the faster and better your job options. Online leads are waiting for you. LinkedIn.com has half a dozen green communications and related career areas. Green Career Central is a treasure trove of leads and tips. Check out internships at public relations agencies, corporate communications departments, green advocacy groups, government offices—from Capitol Hill in Washington to city government offices related to environment where you live—or brokerage firms with sustainability portfolios. (On Earth Day 2009, a Department of Labor conference on “women and green jobs” exposed doors to the green economy, worth a look.
Take it to the deal. What’s the deal? PR is the process of creating stakeholders in the organization’s success. If you understand that and make it work for you, you can and will create stakeholders in your success. That’s the golden deal, green or otherwise.
So what do you do, when you’re approaching the hiring line? Put real emphasis on preparing for interviews. You get, they say, one chance to make a good first impression. I’ve hired hundreds of people during my rather long career in business-side green consulting. I get my best impression when the job candidate is calm, confident and loaded with two or three questions about my interests. Let me emphasize that: my interests, not yours. Best opening line from a person looking for a job: “I am interested in you and your company because…” and the rest of the sentence shows some homework—at least you’ve studied the website. Best question you can ask: “What do you expect from a new employee, to help you reach your goals?”
An employer sizes you up immediately, looks for your smile, your handshake, your eye contact. Now what? He or she has already scanned your resume, and then, falling back on the default interview, going through the dull, rote, often losing (for you) routine of asking you to describe your past, your super achievements, your memorable moments, your worst day, your (yawn) favorite whatevers… unless you relieve him or her (and you!) by asking questions.A winning candidate looks the putative boss in the eye and lets him or her know you care about them, and you’re going to do your best to help them succeed. Think about this: your goal is to show this prospective employer that you want to invest your talent, your time, your energy in the employer’s success. To my mind, this can often open the door to a terrific deal: the employer becomes a stakeholder in your success.
You’ll know you’re winning when the employer does most of the talking. When you’re talking, keep it short, and bring it back to him or her with a question, like “Is this the kind of thing you’d find useful here—or, better yet, what do you need or value the most in a member of your team?” That’s it. I’d say good luck, but that’s not what you need. You are in fact lucky to be in a society like this, in a time like this, when, although the economy is lousy, you have the freedom to go after any job, green or otherwise, that interests you. So, consider yourself lucky, get focused, work at it every day, go green if that appeals to you, and go have fun adding value.
(Bruce Harrison owns EnviroComm International and is author of Corporate Greening 2.0: Create and Communicate Your Company’s Climate Change & Sustainability Strategies.)