The Green Job Interview

Use these tips for success when going after your green dream job.

by Dani Yokhna
Career interview

When going after that green dream job, it’s important to demonstrate your sustainability passion to your prospective employer. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to dress for the part.

Contrary to what Kermit the Frog once said, being green is easy. Landing a green job, on the other hand, can be more of a challenge.

Whether you’re going for a technical position like engineering (where your training and experience are key), pursuing a not-so-technical job like advocacy or organizing, or you’re part of an established industry that’s recently started making a move toward sustainability and is creating positions like chief sustainability officer, the competition for “green jobs” is intense.

If you’re lucky enough to get an interview with an organization whose values match yours, you don’t want to do anything to jeopardize your chances of getting your dream green job. With the right research on your potential new employer and these eight expert tips, you may soon be adding a green job to your résumé.

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1. Dress the Part

While you wouldn’t show up wearing Prada to interview for a position as community-supported agriculture coordinator, working in a green industry doesn’t necessarily mean you need to don a secondhand suit pieced together with hemp twine. If you’re going for a higher management or engineering position with, say, a wind-energy company, don’t be afraid to wear your power suit, says Mary Vance, a career counselor at Portland State University, which is home to the Institute for Sustainable Solutions and offers a graduate certificate in sustainability as well as several green-related undergraduate majors. Properly researching the company can help determine exactly what’s appropriate for your interview.

2. Think Before You Print That Résumé

Conventional interview wisdom dictates that you take a one-page résumé along on any job interview. But before running off 10 copies “just in case,” it’s okay to email and ask if the interviewer will have already printed a copy or if you should bring one or more along.

“That’s a great way to show your commitment to sustainability,” Vance says.

If you’d rather not ask, or you know you need to take hard copies, make sure you use a high-quality post-consumer paper. And use both sides!

“One of the great things that’s happened with sustainability is that you can now print on the back side, so you can fit a lot onto a ‘one-page’ résumé,” says Vance.

3. Demonstrate Your Passion

Green jobs are hard to get, Vance admits, and a large percentage of them aren’t even advertised (which is why networking within your local green community is really important when you begin your search).

“The good news is, the people who get hired are the people who are really passionate. First and foremost, you have to communicate your passion,” Vance says.

When you interview for a green job, don’t talk only about green work experience. Highlight what you do in your community and your personal life. In addition to referencing your work experience and awards, talk about classes you’ve taken, papers you’ve written, and what you do in your own time, whether it’s volunteering on a farm, supporting a CSA, participating in a local trash pick-up group or patronizing local businesses.

Mary Parenti, the human resources manager for Wendel, Rosen, Black, & Dean, a law firm in Oakland, Calif., which has a green practice and a green office, agrees. Not only does she look for attorneys with experience in environmental or green fields, she looks for candidates with passion.

“If the person doesn’t have the passion, I don’t know how they can continue with it. It’s not nuts and bolts; you have to be creative, you have to look for new ways of doing things and new suggestions for businesses.”

But, Parenti admits, passion is sometimes hard to interview for, so a demonstrated track record of volunteerism or past work can help set apart the people who are interested in a company’s mission.

4. Don’t Be Too Preachy

Extremely passionate people can sometimes get a little preachy when it comes to their convictions.

“That can come off as you not being very fun to work with,” says Vance. “So be very clear that you’re going to come in, do a great job and work as part of a team, but also let them know that you’re there to learn. Employers don’t appreciate someone who comes in and appears to know everything already.”

With many jobs, she says, it’s okay to operate under the assumption that your foundation is enough and you’ll spend the next six weeks to two months learning.

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