How to Network Your Way to a Dream Sustainability Job


Career advice from Katie Kross

Sustainability Career advice from Katie Kross

Katie Kross is an educator, career coach, and author of Profession and Purpose: A Resource Guide for MBA Careers in Sustainability (2nd edition, Greenleaf Publishing, 2014). She has counseled and inspired hundreds of MBA students to go on to sustainability careers with Fortune 500 companies, social and environmental nonprofits, mission-driven companies, and startups. Her practical, solutions-oriented approach to the sustainability job search has led professionals and students alike to seek her out as a career coach.

Download Katie Kross' Insider's Guide to Sustainable Careers

Career advice from Amanda Paul, NC State Poole College MGIM ’14

Graduate school is a busy time, and no doubt you’ll feel rushed to get everything finished on time. Even so, it’s vital that you make time to prepare for your sustainability career! Good planning is the key to achieving any goal. Following is a flexible, step-by-step guide to help you network your way to your dream sustainability job.

1. Define sustainability for yourself.

Everyone seems to have different visions of sustainability. The question you must answer is, “What does sustainability mean to me, in terms of my passion and goals?” Take time to think about this question and write down your answers. When I did this, I found I went through a few versions of my response because I was exploring multiple areas of sustainability. Try to narrow it down, and don’t be afraid to ask people about anything you are unsure of!

2. Get organized.  

Find a system that works for you to keep track of people you connect with and the companies and organizations you are interested in learning more about. Recording a variety of information in a spreadsheet can be very helpful: the people you meet, where you met them, the companies they work for, the positions they held, and any other interesting facts that would be helpful to remember. I began doing this halfway through my final semester; it made following up much, much easier!

3. Be a sponge!  

Explore topics of interest by participating in webinars, LinkedIn groups, conferences, and networking or volunteer events. Attend everything you can while you’re in graduate school – trust me, your weekdays are extremely valuable! As a student, you have access to many excellent opportunities for learning and networking – many of them free of charge. Whether it’s an in-person or virtual event, any opportunity to connect with someone in a field of interest is worth the effort because of the information you can gain from the experience. Don’t stop there: consider volunteering for the groups that host these events. This will offer even more chances to interact with leaders, especially the speakers!

4. Stay current.

There is a wealth of information on the Internet and social media, and you can make this information work for you. Join LinkedIn groups devoted to areas of sustainability that interest you. Create Google News and search engine alerts for sustainability-related topics. Follow relevant people and companies on Twitter and LinkedIn – but don’t just follow. Be actively involved in the conversations on your LinkedIn groups by posting content, questions or ideas. Also, don’t forget to “like,” share, and reply to other people’s postings! At the same time, look to your local community and see how you can get involved in the world around you. Participate, participate, participate!  

5. Create your own brand!  

During my networking journey, I used Twitter as an extension of my LinkedIn profile to grow my presence and interact with a variety of people in fields that interested me. Think of social media platforms in this professional, career-oriented manner. Use them as a stage to showcase your “sustainability brand.” Even if you are still in the process of creating your “sustainability brand,” leverage your online presence to highlight who you are as a professional, and not only what you can bring to companies, but how you are relevant amongst the crowds of people who are also looking for jobs.

NOTE:  Now is the time to separate your personal social media from accounts that present you as a serious professional seeking a decent-paying job. Be sure that when prospective employers look you up (and they will), they don’t see peculiar rants about reality TV, unflattering or ridiculous pictures, or other unprofessional posts thrown into your online resume. Create social media that supports your personal brand as a serious-minded sustainability professional.

6. Connect with your future “teammates.”

Send Inmails and connection requests on LinkedIn. Retweet something interesting, and then send the author a personal message. If you find a particularly interesting topic or speaker in a webinar, send a message – it doesn’t hurt! If anything, you are building your “team” of fellow sustainability supporters. However, be sure you write a personalized message when you want to connect instead of the default “I would like to connect with you” e-mail. Personally, I am less likely to respond to a generic request. Personalized contact encourages conversation and lets people know both how you found them and what you hope to learn. Also, go beyond virtual communication: Meet people at events, set up phone calls and follow up, but be respectful as you do so – don’t be overly pushy.

7. Don’t be afraid to get to the point.

When communicating with future “teammates” or potential employers, tell them, “I’m looking for a job,” or “I’m seeking an internship,” and let them know when you’ll be available. How will people know you are job searching if you don’t make it clear?  But don’t bombard people with “Please hire me!” types of messages. Instead, send professional signals: “I’m looking for a job in this field – do you know of any companies hiring or any groups that would be beneficial to connect with?” Instead of thinking, Gosh, this person is asking me for a job, you’ll turn his or her thoughts to: This person is exploring this field of sustainability – what leads can I offer, or what info can I provide to help?

8. Explore areas you’re interested in.

During my graduate program, although I was interested in many areas of sustainability, class projects helped me explore and weed out areas I wasn’t too keen on. If you don’t have a class project that allows you to explore sustainability, find other ways to direct that energy!  Volunteer; start a blog; plan or participate in discussion and networking groups; start a book club; or create your own research project.  Who knows? You may even find an area where you can start your own business!

9. Revisit #1.

Once you’ve taken time to put these suggestions into action, go back and redefine sustainability for yourself: Has your definition changed? Have you reaffirmed the reasons why you wanted to work in sustainability?  What is your “sustainability brand,” and how has it evolved?  On your networking journey, you may change your career path multiple times. This is okay, and is a part of the learning process that will help you find a truly meaningful career. Recording this process is helpful; as you revisit the areas of sustainability you will realize which are the right fit for you.

10. Pursue, interview, follow up, and land that dream sustainability job!

During my job search, I only spent about 25 percent of my time directly looking for jobs and applying to company websites. In hindsight, I actually think that 25 percent was too much of my time, and I wish I had started networking like crazy sooner!

Good luck, and go start making those connections!

About the Author

Amanda Paul graduated in 2014 with a master's in global innovation management, a dual degree program offered jointly by the NC State Poole College of Management in Raleigh, N.C., and IAE-Aux-Marseille Graduate School of Management in France. Connect with her on LinkedIn. 

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