Norman Christopher

Christopher: What are the “Soft” Skills that Help Land a Sustainability Job?

For many, having the opportunity to land a dream job in sustainability may seem like a challenging task that will require a herculean effort! Developing a prepared game plan for landing that job, along with specific milestones along the way, will help improve your chances and assist in differentiating you from other candidates. One of the first milestones is being able to obtain an in-depth interview with a respected company or organization in the field of sustainability. The second milestone is having a successful interview, and being asked back!

The overall market for sustainability related jobs has experienced consistent growth over recent years. Today, there are many entry level as well as management positions in the public, private, municipal, and academic sectors that deal with the environmental, social, economic, and cultural aspects of sustainability. Many industries and municipalities today have defined job opportunities, such as those in energy and water management. These varied positions include skillsets in: energy efficiency; renewable energy; stormwater management; and environmental analysis, impact and assessment. Today, similar sustainability jobs can be seen across sectors including businesses, utilities, cities, and colleges and universities. Most businesses, especially in manufacturing including furniture, automotive, plastics, and food processing, have sustainability jobs at entry and managerial levels. Educational backgrounds can include a specific environmental science degree such as environmental studies, natural resource management, or environmental engineering. Specific background, expertise, knowledge, and experiences are also of critical importance. This type of background is known as “hard” sustainability skillsets and addresses specific areas of knowledge and experience. Examples of these “hard” sustainability skillsets can include green or sustainable chemistry for business, and GIS and GPS mapping for sustainability planning in the municipal sector.  Another growing area for job positions is with sustainability reporting and the overall external and internal communications of sustainability.

However, just having a well-documented dossier, up to date resume, portfolio of accomplishments and available references regarding these “hard” skillsets may not be enough in this very competitive marketplace for landing a successful sustainability job. Many times employers are also looking for complementary “soft” skillsets which are equally important as well. What are some of these key “soft” skillsets that are also relevant to employers?

Many times these “soft” skillsets are complementary in nature and build upon the identity and values of the organization. These “soft” skills help to shape sustainability guiding principles and the culture of the enterprise, both internally and externally and include (1):

  • Reframing problems for greater creativity and innovation
  • Adaptability and flexibility in various work spaces including mobile settings
  • Effective communications in team settings, with others in the organization, and with organizations in the marketplace
  • Relationship development and building collaborations and partnerships
  • Resilience, recovery, and “bounce back” regarding challenging work assignments
  • Continual improvement and “raising of the bar”
  • Delivering sustainable solutions and resolutions to conflict through creative problem solving
  • Empowerment and leadership for change
  • Analytical, root cause, and holistic thinking
  • Coaching and mentoring of team members
  • Consensus and team building with internal and external stakeholders
  • Emotional understanding, knowledge, and intelligence

As can be seen, demonstrating both accomplished “hard” and “soft” sustainability skillsets that fit the culture of the organization will position you well, and help you land that successful interview!

All the best on your sustainability journey!

Norman Christopher

Director, Office of Sustainability Practices

Grand Valley State University

Author, Sustainability Demystified

  1. Source:  Adapted