Congratulations to all those who will be finishing up their university degrees in the coming few weeks. You are probably looking forward to applying your hard-earned knowledge and skills in the real world.
I am regularly approached for advice on starting a career in environmental and sustainability consulting, given that it is a relatively new field in the region. My answer always revolves around three key points, which I’ve summarised below.
1. Practical knowledge
I am often surprised by how little graduates know about the local context, particularly in terms of regulations, permitting processes, and technical guidelines. To be fair, this information is not always readily available, and I do realise that most university degrees in the region focus primarily on theory and international practice.
If you’re interested in becoming an environmental consultant, make sure you have a good understanding of who the environmental authorities are in the cities in which you are intending to work, and what the regulations and permitting processes apply. The good news is that the processes are similar for most cities in the region. In addition, it is a lot easier to find this information online today, and it can generally be found in English.
On the sustainability front, I highly recommend getting certified under at least one of the relevant rating schemes (Estidama, GSAS, LEED). Also, it is important to develop an understanding of how and when these schemes are applied throughout the development process (design, construction, operation).
While a strong academic background is important, it is unlikely to be what impresses your next interviewer.
One of the easiest ways to develop the practical knowledge above is to have a circle of contacts in the professional world who can provide insights based on experience. And one of the easiest ways to develop these contacts is to participate in industry events.
You don’t have to spend $2000+ on attending a conference; most good networking events are actually very affordable ($0 – $50) and generally offer discounts for students. Your local green building council is usually a good place to start; green building councils typically organise monthly seminars and trainings open to the public.
Many environmental NGOs do the same as well. Make a list of relevant organisations in your location and register yourself as a member or at least sign up to their newsletter.
Volunteering with local organisations is also a fantastic way to broaden your network, even if it is only a part-time or short-term opportunity.
And of course there is the online world. While definitely not a substitute for in-person presence and interaction (don’t fall into that trap!), linking up with people online can help expand your network. Put some thought into determining your priority contacts and then find an appropriate way to get in touch with them.
As your network broadens, you will develop a much clearer understanding of the market and players: who are your potential employers/clients/competitors, what services are most sought after, and what are the key business opportunities and challenges.
3. Patience and positivity
Landing a job takes time. Even after you have figured out what you want to do and have approached the relevant people and organisations, going from interview to signed contract can easily take 3 – 6 months.
Be patient and stay positive. Use the time to refine your skills and expand your network. Make the most of your free time while it lasts!