The frosts are thawing and days are lengthening, and at the Nicholas School that can mean only one thing: job hunt season is upon us. First-years scramble to lock down summer internships, second-years confront existential crises about their future career paths, and everyone spends way more time surfing LinkedIn during class.
One year ago, that was me. I had a notion that I wanted a policy job, either in D.C. or out West, and I was hoping to somehow combine my interests in climate change and land conservation. The tabs on my browser multiplied as I logged onto the career pages of all my favorite environmental organizations and then compulsively checked them weekly for new postings.
Fast forward 12 months, and I have a steady research analyst job, assessing policy for land-based carbon removal with the World Resources Institute. What’s more, I recently found myself on the other side of the interview desk—er, Skype connection—for the first time. I don’t claim to understand all the secrets of successful job hunting by any means. But knowing how stressful this time can be for my Nicholas School colleagues, not to mention friends and loved ones stuck in the same job-searching hamster wheel, I thought I could at least offer a few principles of the process that I’ve come to see value in.
- Network smart. Yes, I know networking is exactly what every career center staffer tells you, and you’re trying, and you’re tired of hearing about it. But there’s more than one way to network, and they’re not all created equal. Rather than putting all your energy into attending professional events or mixers and trying to get face time with important-sounding people, concentrate on building one-on-one relationships with the kinds of people who might hire you. Hint: they have the jobs you want to have 5 years from now. Find these people however you can—through classmates that used to work in the field, from professors, at conferences, by cold-emailing names from alumni directories—whatever works. Send a short email explaining why you’re interested in their work, ask for a half-hour on the phone to learn more, and then follow up regularly—whether it’s about an article you read that’s related to their field or to ask their take on another organization you’re considering. Also, importantly, always ask them if they can introduce you to other colleagues in your field. That’s how you grow your network.
- Show your passion. Through your resume, cover letter, informational interview, and every other communication you have with a potential employer, demonstrate how the job opening aligns with what you’re passionate about. You may have to be a little creative in picking out the pieces of the job description that give you butterflies (no one is passionate about event planning, and that’s ok), but don’t try to build up a fake or minor interest that you think will sell better with the employer. Job interviews shouldn’t be an acting audition. Be honest about what your passion is, and let them decide if that’s the kind of person they want to hire.
- Grow a thick skin. Even if you do everything right—you have informational interviews every other day, write a tear-jerking cover letter and come out of your interview on Cloud 9—you may still not get the job. Most times, you’re not rejected because you’re not good enough for the job. Maybe the position was ultimately filled internally, or the funding fell through midway through hiring or the project took a new direction. Or maybe someone applied who was just a slightly better fit with the team. Hiring a new employee is a job, it’s not personal, so applying for jobs should feel like a job, too. You apply, you reach out to your contact, you follow up if you don’t hear back at any stage, and then you move on to the next opportunity. Protecting the environment is a job that requires more perseverance than most—think of applying for a job as practice for the bigger challenges that lie ahead. Whatever you do, hang in there and keep pushing through the applications until you find a job that excites you—the environmental field needs you!