Stand out from the Crowd!
So you want that perfect job in the environment industry? But what are employers looking for, and how do you put together the winning CV? Nick Eva, Manager of environmental recruitment agency Evergreen Resources, provides an overview of recruitment in the sector today, and how to gain some valuable work experience.
What are prospective employers looking for in graduate entry candidates?
The Curriculum Vitae
There are three distinct sectors that graduates looking for a job within the environment industry should concentrate on. These are consultancies, industry and the public sector.
Consultancies are experiencing growth in pretty much every technical area, including environmental management and related systems, contaminated land, industrial and municipal waste management, mergers and acquisition due diligence work - checking for environmental liabilities, environmental assessment and health, safety and environment related issues. New, rapid areas of growth include sustainability, social and ethical issues and climate change.
Industry presently employs environmentally related people in a number of areas; environmental management or a combination of health and safety (H&S); health, safety and environment (HS&E); or quality, health, safety and environment (QHS&E). Historically, industrial companies have tended to either develop people internally into roles that have an environmental slant (such as environmental management certification ISO14001 implementation) or employ more junior candidates - maybe even graduates - to provide environmental expertise to health and safety managers.
The main drivers for industry are legislative, and the environment is still perceived as a "grudge buy". However, companies are increasingly recognising that accomplished environmental management is the cornerstone of their business, and are using this form of risk management to benefit them. The PR and Corporate Profile that can be derived from sound environmental practice is now fully recognised by most leading blue chip companies. Small to medium-sized enterprises (SME's) are also able to gain competitive advantage by understanding and maximising their cost base/bottom line and identifying possible new markets through environmental awareness. Energy efficiency is just one example of how companies can create savings that have an immediate impact on bottom line.
The public sector - local authorities, central government and the Environment Agency (EA) - currently deal with UK-based environmental issues. Local authorities as well as central government are looking at waste management, Local Agenda 21 (LA21), management systems, contaminated land and air quality issues, amongst others.
Myself and the team at Evergreen Resources predict that the opportunities for environmental professionals will grow substantially over the coming years as legislation becomes tougher and companies are compelled to fully understand, in detail, the impact their businesses have on the environment in order to have the competitive edge. It's an exciting time for graduates.
Frankly, it doesn't matter which of the sectors you are targeting! All employers are looking for good qualifications, solid technical skills, a broad appreciation of general environmental issues as well as specific interest. This may well be achieved through your dissertation and/or work placement.
One important skill that all employers are looking for, more specifically consultancies and industrial companies, is business acumen. Those candidates that convey or can demonstrate a general commercial understanding of industry and in particular, sales and marketing, will stand a much greater chance of success. This is because they rely on consultants selling their consultancy's services to the wider business community.
Employers are concerned that they will spend quality time training graduates only for someone else to benefit a year or two later when they are just starting to get some return on investment. This is because companies that do not provide training are able to pay bigger salaries to those graduates with a couple of years' experience and/or who have already been trained. As a result, if you have had some form of work experience it should put you at an advantage.
Your CV should highlight all the specific technical skills that you offer. This includes project management, baseline assessments, desk studies, scoping studies and any form of research that you have undertaken for environmental projects. Ideally, some of these areas should have been covered during your work experience.
As a rule, your CV should not be more than two pages in length unless there is a specific reason. Any more than this and you run the risk of losing the readers interest. The general lay out is as follows:
- personal details;
- educational background; and
- work experience.
Your personal details should include every possible method of contact: There is nothing more frustrating than discovering that a candidate has a mobile phone number and hasn't included it on their CV. I am sure that it wouldn't preclude you from an interview, but if the prospective employer can reach another candidate you may miss the opportunity. Date of birth is also important as it provides a reference point for other dates in the CV.
The profile should detail any industry buzzwords that are relevant to the position you are applying for and the experience that you have.
Educational background should detail all relevant courses covered in your degree and/or dissertation. Don't forget the grade! This is vital. A-levels are also important as they indicate what your early interests were, be it Math's and Physics or History and English. This is often a good indication of a candidate's type of intellect. O-levels or GCSE's are also significant, a short list will suffice. The dates of courses are essential for demonstrating continuity. Finally, remember to put everything in chronological order, most recent first.
Work experience should also be listed in chronological order. Positions should be included - again to ensure continuity. Don't forget, a prospective employer is interested in relevant work experience so make sure that you include all corresponding details. Make sure that the technical elements of the roles that you have undertaken are detailed.
Myself and the other recruitment consultants at Evergreen Resources commonly encounter letters that contain technical specifics about roles that candidates have had, yet their CV does not acknowledge this detail. Basically, if it is not in the CV then it didn't happen! Candidates feel this is a way of briefly portraying their experience whilst grasping the reader's attention.
The covering letter should briefly introduce you (perhaps referring to a telephone conversation that you have had) and then ask for some sort of commitment. For example, that you are going to call them on a specific date to discuss your CV.
There are other ways of ensuring that prospective employers are interested in your CV, and should read it, other than sending it in by post.
It has become increasingly prevalent for companies to recruit graduates directly rather than using agencies. However, if there are specific or urgent requirements then recruitment agencies will normally be contacted. For this reason it is worthwhile registering your details with a consultancy. Unlike other agencies, Evergreen Resources has a policy of replying to all e-mails. We offer graduates a tailored, specific response.
The internet, email and telephone are now your best tools to research and contact prospective employers.
Use all of the relevant web sites:
Aim to speak to a decision-maker - someone who would know whether the company is looking to recruit. Have a list of questions prepared as this implies you have done your research. Ask if it is okay to take up a few minutes of their time. If it isn't then make sure you ask when you should call back. They may instruct you to submit your CV. Confirm you intend to do so but that you are also interested in getting more in-depth information about the company and to see if there are opportunities at a junior level or even on a voluntary basis.
Ask about the company and their role in particular. Make flattering comments about the web site and how some of the projects look really interesting. Try and relate it to your own experiences and interests. Build to the question about what vacancies the company has at the moment. Make sure that you cover all possibilities - contract, temporary, voluntary and of course, permanent.
If they show interest, e-mail your CV across directly. If not, you need to make a judgement about whether to proceed. Always get contact details anyway. Please ensure that if you are sending a CV, you make an appointment to ring back to discuss further. Remember that it is okay to ask for a meeting. At Evergreen, we have found that clients are more than happy to see a candidate if they sound interesting and relevant. Being tenacious will work in your favour. An employer is always on the lookout for applicants who possess the ability to convey ideas and sell themselves on the telephone.
Remember there are thousands of graduates just like you, same qualifications and similar skills, all looking for the job of their dreams. You need to differentiate yourself from the others, be one step ahead. Read industry magazines, be aware of the current issues and threats and know the major players within the environmental sector. It's this knowledge that will make you stand out from the crowd.
Hants RG24 8AE
Tel: 01256 314600
Fax: 01256 314609.