11 Top tips on getting your first job in an environmental career

11 Top tips on getting your first job in an environmental career

How do you build your CV while at school? How do you get environment jobs for beginners that haven’t been advertised yet? Learn more…

environment career tips

1. Get to know people – build your contacts network

Lots of environment jobs go unadvertised because they’re filled before an ad is even made. This is because employers already knew someone who’d be perfect for the role. How do you try to make sure that person is you? How do you get in touch with people who can help and maybe even mentor you?

Take action: Check out IEMA networking events and go to any local ones. It can make you feel shy, but talk to the people you meet there. Swap details and stay in touch. You never know when an internship or entry-level job might crop up, so it helps to get known by a few people in the environmental sector.

2. Keep up to date with environment news and trends

If you know the latest, you’ll come across really well in a job interview! Another plus is you might spot exciting opportunities like competitions or events where you can network and build your CV.

Take action: Follow the latest news on these useful links:

Heather Poore, now the youth volunteering project manager at Global Action Plan, signed up for Greenprint 2020’s newsletters, Twitter and Facebook news feeds. That’s how she started out!

3. Get work experience with an internship

Getting work experience is key. Having an environmental-related degree looks good on paper but you want to show employers you’ve got specialist knowledge that’s been used in the right kind of working environment. An internship is how Lee Collier (joint runner-up of the 2013 IEMA Graduate Award) got their big break.

An internship shows you know exactly how to research, plan, carry out and maybe even lead an environmental project. You can show you’ve built up your skills, knowledge and confidence in the perfect career setting - perhaps even with a big-name or respected employer!

An internship could boost your confidence and make a huge difference to your CV. It shows you don’t just talk the talk, you’ve walked the walk. You’ve worked in the field and you know what’s expected. You’ll probably get some achievements under your belt that you’re really proud of, too.

Take action: Search online for relevant UK employers and check their careers pages for contact details, then enquire about internship opportunities (they may have a page that tells you all about it).

4. Register as a member of a professional body

In job applications you’ll often be asked to provide details of being a member of the IEMA or a similar professional organisation. Yes, it does cost a bit of money, but there are often cheaper student rates and it shows you’re really serious about your chosen career. It could be the edge which means you get the internship instead of someone else.

Take action: Compare the various UK professional organisations out there. Compare the rates against what they offer members. Check online to see what people like you are saying about their membership. Are they happy? Do they have good things to say? After your research, you are in a better place to make a decision.

5. Summer holidays are for volunteering and work experience!

Volunteering is a fantastic way to build up experience and put something impressive on your CV – plus it can even lead to a job with that employer or organisation later down the line.

There are countless UK environmentally-conscious organisations out there and they are all desperate for more hands on deck. Because you’re working for free, there’s a lot more flexibility on when and how you work than with a paid job. There are fewer age restrictions too.

Don’t be shy, either. If you get a chance to volunteer, ask how you can help even more. If there’s a useful activity you could do, mention it. If you don’t feel confident about promoting yourself in your CV, ask your team leaders what they think your qualities, skills and achievements were during volunteering – that will help you with turning your volunteering experience into a strong section on your CV.

Take action: Visit volunteering.org and also search online for volunteering opportunities. Try combining “volunteering” with phrases like “environmental charity” and “environmental organisation” in the search box. See if you can find any local organisations you could volunteer for.

Or you can see this full list of environment organisations in the UK on Wikipedia. Remember to scroll down for the non-governmental ones – there are loads of these in the UK! Follow the links to their websites and see what volunteering (or internship) opportunities they’ve got.

You can also check out the Greenprint 2020 project which offers 16 to 25 year olds volunteering opportunities and internships to help take their first step in an environmental career.

Finally… thinking of volunteering at festivals? That’s great. It’s a good way of getting into fests for free in your summer holidays. Now, in your application, say you want to focus on the clean-up/sustainability/eco-waste side of volunteering if at all possible. That’s some useful experience for the CV right there! Not forgetting that this experience could get you both a degree AND an actual job in "event and festivals technology" and "arts and festivals management", if you went sideways into an events management career...

6. Subscribe to careers advice site newsletters and blogs, too

We’re biased, but on the Plotr blog we’re always linking to youth programmes that could help you learn more, get experience, meet people and get your foot in the door. Careers advice sites might not be 100% geared towards an environmental career, but they are likely to showcase opportunities that might still be relevant to boosting your skills and experience.

7. Remember – ‘environment’ is a pretty broad field

Sustainability. Development. Environmental health and safety. Water management. There are so many different fields in this sector. Employers will love it if you go niche and specialise. At the same time, when you’re just starting out and maybe still at school, there’s nothing wrong with gaining experience in different but possibly overlapping fields. Proving you helped with a coastline erosion project is not going hurt your chances of impressing an employer who’s more focused on, say, cleaning up the UK’s rivers.

8. First jobs – earn while you learn

If you’re seriously looking for mentoring and you’re a graduate or in further education college, you might want to check out the Knowledge Transfer Partnership. You can apply your degree to get a ‘real job’ straight away and gain a professional qualification, too.

If you’re a school leaver with GCSEs (usually with 5 pass grades, A-C) you can also explore modern apprenticeships. For example, you might find an environment apprenticeship or sustainability apprenticeship near you. ‘Sustainability’ is an emerging (i.e. quite new) role but businesses are increasingly recognising how important it is.

9. Environment youth projects...

Take action: Search online for “environment youth project”. See how much comes up?

Now try searching for e.g. “Glasgow environment youth project” (and switch the town name to the nearest big town near you.

There are loads of local ventures, so do your research and get involved. This is a great way to find opportunities to boost your knowledge and skills – especially if you’re still at school. If you see a project that requires a school team, talk to your teacher about maybe setting something up. You might even end up winning an award.

10. Tweak CVs and cover letters

This is really important – you’ll probably be applying for more than one kind of job, so tailor your CV to match the job type. For example, have an ‘environment’ CV that really focuses on that, as well as your ‘office admin’ CV for when you just want a job to pay your way.

Whenever you write to your employer, tweak your CV and cover letter to appeal especially to that employer. Look at the language they use on the job application and use that language in your cover letter / CV. If they say they’re really interested in a specific topic? Tweak your CV and cover letter to show how interested (and experienced) you are in that topic, too.

It could make all the difference between a rejection letter and a phone interview.

11. Be patient

It might take a number of work placements. It might take lots of rejection letters. You might end up having really interesting conversations with other networkers at environment events, but somehow that dream first job in the career path you love doesn’t appear straight away. But never give up. Remember that every placement makes you stronger! It helps you know more and gives you experience you never had before.

It puts you in an even better position for the perfect first job - and you never know, it might be right around that corner.

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