“If the green job market’s so hot, why can’t I find a job?”

job applicantI’ve been talking up the rising eco-job market so much that I should have known there would be a backlash. It came most recently from an exasperated job seeker who’s failed to land a decent job, let alone get an interview — or even find appropriate positions to apply for. “Is this the ‘hidden’ job market I’ve heard about?” she asked. “It seems downright invisible!”

Hmm … is it possible that I could be, well, you know, um … wrong? (Heavens no!) Let’s explore.

The environmental careers market is strong and steady right now, not only in traditional green fields like environmental protection and natural-resource management, but especially in the rapidly expanding world of organics, renewable energy, energy conservation/efficiency, environmental health, green building, and research areas related to global warming. Unlike the rising tide, however, a rising economy doesn’t lift all boats. If your boat is stuck in the mud, here are seven possible explanations:

  1. Your range of acceptable positions is too narrow. No one is a stronger advocate of seeking your dream job than I am. I wish that everyone could earn a high salary with wonderful benefits, doing progressive work they love, with fabulous colleagues, in a family-friendly environment, close to home. But if you’re having difficulties finding your job, it may be time to expand the parameters of your search into other geographic areas and/or other sectors of the economy. I worked with someone recently who said that he was “wide open” to all jobs, as long as they weren’t in business (too mercenary) or government (too bureaucratic), didn’t require a commute of more than 30 minutes from his midsize city, understood his need for a 40-hour week, paid more than $100,000, and had an old-fashioned, defined benefit retirement plan. Uh huh. I’ll get right back to you on that.
  2. You’re not “out there.” When a person is gainfully employed, it’s easy to be actively engaged in a wide collection of different networks. There are committees to serve on, conferences to go to, work partnerships to participate in — and you get paid for it! It’s so much harder to stay involved in these important networks when you don’t have the official sanction — and financial support — that a job title provides. Yes, it’s difficult, but you have to do it. One idea: find at least one paid gig as an independent contractor while you’re out of work, and use it as a vehicle for staying involved in and expanding your networks.
  3. You’re not as competitive as you think you are. A shocking possibility, I know, but one that you have to consider. Remember that the employer gets to decide who is the best candidate. They have criteria of their own — many of which are never disclosed, or are deeply buried, in the formal job announcement. It’s up to you to ferret out the specific combination of knowledge, skills, attitudes, experience, and recommenders that defines the finalist pool for decision-makers. When you have that information, you can accurately assess your realistic chances to rise into the top three to four candidates.
  4. You’re not tailoring your resumé and cover letter. Here’s a reminder for something you already know: You must alter your resumé for each position you apply for so that the connections between your qualifications and the priority-selection criteria for the job literally leap off of the page — sometimes in bold italics, underlined. No one is going to do detective work on your resumé to see if you have the right stuff. You have to show them that you’re the one that they want, clearly and unambiguously.
  5. Your skill and knowledge level has fallen behind the times. We’ve all been told over and over that the speed of change makes our skills obsolete more quickly than ever. We nod our heads in agreement. But many of us fail to take action on the obvious conclusion to be drawn from the reality of a rapidly changing world. You must continue to upgrade your skills and knowledge — both through formal degrees and certifications, and through informal learning on your own. This is especially true of technical skills.
  6. Your profession is shrinking, disappearing, exported, or fundamentally changed. The overall environmental job market may be expanding, but that doesn’t mean that every field and sector is vibrant. Just ask the diminishing numbers of corporate “environment, health, and safety” professionals. In every profession, there are subareas that are hot and others that aren’t. Thankfully, there are people in your career area who track emerging trends and help you stay ahead of the curve. Find out who they are, and start paying attention.
  7. You come across as process-focused instead of results-driven. Here’s one way to check: Does your resumé describe the “tasks and responsibilities” of the jobs you’ve had? Or does it vividly highlight the results that you’ve achieved for your employers? Can you talk easily about the results that you’ve accomplished and the even-better results that you aim for in the future?

Of course, there are many other possible explanations for a stymied job search. For example, you may be one of the many victims of employment discrimination based on age, race, gender, culture — even body size and personal appearance. It happens every day, and it may be happening to you. Still, the seven possibilities above are pretty common, and they give you a brief checklist to examine your situation and make some midcourse corrections.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. How is your environmental job search working out? Share your story with the rest of us.

Have a question for Remake a Living? Send an email to remake [at] grist [dot] org, or post a comment below.