Getting a green job isn't so easy

By Anne Fisher, contributor


NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Dear Annie: I lost a pretty good job as head of the training department at a financial-services company a few months ago and, rather than look for another similar position, I want to change careers. I'm passionate about the outdoors and would like to do something related to protecting wildlife and the environment. But I'm having trouble figuring out where to focus my search. Can you point me to some good sources of information about green jobs? -- Boston Birdwatcher

Dear B.B.: "The idea of 'green' jobs has gotten so much press that many people mistakenly think the jobs are already here," notes Carol McClelland, Ph.D., founder and executive director of a Web site called Green Career Central. "But the fact is, we're moving to a new economy -- what author Thomas Friedman called the Energy-Climate Economy -- and it's just getting started."

"Major economic shifts always happen slowly," adds McClelland, who is also author of a highly useful new book, Green Careers for Dummies (Wiley, $19.99). Only about 12% of federal stimulus spending in 2009 went to green projects, she notes: "That has created a few jobs, but most green job creation is still in the future."

That doesn't mean your dream career doesn't exist, only that you may have to do some serious digging to find it -- or possibly some truly creative thinking to invent it. "This is all so new that the perfect job for you may have no formal job description yet," McClelland notes. "You need to thoroughly research your chosen field, and then analyze where your skills and experience might fit into it."

One daunting aspect of a green job hunt is that the emerging green economy is so vast and has so many different parts: solar power, green building, wilderness conservation, waste management, hydrology, public policy, and the list goes on. Green Careers for Dummies describes what's going on in each of 13 broad areas, with specific tips on how to identify opportunities in each.

In addition, check out "State of Green Business 2010," a free, downloadable report from GreenBiz.com, which gives a clear picture of recent progress in various industries (including autos, energy, and packaging). GreenBiz also runs four industry-specific sites job hunters might find helpful: ClimateBiz, GreenerBuildings, GreenerComputing, and GreenerDesign.

Since you've already pinpointed wildlife and wilderness conservation as your chosen field, you're ahead of the game. Now take a look at all of your experience, both in and outside of work, and make a list of everything you have to offer. "Pull together all of your skills and interests," McClelland says. "Then think about who might be looking for that unique combination of attributes."

For example, with your interest in birds and corporate background in training, there might be a role for you in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency has a program that protects migratory birds by enforcing the North American Wetlands Conservation Act of 1989. That includes educating local communities on why their swamps are worth saving. Two other federal government agencies worth checking for information on green jobs and internships are the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Although there are now more than 80 green job boards online -- among them SustainableBusiness.com, EnvironmentalCareer.com, and TreeHugger -- McClelland says that, as in the regular old job market, many great opportunities can be found only through networking.

"This is even more true for green jobs because so much of the growth in the green economy now is local. It's happening city by city, town by town," she says. "So start or expand your green network by joining local conservation groups." You can also find groups on LinkedIn and other online social networks that share your interest.

One fun way to get to know people: Find a nearby chapter of Green Drinks International, an informal network of green-minded businesspeople, academics, and others who meet in bars to socialize and share ideas. Green Drinks has chapters in 598 cities worldwide -- the San Francisco area alone has four chapters. If there are none near you, you can start one.

But before you start networking, try to identify the focus of your green job search, advises McClelland. One mistake she has seen many people make is to say to a contact, "I have this skill and that skill. Where in the green economy do you think I'd fit in?" That approach "puts too much pressure on the other person," she says.

"Instead, do enough research and self-assessment to know generally what you are aiming for and then, when you talk with people, lead with that," she advises. "If you start with what you do know, rather than what you don't know, you'll get much better results."

Talkback: Have you looked for a green job recently? What obstacles did you encounter? If you have a green job, how did you find it? Tell us on Facebook below. To top of page

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