Alex Green works on UCL’s Environmental Sustainability team, with a focus on communications and stakeholder engagement. Previously he worked for an international development charity and interned at a climate change campaigning organisation. Here he shares some tips for getting into the sector.
1. Get experience:
It’s a predictable point, but essential. Luckily there are a growing number of paid internships and graduate placements in the sector, such as those promoted by environmental recruiters Change Agents. That said, especially when it comes to the NGO sector, your best bet in getting work experience is unfortunately still through volunteering or unpaid internships. If you’re unable (or unwilling) to work your socks off for the price of a sandwich, there are still some other routes to getting the experience that’ll be essential for you to get started.
- Take full advantage of opportunities to get experience alongside your study. Getting involved in societies or campaigning and advocacy organisations like People & Planet or Amnesty is a fantastic way to get a taste of the highs and lows of working to create positive change.
- Fit your experience around your work or study. There are a growing number of micro and virtual volunteering opportunities available. These may consist of blogging, copy editing or research from the comfort of your own room, or one-off opportunities at the weekend. Have a look at what UCLU’s Volunteering Services Unit has on offer and search sites like Do-it.
- Go it alone. Care about an issue? Write articles for your local or student newspaper, start an online petition and get out there and start organising. There’s no better way to develop essential skills, while making a really positive impact.
2. Learn how to really communicate and persuade:
An essential part of jobs in this field is about persuading busy, disinterested, often ill-informed people to engage with complex issues, and then give you their time, money or support. This is no mean feat. I certainly haven’t cracked it, and when you look even at large NGO campaigns, you realise that few others have either. That said, it’s essential that you’re able to simplify complex issues, bring the facts to life and most importantly, enthuse people into action. Visit great websites like Talking Climate to read up on the theory and get practice by creating opportunities to write and speak about the issues you care about.
3. Start making connections:
For better or worse, connections are often the key to getting your foot in the door. It’s a small world and you’ll find that if you’re part of campaigning groups or societies, it’s brilliant (and terrifying) how often you’ll later encounter these people in your working life. If you’re volunteering or interning, always take advantage of opportunities to go to events and engagements. What starts as an awkward conversation over rubbish canapés may end up as a brilliant surprise opportunity. And don’t be afraid of being a little opportunistic; while emails are easy to ignore, get someone on the spot and they’ll likely be a lot more helpful (although always be nice about it – you may meet these people later and you’ll want them to remember you as enthusiastic and personable).
4. Develop a diverse range of skills:
Especially in a small organisation or team, being a generalist is a distinct advantage. So get loads of strings to your bow. You may want to develop skills in web design, learn to take a mean photograph, get experience of making short films or sharpen up your use of social media (to name just a few). These skills will likely make you invaluable to your employer, potentially save money on outsourcing work and will generally give you something fun and creative to do alongside the more everyday aspects of your job. What’s great is that you can develop these skills in your own time. It’s practically guaranteed that they’ll come in useful and could easily be what sets you apart from everyone else in getting that job. Check out the Sustainability Team’s ‘Green Resolutions’ short film to see an example of how multimedia skills have be used to communicate the scale and diversity of environmental action at UCL.
5. Consider whether your passion for the environment will survive the transition into work:
This is a slightly odd one, and won’t apply to everyone. But it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a world of difference between caring about the environment and working an environmental job for 35 hours a week. Unless you’re very lucky, you’ll find a fair amount of your energy is funnelled into Excel spreadsheets, trying to make the printer work, etc. and you may need a certain amount of resilience to retain the passion that got you started in the first place. There are a huge variety of roles, employers and ways of working out there. Find the approach that suits you and makes best use of your enthusiasm for the subject! And even if you don’t get your ideal job straight away, remember that it’s a step towards that goal. Hopefully that’ll make the spreadsheets a little easier to handle.
For more information about Environment Week, head on over to the website: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/students/events/getinto/environment