Case study: Getting a career in the environmental sector


Name: Louise Clancy
Current job title: Environment Programme Officer (Climate Change Adaptation and Water)
Current employer: Greater London Authority
University: Exeter University
Course: BSc (Hons) Biology and Geography
Year of graduation: 2002

1. Why did you choose your particular career?

"I went with my gut feeling at the time. I had the option of following a well defined career route on a graduate training scheme for a well known international business. The other option was to join the Environment Agency, in a graduate entry position, but without a graduate development scheme and with a much smaller salary. I accepted the Environment Agency role. My beliefs were more closely matched with the Environment Agency’s remit than that of the international business."

2. Do you have any tips for getting in/getting on in the industry?

"I was appointed for my first job by responding to an advert in a local newspaper and I had no prior exposure to the organisation.

However, someone who was appointed for the job a few years later had been a temp at the organisation first.  By temping they obtained a strong understanding of the organisation and how it was tackling climate change. This led to a very strong performance at their interview, despite their academic record not being as strong as other candidates.

One of my friends obtained their first job with an environmental consultancy by writing a letter to ask if they had any opportunities coming up. They were a small business and so didn’t want to spend lots of money on advertising the position.

I obtained all my subsequent jobs with people I had worked with previously e.g. people that I had attended workshops with, or worked more directly with.

Once you are in an industry opportunities are generally easier to find (I say generally as it can be very tough in the recession). The hardest part is getting into the industry. So its worth putting in the hard work to get that first opportunity."

3. What relevant skills and experience did you gain during your degree?

"My degree helped me to develop my different types of skill sets, including:

  • Technical e.g. the science behind climate change
  • Competency based skills e.g. analysis, project management, problem solving. For my dissertation I had to develop a process to help me solve a problem, analyse data, and manage the overall project to make sure I completed it on time.

I developed other competency based skill sets, such as team work, stakeholder engagement and communication from employment and voluntary positions.   For example, involvement in the University student-lecturer liaison board and as a social secretary for a University club."

4. How relevant was your subject of study in securing your position?

"My subject was relevant in securing my first position, and people who obtained the same job after me had fairly similar degrees. However, I remember a former colleague having a completely different degree but they had been able to show strong competency based skills that related to the role, and a genuine and well researched interest in the subject."

5. What do you enjoy about the job?

"The people are the most important aspect of any job. I have been fortunate enough to work with some really great people, who have taken the time to help me develop the skills.

I also enjoy the opportunity to apply a number of different skill sets, and generate ideas that people support and help to take forward."

6. Are there any less enjoyable parts of the job?

"Bureaucracy: Sometimes it can be over burdensome, and people with lots of responsibility and great judgement can’t make good decisions without going through lots of hoops."

Name: Sarah Johnson
Current job title: Policy Adviser
Current employer: Department of Energy and Climate Change
University:  Trinity College Dublin and LSE
Course: Trinity College Dublin - BA (Hons) Economics and Geography
LSE - MSc Environmental Policy and Regulation 
Year of graduation: 2007

1. Why did you choose your particular career?

"Whether we like it or not, work takes up a large proportion of our lives. With this in mind I think it’s important to do something you enjoy. Alongside this, given the scale of the problems posed by Climate Change, I don’t think enough is being done about it. Having worked in this area in the private sector I felt that there was a strong role to be played by Government and decided that if I want to really be part of the solution, that’s where I need to be."

2. Do you have any tips for getting in/getting on in the industry?

"There are a number of paths into the civil service. For graduates I would recommend the Fast Stream an accelerated development programme. Competition is stiff but this reflects the demand and the high quality of the scheme. Intensive training and development is provided along with unparalleled exposure to policy making and ministers and fast tracked promotion to senior civil service."

"In addition, candidates can apply for a specific advertised post through the Civil Service website. Some departments take interns, and there are many agencies and arm’s length bodies which can also provide an alternative route into the service.

3. What relevant skills and experience did you gain during your degree?

"I gained a good range of skills at LSE. My studies on policy development and what constitutes good policy were directly relevant and it’s great to be apply to apply these principles in practice as part of my work. Equally useful was the experience of giving frequent presentations and working in groups as part of assignments. Additionally, working with classmates from across the world and learning from their diverse experience was invaluable."

  4. How relevant was your subject of study in securing your position?

"The Fast Stream accepts applicants from all subject areas. However, where subject of study does become relevant is in your assignment to Departments. DECC only took 9 Fast Streamers in my year (from 14,500 applications across the scheme) and I believe my Environmental Policy and Regulation masters helped me secure one of these rare positions."

5. How did you get the job?

"I applied through the Fast Stream, applications open in September each year for the graduate scheme and there are two rounds each year for economists."

6.    What do you enjoy about the job?

"There are so many aspects of the job I enjoy. At the most fundamental level, it’s great to be involved with something you really believe in and where decisions you make can make a real difference. The atmosphere is very stimulating, I enjoy being surrounded by young hard-working intelligent people who are passionate about climate change. There is extensive opportunity for training and development with weekly talks from experts as well as more formal training throughout the year. The variety of work is excellent and I know I’ll be changing post, and potentially working on something completely different, at regular intervals throughout my career."

7.    Are there any less enjoyable parts of the job?

"It’s very fast paced with many demanding deadlines. It can be stressful but the benefits more than outweigh this"

8.   How would you like to progress in your caree

"I change posts every 9-12 months so I would like to gain broad experience in perhaps two more posts before seeking promotion out of the Fast Stream. The support and development opportunities on offer is so great that I want to take full advantage of them before completing the scheme. Following this the opportunities for progression both within the department, across the UK and into the EU are extensive."

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