One of the biggest pieces of advice I share with career seekers is to find direction. I’m also aware that this is one of the most frustrating bits of advice for people to receive. But that doesn’t make the advice any less valuable. Read on to learn what finding direction means, why it can be so difficult, and how to do it.
If you were searching for a new home, you wouldn’t be looking at every house on the market — your real estate agent would fire you. Instead, you would have a few requirements, such as a certain location, a maximum price, number of bedrooms, etc. Then, you’d have your nice-to-have’s list: a front porch, a finished basement, and enough garage space to fit all those boxes that you’ll definitely unpack someday. Based on these specifications, you would start your search.
The same way you’d go crazy looking at houses without knowing what you want, you’d be wasting a lot of time looking at every environmental job out there. That’s why it’s so important to pick a direction.
Deciding on a direction is something that nearly every environmental professional struggles with — whether you recently graduated with an environmental science degree and don’t know what to do with it, or you have been in the industry for ages but have recently realized that you need a change. However, not picking a direction will stifle your career and leave you feeling unsatisfied. Doing this self-reflection now about your passions, interests, and goals will save you a lot of hassle in the long-run.
If you’re unsure how to pick a direction, here are the steps you can take to make an informed decision about what is best for you.
Choosing a direction is about looking way off in the distance to see which way you should take your first step. That way, if you wanted to buy a house with a 3-car garage, you don’t even bother looking at houses that have 2 or less. It’s also about why you want that 3-car garage. Is it because you actually have 3 cars or is it because you have a lot of stuff to store? Why do you want a pool? To impress your friends, or because you love to swim? If it’s because you love to swim, keep it in the must-have list, if it's to impress your friends, ditch it.
To parallel that with your job search, if you want a job with the title of Sustainability Manager, is it because you want that job, for all the good and bad that comes with it, or is it because you heard someone else say it was a good job?
List out all the things you’d like to have in a job. Here are some examples of things you could put into must-haves, nice-to-haves, and don’t want categories:
Fill in your own. What skills/talents do you have that you’d like to be able to utilize in your new role?
Once you’ve got your search parameters, here are some suggestions on how to validate your choices and ensure they are the right ones for you.
If you aren’t able to cipher which of these are things you want in a career, you can also use these steps to keep exploring (also read our past article about the three E’s to finding your spark).
The environmental field is not the same as it was twenty years ago — that’s mostly for the better. There are more jobs out there than ever, an emphasis on diversity that has been dismissed before, and (lucky for you!) a huge network of professionals at your fingertips.
LinkedIn is by far one of the best tools that job searchers have access to — the right message sent to the right person can do miles for your career.
If you are interested in exploring a career in food science, for instance, start with searching “food scientist in [my local area].” Then, scroll through LinkedIn’s search result and see if you have an “in” with any of the professionals, such as having a mutual connection or attending the same university. If not, search up a similar role, such as “food technologist” or “toxicologist.”
Once you connect with the right professional, draft that first networking message, explaining how you are connected to them and why you want to meet.
As convenient as it is to be able to network from the comfort of your own home, here’s the reality: in-person events are back. It’s time to pull out those work pants you haven’t worn since early 2020.
Attending in-person networking events, conferences, and keynotes can help you reach professionals that you may have not had access to in other circumstances. Plus, you also get to mingle with emerging professionals like yourself.
See if there are any networking events in your local area for environmental professionals. Social media is a great resource to find events; oftentimes, events will be organized in Facebook or LinkedIn groups, and conferences will be announced on Instagram or Facebook. Then, go in with a plan — look ahead to see if there’s a speaker that you specifically want to ask for advice and be prepared with questions and your elevator pitch.
If you’re not ready to network quite yet, here’s a way you can explore your direction while laying in bed.
YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram are great platforms to see the day-to-day tasks of an environmental professional. It’s as simple as searching “Day in the life of a food scientist” and watching the first few videos that entertain you.
Additionally, on the EPR Podcast, we speak with different environmental professionals every week about their work and why they love what they do. Listen to a few episodes and see if any of them light a fire under you — then explore that topic further.
When exploring different paths; whether that be via podcasts, videos, or networking; it’s important to set certain goals for yourself. It might not be a job that inspires you per se; rather, it could be a desire to win a certain award, a role model you want to follow in the footsteps of, a title you want to achieve, etc.
Once you have an idea of your direction, it’s time to start your search. Once this begins, it’s important to keep those “needs” and “nice-to-have’s” in mind — the number of bedrooms, front porch, finished basement, and whatnot. Deciding on a direction can feel like a weight off your chest, but it’s still important that the job you get is realistic for your lifestyle.
If you are looking to start exploring different directions and career paths, check out our ENVIROlocity™ Explorer Career Tool to find what it takes to achieve the career of your dreams.